Definition for Concupiscence
Immediately after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, Scripture tells us of the first sign of concupiscence: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked … the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:7-8). The phrase — both eyes were opened — conveys that sense-based knowledge will begin coming into play in their fallen human lives. What was that something? Concupiscent knowledge of good and evil. No longer ordered to the soul, the body’s conception and judgment of what’s good and what’s evil became different from that of the spiritual soul. Likewise, the judgment of the spirit (our inner heart, the higher powers of the spiritual soul) of what’s good and evil is very different from the body. We show this in a three-part blog titled “Original Sin.” The links to all three parts are here. For a summary treatment of Original Sin, go here. It shows how and why the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is directly tied to man’s biological function, appropriately described as our eyes “being opened.”
Before going any further, let us define concupiscence. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, concupiscence is:
In its strict and specific acceptation, a desire [all emphasis SML] of the lower appetite contrary to reason. To understand how the sensuous and the rational appetite can be opposed, it should be borne in mind that their natural objects are altogether different. The object of the former is the gratification of the senses; the object of the latter is the good of the entire human nature and consists in the subordination of reason to God, its supreme good and ultimate end. But the lower appetite is of itself unrestrained, so as to pursue sensuous gratifications independently of the understanding and without regard to the good of the higher faculties.
Most, if not all, of the physical consequences of concupiscence, are directly or indirectly attributable to the production of specific proteins called hormones by genes within our DNA. As opposed to the spirit, the body seeks a type of happiness that translates into that which is pleasing to the senses; when satisfied, our DNA produces sensual rewards so powerful they can be accurately described as addictive.
In a sense (pardon the pun), the body (controlled by the soul tries to bring the spirit/inner heart of the spiritual soul. Scripture tells us, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would” (Gal 5:17). Therefore, offering hormonal rewards to the spirit/inner heart can be very persuasive in luring the inner heart (the spirit) over to the flesh’s criteria for judging good and evil.
While Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he gave an interview with Italian journalist Vittorio Messori. During this interview, he said, “The inability to understand original sin and make it comprehensible is really one of the most serious problems of current theology and pastoring [emphasis SML].” Never has this statement rang more accurately than it does in today’s world. We are truly in the times about which Isaiah prophesied, “You who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is 5:20).
If I were to list all the different types of mortal sin and supply statistics about usages for each class, I’m sure the figure would be at least 50% to 75% of the western populations. The fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil is leading us: 1) to confuse bio-chemical love with spiritual love; 2) to confuse bio-chemical compassion with spiritual compassion; 3) to confuse what is truly beautiful with what is truly ugly, and; 4) to confuse Apparent good with that which is Actual good.
Before the fall, Adam and Eve’s bodies were perfectly harmonious and ordered to their perfect spiritual soul. This order was so because their spiritual souls were in a state of Original Justice, as Pope St. John Paul II called it — thus possessing complete dominion over the body. One of the upper powers of the rational soul is intellect. It can do nothing concrete without its body. God informed St. Hildegard:
Hence, it pleased God to adopt the garment of human flesh. The Word is concealed in the flesh in the following way: The Word and the flesh formed a unified life. But they did not do so as if one of them had been transformed into the other; but rather they are one with the unity of a person. Thus it is that our body is the concealing garment of our soul, and the [spiritual] soul offers services to the flesh through its actions. Our body would be nothing without the [spiritual] soul, and our [spiritual] soul could do nothing without the body [emphasis SML]. And thus they are one within us, and we accept this arrangement. And thus God’s work, humanity, has been created in the image and likeness of God. As soon as the spirit is breathed into us by God, this breath and flesh form a single person.
In the above quote, note the link between the image and likeness of God and a body that can do what the spiritual soul wants the body to do. According to JPII in his Theology of the Body, man cannot express love in the created world without the body.
More precisely, the lower powers of the spiritual soul (i.e., the soul) follow the desires of the upper powers of the spiritual soul (i.e., the spirit) can do nothing without the body. As Pope Saint John Paul II (JP II) tells us, “The body...and it alone [emphasis SML] is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God.” The body speaks in the sense-able and meta-sense-able language of the body.
. John Ming, "Concupiscence,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908), (accessed July 24, 2020) <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04208a.htm>.
. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), p. 79-80.
. John Paul II, “The Language of the Body in the Structure of Marriage,” Theology of the Body, n.7.
. John Paul II, “Marital Love Reflects God’s Love for His People,” The Theology of the Body, Daughters of St. Paul, General audience of July 28, 1982, ©Libreria Editrice Vaticana, (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 1997), p. 304-306.
. Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs (Kindle Locations 2547-2552). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.
. John Paul II, in his general audience of February 20, 1980, “ Man Enters the World as a Subject of Truth and Love,” Theology of the Body, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (Third Millennium Media L.L.C., The Faith Database L.L.C., 2008), n. 4.