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Saturday, December 07, 2002

Today's Word is "Concupiscence"- Since I was talking about our sin nature in today's Edifier, this Lutheran-Catholic debate mentioned over at Veritas is all the more interesting. I had seen it earlier in the week and saw it as too much inside baseball at first; not so. Chris is upset over the issue of concupiscence. OK, that's a new word to me-this dictionary states it as " strong desire; especially : sexual desire." That doesn't help too much, but this Avery Dulles First Things essay on the Lutheran-Catholic dialog does
This reading of the Lutheran position is confirmed by the handling of the fourth issue, that of concupiscence—a technical term signifying the disorderly desires and spiritual weakness that afflict our fallen human nature. Lutherans hold that the justified person remains a sinner because "concupiscence" is not removed by baptism. In their view the justified person is, as the phrase goes, simul justus et peccator—at once righteous and a sinner. Catholics, by contrast, hold that concupiscence is not sin, and that justification removes all that can properly be called sin. The Council of Trent taught that justification effectively makes us righteous and condemned the view that our justification is only an imputation of Christ’s righteousness (DS 1560–61). It also condemned under anathema the view that concupiscence is sin (DS 1515). When Lutherans say that concupiscence makes people sinners, they seem to imply that it makes us guilty before God and needs to be forgiven or at least covered over by the merits of Christ. This was and is contrary to Catholic teaching.
Here's Chris' take on this issue
In its evaluation the Fort Wayne department of systematics rightly pointed out that the Lutheran and Catholic differences in their theologies of original sin play an important role in the question of justification. As they write, "Lutherans hold that original sin is really sin and that it remains after Baptism. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that original sin is eradicated by Baptism and that concupiscence is not really sin." Exactly correct, and this is one of (if not the) major sticking points in this dialogue. I agree completely with the evaluation at this point. My problem is with the sentence that follows shortly. The evaluation introduces the Council of Trent's statement on concupiscence thus: "The issue came to a head in Trent's Decree Concerning Original Sin (Fifth Session), which calmly anathematized St. Paul: 'This 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.'" Which calmly anathematized St. Paul??? This little jab really irks me. I could understand it if it came in the context of a polemic on the issue, but it really seems out of place in an evaluation of an ecumenical statement. The fact is, we (Lutherans and Catholics) disagree on what exactly St. Paul meant in places like Rom 6-8 and Col. 3. We don't read his language to mean that the concupiscence in the justified is actually sin; they do. I am aware of and acknowledge this difference of interpretation, and naturally I think that ours is correct. But I would never say that Lutherans "anathematize" Paul in their understanding of what concupscence is. This just seems really out of place and uncalled for to me. Maybe I'm over-reacting, but everytime I read this line, it gets me going.
OK, at first glance, I think that both sides are right on technical grounds. Let's go back to the Dulles definition of concupiscence-"the disorderly desires and spiritual weakness that afflict our fallen human nature." Does the believer have this less-than-perfect mental state? You betcha. Is that mental state sin? Only when stimuli cause those desires and weaknesses to be acted upon in ways God doesn't like. The fact that we're prone to sin isn't sin in and of itself. Catholics 1, Lutherans 0 for now. However, are we sinners after we're baptized? Do we still sin on occasion even with the Holy Spirit operating in our lives? Yes, if we use sin in a basic sense of doing things that God doesn't want us to do, or not doing the things that God wants us to do. The Lutherans nail one to the Wittenburg gate, tying the score. Let's go to overtime. I'm not an expert on Catholic doctrine, but I think we might be looking at two types of sin, the "Original Sin" of Adam and Eve's disobedience that Jesus' death counters and the particular sin nature of the individual. Jesus' death wipes out that sentence of separation given to Adam and allows believers to regain a closeness with God that was lost after Eden. However, that personal sin (if there's a technical term for it, let me know) that's our own doing also needs to be accounted for. Jesus not only died to close the Adamic gap, but also died for our personal sins as well; such sin is lessened once we become followers, but not eliminated. If we don't sin once we're believers, why the long lines at the confessional? I could use some help from my Catholic blog-buddies here, Chris first and foremost- are we talking past each other on this one? If we're not sinners after we're baptized, what are you confessing in the confessional?

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