Thursday, February 24, 2011

Concupiscence as Defined by Catholics and Protestants

So, I am in the process of reading The Concept of Dread by Vigilius Haufniensis (one of Søren Kierkegaard’s many pseudonymous works). I read a passage from the book and realized that I did not know what concupiscence was. So, in this post I will define concupiscence for you all and explain its implications in both Catholic and Protestant theology. The American Heritage Dictionary defines concupiscence as “A strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust*.” I am going to explain concupiscence as defined in Catholic theology first and then compare it with the conclusions that the Protestant Reformers came to concerning this “strong desire” and its relationship to justification and salvation. 

In Catholic Theology, before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in a perfect relationship with God because of a special gift that God had given the first humans. After the Fall, Original Sin entered the world. Concupiscence in Catholic theology is not sinful in itself but can lead to sin if it is voluntary. In Baptism, St. Augustine maintains that Original Sin is washed away so that it is not the human person that is intrinsically evil but that the human person always has the ability, the choice, to fall into sin, to voluntarily exercise concupiscence. Thus, for Catholics, it is possible to be in a state of Grace. A person is justified only by being in this state through receiving the Sacraments and avoiding sin wherever it is encountered. In other words, a Christian must “wash his/her robe clean” before he/she can be justified and enter Heaven.

In Protestant Theology as in Catholic Theology, Adam and Eve were in a perfect relationship with God before the Fall. However, in the former, it was the human nature that was in a perfect relationship with God and the perfection was not a result of a special gift that God gave the first humans. In other words, humans were intrinsically good before the Fall, and after the Fall, they became intrinsically evil. Thus, Original Sin is not fully washed away at Baptism since human nature is now in essence sinful; Protestants deny that a person can ever be in a state of Grace in this world. Concupiscence is sinful in itself in Protestant Theology and can manifest itself both voluntarily and involuntarily. While, Catholics call an action or thought sinful only when it is voluntary, Protestants maintain that sin can be exercised involuntarily and its punishment is equally death. Luther goes on to say that because humans can never achieve perfection on earth, this cannot be a prerequisite to being justified. A true Christian is “simul iustus et peccator” (simultaneously justified and a sinner). It is in faith alone that a Christian is justified since in faith God (using the robe metaphor) overlooks our dirty robe. A Christian, following the Reformers, tries to avoid sin, but all sin can never be avoided in this world. All efforts to overcome sin fully and completely are in vain because this is impossible.

I know that through this brief research that I did, I learned quite a lot. It really helped me understand better the ways our churches' theologies are similar and different. Of course, I chose to focus on Luther but some time I may talk about sin and justification from the perspective of another reformer like Calvin. When I speak of Protestantism, I tend to focus solely on the founder of the Reformation: Martin Luther. He has directly and indirectly affected almost all Protestant churches. In any case, focusing on one Reformer makes writing posts a lot easier.


  1. Interesting. I think salvation by faith alone and Sola Scriptura are two of the biggest heresies to affect Christianity in the last 2000 years. Noah wasn't saved by his faith alone; he actually built the ark. Likewise, we have to practice our faith and not just cry "Lord, Lord".

  2. True JI. Faith without works is indeed dead. I wonder, though, if the reformers did not also agree. Everyone wants to find the easy way out. Faith without works is not faith. Works are a proof of your faith. It does not follow, though, that works without faith is effective either from an eternal perspective. Luther explicitly stated that faith must be proved by works. However, I think that he was mostly attacking hypocrisy. In 1998 or 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signed a Joint Agreement on Justification. Basically, the document states that it is by faith alone that one is saved, but in no ways does that leave out works. Without works, there is not faith.