Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concupiscence & You

"What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid. But I do not know sin, but by the law; for I had not known concupiscence, if the law did not say: Thou shalt not covet. But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. " - Romans 7:7-8 (Douay-Rheims/Roman Catholic translation)

Works of the Law/N.T. Wright

It has been suggested that I read Bishop Wright's interpretation on justification. I have, it's wrong. This passage proves all the points against him.

He - and subsequently RCs - has interpretted the 'works of the law' which we are not justified by, as 'external legal/mosaic works and ceremonies' (ex. circumcision). His Grace concludes that Christian justification is primarily the life of Christ lived in us and shown by virtue, by following the 'spiritual law' of Christ (his morality). He rejects the claim that the Reformers made that 'works of the law' meant good works performed by Christians.

It shows that covetting - an internal matter of the heart, IS opposed to the law/'works of the law'. Covetting is not a mosaic ritual, it's an issue of Christ-like virtue.

Likewise Galatians 5 lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit and says, "against such things there is no law", again identifying virtue with 'the law'.


The case laid out at the Council of Trent, which I knowingly reject, is the argument that it is not sin formally dwelling in us that St. Paul refers to, but concupiscence (the desire for sin in St. Augustine, or material original sin in Thomas Aquinas - even here you see how the RC shift is made to rethinking humanity's sinful nature). I've already shown how Thomistic hermeneutics obliges us to read "sin" here and in Romans 7:20 as Formal, Substantial, and Entire, SIN.

Likewise in 7:8 "sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence". What is the subject of the sentence: sin. What is it doing? causing concupiscence/lust/the desire for sin. This is totally the opposite of Trent! Trent says that concupiscence - which isn't sin, but dwells in us - leads us to sin. St. Paul says that sin - which IS sin, dwells in us - and makes us have concupiscence/desire for sin.

I don't know how it could be any clearer that while one may not be comfortable with saying "sin nature" (I actually had an FSSP priest use this phrase twice with me by the way in confession - James knows the guy!), the passage clearly implies that Sin is dwelling in Christians, and making them desire sinful things.

This isn't the rose-coloured picture we get of the scholastics, with a good human nature merely having a potential for evil. (I learned my understanding of Thomas' doctrine of Original Sin, by reading the Called To Communion posts on Trent, and Chesterton's book on St. Thomas)


  1. The problem which might arise for English speaking Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, is that through translation meanings and concepts can be lost. Another thought is that word meaning changes over time and has different connotations. The word concupiscence is here translated from the Vulgate where the Latin appears as concupiscentiam (concupiscentia, concupiscentiae). This word, concupiscentia, is translated from the Greek word επιθυμίαν meaning coveting or desire. The Latin word is translated into English as concupiscence, yearning of lower appetites, or inordinate desire. Of course the translation into English might indeed mean the Roman Catholic idea of concupiscence but it might also have the connotation of coveting. This makes sense since St. Paul is speaking of concupiscence and coveting as if they are the same thing in the verse before. Truly, in the Greek, both the English words concupiscence and coveting are conjugated from the same verb (εποφθαλμιώ), meaning 'to covet'. If it is understood as coveting then it does not fly in the face of the Roman Catholic understanding of sin. If "sin... wrought in me all manner of concupiscence" is read, with this in mind, as "sin... wrought in me all manner of coveting" then it makes perfect sense; through sin we grow further away from God and are thus inclined to sin. The less grace, the more likely one is to reject God's call. Therefore, if St. Paul speaks of having sinned against the commandments (thus separating himself from God's grace), the fact that he fell into further sin (in this case the sin of covetousness) is no surprise.

    This kind of etymological reading can be done with any verse I suppose so maybe there has to be a standard for when such an approach is permissible in interdenominational discussion.

    p.s. I do agree, it's a funny thing when the most traditional of Catholics say things so contrary to RC doctrine. And somehow it's seldom noticed except for those with a keen mind ;)

  2. Okay, so...sin does dwell in us. Even after we're baptized? Luther believed in baptismal regeneration: baptism was the cause of faith, and sola fide meant justification by faith in our baptism, since Christ baptized us.

    But baptism didn't do anything to rid of us sin, so we have just as much sin and filth as before, only Christ's alien righteousness is imputed to us?

  3. To James:
    Such a reading cannot be accepted. Because you’re meaning would require the text to say When I sin, it brings all manner of coveting. The verse says Sin wrought. Sin is the object performing a function. Sin is acting within us. This is not at all the Roman concept that concupiscence is merely the kindling for the fire of sin, sin is actively working, it’s not passively sitting in the soul. Even to say it was passively dwelling in the soul would contradict the scholastic claim that Original sin is formally wiped clean in baptism, as it is acting wilfully here within Paul.

    To Devin:
    Yes, according to Lutherans, when we are baptized, the gift of faith is given to the child, thus justifying it. Luther believed in baptismal regeneration not as the RCs do though, since it is the faith (fiducia) which justifies, not the ontological removal of original sin from the soul. As to Christ's alien righteousness imputed to us, yes we have that, which is why we invoke "The Lord our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6)

    But as St. Paul says in Romans 7, Sin still dwells in the Christian. For the apostle says the wages of sin is death. If Roman Catholics are right, and sin is actually removed, then why do we die?

  4. What I was getting at was that St. Paul is teaching about the relationship between sin and the law by using the example of coveting. He's explicit when he cites the commandment. I was suggesting that when he says that sin wrought concupiscence he was not saying that sin causes coveting. I was saying he's referencing his prior comment about coveting to demonstrate the necessity of the law in order for sin to exist. He's talking conditionally with reference to his prior comment. The fact that sin is dependent upon the law suggests that it is the existence of the law which creates a desire to sin, for it restricts man from committing certain acts. The fact that St. Paul makes note that sin takes occasion by the commandment suggests that he is referring not to the existence of sin within himself but sin objectively as it exists with relation to the law. Because sin exists because of the law, man has "concupiscence", or desire, to sin. Concupiscence is said to have been wrought in St. Paul and I would argue it is by sin as it exists by virtue of the law prohibiting it.

  5. Then you are a Lutheran my son!

    Because you've admitted that the Law points out our sin and even causes the desire. Whereas Roman Catholicism affirms that Christ is the New Lawgiver, and that we are commanded to follow the New Law of Christ, which would be impossible if it caused sin and concupiscence.

    Though I still don't think that's what St. Paul was saying.