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Concupiscence (from Late Latin noun concupiscentia, from the Latin verb concupiscere, from con-, "with", here an intensifier, + cupi(d)-, "desiring" + -escere, a verb-forming suffix denoting beginning of a process or state) is an ardent, usually sensual, longing.[1] In Catholic theology, concupiscence is seen as a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason.[2] For Christians, concupiscence is what they understand as the orientation, inclination or innate tendency of human beings to long for fleshly appetites, often associated with a desire to do things which are proscribed.

There are nine occurrences of concupiscence in the Douay-Rheims Bible[3] and three occurrences in the King James Bible.[4] It is also one of the English translations of the Koine Greek epithumia (ἐπιθυμία),[5] which occurs 38 times in the New Testament.[6]

Jewish roots[edit]

In Judaism, there is an early concept of yetzer hara (Hebrew: יצר הרע for "evil inclination"). This concept is the inclination of humanity at creation to do evil or violate the will of God. The yetzer hara is not the product of original sin as in Christian theology, but the tendency of humanity to misuse the natural survival needs of the physical body. Therefore, the natural need of the body for food becomes gluttony, the command to procreate becomes sexual sin, the demands of the body for rest become sloth, and so on.[citation needed]

In Judism, the yetzer hara is a natural part of God's creation, which God provides guidelines and commands to help us master this tendency. This doctrine was clarified in the Sifre around 200-350 CE. In Jewish doctrine, it is possible for humanity to overcome the yetzer hara. Therefore, for the Jewish mindset, it is possible for humanity to choose good over evil, and it is the person's duty to choose good [see: Sifrei on Deuteronomy, P. Ekev 45, Kidd. 30b].


Augustine of Hippo believed that Adam and Eve's disobedience was the result of a foolish act of pride. Because of this prideful act, Adam and Eve acquired concupiscence which was a wounding of their perfect nature. Concupiscence was not sin in itself, but a deprivation of good, or a wounding of the ability to choose good and resist evil. Augustine believed that baptism healed this wound and grace keeps this wound called concupiscence sealed.


The main opposition came from a monk named Pelagius (354–420 or 440). His views became known as Pelagianism. Although the writings of Pelagius are no longer extant, the eight canons of the Council of Carthage provided corrections to the perceived errors of the early Pelagians. From these corrections, there is a strong similarity between Pelagians and their Jewish counterparts on the concepts of concupiscence. Pelagianism gives mankind the ability to choose between good and evil within their created nature. While rejecting concupiscence, and embracing a concept similar to the yetzer hara, these views rejected humanity's universal need for grace.

Catholic teaching[edit]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that Adam and Eve were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice" (CCC 375, 376 398), free from concupiscence (CCC 377). The preternatural state enjoyed by Adam and Eve afforded endowments with many prerogatives which, while pertaining to the natural order, were not due to human nature as such. Principal among these were a high degree of infused knowledge, bodily immortality and freedom from pain, and immunity from evil impulses or inclinations. In other words, the lower or animal nature in man was perfectly subject to the control of reason, the will (subject to God,) and most importantly, God. Besides this, the Catholic Church teaches that our first parents were also endowed with sanctifying grace by which they were elevated to the supernatural order.[7] By sinning, however, Adam lost this original "state", not only for himself but for all human beings (CCC 416).

According to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right: the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, and the vision of God in the next life. The Creator, whose gifts were not due to the human race, had the right to bestow them on such conditions as he wished and to make their conservation depend on the fidelity of the head of the family. A prince can confer a hereditary dignity on condition that the recipient remains loyal, and that, in case of his rebelling, this dignity shall be taken from him and, in consequence, from his descendants. It is not, however, intelligible that the prince, on account of a fault committed by a father, should order the hands and feet of all the descendants of the guilty man to be cut off immediately after their birth.[8]

As a result of original sin, according to Catholics, human nature has not been totally corrupted (as opposed to the teaching of Luther and Calvin); rather, human nature has only been weakened and wounded, subject to ignorance, suffering, the domination of death, and the inclination to sin and evil (CCC 405, 418). This inclination toward sin and evil is called "concupiscence" (CCC 405, 418). Baptism, Catholics believe, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God. The inclination toward sin and evil persists, however, and he must continue to struggle against concupiscence (CCC 2520).

Catholic and Protestant differences[edit]

The primary difference between Catholic theology and most of the many different Protestant theologies on the issue of concupiscence is whether it can be classified as sin by its own nature. Different Protestant denominations tend to see concupiscence as sin itself, an act of the sinner. The Catholic Church teaches that while it is highly likely to cause sin, concupiscence is not sin itself. Rather, it is "the tinder for sin" which "cannot harm those who do not consent" (CCC 1264).[9]

This difference is intimately tied with the different traditions on original sin. Much Protestant theology holds that the original prelapsarian nature of humanity was an innate tendency to good; the special relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was due not to some supernatural gift, but to their own natures. Hence, in some Protestant traditions, the Fall was not the destruction of a supernatural gift, leaving humanity's nature to work unimpeded, but rather the corruption of that nature itself. Since the present nature of humans is corrupted from their original nature, it follows that it is not good, but rather evil (although some good may still remain). Thus, in some Protestant traditions, concupiscence is evil in itself. The Thirty-nine articles of the Church of England state that "the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin".[10]

By contrast, Catholicism, while also maintaining that humanity's original nature is good (CCC 374), teaches that even after this gift was lost after the Fall, human nature still cannot be called evil, because it remains a natural creation of God. Despite the fact that humans sin, Catholic theology teaches that human nature itself is not the cause of sin, although once it comes into contact with sin it may produce more sin, just as a flammable substance may be easily ignited by a fire.[weasel words]

The difference in views also extends to the relationship between concupiscence and original sin.

Another reason for the differing views of Catholics and certain Protestants on concupiscence is their position on sin in general. Certain Protestants (for instance the magisterial reformers) hold that one can be guilty of sin even if it is not voluntary; The Catholic Church, by contrast, traditionally has held that one is objectively guilty of sin only when the sin is voluntary. The Scholastics and magisterial reformers have different views on the issue of what is voluntary and what is not: the Catholic Scholastics considered the emotions of love, hate, like and dislike to be acts of will or choice, while the early Protestant reformers did not. By the Catholic position that one's attitudes are acts of will, sinful attitudes are voluntary. By the magisterial reformer view that these attitudes are involuntary, some sins are involuntary as well. Since human nature (and therefore concupiscence) is not voluntarily chosen, the Catholic Church does not teach that it is sinful; some Protestants believe that, since some sins are involuntary, it can be.

Some Protestants believe that concupiscence is the primary type of sin; thus they might refer to it simply as sin, or, to distinguish it from particular sinful acts, as "humanity's sinful nature". Thus, concupiscence as a distinct term is more likely to be used by Catholics.


Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century described two divisions of "sensuality": the concupiscible (pursuit/avoidance instincts) and the irascible (competition/aggression/defense instincts). With the former are associated the emotions of joy and sadness, love and hate, desire and repugnance; with the latter, daring and fear, hope and despair, anger.


Al-Ghazali in the 11th century discussed concupiscence from an Islamic perspective in his book Kimiya-yi sa'ādat (The Alchemy of Happiness). And also mentioned in ( The deliverer from error) In this book amongst other things, he discusses how to reconcile the concupiscent and the irascible souls balancing them to achieve happiness. Concupiscence is related to the term "nafs" in Arabic.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Concupiscence - Define Concupiscence at". Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Concupiscence". Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Wisdom 4:12, Romans 7:7, Romans 7:8, Colossians 3:5, Epistle of James 1:14, James 1:15, 2 Peter 1:4, and 1 John 2:17.
  4. ^ Romans 7:8, Colossians 3:5 and I Thessalonians 4:5.
  5. ^ "epithumia" is also translated as wish or desire (or in a biblical context, longing, lust, passion, covetousness, or impulse). See wikt:επιθυμία.
  6. ^ Mark 4:19, Luke 22:15, John 8:44, Romans 1:24, Romans 6:12, Romans 7:7,8, Romans 13:14, Galatians 5:16,24, Ephesians 2:3, Ephesians 4:22, Philippians 1:23, Colossians 3:5, 1Thessalonians 2:17, 1Thessalonians 4:5, 1Timothy 6:9, 2Timothy 2:22, 2Timothy 3:6, 2Timothy 4:3, Titus 2:12, Titus 3:3, James 1:14,15, 1Peter 1:14, 1Peter 2:11, 1Peter 4:2,3, 2Peter 1:4, 2Peter 2:10,18, 2Peter 3:3, 1John 2:16(twice),17, Jude 1:16,18, and Revelation 18:14.
  7. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: The Garden of Eden". Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Original Sin". Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  9. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday Publications, 1997
  10. ^ Church of England (1562), "Articles", Common Prayer 
  11. ^ "The Alchemy of Happiness Index". Retrieved 27 October 2014. 


  • Robert Merrihew Adams, "Original Sin: A Study in the Interaction of Philosophy and Theology", p. 80ff in Francis J. Ambrosio (ed.), The Question of Christian Philosophy Today, Fordham University Press (New York: 1999), Perspectives in Continental Philosophy no. 9.
  • Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, and Dermot A. Lane, eds., The New Dictionary of Theology (Wilmington, Delaware : Michael Glazier, Inc., 1987), p. 220.
  • New Advent (Catholic Encyclopedia), "Concupiscence".
  • Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 1 The Theory of Moral Sentiments [1759] Part VII Section II Chapter I Paragraphs 1–9, Adam Smith’s recounting of Plato’s description of the soul, including concupiscence