“You Shall Not Covet” / “The Unsettling of America” (photocopy)

Concupiscence and Desire from the Point of View of Theological Anthropology

Michael Figura

Yet the spirit’s absolute desire, appetitus innatus (innate appetite) though it be, is simultaneously, in relation to man’s last end, an inefficacious desire. Although an absolute desire for the vision of God is inscribed in man’s nature, man cannot achieve this final fulfillment by his own power. This, then, is the ultimate core of the paradox of man: God has destined man for a fulfillment that transcends all of the creature’s expectations. . . .


The Second Vatican Council, in its pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, states that man is riven by inner conflict. The Council locates the deepest root of this inner contradiction in the original sin by which man, in an act of rebellion against God, misused his freedom, thus leaving a permanent fissure that has run through human existence ever since. When man looks into his heart, he realizes that he is inclined to evil and entangled in guilt. The breakdown of relationships, sickness and pain, and, above all, the awareness of the inevitability of death, bring home to him the fragility of his life. Yet, at the same time, he experiences an unquenchable desire for a fully realized life, salvation, meaning, security, and love that remains ultimately unfulfilled in this life. Paul describes this inner cleavage in man in the Letter to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rm 7:15). “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (7:19). The Council brings out the implications of this inner contradiction: “As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness” (Gaudium et Spes, 13).


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