Monday, May 3, 2010

Concupiscence and Original Sin Revisited.

So the other day I was at my Chaplain's apartment and we were talking about la Nouvelle Theologie, and he asked if I knew about it, and I said "oh ya, when the modernists won out". For example Pope Leo XIII and others condemned many modern ideas as heresy (see Syllabus of Errors) that would later be -if not approved- at least painted in a much better light.

Now when you have an institution of highly trained philosophers like you do in Catholicism, you can get out of any claim of contradition, there's always some reason why technically it isn't a contradiction. 2 examples. Religious Freedom, which was condemned by Leo XIII or at least people thought it was condemned, because he wrote 'it is against reason for truth and error to have equal rights'. But Vatican II said, those in error had rights, so technically, Leo's statements are made meaningless, and the respect for other religions shown in the Vatican over the last 100 years have been a de facto contradiction of Leo's claims. I'm not with SSPX and those condemning religious freedom, I'm all for it, I'm just showing how dichotemies can emerge and how things can "change" within Catholicism without using the word 'change'.

Secondly, the Development of Doctrine used to be considered a hereetical modern idea because it said Dogma could 'change' over time. The Tridentine doctrine was that every Tradition was actually passed on by the apostles. So St. Paul was walking around Ephesus expounding the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and giving Indulgences. Obviously, most Catholics today would not hold this view, and Cardinal Newman is probably responsible for this. I don't disagree that Dogma develops, again I'm just saying that it's place has 'changed' (or developed) in the Catholic view.

So the Modern/Contemporary Church can "re-interpret"/Develop/Change it's own previous teaching it seems, to the point that previous teaching is superfluous, but can they do that with Scripture? This has troubled me. I know we're "never supposed to put a dichotemy between Scripture and Tradition", but it is something we have to engage in, even as we engage in solving contradictions in the bible.

The Council of Trent said in Session 5, First Decree, Canon 5:
"...concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin."

So to simplify. Concupiscence, is not properly sin according to Trent, even though St. Paul (the apostle referenced) called it sin.

Luckily for Trent, St. Paul does not appear to have engaged in Aristotelian definitions in his epistles, so he didn't say "sin materially but not formally dwelleth in me", but only "sin dwelleth in me" (Rm 7:20).

"Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me." (Rm 7:20)

The problem for Catholic theology is that a distinction is made between Original and Actual sin, and further Mortal and Venial sins. For a sin to really "count" as a sin, someone has to willfully and knowingly commit it. Then Catholic teaching is that when someone has done this, they have clearly shown that they are rejecting God.

The problem is that Paul attributes the bad action to the sin which dwells in him, for the Reformers: (Formally) Original Sin, for Trent: Concupiscence (Materially Original Sin).

Pastorally, whenever I've asked Catholics about this issue, they have sided (unknowingly) with Luther and Calvin. Calvin said that man was nothing but a heap of Concupiscence, and he and Luther argued the biblical definition of sin was: anything that fell short of the Glory of God. Thus every human action was sin. Luther said the only mortal sin, damnable sin in the end, was unbelief. The problem I see personally in Tridentine doctrine is the fact that Christians who know the law, ALWAYS sin mortally, because they know it, and they do it. The Catechism says 'with full consent of the will', but one might argue phenomenologically, that obviously any act committed is done with the full consent of the will, how else could it occur if not from a completed decision of the will? (maybe they could half commit a sin?)

As well, I don't know any Catholics who would agree that every time they lied, masurbated, or dishonored their parents, they really thought "I hate God, and by this action I willfully reject him, because my faith and works are so closely tied!".

Rowan Williams paraphrases St. Augustine by saying "most sins are committed by people weeping and groaning" (De natura et gratia xxix 33 - though this is a fairly liberal paraphrase, I checked, it is not inaccurate).

Now I dont deny that Catholicism offers forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation/confession/penance, and I don't deny that the best in the Catholic tradition have basically disagreed with Church teaching on mortal sin - or to put it sophistically - have had a very open view as to what constitutes perfect contrition (basically any contrition = perfect). Some pre-Tridentine Catholics even taught justification by faith alone like the Spirituali and Cardinal Pole (although the Catholics get out of this by saying that they taught it by infusion, and had a view of the Chruch that they would've submitted, and indeed did submit, as Cardinal Reginald Pole did). BUT, if you read the Catechism, it still says that if you are in a state of mortal sin (and most would be amazed at how many things are dogmatically mortal sins) and you don't have a perfect love for God (which must be the result of an actual grace from God), then you are not allowed to hope you will be saved. Imperfect contrition does not equal forgiveness, repentance does not equal forgiveness, only perfect love for God (perfect contrition) and a desire for immediate sacramental confession = forgiveness. My friend who I have bible study with (a Catholic) always says "I hope we don't get hit by buses before saturday (the day we have Confession)", because technically speaking we would go to Hell.

We almost got into a car accident the other day, and even though I'm planning on going to confession, I'm still in mortal sin (I didn't go to mass yesterday, among other things), and even though I've asked God for forgiveness and confessed to him, I wouldn't say I have perfect love for God. If I did have perfect love for God, why would I sin in the first place? Riddle me that.

Now the Reformers argued that when we physically died, Original Sin is gone because it is tied to our 'flesh', and of course Catholcs jump on that and say "AHA! gnostics! Manichees!, etc". Except that St. Paul seems to say exactly what they do, and I doubt we'd want to account him a gnostic or a manichee. But that isn't a sufficient rebuttle to that criticism, I know.

There are so many prayers we find in medieval history for a good death, and people genuinely terrified that after all their lives of repentance and attempts to follow Christ, at that last pivotal moment when they died, they could lose it all. I reminds me a bit of musical chairs. When the music stops, you have to rush and hope there's a chair. Not a very comforting image, not very Romans 8:1. And I know of course, good Aristotelians don't use such existential arguments. Just because something horrifies a person almost to the point of insanity with fear and guilt, doesn't mean you can't 'technically' call it love, or grace.

Don't worry Catholics, my head is still holding the gun to my heart. Aristotle has not been "put to death" as Luther admonished. But I'm assuming that eventually one of two things will happen: 1) I'll give in to my emotions and become an Existentialist, and thereby become Protestant, or 2) My heart will just die, and my reason will finally have control of my passions as Aristotle and Kant spoke so highly of.

But sometimes I picture all of the people of the world, the Protestants, and the Catholics and Orthodox who don't go to confession, or die without it. It is like a scene from "Watchmen":

On that last day, we will look up to Christ and shout "Save us!", and he'll whisper "no".


  1. Do you really think that it is Catholic teaching that if Bill is on his way to confession with an intention to confess a sin and he gets hit by a bus before he gets to the confessional he will go to hell?

    If so, do tell who is teaching this.

  2. "Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God." - 1445

    When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51

    "1453 The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition") is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.52" - 1452,1453 "Catechism of the Catholic Church" under "Contrition"

    So unless you have perfect contrition, perfect love for God, and a desire to confess, you cannot hope for salvation.

    So to answer your question: if Bill was walking to confession and got hit by a bus, he would go to Hell if he didn't perfectly love God. As the Catechism says, imperfect contrition is not enough for salvation.

  3. I think you need to slow down and read what you have quoted again:

    "When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible."

    So yes, it is possible for Bill to meet that requirement without actually getting to confession because a bus hits him before he gets there or even if he just falls down the church steps and breaks his leg.

    Of course we cannot know for certain how firm Bill's resolution really was. That is for God alone to determine. But intention matters here.

    The Catholic church does not teach that salvation is subject to random forces—everyone, as Augustine said, is given enough grace to find their way to salvation.

  4. I think you need to slow down and re-read what you've written.

    "when it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect"."

    That is the issue. Perfect contrition is pure love for God. In my post I repeatedly said 'unless I perfectly love God'. I know very few people and times where contrition has been perfect. I scarcely know how Catholicism can even admit any perfect action for a person without Sanctifying grace.

  5. I will be writing about this at greater length on my own blog but I think the short answer is that you are reading a Protestant sensibility into what is some very Catholic text. Let me begin by rewriting the text above with some added emphasis.

    "when it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is CALLED "perfect"."

    This text is defining what contrition can be called "perfect" (and note the scare quotes the Church chooses to use here). It is not setting forth a requirement that we be perfect!

    "Perfect" is one of those words that is open-ended. It is always possible to imagine a way in which our contrition could have been bigger, better, more penitent. The Church is being very clear to give us a definition of what will be called perfect here precisely so we don't torture ourselves going down this route.

    What we are supposed to do is realize our complete dependence on God. We show our love of God by recognizing that first and foremost we have sinned against Him and therefore we must seek forgiveness from Him.

    God's message to us is that he loves us, that he is slow to anger et cetera. His church is not in the business of telling us that we have to meet impossible requirements in order to obtain salvation.

    Put the shoe on the other foot. It is not inconceivable that one day you will find yourself with someone who is dying and who will turn to you as a Catholic and ask you to hear their last confession because the priest will not get there in time. Would you honestly tell them that their only chance for salvation was to perfectly love God? Or would you say, God wants to forgive you but in order to do that you need to recognize that by doing these things that have troubled you, you have sinned against Him and you need to turn to Him now and ask for the forgiveness only he can give?

  6. I'm not in the position of the Magesterium. To me it seems stupid that you would eat the body of a God to become like him, but I believe it because the Church declares it so.

    Yes I believe the scenario is ridiculous, but the church does not take ridicule into account when defining doctrines. Case in point: incorruptible saints