I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want, you see, but I do what I hate…But now it is no longer I that do it; it’s sin, living within me.
I love old words that we don’t use anymore.
Because they cause us to actually think about their meaning. That’s why I enjoy Latin phrases. Not for pretentious reasons–“Hey, look at me using Latin, how impressively scholarly am I??” No, because it stirs thought and attention toward the purport of something. Words can lose meaning easily, and connotations can change drastically according to culture. So sometimes it’s good to go back in order to revive participative interaction with a word and its significance.
Augustine used this word “concupiscence” way back in the third or fourth century. It’s meaning was very deep to him (much more so than the simple definition you may find today in your online dictionary). It refers to these innate weeds within us, sabotaging our efforts to do what is good and live in accordance with our sincerely held beliefs and values.
“Within the core of our being, we discover pre voluntary incentives to sin that often carry us in a direction we do not consciously want to go and that continually undermine the authority of our reason and will.”*
Concupiscence is a universal condition, the result of a tension with what we are now, and what we have the potential to become. You could say it is the resistance of our human nature to our will. A resistant force against our efforts to follow Christ.
It just is. It’s there.
You could try to wish or pray it away, without making the effort to rise against it, I guess.
Let me know how that goes for you.
But it is by struggling against this dominance that our Christian character is formed. Human nature resists any course of action that summons transcendence, transcendence to following Christ. It is only through training that we can live out the demands of the Gospel and a life of grace. Because those demands are simply too much for our human nature alone. And yet the training is so simple. It is simply putting yourself in place to hear and be filled with God consistently. To receive power from on high in order to live the Gospel life.
But that concupiscence thing will fight us more vigorously the more we give energy to the Christian life. It operates concurrently in three channels whenever we incline to some virtuous act:
- It tries to distract us by waving before our noses a more attractive and less noble alternative
- It lowers our energy levels and inclines us to let the opportunity pass
- It contaminates the moral quality of the action by connecting it with unworthy motivation.
I find it very helpful to see these three exposed, like pulling the curtain back on the enemy a little. Once you’re aware of these, it is much easier to resist them. It would be quite frustrating to have a cage fight with the invisible man. So this is like someone gave you a bucket of paint and you threw it on him, and you’re like, “Yeah! Now I can go to town!”
*Michael Casey, from his amazingly insightful book Fully Human, Fully Divine