Saturday, February 12, 2011

Concupiscence and Bible Interpretation: Where Protestants and Catholics Diverge

So I've read some of my cousin's blog. She's Southern Baptist and when she talks about sin, she refers to herself as being "unworthy" and "sinful" and whatnot. She's not my only Protestant friend that talks this way. Many Protestants do. It's always bothered me and I couldn't put my finger on it until I came across a Vortex episode about Amazing Grace. Then I got it. I was never raised to think of myself as being evil.

Protestants believe that the soul is evil. Okay, I should be more specific. They believe that human's are inherently sinful and human nature is evil. Catholics don't believe this at all. God designed us and he made us good, not evil. In particular, God and God alone makes our souls. Then original sin came along and our souls were bruised or lacerated, but certainly not made evil. Baptism is the balm that spread on the bruise/laceration to heal the stain of original sin. Our term is Concupiscence. Basically it means that our souls are good, but we are prone to sin. The CCC defines it as this:

1264: Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition 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."...

Therefore, Catholics believe that people aren't evil just prone to sin; easily duped by the devil. This is especially true if we've committed a sin and have not sought forgiveness for it. Just like when the body contracts a cold that turns into the flu or pneumonia, when we sin our soul's "immune system" is weak and more prone to the whispers of the devil. We're more likely to keep "contracting" more sin.

Sin, from the Catholic viewpoint, doesn't make a person evil, but rather the sin itself is evil. To sin is a conscientious turning away from God's commands. Granted there are venial sins, which I think of as your conscience or Jimmy Cricket. For example, you may not know that it's wrong to steal because nobody has taught you that (in the case of a child perhaps) yet something inside you tells you that it's wrong. This nagging feeling is what you get when you commit an otherwise mortal sin if you didn't fully know that it was wrong. Again, that doesn't make you evil, it just means God is speaking to you and you aren't listening.

Protestants, however, don't need any kind of a nagging feeling. They believe that people are by their very nature sinful and will commit sin without realizing it. In the Protestant view, you don't have to deliberately plug up your ears and say "na na na, not listening to you." You're going to sin no matter what because you are born that way. And therefore, people are "sinful," "evil", "wretches."

That's why I think many of my Protestant friends use the type of language of being a "wretch" and "evil." And Catholics, like myself, don't understand why. I certainly never referred to myself as being evil or a wretch. I know God loves me and made me in a way to serve him with all the best possible bits he could muster. He would not set me up to be evil. He sets me up to do good and his will. It's my choice to do something evil or wrong, but that doesn't make me evil. That would be a slap in the face of my Lord, who has created and intended me to be good.

Another place where we diverge is Biblical interpretation. Catholics can't interpret the Bible on their own. Okay, again need to be more specific. Catholics can read a passage and also based on church Tradition conclude that they (as females) need to cover their heads at Mass (for example). However, unless the Pope issues a statement about it being mandatory to do so, Catholics cannot conclude that all Catholic women need to cover their heads. Nor can it go the other way, Catholics can't conclude that Catholic women shouldn't cover their heads unless the Pope says so. Therefore, it's a personal choice on how to interpret 1 Cor. until the Pope has said one way or the other.

Much about the Bible is like this, but much of the Bible is not up for debate either. The passages I quoted in my post about confession are not up for debate. A Catholic cannot interpret them any other way; a Protestant can. If a Catholic did, we would not be Catholic. We would be as Michael Voris put it, "Un-official Protestants." And as one of my friends says, "If you're Protestant you go find a church that believes what you do. If you're Catholic and you don't agree with a Church stance, then you still stay Catholic but ignore it." Again, I don't recommend doing that. But I would recommend excommunicating yourself. A small side note: it really upsets, eats at me, etc when I know a person who disagrees with something in the Church that's big (such as Confession) goes and receives communion anyway. Please don't do this. Even if you don't think it's sinful, it's still hurtful against the rest of us Catholics. (And I hope that someone I know in real life gets the hint.)

Below is the video I was speaking about. For my Protestant friends and family, let me be frank. Voris is a proselytizer, but his audience is to wayward Catholics. I agree with his views, BUT, and this is a big but, I would not use the language he does. For one thing, he fails to realize the positive affect Martin Luther had on the Church. I would not label Luther as a saint, but his take on indulgences did spearhead the Counter-Reformation. I've heard worse from Protestants, but in all fairness, a line has to be drawn in the sand if we're to have any dialogue. And sorry, Mom, I know Amazing Grace if your favorite, but I won't be performing it at your funeral. Maybe C will be kind enough to find another willing musician.


  1. Love this post... I knew there were some issues w/ the song but hadn't looked into what they were.

  2. As a Catholic convert, I might offer this kind of insight. No doubt that from a theological standpoint, the Vortex is correct. However, I think he is missing the point and that the song is not anti-Catholic at all, but is simply an expression of gratitude to God. John Newton, the author of the song, was not expressing a theological point in the sense of what Vortex is saying -- I'm sure he considered himself a "wretch" for his part in the slave trade, just as Fr Corapi would have considered himself a "wretch" when he was homeless on the streets of LA, just as any person would consider himself a "wretch," having finally come to faith in Jesus. This has nothing to do with the worth of the soul, but with the mess one has made of his life. Sure, grace is always present -- but one has to acknowledge this grace and receive it through the sacraments. Until then, one is "blind" to it. This, "blind but now I see." Just like the blind man in the Bible, to paraphrase, "I don't really understand what is happening, all I know is that I was blind but now I see." So, you can sing Amazing Grace at my Catholic funeral (which I hope will be a long time coming) and my soul will be happy. Best regards, Sandy O'Seay

  3. Sandy thanks for your insight. I think the point is that we have enough reportore from Catholic composers that it's unnecessary to use Amazing Grace since perhaps we can agree that the meaning behind it is ambiguous at best. In other words, I can see your point but I also can see his point. To avoid the argument, I would rather shy away from the song.

    Other point, I don't sing. I'm a flutist. I would be therefore playing the piece. There are a number of more uplifting flute pieces out there that aren't songs that I could use instead. My mom's not dying anytime soon. She can research one she likes.

  4. "Much about the Bible is like this, but much of the Bible is not up for debate either" I agree with this statement this is the best if you want to know how to interpret the bible

  5. From what I have studied in Catholic theology, Catholics believe that the nature of man is "weakened" or "wounded". You can liken it to a person who has been shot, if they don't get medical care they will die, their wound will become lethal. Apart from Christ we will die. As well Catholics believe that man in his weakened condition does not due as he ought and needs Prevenient Grace.

    Concerning the Protestant view of the nature of man, most Protestants (Reformed, Lutheran) believe that man is totally depraved. Here is a definition:

    Total Depravity is the doctrine that fallen man is completely touched by sin and that he is completely a sinner. He is not as bad as he could be, but in all areas of his being, body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions, etc., he is touched by sin. In that sense he is totally depraved. Because man is depraved, nothing good can come out of him (Rom. 3:10-12) and God must account the righteousness of Christ to him. This righteousness is obtainable only through faith in Christ and what He did on the cross.

    I personally would also add that:

    in Mark 7:21-23 Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23"All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

    Matt. 15:19 He said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20"These are the things which defile the man."

    John 8:34, "Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin."

    John 3:19, "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil."

    Why are their deeds evil? Because Jesus said, "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18"A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit," (Matt. 7:17-18).

    Jesus speaks of the nature of a thing. The nature of the fallen is that he is sinful, completely touched by sin in all that he is.

    Rom. 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

    Rom. 7:18, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not."

    Eph. 2:1, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins."

    Eph. 2:3, "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."

    These scriptures discuss the nature of man some before regeneration, Paul's comment in Romans 7 was while he was a Christian.

    What do we learn? Before regeneration: The heart of man is corrupted and he commits all sorts of evil. Man is defiled, the slave of sin, man loves darkness, man is likened to a bad tree which produces bad fruit, by nature a child of wrath and dead in sin (a dead person isn't just wounded). Even after Regeneration Paul said in him dwells no good thing.

    How can Catholics have such a high view of the nature of unregenerated man?

  6. Andrew- Yes, that is the Catholic prospective. We also believe that the OT and the NT go hand in hand.

    If you look at the creation of man before the fall, you will read in Genesis that God made man and all creation. Each time he makes something the Bible says "God saw how good it was."

    When it comes to creating man, it says that God says "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Gen 1:26 and again it says "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him" Gen 1:27

    Therefore one can conclude that in the beginning God made man good like God is good. Now the question arises well does God make men bad? Catholics believe that God is incapable of making men bad. It's not his nature. He gives man free will, but he does not make man bad. God doesn't create evil. He allows it to manifest, but he doesn't create it.

    The only thing God does is make good things and creates good men. But then there was the fall. Man disobeyed God (sinned) and thus inflicted this stain of sin (the fall) on the rest of mankind. It was man's choice (free will) that caused man to fall. It was not how God created him to be. With me so far?

    So we are born with the fall. We are heavily prone to sin because of man's choice. To remove this sin and leave us with the goodness that God created in us, we baptize our children. It's a balm, an ointment to remedy the fall and help us live out our goodness. What's left is concupiscence, the propensity to sin. I quoted the CCC's definition above. Alone we cannot wrestle with this alone but with Jesus's death on the cross and God's grace, we can overcome it.

    Does this men man is evil, sinful, hate-filled? No, God didn't create man that way. Man makes that choice on his own.

    So about your quotes: These are all discussing the fall, the human nature of man, or they are discussing concupiscence, man's choice to commit sin or be sinful. None of these quotes says anything about God creating man to be evil. And the reason is simple: God has not nor has he ever created an evil man. We make that choice on our own.

    Understand the difference?


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!