Concupiscence is natural, not due to original sin

Objection: "But we are burdened with an innate tendency towards evil and rebellion against God"

Despite the definition of the Council of Trent that "God hates nothing" in those who are reborn through Baptism (Canon 5), a statement was made recently by a respected theologian that "as a result of original sin man is burdened with concupiscence, which is an innate tendency towards evil and rebellion against God."17 This, I believe, is a "hangover" of Augustinian theology that cannot be true. Let us analyze the question.

A "tendency toward rebellion against God" is evidently a spiritual entity, for it contains a concept of God, and an attitude of disobedience. Flesh and blood cannot think of God nor be opposed to Him. Three possibilities come to mind how such a spiritual entity might be traced back to Adam:

Let us consider these possibilities one by one.

Adam did not beget the souls of his progeny: Tertullian once offered the simplistic solution that parents generate the spiritual souls of their children. And so Adam passed his soul, now inflicted with original sin, down to his children, and they did the same to subsequent generations. The Church did not accept this explanation. Lactantius was foremost in refuting this theory, called Traducianism. He wrote:

A body may be produced from a body, since something is contributed from both; but a soul cannot be produced from souls, because nothing can depart from a slight and incomprehensible subject. Therefore, the manner of the production of souls belongs entirely to God alone. "In fine, we are all sprung from a heavenly seed, and all have that same Father," as Lucretius says. For nothing but what is mortal can be generated from mortals.18

The Church agrees: "The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God it is not "produced" by the parents."19

Adam, then, did not beget the souls of his children contaminated with original sin. We next probe the possibility that the spiritual entity of a tendency to rebel is contained in the body that Adam transmitted to us.

Genetic entities do not contain spiritual tendencies. We ask whether our physical genetic heredity from Adam might carry a material gene that induces our spiritual souls to rebel against God. Although the souls of parents do not live in their children, the souls of the children animate the genetic materials received from their parents. Twenty-three DNA chromosomes from the father meet the corresponding twenty-three of the mother when God creates a new human life. Might the genetic patterns of father and mother - and remotely those of Adam - be a bridge over which a tendency to rebel against God can cross from parents to their child? For the new soul of the child informs the fused gametes of the parents. As the CCC teaches, the soul is the form of the body:

CCC 365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

We are not two or three souls, plant, animal and spiritual, jostling with each other to gain supremacy. Thomas corrected the Platonists who held that "the intellectual soul is not united to the body as its form, but only as its motor." And against other philosophers he states that "there is no other substantial form in man besides the intellectual soul; and that the soul, as it virtually contains the sensitive and nutritive souls, so does it virtually contain all inferior forms, and itself alone does whatever the imperfect forms do in other things."20 Applying this to ourselves today, our soul is the form of our genes. Whatever be the origin of these genes, they are now our property.

We now ask the hard question: how might "an innate tendency towards evil and rebellion against God," which is at least in part a purely spiritual entity, be bridged from parent to child?

Sorry! There is no bridge.

First of all, the actual tendency that once lived in a parent has died with that parent. If the offspring has a similar tendency, it is initiated as the property of the offspring. It is new, it is not handed down.

Second, the parent does not generate the soul of the offspring. The parent may, however, beget in the offspring a genetic pattern similar to his or her own, in which the tendency had once existed. We have no experience that similar genetic patterns generate similar spiritual tendencies. Parents beget spiritually blank genes in their children, not sentiments of rebellion attached to the genes. If the genes that parents beget in their children are like a piano that they pass on by inheritance, the children still need to learn to play the piano, and to play the genes, by their own effort.

Third, a tendency to rebel against God is essentially a spiritual entity, not a sentient production housed in electro-chemical movements. Parents cannot bequeath to their offspring their own souls, nor thoughts existing in their own souls.

Fourth, a tendency to rebel against God normally pre-supposes a supernatural awareness of God that is based on a received revelation and faith. But parents cannot generate faith in their children by genetic heredity. Therefore neither can parents generate in their children's souls innate tendencies against the faith.

A genetic disarray may possibly induce a tendency toward easy addiction to alcohol, but that is not a purely spiritual entity. Genes cannot induce a spiritual tendency to rebel in the spiritual soul. A tendency to rebel against God is essentially a spiritual entity that has no roots in, or hold on, a genetic pattern. Parents pass on genes to children, but the genes are totally bereft of spiritual thoughts and tendencies. Children get a new soul, made directly by God, which is not a hand-me-down from parents. Children start with a blank spiritual page on which they do their own writing.

God does not insert into our souls a tendency to rebel: If genes cannot pass a tendency to rebel against God from parent to child, might God Himself, who is Spirit, create in souls the spiritual entity of "an innate tendency towards evil and rebellion against God"? But that is absurd. God who is holy does not insert unholy entities into anyone.

When God creates us with original sin on our souls, this is not an action against His holiness. Original sin is a deprivation sanctifying grace. God can deprive us of a gift without violating His own holiness. But He cannot positively infuse into our souls a tendency to rebel against Him.

Pessimistic Preaching is a Disservice

The Good News is that, by way of Baptism, we receive the gifts of faith, hope, and charity that unite us to God positively. We ought not use the expression "wounded nature" to belittle our native endowments. Original sin has not at all made us less good, less wise, less noble, once we are baptized. The Devil would have won a permanent victory which not even Christ reversed, if we are destined to be less intelligent, less holy, because our Adam sinned. That cannot be. The world, unwashed by Baptism, is still banned from Paradise; but Christ has made Baptism the open gate back into Paradise.

The Pope encourages the world to build the civilization of love. He calls upon each and all to become fully imbued with this Christian spirit, and to shape our families, environment, our structures, our governments, to conform with Christian principles and to radiate the beauty of Christ on earth. The Church sings the soaring melody of the Preface of Christ the King, and looks hopefully for the coming of this Kingdom on earth -- on our earth even after original sin: "As king he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace."

But if we say that our minds and hearts are permanently scarred, wounded, handicapped, spiritual cretins, we give up the battle to erect this civilization of love in full, even before we begin to try.

"I have no love for half-hearted men" says the Psalmist (119:113). But the teaching that all men receive only a half-hearted nature from God because Adam sinned, and that this half-hearted condition remains even after grace fills the soul, would populate the world and the Church with half-hearted humans. If Baptism would not restore what we lost through Adam, there would be only half-hearted rejoicing among the angels in heaven, when the lost sheep is restored to his former half-satisfactory condition, when the prodigal son returns to his father only to resume a shifty and questionable lifestyle.

Those who claim that original sin wounds our mental capacities make us, so to say, subject to incurable autism; we can still learn to do certain things through the help of grace, but we will never overcome the native handicap. They also make us, so to say, subject to muscular dystrophy of the will; we can become saints through the help of grace, but will forever retain our native weakness, the handicap of a wounded will.

The teaching that original sin reduces our native capacities of mind and will is therefore a doctrine of pessimism and despair. We shoot ourselves in the foot, we sit despondently in the back of the classroom, we indolently bury the talents which the Lord gave us to develop. Our preachers could then do no better than to urge us to convert to our imperfect natures, such as we are and always will be. Or, Like Luther, we would be content to hide a corrupted nature under a whitewash of God's mercy. But this is a counsel of despair! Like the lazy servant, we would forever excuse ourselves before God, claiming that He is a hard master who did not provide us with a proper opportunity to perfect ourselves in life. Really we ought to abandon our pessimism, and like the Israelites, rejoice after our Baptism as they did upon their return from captivity in Babylon:

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion,
we were line men dreaming.
Then or mouth as filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
"The Lord had done great things for them" (Ps 126).

God tests us, but does not create us with a rebellious disposition

The biblical narration about Adam and Eve is evidently an admonition that we do our spiritual combat with earnest endeavor. Adam had no more knowledge than an inexperienced child or adolescent, so deems pioneer theologian Saint Irenaeus. He needed experience to grow to maturity. After the fall he converted. We should learn from that, so urges the Bishop of Lyons.21 The saint did not value greatly virtue that just fell into one's lap, without our effort.

The sacred author of Genesis chapter three appears to purposefully instruct us that even Adam and Eve had "concupiscence" before their sin, such as all of us have today. The author describes how Eve's "concupiscence" worked in her as it is apt to work in us. She dallies near to the tree of the forbidden fruit - the wrong tree. She should have chosen to stay near the tree of life. She also converses with the tempter, instead of rejecting him by silence and flight. She entertains heady ambitions to gain instant wisdom, and lusts to be a little god in competition with the Creator. Her appetite too, wants instant satisfaction. She can't take her eyes off that dangling piece of fruit. She takes and eats. And Adam? He is right besides her and takes the second bite. This in paradise, and before the sin! It is as though the human author of Genesis had yet to hear the theory of Augustine about a supposed lack of concupiscence before original sin.

How often have we done exactly as they did! The sacred author knows the weakness of humanity well, and demonstrates what they are even from the time before original sin.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate (Genesis 3:1-6).

Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III,23) has the Divine Word treating Adam and Eve with pity after their sin. The Good Shepherd seeks them out specially because they need Him now more than ever. The pioneer theologian observes that God the Word felt concern for the first humans He had made, who would also be His own ancestors. Because He was determined to redeem the human race, it was only right that He begin with the first humans He had created.

The Bishop of Lyons then credits our first parents with a swift conversion after their fall. Adam could have covered his body with other leaves painless to the body, but he purposely used prickly fig leaves to do well-deserved penance for his disobedience. He was sorry now, fearful of God. The saint of Lyons then urges all sinners who have fallen like Adam and Eve to recognize that they need the grace of God to rise again. Let all learn from the sad experience of sin, and progress more wisely and patiently in virtue. Irenaeus presents Adam and Eve as models who pioneered for us the way back to God and to peace of soul after having learned about sin the hard way.

Words attributed to Solomon also relate how Wisdom saved Adam after the fall: "She (Wisdom) preserved the first-formed father of the world ... and she raised him up from his fall" (Wis 10:1). And Sirach, while lauding priests, prophets and patriarchs, gives to Adam the highest praise of all: "Adam, above every living being in creation" (Sirach 49:16). We have good reason, then, to honor our first parents and to be edified by their conversion.

Concupiscence, our earthly natural drives

Original sin wounds man at conception and birth by depriving him of grace due to him from the beginning of his life; God restores this gift by way of Baptism. But this restored condition does not confirm individuals in the state of grace. We are given a lifetime to prove ourselves faithful to God by freely choosing Him above all else. Every day we pray: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Baptism does not confirm us in grace, nor does it transfer us out of a sinful world. Life is a daily combat to be good. That's the way it began in the Garden of Eden. In brief: our natures were not adversely affected by original sin. God did not afflict us with autism of the brain and muscular dystrophy of the will because Adam sinned.

Our healthy and sometimes exuberant drives seek their intrinsic ends with persistence and vigor, and rightly so. But they do so without paying the least attention to moral standards. Eyes see what there is to see; they have no blinders that come down automatically when they gaze upon pornographic pictures, Ears impose no filters against malicious gossip. It is we ourselves, with our reason and will, who mold our personalities into children of God with the help of grace. But we can also follow the pathway of the rebellious angels and become, like they, devils who are wicked and perverse, who hate, who kill, who lust for companionship in wickedness and malice.


God did not directly damage or weaken our natural faculties of mind and will because of original sin. Our natural drives, however, cling to what is natural, whereas Christ calls us to live in supernatural intimacy with God: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Our drives are more comfortable with the things of earth than with those of heaven. As Paul writes: "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Romans 7:18-19).

Do we need proof that our natural selves are reluctant to follow our supernatural obligations? Let us contemplate Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. "Father," His natural self prayed, "you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me." Then His supernatural self prayed, and the prayer was to directly counteract the natural self, the pull of the flesh, the reluctance to suffer pain and shame: "But let it be as you would have it, not as I" (Mark 14:36). Once He prayed, but His nature still recoiled. Twice He prayed. And a third time. Truly, His sacred human nature needed supernatural help to overcome natural human reluctance to undergo the coming passion and death. His nature was not a fallen nature but a perfect body and soul as God created it. We should not wonder, then, that our natural selves also need prodding, need supernatural power, to yield to our supernatural obligations.

Our struggle is to obey the call to the supernatural despite our nature's reluctance to do so. We are not born with wounded natural powers, but with all-too-healthy natural drives that, like stubborn donkeys, remain innately reluctant to climb the steep and narrow road that leads to heaven. A bird in the hand, the natural drives insist, is worth two in the sky. The natural drives have no faith in heaven. We will never convert them to believe. But our wiser intellects and our wills, blessed with grace, can steer the bodily donkey to trudge up the steep and narrow way to heaven. God has made us beautiful, in His own image and likeness. We thank Him with the Psalmist:

What is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor...
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is thy name
in all the earth! (From Psalm 8).


1 Translation by J. Neuner, S.J. - J. Dupuis, S.J., The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, Sixth Revised and Enlarged Edition, Alba House, NY. 1995, No. 512. [Back]

2 Translated by the author from Concilium Tridentinum, Diariorum, Actorum, Epistularum, Tractatum, Ed. Societas Goerresiana, Friburg, Herder, 1965, p. 172. [Back]

3 CT 194, transated from the Latin by the author. [Back]

4 Augustine, Saint. The City of God, Basic Writings of St. Augustine. Vol.2. Translated by W. I. Oates. New York: Random House, 1948. [Back]

5 Aquinas, Saint Thomas, The Summa Theologica, trans. by Fathers of [Back]

6 What follows in the next paragraphs is a re-write from my book Evolution and the Sin in Eden, University Press of America, 1998, Chapter Ten, The Biology of Concupiscence. The book is now accessible on: [Back]

7 Data on brain structures is from Bruce Bliven, in Our Human Body. Pegasus Books, Reader's Digest Association, 1968, pp. 52-56. Also from Gannon, Rev. Msgr. Timothy I., Ph. D., Professor of Psychology (Em.) "Human Sexuality." Unpublished manuscript. Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, 1989. [Back]

8 City of God 13,13 and subsequent chapters. [Back]

9 Lejeune, Jerome, "Is there a natural morality?" in Linacre Quarterly, 1989. [Back]

10 Gannon 28;30; MacLean, Paul D. A Triune Concept of the Brain. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1973. [Back]

11 Gannon, 30, 31. [Back]

12 Pfeiffer, John Edward. "Introducing the Brain" in Our Human Body, 1955.Reader's Digest Pegasus Books, 1955, p.47. [Back]

13 Herve, J.M., Manuale Theologicae Dogmaticae, 4 Volumes, Vol. II, Ed. 17, Newman Bookshop, Westminster, MD., 1946. [Back]

14 Herve 417). [Back]

15 Herve 417-418). [Back]

16 Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. by Patrick Lynch, Tan Publishers, Rockford IL. 1974, No. 24, p.113. [Back]

17 Baker, Kenneth,, S.J., Editorial, The Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Nov. 2003. [Back]

18 Lactantius, The Workmanship of God, or the Foundation of Man, Ch. 19, trans. Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume VII, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. [Back]

19 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Liberia Editrice Vaticana, En. Ed. United States Catholic Conference, Second ed. 1997, No. 366. [Back]

20 Summa Theologica 1,76,4. [Back]

21 Adv. Haer. III,20,2. [Back]

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