Summary and Preliminary Note

[The term remedium concupiscentiae, proposed up to 1983 as a "secondary" end of marriage, has been seriously misapplied over the centuries. In practice it was taken to imply that marriage gives a lawful outlet to sexual concupiscence (or lust), and hence married couples can legitimately yield to it. The consequences went further. If concupiscence is "remedied" by the fact of being married, then it is either automatically purified of whatever self-centered (and hence anti-love) elements it entails; or, if these elements remain, they pose no problem to the living and growth of married love. As regards the conjugal act itself, the only moral proviso was that its procreative orientation be respected; given this proviso, the suggestion was that spouses can give concupiscence free rein, without this posing any moral or ascetical difficulties for the development of a full Christian life in their marriage.
While some traces of the term "remedium concupiscentiae" can be found in Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, those authors did not use it in the sense that it later acquired. Saint Thomas especially speaks of marriage as a "remedy against concupiscence" inasmuch as it offers graces to overcome the self-seeking concupiscence involves. The subsequent reduction of the term to "remedy of concupiscence" led to the loss of this understanding.
My purpose in this article is to show that sexual desire and sexual love are, or should be, good things - not to be confused with sexual concupiscence or lust in which self-seeking operates to the detriment of love.
If the acceptance in ecclesiastical thinking of marriage as a "remedy" or legitimation of concupiscence has for centuries impeded the development of a positive and dynamic notion of marital chastity, John Paul II's "Theology of the Body," if assimilated in depth, leads into a new way of thinking and presents this chastity as the safeguard to conjugal love and a means to its growth.]
Preliminary Note: Human Nature and Concupiscence
Christianity is the religion of God's greatness and love, and of man's potential, as well as of his frailty, misery, redemption, and elevation. In the Christian view, man is a fallen masterpiece of creation, capable indeed of sinking lower but actually ransomed and strengthened to rise higher. As a result of original sin, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called "concupiscence." Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle". (CCC 405)
Called to surpass ourselves and to attain divine heights, we are still drawn down by that tendency to lower things which goes by the name of concupiscence.
Concupiscence, in biblical and theological usage, covers the unregulated tendency to pursue or adhere to created goods. "Etymologically, "concupiscence" can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the "flesh" against the "spirit" (Gal 5:16ff.)" (CCC 2515).
Drawing from the First Letter of St. John, Christian tradition has seen three forms of concupiscence arising from self-enclosing attachment to created things. Two of these come from the sensitive appetite, the third from the intellect. "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever" (1 John 2:16-17). The pride of life consists in taking self-centered satisfaction in one's own talents and excellence, and springs from intellectual appetition. Thus the spirit too has its lusts, for not all its desires are upright, many being vain, mean, vengeful, egotistic: thereby tending to distort the truth. Hence man is threatened not only by the rebellion of the flesh, but also by that of the spirit.
These brief introductory remarks lead us to the more limited scope of our present study: the theological and human evaluation of [carnal] concupiscence in marriage, and the history - and also the utility and indeed the validity - of the notion that marriage is, and is intended to be, a "remedy for concupiscence."