The "Three Stages of Sin" according to St. Augustine
The 13th century Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas informs us (Summa Theologica 2.1. Q. 72 Art. 7):
For Augustine (De Trin. xii, 12) describes three stages of sin, of which the first is "when the carnal sense offers a bait," which is the sin of thought; the second stage is reached "when one is satisfied with the mere pleasure of thought"; and the third stage, "when consent is given to the deed."
I can outline this simply as follows:
Stage 1: Concupiscence of the Flesh. The senses (e.g. the sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) perceive something that causes delight.
Stage 2: Contemplation (believed to take place in the heart; the actual biological functions of the brain and heart were not understood until much later), in which the mind delights in the sense impression, and stays with it, rather than referring it to God, its creator, as Augustine enjoins).
Stage 3: Consent of the Will. This is when actual sin takes place [some authorities said that it takes place at Stage 2, even if no overt act follows].
Remember the universal hierarchies, especially The Flesh / female and Reason/ male.
Ive adopted the terminology of the late D.W. Robertson, Jr., one of the great medievalists of this century and my former professor. Its easier to remember these three Latinate words because they all begin with "con." And, remember, "con" is French for "female sexual organ", and adultery is often a metaphor for any kind of sin.
(There were other ways of saying more or less the same thing. For example, Aquinas says right after this:
"Gregory (Moral. iv, 25) reckons four degrees of sin; the first of which is "a fault hidden in the heart"; the second, "when it is done openly"; the third, "when it is formed into a habit"; and the fourth, "when man goes so far as to presume on God's mercy or to give himself up to despair" "
But Augustines view was very widespread, and is found in literature, too).
Augustine (see chapter 37 of On Christian Doctrine) discusses the proper use and improper use, or 'abuse', of the things of this world.