Monday, September 13, 2010

The two meanings of concupiscence

Over the weekend I re-read some of John Paul's talks relating to the current TOB debate. In talk 43 (pg 299) he makes a very helpful distinction between two meanings of concupiscence.
The first is concupiscence as an act.
The second is concupiscence of the flesh, a permanent disposition in human nature.

That gave me a lot of food for thought. It seems that sometimes in the debate the two meanings are used interchangeably, leading to confusion. At least that's my take after reading some of the blog posts and comments at various sites. Does it seem that way to you? How do you think this distinction might help us to move forward in the debate?

John Paul said:

"It is not possible to reach this second reading of the words of Mt 5:27-28 [about adultery committed in the heart] without taking into account what constitutes its specific theological character, namely, the organic relationship between concupiscence (as an act) and the concupiscence of the flesh as, so to speak, a permanent disposition that derives from human sinfulness."


Kevin said...

Certainly an interesting theory sister.

I think what needs to happen is for both sides to agree on a set of terms and how they will be using them.

For example "prudery." Just what is "prudery" what is "Victorian prudery" and what are the signs of it?

I think with concupiscence, West likes to focus on individual acts, the first. Many of his critics seem to think that he ignores (or in my opinion severely downplays) the latter. (though if we are being honest, I think the criticism that Fr. Ratzinger made back at the time of Gaudium et Spes is just as true today, too much of the Church in the modern world lacks a theology of the cross, that is a theology which understands sin and human nature.)

A quick example. When he talks about Sirach. One can gain through Christ victories over lust. Then he says "to the one not bound by lust, this is still valid to turn your eyes." We are all sinful human beings, and all of us have our inclinations within our nature as the result of sin. We can in some cases teach our natures to obey a will focused on the cross (through fasting, mortification, etc) but they will always be there, and we should never go looking to test that nature. While I know you'll disagree, I think this line of understanding is entirely or near-entirely absent from a lot of what West, Fr. Loya, and many prominent TOB advocates state.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Thanks, Kevin, for your thoughtful comments. You're absolutely right about having an agreement about the terminology.

I also agree with you that West seems to focus more on concupiscence as an act, the first meaning John Paul speaks of. And the cross is always there too.

About the testing aspect, I don't think they intend to say we should go out and deliberately test ourselves, but that it's inevitable that we'll come across occasions of sin. Then how do we deal with that? Perhaps this is where some disagreements do occur. However, in one talk of Fr Loya's that I heard, he said he wasn't suggesting that people go out and deliberately look at pornography, etc. But he did say that if we go outside of our homes, unless we wear a bag over our head we're going to see things that could be occasions of sin. At least in that talk, his suggestion in such a case was to think about who the person is who is represented in that image. Pornography, etc., leads to depersonalization. "Re-personalizing" so to speak tends to defuse lust.

Kevin said...

I think it makes some assumptions that are a bit tough to bear out in the end, mainly that in the heat of the moment, such "re-personalization" is indeed possible.

I think there's something more though. When West talks about "risking it", he mentions that while we can "play it safe" by turning our eyes, we will never grow in virtue through this.

Sirach would disagree me thinks. :)

But we've been down that road, so not gonna re-hash it. I do think what you've pointed out is something valuable, and perhaps something Mr. West should take in mind, should any further springboards be needed.

Anonymous said...

Sister, after being referred to your blog recently, I have begun to read through some of the comments as well as your articles.

I wanted to let you know that this distinction in concupiscence is precisely what I have also noticed. JP2 speaks of "carnal concupiscence" as well as concupiscence that is related to "lust of the eyes, or "adultery committed in the heart".

When we speak of the subject of adultery in the heart we see that unlike a "carnal adultery" (my term) adultery of the heart can can take place between husband and wife. This has to do with lust of the eyes and this kind of concupiscence CAN be healed.

JP2 says in "Interpreting the Concept of Concupiscence" Oct 8 1980 "The moral evaluation of lust (of looking lustfully), which Christ called adultery committed in the heart, seems to depend avoe all on the personal dignity itself of man and of woman. This holds true both for those who are not united in marriage, and-PERHAPS EVEN MORE-for those who are husband and wife."

He goes on to say that "lust of the flesh as a permanent element of man's sinfulness (status naturae lapsae). He goes on to discuss 3 forms of lust and says in "The Power of Redeeming Completes the Power of Creating" ;
"Summing up, it can be said briefly that Christ's words according to Matthew 5:27-28 do not allow us to stop at the accusation of the human heart and to regard it continually with suspicion. But they must be understood and interpreted above all as an appeal to the heart. This derives from the nature of the ethos of redemption."

"Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel called, and called with efficacy."

"Christ's words bear witness that the original power (therefore also the grace) of the mystery of creation becomes for each of them power (that is, grace) of the mystery of redemption."

In summary, I agree that we need a more clear understanding of concupiscence in our dialogue, however we also need to clarify that Christ can heal us and we can be free from lust in our hearts through grace, not carnal concupiscence but from lust in our hearts. It seems there are also two schools of thought on this, some say and do not believe Christ's cross redeems us in this area. Perhaps because of a misunderstanding of concupiscence? said...

I entered my name but it put me as anonymous, so I thought I would try once more to put my name down.

dcs said...

What exactly does it mean for concupiscence to be an act? The traditional distinction in concupiscence is actual (inordinate desires - what I experience here and now) and habitual (the inclination to inordinate desires). But actual concupiscence is not a sin because it is not an act of the will.

Sr. Lorraine said...

In the paragraph before the one I quoted, John Paul says:
"This interpretation takes into account more comprehensively what was said in our whole analyses about concupiscence, and in the first place about the concupiscence of the flesh as a permanent element of man's sinfulness (status naturae lapsae-the state of fallen nature).) The concupiscence that arises as an interior act on this foundation...changes the very intentionality of the woman's existence "for" the man by reducing the wealth of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the wealth of the deep attraction of masculinity and feminity, to the mere satisfaction of the body's sexual "urge" (which is closely related to the concept of "instinct.")

The Pope relates it to the "look" of lust that he speaks of, when a man "looks" at a woman that way (as Jesus spoke of). So it seems like he must mean concupiscence as an act in the sense of an interior act of disordered desire focused on another.

dcs said...

Hmmm, well, that is certainly a non-standard definition of concupiscence, because concupiscence is not a sin -- even actual concupiscence, the desire that one feels here and now (as opposed to the habitual concupiscence that inclines one to those desires), is prior to the will -- it is not an act of the will so it is not a sin. Now it could be that the Pope is using "act of concupiscence" to mean "actual concupiscence" rather than an act of the will -- the desire that arises when sometimes one looks at a member of the opposite sex. However this desire is not sinful in and of itself; one must actually consent to it for it to be sinful; and it is not necessarily disordered (a man's ordinary desire for a woman is not disordered), though it is always contrary to reason.

Sr. Lorraine said...

Yes, DCS, that's a very good point. Perhaps he does mean "actual concupiscence" when he speaks that way. This is something I would like to get more information on exactly what the Pope meant.

dcs said...

Could it be a translation issue, I wonder? Or maybe I should just leave that one alone, I've already been ripped on Catholic Exchange for bringing it up. :)

Kevin said...

Well, there is some sort of precedent.

Dennis Prager noted in Jewish thought that if a man even looked upon a woman not his wife with lust, he should not sleep in the same bed with his wife until he repented. (in older times there were certain purification that also had to be done if I remember correctly, been awhile.)

I would say the thing with lust, is that it represents an entire outlook, not just acting out on that lust. Looking upon someone with the intent of using them, that is a grave wrong. While not to the same degree as acting out on it, it does speak of a disorder within the soul that needs to be overcome. Christians should not look upon someone EVER as an object to be used. If one is looking from this mindset, I would think this is more than just a passing impure thought, but a deep and disordered habit within the soul, and someone should consult a spiritual director immediately.

I guess that is also something that disappoints me about West. When talking about how to overcome an inordinate inclination to lust, he rarely talks about the power of confession, or the importance of a good regular spiritual director to help people overcome these things. While you have to allow a certain leeway since he speaks mainly to the "unconverted", there has to be some way to point out that one of the great things Christ offers in our battle with this are holy priests infused with a penetrating Divine Wisdom to help us in our struggles.

dcs said...

Looking upon someone with the intent of using them, that is a grave wrong.

Yes, of course, but forming the intention is an act of the will. Concupiscence is not, and if we say that it is, then we're getting into the realm of Protestant theology in which concupiscence is a sin.

While you have to allow a certain leeway since he speaks mainly to the "unconverted", there has to be some way to point out that one of the great things Christ offers in our battle with this are holy priests infused with a penetrating Divine Wisdom to help us in our struggles.

And not only that, but the grace of the Sacraments themselves, even apart from the advice one might receive in the confessional or in spiritual direction.