Brookline Carmel Bulletin
February 5, 1961
It is of the utmost importance that a man striving for union with God be able to distinguish clearly between sin and tendencies to sin. The former cannot exist together with spiritual perfection; with the latter, coexistence (though rarely peaceful) is possible. Failure to understand the difference may easily plunge a man into undesirable psychic states: uneasiness, anxiety, fear, scruples, depression, and discouragement. These paralyze him to some extent and induce a corresponding loss of self-possession. But if the tendencies to sin are recognized and evaluated at their true worth, a man is able to maintain his soul in peace and cope with them coolly, forcefully and decisively.
As pointed out previously (Cogitatio, November 6, 1960) there are found in human nature both innate and acquired tendencies. A tendency is an inclination or leaning toward or away from some object or mode of behavior. Obviously, they may be either good or bad. If they are contrary to God’s Will they are tendencies to sin.
Innate tendencies are of a general indeterminate nature. The senses of our body are designed to seek what is pleasing and to avoid what brings displeasure. In other words, they are equipped with an ‘appetitive’ faculty, a ‘sense appetite’. Thus a man finds that he loves and is drawn to beauty of form and color, delightful sounds, a warm, soft touch, etc… and is repelled by their opposites. It is not within his power to change this general orientation of soul. Movements of the sense appetite are not, therefore, sinful in themselves. It is God’s Will that they be turned to good use. But because of Original Sin, the intensity, the duration, and urgency of the sense appetites is all out of proportion to the dictates of reason, and they are, besides, not fully subject to the control of the will. Considered in their totality, the disordered inclinations in human nature are called Concupiscence, a powerful incentive to sin. There exists, similarly, a general inclination of the will to love ourselves. Original Sin has introduced disorder here, too, so that we prefer ourselves, again contrary to reason, to all else. Since they are natural, that is, involuntary and indeliberate, innate tendencies to sin are compatible with the state of perfect union with God.
Acquired tendencies are those caused by actual sin. Hence they are of a specific and determinate nature. They are not general tendencies toward the pleasurable and away from the unpleasant, but tendencies toward or away from this particular object or that specific mode of behavior. If an actual sin is not repented of, the tendency it causes remains voluntary and deliberate. If repeated frequently the tendency grows very strong. In a word, it becomes a vice. Clearly, this kind of tendency is incompatible with spiritual perfection. It is, in fact incompatible with the state of grace. If however, the actual sin is repented of and confessed, the acquired tendency it gives birth to is rendered no more harmful than innate tendencies, for they cease to be voluntary and deliberate.
It is customary, also, to speak of actual and habitual tendencies. An actual tendency is one that is experienced here and now. A habitual one is a tendency that lies dormant, i.e., is capable of being awakened. The property of a piece of iron by which it is capable of being attracted by a magnet is analogous to a habitual tendency. The attraction it experiences in the presence of a magnet is similar to an actual tendency. The actual tendencies to sin are called temptations.
Temptations, then, may be voluntary or involuntary, and proceed from our own corrupt nature, from our perverse will, and from the devil. Because we go about with eyes and ears open and have warm red blood coursing through our veins, we are bound to suffer temptation. In other words, only the man who is deaf, dumb, blind, numb and asleep is free from temptations. Our perverse wills are responsible for temptation when they deliberately carry us into the unnecessary occasion of sin. The devil tempts us by activating our habitual tendencies to sin. Working in our memory and imagination he stimulates our desire for what is contrary to God’s will and suggests reasons for indulging them. It is interesting to note, too. (And we have this from St. John of the Cross), that even our fear of offending God can be a source of temptation. Remembrance of what separates us from Him tends to activate our habitual tendencies to sin, also.
Involuntary tendencies to sin are mentioned as obstacles to perfection only insofar as they may bring on the psychic states mentioned above. These interfere with actual union with God when they impede the exercise of virtue, which puts us into direct, actual conformity with the Will of God.
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