Evolution and the Sin in Eden
A New Christian Synthesis

Chapter 8: Trent on Concupiscence

The Fathers of the Council of the Council of Trent, in 1546, asserted that the existence of concupiscence in ourselves leaves our free will intact, that the attraction to sin is not sin, nor is it displeasing to God. Though it remains after Baptism, it harms none who cope with it dutifully.

During the sometimes acrimonious debate the turbid concept of the attraction toward sin which remains in us after Baptism became an object of special attention. The view that our wills are now almost impotent was tested. A speaker suggested that concupiscence in us is so evil that we can never be perfectly justified while we live on this earth in our flesh. Only when we finally slough off the vile body at the time of death can we really be clean internally. But that pessimistic view of our fallen nature did not gather much support among the assembled Fathers. In the end they gave a far more positive evaluation of our present condition during the time of testing in this mortal life.

Agreement was near unanimous when the final vote was taken: Baptism forgives original sin, and eradicates it from the soul. Baptism effectuates the "putting off the old person and putting on the new, created after the likeness of God, innocent, unstained, pure and guiltless." The sacrament renews those who are cleansed into becoming "beloved children of God, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, so that nothing henceforth holds them back from entering into heaven" (DS 1515, Dupuis 512). The Fathers thus vindicated the spiritual integrity of those who are cleansed of original sin by Baptism. But they acknowledged that we remain subject to inclinations to sin after Baptism.

The main thrust of the final resolution is a confirmation that our wills are indeed free. This cleared the ground for canon 5 of the subsequent Session on Justification held six months later. It reads: "If anyone says that after Adam's sin the free will of man is lost and extinct, or that it is an empty concept, a term without real foundation, indeed a fiction introduced by Satan into the Church, anathema sit" (DS 1555; Dupuis 1955).

Anabaptists were denying Baptism to infants at the time. In response Trent reiterated the tradition that infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins. Trent thus confirmed once more the Apostolic Tradition of infant Baptism.

Catholic Theologian Pighius had proposed that descendants of Adam do not inherit original sin in reality, but only in name. It covers humanity in globo. The Fathers responded sharply that the sin of Adam is indeed a reality in each person individually. Baptism therefore heals us internally by washing away this sin. The sacrament is not an insignificant external formality, a mere legal device entitling people to enter the Church.

Theologian Presents Pessimistic Viewpoint

On May 24-25 the designated theologians of the Council conducted discussions apropos to our subject, of which no protocol was kept. A good record remains, however, of the contribution of one of the theologians, the Spanish secular priest Juan Morilla. He was the designated theologian for Cardinal Pole and commanded a powerful position. By our good fortune he adhered to a text which had been prepared beforehand of which a record survives. It lifts the curtain to reveal the remarkable position which he presented there.

Morilla began with a presentation of proof from Holy Scripture that the existence of original sin is an undisputed fact. He confirmed this with the witness of Councils which had opposed Pelagian errors. He then cited the Decree directed against the Jacobites which again proved that original sin is a part of the doctrine of the Church. In addition to these documents of the Magisterium he cited the systematic development of theology which confirms that original sin is the foundation for the teaching of the Church that sanctifying grace comes to us from Christ.

Theologian Morilla then moved into the area which more directly concerns the question of concupiscence, discussing whether it is a punishment for original sin. He championed the opinion that Adam's psychological condition was changed utterly for the worse because of original sin. His view is dramatic and extreme, bordering on the assumption that concupiscence corrupts human nature so completely that the free will can no longer assert itself against evil tendencies. Morilla allows that the will remains theoretically free, but practically is almost coerced by forces of concupiscence.

The theologian asserted that Adam, before the sin, had possessed an unspoiled human nature whose capabilities were rectified for him through the grace of God. As founder of the human race, and by reason of a covenant with God, it was possible for Adam to preserve these gifts intact for his descendants through obedience. But it was also possible for him to lose them for himself and for us through disobedience.

These primal gifts, continued Fr. Morilla, consisted in the integrity of nature and above all in the special grace of God (singularis gratia Dei). The gift also brought an inner harmony to the soul in which the power of reason ruled over the will and over the soul's lower faculties. Reason also had the power to rule over creation, enabling Adam to adjust external living conditions to happy advantage.

With the Fall, continued Morilla, evil concupiscence began to rule over humans, rendering them rebellious against God and enslaving them to sin. Concupiscence does not absolutely rule by coercion, but it does indeed generate a certain spontaneous necessity (necessitate quadam spontanea). The consequences of original sin are: physical death in this world, plus loss of the beatific vision in the next world which "almost all scholastic theologians hold," he asserted. Furthermore, the sin merits pains of sense, as Augustine taught, and such recent theologians as Gregory of Rimini and John Driedo hold. He was moving now into assertions which the Church has never taught.

The passing on of original sin to every offspring of Adam, continued the speaker, occurs by the following mechanism: the soul, which God creates good, becomes united with the body through propagation; that is, by sexual intercourse which is replete with concupiscence. It is in this manner that each person's soul becomes contaminated with original sin by way of propagation (Cf. Jedin II,136-137). What happens, then, when original sin is remitted through Baptism? The speaker asserted that through our incorporation into Christ by Baptism, the guilt of the sin and the punishment of eternal damnation are extinguished. We again become children of God thereby. Baptism, however, does not remove the concupiscence which is inherited with original sin, he continued, for this remains in the reborn as a moral task to be accomplished. Before Baptism this concupiscence is a part of the essence of original sin (in essentia peccati). We might call it a kind of matter of the sin. After Baptism it remains only as a left-over influence of original sin. It remains as a hindrance against doing good. It is able to prevent the perfection of justification in this life.

Concupiscence is therefore not sin in the strict sense of the word, but it is a gravitation in the baptized which pulls them downward toward sin. So far the contents of Fr. Morilla's intervention. His terms "imperfect justification" and "gravitation toward evil" would become cardinal issues of the debate. For the above see Jedin II, 136-137.

Martin Butzer was cited by another Father during the debate as having claimed that original sin is merely covered over by Baptism, not really taken away. This apparently electrified the Fathers who seized upon it as an expression of the essence of the opponents' teaching. It clarified the picture. The concept that Baptism spreads "whitewash" over original sin to hide it instead of washing the soul clean was condemned in the final definition.

A consensus began to gel among the thirty-four Fathers who spoke on June 4 and 5: concupiscence is not sin in the strict sense of the word. One disagreed, however. For a full hour he proposed and promoted his novel explanation. Though others had to wait, the audience gave him appreciative attention. He championed the idea, with a nod to St. Paul's terminology, that concupiscence was a sin only before Baptism. After Baptism it is no more than an occasion of sin. In the end, however, this clever but simplistic solution was not accepted.

Another went to the heart of the problem, asserting that concupiscence is not a sin. It cannot be a sin. Because what belongs to human nature itself cannot possibly be a sin. This came nearer to the formula which the Council finally accepted, but did not coincide with it completely.

The long intervention which had described concupiscence as a sin before Baptism, and only an occasion of sin after Baptism, did not sit well with the Augustinian Seripando. He rose to make a powerful rejoinder in which he stressed his belief in the immense evil of concupiscence. Seripando admitted that after Baptism concupiscence can no longer be called sin in the strict sense of that term. But it is and remains in itself, in a certain sense (aliqua ratione), something which is sinful because it is a punishment for sin. It is also the root and cause of many actual sins.

Seripando now came to the flashpoint: concupiscence itself must be something sinful by reason of its very existence in us. For it is nothing less than a hindrance against the perfect fulfillment of the will of God. As long as a person is not free from it, even from its unconscious influence, a person is unable to fulfill God's commandment: "Thou shalt not covet." This command forbids not only voluntary lust, but, in accordance with the teaching of St. Augustine, also the spontaneous movements of lust which the will rejects. Not until one is dead can this be sloughed off, and only then can the perfect inner justification be realized. Concupiscence is therefore a weakness (infirmitas) in humans, and it is a moral task. It forces humans to engage their full strength in the battle against evil. This powerfully spurs the justified to feel the need of grace and preserves them from self-righteousness.

When the speaker sat down after this climactic rhetoric, a colleague asked bluntly whether he is not in Luther's camp with this concept. To which Seripando replied that he is not. Although he says that concupiscence displeases God, he does not say that concupiscence condemns one to hell. That is because God forgives its guilt. Even children who die without Baptism are freed from condemnation in one manner or other. [N.B. He softens here the stern theology of Morilla who would condemn the unbaptized to hell.] But the fact remains, so Seripando persisted, that concupiscence is in some manner opposed to God. For this reason preachers should not be forbidden to say that concupiscence remains in the baptized as a sin. That is what Paul says. That is what Augustine says. Preachers should be allowed to say it in so many words. This should not be forbidden. But they should then explain more exactly what they mean by that.

On the other hand, continued Seripando, preachers who want to deny that concupiscence is a sin ought to explain why they wish to deny it. Namely the fact that it's guilt is forgiven and so concupiscence does not condemn one to hell (cf. Jedin II, 146-147). The Seripando-Morillo contention that concupiscence is sin did not win the consent of the majority. They had trodden on sensitive toes. One of the speakers, who also called concupiscence a sin, stated that he is forced to choose his words carefully lest he be accused of leanings toward the Lutheran concept of its nature.

On June 7 the Legates distributed to all the Fathers a draft of a decree on original sin which they had composed. It consisted of four canons; canon 4 of the draft concerning concupiscence is apropos to our subject; it states that children are to be baptized to obtain eternal life. Baptism remits original sin and whatever is sin in the proper sense of the word. But "concupiscence" or a "tinder" remains, as "a weakness and sickness of nature." This is not sin in the proper sense of the word, though it is from sin and inclines to sin. Appealing to Augustine and Thomas, the draft proposes as not unacceptable the Thomistic formula according to which the formal element of original sin is forgiven by Baptism, while the material element (concupiscence) remains. That assessment of concupiscence, however, did not make its way into the final definition.

That draft was read at a general congregation on June 8. The Fathers discussed it during the week which followed. Is it not self-contradictory, some asked, to state that Baptism completely blots out original sin; to say that nothing remains in the soul after Baptism which could be offensive in the eyes of God; and then to turn around and state that relics of original sin remain in the soul? The question was posed but not answered. The records provide no evidence that anyone volunteered to articulate a better solution for this apparent dilemma. The final decree is so worded that it did not clarify the matter. Before we analyze the final definition concerning concupiscence, several related points deserve our attention.

Holiness and Justice vs. Sanctifying Grace

A number spoke against the draft's wording that God initially endowed Adam with "holiness and justice." They preferred the terms "rectitude and innocence" (cf. John Endres, OP, 80). The hidden agenda in this may have been an attempt to becloud the concept that the initial gift to Adam was something above and beyond what man possesses by his nature. If Adam's initial gifts were natural only, then original sin would have damaged nature itself. But if the gifts were supernatural, they might be pealed off their natural base without damaging it. That is, the human intellect, will, and body might then remain intact after original sin just as before, without being weakened or deformed. The point is pivotal to the Council's doctrine that the will, a natural endowment, remains free after original sin. Opponents held that concupiscence arising from original sin deprives the will its native freedom. A determined majority opposed this. The words "holiness and justice" in the final definition signify its supernatural character. If supernatural, its deprivation need not harm nature itself, much as switching off a light does not damage the light bulb. That original sin did not distort, deform, or weaken man in the area of his natural endowments - his native powers of intellect and will - thus remains plausible.

Note that the definition does not employ the term "sanctifying grace" to identify Adam's supernatural gift. It uses a less precise term, namely "holiness and justice." Perhaps the Fathers did not wish to equate the grace of Adam before the Fall (grace of God) with the sanctifying grace which Christ bestows after the Fall (grace of Christ). Present at the Council were sharp theologians who might become trigger happy if they sensed that the honor of their Religious Order came on the dock. A notorious and heated controversy between Scotists and Thomists smoldered below the urbane surface of Council proceedings. Scotists asserted that the grace of Adam before the Fall was already the grace of Christ. "Nonsense" would opposing Thomists say to that. They claimed that God, but not the Incarnate Christ, gave the first grace to Adam. For the Incarnation of Christ came into God's plans in consequence of Adam's sin. According to their opinion it would be absurd to assert that Christ gave grace to Adam before even Christ was born upon this earth. The Papal Legates walked a tight rope to prevent a semblance of taking sides in scholastic theological warfare. Members of the various Religious Orders present at the Council might take very seriously a perceived obligation to defend their Order's partisan honor.

Pope John Paul II, however, does not hesitate today to call the original grace of Adam by the name of sanctifying grace:

When the Council of Trent teaches that the first Adam lost the holiness and righteousness in which he had been established ... this means that before sin, man possessed sanctifying grace with all the supernatural gifts that make man "righteous" before God. We may sum all this up by saying that, at the beginning, man was in friendship with God (Catechesis, 3 September 1986).

"Constituted" or "Created" in Holiness and Justice?

Another sidelight on the wording of the draft is the skirmish about the time when Adam received the initial grace. Was it with birth, or was it some time later? The draft had once stated that Adam was "created" in the supernatural state. That would mean he was never in a merely natural state, but was endowed with grace from the time when God created him. By substituting the term "constituted," in place of "created" the final version allowed freedom for an opinion held by partisans (but not by Thomas) that God created Adam in a natural state and allowed him to experience that for a time, before He elevated him to the supernatural state (cf. ST I,95,1). Peter Lombard and the Franciscan school taught that our first parents had to prepare themselves to receive sanctifying grace. God provided them initially with only the so-called preternatural gifts, so they held. God also assisted them with actual grace to prepare themselves for the reception of the crowning gift of sanctifying grace. Trent adroitly side-stepped the controversy by use of the word constituted. It doesn't state whether God created Adam in grace or bestowed it on him later (cf. Matthias Scheeben, p. 226).

Heinricus Renckens, SJ, (pp. 156 ff.) argues that the author of Genesis intended to teach us that God created Adam initially in the natural state only. He then raised him to the supernatural state when He brought Adam into the Garden of Eden. Genesis signifies this by relating that God first made Adam outside of the Garden, and led him into it only later. The Garden of Eden is seen as God's family garden, much as Persian kings owned private gardens for the exclusive use of their families. Walls prevented access by outsiders. When God took Adam into His garden, this indicated that God adopted him into His family by bestowing sanctifying grace on him. God conversed familiarly and intimately with Adam thereafter, as with a family member. At any rate, the Fathers of Trent changed the draft to read "constituted" in place of "created." We see that they took their theological debates seriously.

"Preternatural Gifts"

Trent dropped from its sober definitions any reference whatsoever to an alleged paradise filled with wonders. The Fathers excluded, for example, this high-flown description of paradise which had been circulated among them in a preliminary draft:

"God made man right and incorruptible" (Eccles. 7:29, Sap. 2:23). This He did in regard to body, soul, mind, and spirit. In regard to the body He made him sound and integrated, not subject to corruption and death, nor exposed to labors, sorrows, and infirmities; in regard to the soul He made him well composed, integrated and tempered by righteousness and justice; the body was completely subject to the soul, the soul's lower powers where the passions are born were subject to its higher powers where reason reigns, as the proper order of well constituted nature required; in a marvelous manner the lower powers consented to the higher powers without any resistance, and the higher powers, that is reason and the mind itself, obediently submitted to God the creator, as was right.

For that reason, though they were naked "they were not ashamed" (Gen 2:25), there being no reason for shame, since nothing in them opposed decency and reason" (Con. Trid. edidit Societas Goerresiana Vol. XII, pp. 566-569; translation by author. See also Andre-Marie Dubarle, OP, p. 232).

The fact that a draft describing alleged gifts of integrity in Adam was circulated among the Fathers of Trent suggests that some among them had hoped the Council would describe such a paradise in its definition. This the Council did not do. Did they lack confidence that the paradise as described above is revealed doctrine? The Fathers did not deny that such a paradise existed, but neither did they teach positively that it did exist.

Theories about an original paradise had indeed stirred the imaginations of theologians and orators to sing ever new glories about its salubrious climate with ever blooming flowers, of forests filled with song birds. Trent's definitions have none of this. In the final definition the supposed angelic state of Adam in an original paradise is totally omitted, and there is no description whatsoever of Adam's condition before the Fall.

Trent also softened greatly the phrases of the preparatory draft which alleged that the sin resulted in catastrophic wounds of body and soul for Adam. Canon 1 now reads only that "the whole Adam, body and soul, was changed for the worse through the offence of his sin." That sentence was lifted literally from Orange II (see DS 371; Dupuis 504). Trent uses the words but does not spell out the meaning in detail. Was there a change other than a loss of grace and the breakdown of spiritual solidarity in the human race? The sentence provides fertile ground for theological speculation. The CCC does not mention a "tree of life" with miraculous powers in paradise, nor does it use the term "preternatural gifts." The wording of the text (No. 374-376) ascribes special efficacy to the original "radiance of grace" which brought inner harmony to man, to the union of man and woman, and with all of creation, without explicitly teaching that the condition was miraculous, over and above the effects of the "radiance of grace."

The Final Definition of "Concupiscence"

The result of the debate on concupiscence was neatly defined in Canon 5 which reads in part:

If anyone denies that the guilt of original sin is remitted by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ given in Baptism, or asserts that all that is sin in the true and proper sense is not taken away but only brushed over or not imputed, anathema sit. For in those who are reborn God hates nothing...
The holy Council, however, professes and thinks that concupiscence or the inclination to sin remains in the baptized. Since it 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. Rather, "one who strives lawfully will be crowned."...
The Catholic Church has never understood that it is called sin because it would be sin in the true and proper sense in those who have been reborn, but because it comes from sin and inclines to sin. If anyone thinks the contrary, anathema sit (DS 1515; Dupuis 512).

Clearly, then, the Council defined what "concupiscence" is not: it is not sin itself, nor is it sinful and hateful to God. Less clear is the definition about what it really is. Trent calls it an "inclination" to sin, which comes from sin and leads to sin. Two things here are noteworthy:

1) Trent does not state that concupiscence started suddenly with original sin as St. Augustine had claimed.

2) Nor does Trent state in so many words that concupiscence is anything other than our spontaneous and vigorous natural drives.

During the Tridentine debate this conundrum was proposed: "How can that (concupiscence) be bad which belongs to human nature?" No one came forward to answer that. Trent's final definition states more clearly what concupiscence is not than what it is.

Next Page: Chapter 9: Naked without Shame
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