I have noticed this word ‘concupiscence’ a lot while studying Catholic Theology. It seems to significantly change what ‘Original Sin’ means, making a Catholic meaning of ‘Original Sin’ very different from the Protestant meaning. It appears to be a key word because the Catholic Church actually condemned the Protestant view during the reformation as being heretical. A lot of it seems to boil down to the word ‘concupiscence’.

I have not encountered the word a lot in Protestant theology but it is coming up left, right and center, as I study Catholic Theology.

Why is the word ‘concupiscence’ so important in understanding the difference between a Catholic view and a Protestant view of ‘Original Sin’?

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    I don't this is a deserved answer so it is a comment, I think it all comes down to Catholic believe that humanity's original nature is not the cause of evil and cannot be evil since it remains a natural creation of God. Concupiscence is the "selfish human desire for an object, person or experience." The Catholic Church does not consider it a sin since it is not evil. In the Catholic Church, one is guilty of a sin ONLY if it is voluntary. Many Protestants take concupiscence as a sin, Original Sin, as the corruption of humans nature.
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 19:02
  • @Drew your comment makes a great beginning to a sound answer. People should read it as a good introduction.
    – Mike
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 5:08
  • I made a mistake when starting the bounty; should have chosen Draw attention. To interested parties: I WILL consider new answer and wait 7 days before awarding the bounty. Commented Jan 8 at 18:44

5 Answers 5


If you want to understand Catholic teaching you really ought to consult the Catechism. After all, authentic teachings are always going to be more accurate than what you have 'heard'.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that Adam and Eve were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice" (CCC 375, 376 398), free from concupiscence (CCC 377). The preternatural state enjoyed by Adam and Eve afforded endowments with many prerogatives which, while pertaining to the natural order, were not due to human nature as such. Principal among these were a high degree of infused knowledge, bodily immortality and freedom from pain, and immunity from evil impulses or inclinations. In other words, the lower or animal nature in man was perfectly subject to the control of reason, the will (subject to GOD,) and most importantly, GOD. Besides this, the Catholic Church teaches that our first parents were also endowed with sanctifying grace by which they were elevated to the supernatural order.[1] By sinning, however, Adam lost this original "state," not only for himself but for all human beings (CCC 416).

According to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right: the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, and the vision of God in the next life. The Creator, whose gifts were not due to the human race, had the right to bestow them on such conditions as He wished and to make their conservation depend on the fidelity of the head of the family. A prince can confer a hereditary dignity on condition that the recipient remains loyal, and that, in case of his rebelling, this dignity shall be taken from him and, in consequence, from his descendants. It is not, however, intelligible that the prince, on account of a fault committed by a father, should order the hands and feet of all the descendants of the guilty man to be cut off immediately after their birth.[2]

As a result of original sin, according to Catholics, human nature has not been totally corrupted (as opposed to the teaching of Luther and Calvin); rather, human nature has only been weakened and wounded, subject to ignorance, suffering, the domination of death, and the inclination to sin and evil (CCC 405, 418). This inclination toward sin and evil is called "concupiscence" (CCC 405, 418). Baptism, Catholics believe, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God. The inclination toward sin and evil persists, however, and he must continue to struggle against concupiscence (CCC 2520).

Source: Wikipedia entry on Concupiscence - Catholic teaching section.


¹ Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Terrestrial Paradise

² Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Original Sin

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    You have explained the Catholic view exactly as I understand it. +1 for that. My question is actually not what is the Catholic view but why is the word as you explained it 'concupiscence' key in separating a Catholic view from a Protestant one. Mind you. I guess you have partly explained it in your analogy of the Prince cutting off limbs of Adam's descendants but that is not theology proper. but at least I can see that is what Calvinism seems to you as you view it from a far distance. still worth a +1.
    – Mike
    Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 12:53

Concupiscence differs between Catholics and Protestants primarily in the terminology and interpretation.

Essentially, to remember it, you have to know Latin. Think of "con" as with, cupire (or cupiere, my spelling may be bad) is the meaning of want, just think of Cupid and you'll have no problem with this, and scence is the state.

So basically Concupiscence is "the state of wanting sin" (I've never seen the cup- verb used without some negative implications, though Cicrero's rants about Catiline probably don't do any favors to his opponent anyway), and the core difference in the theology of concupiscence revolves around original sin in most cases (or so it seems, again, Protestants vary widely, so I speak from a specific background rather than categorically for the whole). Wikipedia is really a great source of information on this debate, but to sum it up:

Catholicism (at least at the time) teaches that the original nature of man is good. Protestantism teaches that the original nature of man is evil.

For Catholicism, because human nature is good, even though humans are not corrupted by sin they only fall into sin when they commit an action, rather than thinking selfishly. For Protestantism, the focus on the inherent evil in mankind means that even contemplation of actions that are selfish and self-serving, rather than Christ-centered and selfless (to a reasonable extent), is in and of itself wrong, even if the act is not committed. because it is a manifestation of the evil within the nature of a person.

Protestants believe that concupiscence can never truly be eliminated, but sanctifying grace can play a role in turning it around. Catholicism does not consider selfishness in and of itself wrong, it is the action that makes up the sin, not the thought.

Part of the reason you don't see much on concupiscence in Protestant traditions is that many Protestants consider it itself to be a sin; from my enrollment in the Nazarene church and a nondenominational Protestant church, I can tell you that at least in the more "conservative" groups it is definitely considered a sin, and even in some of the more mainstream ones as well (for instance, a passage is often cited where Jesus compares looking after a woman and lusting in one's heart to adultery, which is the background for the Protestant theology on the matter).

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    "Protestantism teaches that the original nature of man is evil." Really? That sounds more Manichean or Albigensian.
    – Geremia
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 23:45

As I begin to answer this question, it’s important to note that, from an answerer's point of view, it’s hard to give an accurate answer because of the question’s lack of specificity. Which RCC sources emphasize and explain concupiscence? Which protestant group are you contrasting the RCC view with? These would be necessary in framing a proper question. And yet are lacking.

However, despite the lack of sources and focus, I’ll take a stab and answering your question.

What is concupiscence?

Muller offers up this useful definition:

Concupiscentia: profound desire, particularly in a wrongful sense; specifically, the wrongful desire that is present in the parents during the act of intercourse, which then passes on to the children and which, as an inborn stain, becomes the fomes peccati (q.v), or source of sin, in the succeeding generation. Concupiscence is thus both the privatio iustitae originalis, the privation of original righteousness, and a positive cause of sin.

(Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological terms. p. 76)

This is a very useful definition. The basic sense of the term is from “cupio” (strongly desire). But, as a technical term in Medieval thought, forms two parts:

  • with a strong desire to do evil
  • without righteousness.

What’s at stake?

The issue, then, in the Reformation era was this: What effect did the fall into sin have on humanity? How bad was the fall? What effect did it have on people as they were conceived and later on born?

This is a massively important question. For if one concludes that the effect of sin handed down to us is large, it will remove the ability from humans to either earn or help earn their own way into heaven.

The RCC view

The RCC concluded that the will of humans, while damaged, in the fall, is, nevertheless, usable to partner together with God and then earn salvation. Here are some citations which show this thought/teaching:


  • Bellarmine: Si quis igitur a nobis quaerat, quid proprie sit peccatum originale, respondebimus cum distinctione ad hunc modum: Si peccatum pro actione cum lege pugnante accipiatur, peccatum originale est prima Adami inobedientia.… Si vero peccatum accipiatur pro eo, quod residet in homine post actionem et unde idem homo non peccans, sed peccator nominatur, peccatum originale est carentia doni justitiae originalis, sive habitualis aversio et obliquitas voluntatis. Die Erbsunde in uns sei lediglich privatio justitiae originalis
  • Bellarmine: If anyone therefore asks us what original sin is in the proper sense of the term, we will answer by making a distinction in this way: If sin is taken for an action conflicting with the law, original sin is the first disobedience of Adam.… But if sin is taken for that which resides in man after the act and from which the same man is called a sinner although he does not sin, original sin is the lack of the gift of original righteousness, or the habitual aversion and deflection of the will.


  • Biel: Posse non-renatos per opera poenitentiae impetrare justificationem.
  • Biel: The unregenerate are able to obtain justification through works of penance.

Synod of Orange:

  • Synod of Orange. Liberum arbitrium per lapsum primi hominis infirmatum atque attenuatum, non extinctum fuisse.—Habet (homo naturalis) enim potentiam remotam et vires imperfectas, et ideo nihil per se potest, sed si perficiatur ea potentia, et vires addantur, poterit praestare.—Quomodo liberum est arbitrium ad utrumlibet ante gratiam, si bonum facere non potest? Respondeo: liberum est, sed ejus libertas quasi est ligata et impedita; solvitur autem et expeditur, cum potentia proxima ad operandum per Dei gratiam praevenientem ei confertur
  • Synod of Orange: Through the Fall of the first man the free will was weakened and reduced, not extinguished.—For (natural man) has a remote power and imperfect strength and therefore can do nothing by himself; but if that power is perfected and strength is added, he can do something (good).—How is the will free to do what it pleases before grace (is given), if it cannot do good? I reply: the will is free, but its freedom is so to speak bound and hindered. It is released, however, and expedited when through God's prevenient grace the very power of doing (good) is conferred on it.

While many other sources could be cited, this is enough establish the point: to the RCC, the fall into sin weakened the human will, but did not incapacitate it.

This is a vital point to understand. For, if the will is incapacitated, then it would not be able to cooperate/participate in the RCC salvation structure. Pennance, as a way of helping to earn salvation would be impossible. Indulgences would be impossible. The prayers of the saints for those still here on earth (and invoking their names here on earth too) would be impossible. In effect, the heart and soul of RCC theology would collapse if the fall into sin left more of an impact on the human will.

The view of the Reformers

Here is where specificity is needed. Among the Lutheran (and later on Calvinist) groups, they searched through scripture and found that the fall into sin left a deep and profound dent into the human will. For example, the Lutherans concluded...

  • human nature is corrupt (sinful). (cf Gn 6:5; Gn 8:21; Jn 3:5,6; Eph 2:3.)
  • such corruption is universal. (1 Kings 8:46; Ps 14:2,3; 143:2; Pr 20:9; Ro 3:9–12,22,23; Ga 3:22.)
  • Although original sin is a deep-rooted evil, it is not the substance of man. (cf Jn 1:3 coll 1Ti 4:4;—Ro 7:18; He 12:1.) This last point is important. If the essence/substance of humanity were absolutely destroyed in the fall into sin, then Jesus would have assumed a sinful nature when he was conceived and born.

For a formal statement on the Lutheran view, the Book of Concord is the official document. For Calvinists, cf. the Westminster Confession and Calvin’s institutes.

Notice then the importance of understanding this conclusion and distinction. Both Lutherans and Calvinists, as a result of a thorough study in God’s word, were forced both by scripture and their own consciences to divorce themselves from the RCC process of salvation. For, to their understanding, if the fall into sin has incapacitated us, then God, from the outside, completely on his own, has to do the work of creating faith in us.

The Roman Reaction

The RCC in the council of Trent issued this statement concerning this issue of concupiscence:

  • Trid. Sess. V.5: An concupiscentia post baptismum et poenitentiam in renatis reliqua vere et proprie peccatum sit? Hanc concupiscentiam, quam aliquando Apostolus peccatum appellat, sancta Synodus declarat, Ecclesiam Catholicam nunquam intellexisse peccatum appellari quod vere et proprie in renatis peccatum sit, sed quia ex peccato est et ad peccatum inclinat.… Si quis autem contrarium senserit, anathema sit. — In baptismo tollitur formale peccati originalis; ergo reliquiae post baptismum, sc. concupiscentia, non sunt vere peccatum. Nam sublato formali, tollitur res ipsa.
  • Trid. Sess. V: (The question is) whether concupiscence which remains in the regenerate after baptism and repentance is truly and properly sin. The holy synod declares that this concupiscence which the Apostle sometimes calls sin the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it truly and properly is sin in the regenerate, but because it comes from sin and inclines to sin.—If anyone, however, thinks differently, let him be damned.—In baptism the essence of original sin is removed; therefore the remnants after baptism, namely, concupiscence, are not truly sin. For when the essence is removed, the thing itself is removed.

In her official writings, the RCC has officially condemned Lutherans and Calvinists to burn in hell forever (anathema sit) as a result of their teachings.

The Zwinglian option

While not directly related to the reaction at Trent, it is also worthy of note to speak of the followers of Zwingli. Zwingli writes:

  • Zwingli: Velimus, nolimus, cogimur admittere, peccatum originale, ut est in filiis Adae, non proprie peccatum esse. Non enim est facinus contra legem. Morbus igitur est proprie et conditio.
  • Zwingli: Whether we want to or not, we are forced to admit that original sin, as it is in the sons of Adam, is not sin in the proper sense of the term. For it is not a crime against the law. Therefore in the proper sense of the term it is a disease and condition.

We notice that Ulrich Zwingli’s view of concupiscence is much closer to the Roman Catholic view. And still today, there are many protestant groups that follow a far more Roman Catholic approach to this issue. For example, in the Baptist Faith And Message the SBC speaks about humans as being able to “accept” salvation. This is not the teaching of the initial churches of the Reformation (Lutheran and Reformed). This is far more aligned with a RCC understanding of concupiscence than a Reformation understanding. In Roman Catholicism, one makes use of his will to earn salvation with his hands. In Baptist thought, one makes use of his will to achieve salvation with his heart (choosing, accepting, etc.). In practice, there is much overlap between the RCC and many groupings of protestants (esp. those in the Baptist/Arminian camp).

The importance of the issue

If the question is why concupiscence is such an important matter, then the answer is that salvation itself is at stake. If the fall into sin only hinders and wounds the human will, but does not decapacitate it, then there is room for human hearts or hands to partner together with God to get salvation. If, however, the fall is a thorough fall laying low the human will (but not destroying the substance), then God is the one who has to do all of the work in both redeeming us and creating faith in our hearts to know and trust him. That’s why that word was used so much and fought over so much in the Reformation era.

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    Thank you so much for writing this answer; if I were the OP, this would have been my accepted answer. @AdithiaKusno's answer is good to complement other answers; in itself he doesn't talk much why it was a critical issue in the debate with Protestants. Unless other answers come by (I want to wait 4 more days), I would award the bounty to you. Commented Jan 11 at 22:22
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    @GratefulDisciple Thanks for the kind compliment. One of the challenges of SE is that, after you have done the research and then also spent time carefully crafting an answer that is also irenic in tone, the answer can either be ignored or voted down, simply because someone doesn't like the answer. I'm glad to see, that in this instance, the opposite is true.
    – user24895
    Commented Jan 12 at 10:16

The Fifth Session of the Council of Trent (On Original Sin), June 1546, condemned the Protestant views of original sin while elucidating the Catholic doctrine. Its fifth anathematization mentions concupiscence:

  1. If anyone denies that by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted, or says that the whole of that which belongs to the essence of sin is not taken away, but says that it is only canceled or not imputed, let him be anathema.

    this holy council perceives and confesses that in the one baptized there remains concupiscence or an inclination [fomitem*] to sin, which, since it is left for us to wrestle with, cannot injure those who do not acquiesce but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; indeed, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned [2 Tim 2:5]. This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin [Rom. 6:12; 7:8], the holy council declares the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it is truly and properly sin in those born again, but in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin. But if anyone is of the contrary opinion, let him be anathema.

    English transl. source

*lit. "kindling-wood" or "tinder"


The significant difference comes when you include gnomic disposition developed from Greek theology. St. Maximos the Confessor expanded concupiscence to be a property of our human personhood. It's a desire of will. Apart from grace this desire is predisposed away from God. This disposition of will missed the mark (in Hebrew hamartia). This is why St. James said once the desire is conceived it will give birth to sin. In itself desire is not sinful. You can view gnomic/concupiscence as a vector. It missed the mark and point to something else other than to please God. Grace is like magnet it aligns our desire to the target. This is why according to St. Thomas Aquinas, grace perfects nature. Grace transforms our dispositional desire towards what pleases God. This is an indispensable soteriological concept for Catholic and Orthodox. Some Eastern Orthodox might argue that St. Maximos' gnomic disposition is entirely different than Augustine's concupiscence. But in Eastern rite Catholicism, we see these as two distinguishable explanations describing the same underlying soteriological concept.

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