Friday, November 19, 2010

Catholic Teaching on Concupiscence: Further Information in Consideration of TOB, part 1

This post, and the several that will follow this one, are intended as an expansion and further fleshing out of the topic of my original June, 2009, post, "Concupiscence, Catholic Teaching on."

This topic continues to be very relevant especially given the ongoing discussion in various internet quarters, sometimes testy, about Christopher West and the popular presentation of John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

In my above 2009 post, I linked to several comments I had made a few days earlier in discussion threads on Dawn Eden's blog, The Dawn Patrol. I would like to pull out those comments from the depths of the thread netherworld and reproduce them here in the hope that they might be helpful for this ongoing and important discussion. My primary aim is to help illuminate a bit more deeply the important background that is necessary to have understood before a person has a chance at carrying on a fruitful discussion about popular presentations of TOB. This background is the Catholic tradition's teaching about the interior tendency to commit sin (called concupiscence).

Following is my first comment on Dawn's blog (May 25, 2009).

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There is some confusion among Catholics about where concupiscence (the traditional term for the inclination to sin; i.e. temptations of the body, the eyes, and pride) stands in regard to sin. Concupiscence itself is not sinful.

And it is the teaching of the Church that grace does not remove concupiscence. Ongoing progress in sanctification further strengthens a person in the holy virtues needed to deal with concupiscence. But, concupiscence itself does not go away as sanctity increases.

This is very important because it was a major point of controversy with the reformers during Trent. Luther claimed that temptation to sin was itself sinful. And thus, believed it was impossible to do anything without having an essentially sinful spiritual state. For Luther, good works, because our desires are tainted by inclinations to sin, are impossible.

Against this, Trent taught that the temptation to commit sin is not itself sin, properly speaking. Here is a quote from the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, on original sin, no. 5:

But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive [to sin]; which, since it is left for us to strive against, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin. And if any one is of a contrary opinion, let him be anathema.

In further support of this, please note the following:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [Heb 4:15]

Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins.
[CCC 2515]

Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil.
[CCC 978]

Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
[CCC 1426]

Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires.
[CCC 2520]

Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.
[CCC 405]

Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.
[CCC 2340]

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[Part 2]

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