concupiscence-wilted-flower

Desire and Concupiscence

Remember the last time you gave a gift and it was unappreciated, even rejected?  What this person is doing was what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. John Paul II’s exegesis of the first chapters in Genesis revealed a theme of gift in Creation before the Fall. This idea of gift (what JPII calls the “hermeneutics of the gift”) is important because giving gifts for no other reason than love is a very human activity. Ordinary human experience has a theological character. We can come to the knowledge of God through normal human activity. Something as commonplace as gift-giving actually reveals the depth of disappointment in Genesis 3:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall 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, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When I first read that passage about four years ago, being new to the faith, the cynical part of me felt God overreacted to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.  It’s just fruit.  Knowledge isn’t bad.  Did God want to keep Adam and Eve in ignorance, to not know what is good and evil?  I was even prejudiced with the little I knew in evolutionary biology: did God want us to stay as Neanderthals?  Why have the tree to tempt humanity, or even give us free will for that matter, if God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit?

Those questions stayed unanswered in the back of my mind.  After reading JPII’s reflections on Original Sin in the Theology of the Body, I’ve come to some satisfying answers for myself that I’d like to share.  To do that, I want to bring back the analogy of the flower that I used when I was reflecting on the spousal meaning of the body.

concupiscence-wilted-flower
Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.

What if a worm offers the flowers a type of nectar that would give them the power to define what is right and what is wrong?  By eating this nectar, the flowers would then be able to define morality on their own.  This power makes each flower feel like it is God.  The flower is no longer dependent on God to define what is right and wrong.  Each flower can determine that on its own; they need neither God nor another flower to tell them what is a virtuous life.  They are drunk with this newfound power, needing no one, depending on no one.  Each flower is the master of his or her own universe.  This is how Original Solitude was corrupted.  When confronted by the Heavenly Gardener, they do not repent.  Instead, the flowers blame each other, corrupting Original Unity.  They cover themselves with grass and feathers.  So, the very flowery-ness of their body no longer communicated their inner life to each other, obscuring their Original Nakedness.  As punishment, the Heavenly Gardener made life difficult for the flowers.  So, Creation was no longer a gift to the flowers, and the flowers were no longer gifts to Creation.  The spousal meaning of the body was also corrupted.

The most fascinating part about this section in the Theology of the Body, is JPII’s discussion on desire and concupiscence.  I know the dictionary definition for “concupiscence”: strong sexual desire; lust.  I know what the Catechism says about concupiscence:

The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self.  The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason. (CCC 377)

I know what the Bible says about the “triple concupiscence” referred to in CCC 377:

For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:16; Douay-Rheims version).

But what does concupiscence really mean?

I credit my wife for helping me extend the analogy of the flower.  I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks to explain in normal terms what I have been reading.  So, a few nights ago, I shared my thoughts with my wife.  She was patient enough to hear me out and then pointed out how the flower analogy still makes sense.

What happens to a flower when it loses its water?  It wilts.  When Original Sin occurred, the living water (i.e. the Holy Spirit) evaporated from the flower of our soul.  Our souls are like a wilted flower.  Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.  Unfortunately, we usually want a quick fix.  So, we take whatever liquid comes our way: the sweat of promiscuity, the syrup of earthly possessions, the drool of greed.  Only when we wake up to what our soul really needs (the limitless flow of living water that is the Holy Spirit), will our thirst finally be quenched.  “Our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Saint Augustine of Hippo).

About these ads

4 thoughts on “Desire and Concupiscence”

  1. I was browsing Patheos today and found a post recommending a book about the TOB that I should read, “Theology of the Body for Everybody,” by Leah Perrault. My spiritual study should not be done in a vacuum. Perrault’s book should help me better understand what I’ve already read. In fact, even just from the few excerpts of the book from this post (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf/2013/08/theology-of-the-body-for-every-body/) is already giving me insights. Very excited to read it.

    Like

  2. JPII sums up what happened after Original Sin as follows:

    … it is only as a consequence of sin, as a fruit of the breaking of the covenant with God in the human heart — in man’s innermost [being] — that the “world” of Genesis became the “world” of the Johannine words (1 Jn 2:15-16), the place and source of concupiscence. (TOB 26:2)

    … what shows itself through “nakedness” is man deprived of participation in the Gift, man alienated from the Love that was the source of the original gift, the source of the fullness of good intended for the creature. This man, according to the formulas of the Church’s theological teaching, was deprived of the supernatural and preternatural gifts that were part of his “endowment” before sin; in addition, he suffered damage in what belongs to nature itself, to humanity in the original fullness “of the image of God.” Concupiscence is to be explained as a lack, as a lack, however, that plunges its roots into the original depth of the human spirit. (TOB 27:2)

    The words, “I was afraid, because I am naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:10), attest to a radical change in the relationship. Man in some way loses the original certainty of the “image of God” expressed in his body… Together with this breakdown, the acceptance of the material world in relation to man seems to falter as well. (TOB 27:4)

    He realizes for the first time that his body has ceased drawing on the power of the spirit, which raised him to the level of the image of God. (TOB 28:1)

    It was probably here, in this last quote, where I drew the parallel to my analogy of the flower: Original Sin caused the living water of the Holy Spirit to evaporate from the flower of Adam’s soul. Adam broke the first covenant with God. Every subsequent covenant God made with humanity was difficult for men and women because we lack the full strength of the Holy Spirit. Enough living water to keep our souls from being desiccated, but not enough to keep our souls upright.

    Like

Comment via Facebook, Twitter or Google+!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s