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Concupiscence – Navigating the Interior Life Spiritual Dictionary

November 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Sin, Spiritual Dictionary

CONCUPISCENCE: Insubordination of man's desires to the dictates of reason, and the propensity of human nature to sin as a result of original sin. More commonly, it refers to the spontaneous movement of the sensitive appetites toward whatever the imagination portrays as pleasant and away from whatever it portrays as painful. However, concupiscence also includes the unruly desires of the will, such as pride, ambition, and envy.

This Spiritual Dictionary Term is an excerpt from the Glossary of Dan’s book Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. To learn more, click here.


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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • LizEst

    Great definition! Thanks, Dan.

  • judeen

    please explain. I under stood the last 2 sentences…

  • theology student

    Sounds more like the Protestant view of concupiscence than the Catholic one. The Protestant view is that concupiscence is part of original sin, while the Catholic view is that it isn’t, but arises from our lower, physical nature that we have in common with the animals, and good because created by God. I hadn’t realized there was a difference in the Catholic and Protestant theologies until I researched it for a paper on original sin. I did not keep my references, so sorry that I can’t refer you to the source that clarified it for me. But you might want to check further into it.

    • With all due respect, you probably want to dig a little deeper on your end. Your view of the lower nature into the source of our lower natures. This definition is right down the center of tradition. It is in no way derived from Protestant thinking.

    • Becky Ward

      Here’s what the Catechism says: (CCC 2514-2515)
      2514 St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. 301 In the Catholic catechetical tradition, the ninth commandment forbids carnal concupiscence; the tenth forbids coveting another’s goods.
      2515 Etymologically, “concupiscence” can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the “flesh” against the “spirit.” 302 Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins. 303

      • LizEst

        For those who are wondering what those other numbers mean…
        301 is the reference to 1 John 2:16.
        302 is the reference to Galatians 5:16, 17, 24 and Ephesians 2:3.
        303 is the reference to Genesis 3:11 and the Council of Trent 1515 (Decree on Original Sin).

    • LizEst

      theology student–Dan’s definition is correct. He is giving an easily understood explanation of the word. More than that is beyond the scope of his glossary or this blog.

      To address your specific concerns, I think you may be conflating some stuff of Aquinas who distinguishes, in the Summa Theologica, between two kinds of concupiscences saying that one kind is common to men and animals and the other kind is proper to men, “to whom it is proper to devise something as good and suitable, beyond that which nature requires.” [From the New Advent site This is really way, way beyond the discussion here and too confusing for those who have never studied Aquinas and his method of disputation. Again, Dan’s definition is correct. Please see these other definitions of concupiscence (you may recognize some authors or publications). These are Catholic sources written/edited by Catholic authors. Please notice the tie in with baptism!

      + From “A Concise Dictionary of Theology” by Gerald O’Collins, SJ and Edward G Farrugia, SJ: “In general, desire or covetousness. More specifically, it refers to the disordered desire that comes from original sin and remains after baptism.”

      +From “Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Dictionary” Rev Peter M.J. Stravinskas, PhD, STL Editor: “The inclination to sin arising from the disobedience of Adam and Eve. All persons, except Jesus and Mary, possess concupiscence, which specifically refers to the desire for bodily pleasure. Concupiscence is not evil per se but does lead to sin when its impulses are not checked.”

      + From the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s Glossary: “Human appetites or desires which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin, which remain even after Baptism, and which produce an inclination to sin (1264, 1426, 2515)” [The numbers refer to paragraphs that deal with concupiscence].
      1264 says “Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and the such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Traditions calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, ‘the tinder for sin’ (fomes peccati); since concupiscence ‘is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.’ [Council of Trent Decree on Original Sin 1515]. Indeed, ‘an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules’ [ref to 2 Timothy 2:5].”
      1426 says “…the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life [Council of Trent Decree on Original Sin 1515].”
      2515 says…what Becky wrote in her comment!

      Hope that helps. God bless you and all the best in your studies.

  • GHM_52

    Very helpful, Dan! Is there any book you’d recommend on the subject of such vices and their opposing virtues including practical advice on how to develop the virtues?

  • GHM_52

    Thanks, Becky

  • Thank you, Dan. This is man’s Enemy Number One, the First-Born Child of Pride…..The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it beautifully leaving no doubt and cross-references the Teachings with the Scriptures. This Enemy needs to be fought every single day of one’s life……she is very devious, cunning, alluring, persistent and stubborn and can make one’s life pure hell…….God’s Grace, however, is on hand to assist us to put her back where she belongs……the best Weapons to fight her are an active Sacramental Life – daily Holy Mass and Communion, where possible, and frequent Confession – and Prayers.

  • GAartist

    I think I understand the Catholic explanation. But as THEOLOGYSTUDENT brought up, What is the Protestant view?

  • theology student

    Thanks, LizEst. My source was New Advent: It starts with “In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good;”. … and later: “From the explanation given, it is plain that the opposition between appetite and reason is natural in man, and that, though it be an imperfection, it is not a corruption of human nature”… While the article on concuspiscence also includes some aspects of Dan’s definition, it is not as negative as that definition would imply. I suppose that it was my discovery of the contrast between Calvinism and Catholic teaching, as well as a very deep brush with Jansenism in my childhood that made me react as I did to the definition on this website. Sorry Dan if I upset you. Such was not my intention. And thanks LizEst for your going below the surface response to my comment. It has deepened my understanding.

    • No upset here. People disagree with and/or criticize me all the time. I don’t take it personally.

      • LizEst

        You’re a good egg, Dan. I don’t care what they say about you!

    • LizEst

      You’re quite welcome, theology student. The glory, of course, goes to the Lord. Glad it helped deepen your understanding.

      And, so happy you found your source. Hang on to that. You never know when you will need it again.

      Where are you studying?

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