On October 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. A Joint Celebration by sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Chicago, in which Francis Cardinal George and Bishop Ken Olsen led the five hundred-plus people in attendance through a recital of those statements in the Joint Declaration that “we confess together.” Rather than a sermon, an address was given following the Office of Vespers by Pastor Frank Senn and Father Scott Hebden on the significance and implications of JDDJ. That joint address is printed here.
JOINT ADDRESS: PART I: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JOINT DECLARATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION
Pastor Frank Senn
The deed has been done. Earlier today in Augsburg, Germany – the site where the Augsburg Confession was presented in 1530 before the Emperor Charles V and the Estates of the Holy Roman Empire – representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church at its highest level signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Today, in local communities all around the world, Lutherans and Roman Catholics are gathering together, like we are doing tonight, to affirm and give thanks for this major step forward in our long road toward reconciliation. We are very grateful to Pastor Robert Goldstein and the congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church for hosting this celebration tonight. This is an appropriate site for our celebration because this is a church which was committed to ecumenical cooperation even before it became fashionable. Almost as a kind of pilgrimage, I invite you to visit the statues of Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, two pioneers in ecumenical outreach, which have stood side by side in this sanctuary for many years.
At Augsburg in 1530, the Lutheran princes and their theologians proposed, as a message of comfort to consciences uncertain about the status of their salvation, that “we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.” This idea of justification by faith – that God, by grace, justifies unjustifiable sinners for the sake of Christ and grants them forgiveness and eternal salvation apart from any merit or effort on their part – had a profound affect on many Christian beliefs and church practices. New understandings of one’s relationship with God, of Christian responsibility in church and society, and of the Christian hope altered a world view and culture.
The Council of Trent, meeting intermittently between 1545 and 1563, had to respond to this doctrine of justification by faith alone and the whole Reformation agenda. It corrected many of the abuses that had earned the scorn of both reformers and humanists. But of the doctrine of justification, Martin Luther had said that no concession or compromise could be made. “This is the article on which the church stands or falls,” he wrote. The Tridentine fathers agreed that justification is important, but as one article of doctrine among others. Furthermore, they believed that the reformers were ignoring the role of the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit in human life. Even though the reformers had spoken of faith active in deeds of love, the Council of Trent affirmed that only by the power of infused grace can Christians perform good works and grow in holiness. There was a great theological divide between the ideas of the Christian being declared justified by God and covered with the “alien righteousness” of Christ in Baptism versus the transforming grace that enables Christians to cooperate with God in meriting their salvation. This divide had church-dividing consequences. Not surprisingly, Lutherans and Catholics condemned one another’s teachings. It was fortunate that theological positions rather than persons were condemned, because the condemnations did not always hit the mark. There were also theological developments, such as the teaching about the use of the commandments as a moral guide (the so-called “third use of the law”) in the Lutheran Formula of Concord in 1577, that might have opened up new possibilities of dialogue. But the hardening of theological, political, and cultural differences made productive dialogue all but impossible in the sixteenth century – and for four centuries after that. Only in the second half of the twentieth century have Christians learned how to listen respectfully to one another.
Father Hebden will speak about the convergence of views on the doctrine of justification that have taken place in the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues of the last several decades.
PART II: HOW ECUMENICAL DIALOGUE ON JUSTIFICATION REVISITED THE QUESTIONS OF THE REFORMATION PERIOD
Father Scott Hebden
The dialogue process began with Pope John Paul II’s visit to Germany in 1980 and his discussion of the need for dialogue concerning liturgical and sacramental practice with Bishop Eduard Lohse of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In 1981 the Joint Ecumenical Commission in Germany was established. As the Commission themselves stated: “It was soon pointed out that these burning practical problems could not be dealt with unless the fundamental and hitherto insufficiently clarified theological questions were also clarified.” Thus began a series of study groups monitored by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which have resulted in the current Declaration.
As the theologians involved in the study groups reexamined the theological questions of the Reformation period, they brought with them several new perspectives which facilitated arriving at a common theological statement.
First, they were able to abandon the polemical theological method of the past, the method of defining one’s doctrinal position by refuting the errors of one’s opponent. The polemical method particularly characterized the theology of the Reformation and Counterreformation period, exemplified in the Controverstheologie of sixteenth and seventeenth century Germany and the model of theological method in Robert Bellarmine’s Controversies. On the Catholic side, this polemical method reached its peak in the 1940s during the Modernist Controversy. It was finally abandoned by the Second Vatican Council which was, notably, a Council which did not produce anathemas or doctrinal condemnations.
So the dialogue did not proceed by means of the identification of error, but by means of appreciation of the positive theological insights of both sides. Thus the Joint Declaration states very significantly that the condemnations of the past do not apply to the theological views of Lutherans and Catholics as presently taught. At the same time, the Declaration appreciated the fact that the past condemnations on both sides sought to identify theological errors which may possibly continue to exist throughout history and of which we must always be wary.
Second, the theologians involved in the dialogues came to their work with the advantage of historical distance and an appreciation of how paradigms function in the process of understanding. We come to understanding by placing what we know into a framework or system of thought, a paradigm which enables us to understand and which may have to be revised as the process of understanding moves forward. We proceed in this way because of the always limited character of human understanding.
Now, from our vantage point in history, we see clearly that the Lutheran and Catholic theology of the Reformation operated out of different paradigms through which they attempted to articulate the same theological insights. The Catholic paradigm is often called a “metaphysical” paradigm which tried to describe the action of grace in the world using philosophical categories: how grace acts in human life and how we receive it. The Lutheran paradigm is often called an “existential” paradigm which tried to describe the reality of the human condition under the power of sin and its solution: how we are totally dependent on God’s initiative to save us from our sinful condition.
In the light of historical distance, we also see that these paradigms were significantly influenced by the historical moment and social conditions under which they were developed. The Catholic paradigm arose during the medieval period in which the world was viewed as essentially a Christian kingdom in which people lived as subjects. The Reformation paradigm grew up as that medieval world collapsed and human freedom moved into a new phase of development in the formation of independent nations and the idea of individual personal identity.
When we combine our appreciation of the role of paradigms in human thought with the Bible principle of the complementarity of gifts in the Church, we are given one of the basic principles of all ecumenical dialogue: “There may be a distinction between the doctrines of the faith and the manner in which these doctrines are expressed. Differences in expression are not necessarily contradictory or mutually exclusive.”
Finally, the theologians involved in the dialogues brought with them the fruits of Biblical studies as they revisited Reformation questions. Protestants led the way in the development of Biblical studies and Catholics followed after the end of the Modernist controversy in the 1940s. The process of reaching consensus was served by viewing the two doctrinal traditions once again in the light of Scripture. Scripture study has given us a deeper perspective on how the theme of justification is related to other themes in the writings of Paul and also to the whole of Biblical revelation.
In the light of these new perspectives on the doctrine of justification, the Joint Declaration states the consensus that is reached: “Together we confess: By grace alone in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” (JD 15)
PART III: THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE JOINT DECLARATION FOR LUTHERANISM AND FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY GENERALLY
Pastor Frank Senn
We have achieved a basic consensus on the doctrine of justification that we are able to “confess together”. We have clarified how our respective teachings related to justification can be understood in relation to this central affirmation. Our Churches have declared that positions condemned by the Confessions and Canons of the sixteenth century do not apply to how justification is taught in our Churches today. The Joint Declaration will now have to be received by our Churches at all levels. People will have to determine whether what “we confess together” represents our contemporary faith, not how adequately it represents the faith of sixteenth century Christians. Is this what we actually believe, teach, and confess? And the Churches which officially subscribed to this Joint Declaration will have to be held accountable by each other to its faith-statements.
There don’t seem to be any practical consequences of signing this Declaration. We’re not becoming one Church; we aren’t entering into full communion; we aren’t even at the point yet where we can officially share the Eucharist at one another’s altars.
But this doesn’t mean there aren’t profound implications of this Joint Declaration. First of all, we need to admit that the mutual animosities over the last four-and-a-half centuries have often led to war and bloodshed as well as caricatures of our respective teachings. Let this Joint Declaration clarify, first of all to our own people, what we teach in our own traditions as well as what we can confess together. Let this be a teaching document that we can study together in our parishes and explore with each other the mystery of our salvation in Christ.
This Joint Declaration gives us an opportunity to move forward in our official dialogues from a new shared position. Relationships between our Churches have warmed considerably over the last quarter century. At the local level we have experienced tremendous cooperation in ministries and missions through covenants such as the one we enjoy between the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and the Archdiocese of Chicago. But this Joint Declaration is the first act of agreement on a global level. It sends a powerful signal to our people that a new day has dawned in Lutheran-Catholic relationships around the world.
For Lutherans this agreement must cause special soul-searching. We have said that justification is “the article on which the church stands or falls.” We agree now that this doctrine takes its place along with other articles of faith, such as the Trinity, Christology, and the means of grace (which is certainly the case in our Confessions). But if we agree on this article, then we must affirm that the Roman Catholic Church is a standing church, not a fallen one. And we must ask, from our point of view, whether other issues need to be church-dividing?
In the euphoria of this day, I believe we are entitled to envision the future of Lutheran-Catholic relationships on the basis of the conclusions reached in dialogues on other theological topics. Are there other issues that were church-dividing in the sixteenth century on which sufficient study has been done to enable similar joint declarations to be crafted? I personally believe such a statement would be possible on the eucharistic presence and sacrifice. Can we also envision a conversation on the papal office that builds on Philipp Melanchthon’s statement, in a codicil to the Smalcald Articles in 1537, that if the pope would allow the Gospel “we, too, may concede to him that superiority over the bishops which he possesses by human right, making this concession for the sake of peace and general unity among the Christians who are now under him and who may be in the future,” and the invitation of Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on Christian Unity, Ut Unam Sint, to join in finding a way “of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation?” (Par. 95) Can we imagine the model of full communion, which we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are working out with other Reformation Churches, serving as a way of expressing unity in faith and mission with the Bishop and Church of Rome? As I said, this is a day for dreaming. But the dreams no longer seem quite so impossible.
It’s almost more difficult to imagine how the world’s Lutherans, in their autonomous church bodies, could act together on such an issue than to imagine the possibility of full communion between Lutheran and the Roman Catholic Churches. But the very process of endorsing the Joint Declaration has pushed the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation into a closer realization of being a Communion of Churches than existed before. Never before have we, as a global family of faith, established doctrinal agreement with another worldwide faith-community. Now we know how to do it.
Finally, since justification concerns the message of salvation, being able to speak the same message in our world will advance the Christian witness. Father Hebden will speak to the significance of the Joint Declaration for the Roman Catholic Church, but also to its impact on the Christian witness in the contemporary world.
PART IV: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JOINT DECLARATION FOR THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND FOR ECUMENICAL WITNESS TO CHRIST
Father Scott Hebden
The Joint Declaration is significant for the Roman Catholic Church first of all because it is an expression of the ecumenical vision of the Second Vatican Council. We are in the process of reception of that great Council and Catholics must continue to strive seriously to understand what it means to be a Church of the Second Vatican Council.
Second, I think that the Joint Declaration calls Catholics back to an appreciation of the very best in our theological tradition. The heart of the theological question about justification involves the interaction of two great truths: the sovereignty of God in giving the gifts of grace to humans on the one hand, and the great dignity of human freedom on the other and humanity’s vocation to cooperate with and to actively receive God’s grace.
Catholics may remember our own theological history and the controversies about grace that took place within Catholic theology during the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries. We may remember, too, that these controversies were never resolved. The Church never took an official position in favor of those theologians who advocated for the sovereignty of God on the one hand, or for the centrality of human freedom on the other. The reason for this is that we are face to face here with one of the fundamental mysteries of the Christian faith. God is absolutely sovereign and complete, but out of love God desires to share the divine life with human persons who are created in the divine image and are given the unique dignity of freedom and participation in the workings of God’s grace. We must always hold both of these truths together if we are to be true to the mystery of faith and to the worship of God who always appears to us as a coincidence of opposites, uniting all things in divine love.
I would also like to suggest that for Catholics the Joint Declaration reminds us that it is still relevant to talk about soteriology. Soteriology in theology is the truth of how we are saved. It would be a mistake to think that the Joint Declaration merely allows us to lay aside some dusty old theological problems so that we can get on with the practical issues that are really important to us. Remember that the justification dialogue began with practical concerns and it was determined that the practical issues could only be resolved on the foundation of soteriology – a clear apprehension of the truth of how we are saved.
The Joint Declaration is made public at a time when Christians in developed countries are increasingly becoming a minority. We must be able to articulate the truth of how we are saved for a culture and for a historical moment that increasingly does not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Joint Declaration can help us put this great truth into words for our time. In an article in The New Republic several years ago, Wendy Kaminer described spirituality today as consisting of “the vaguest intimations of supernatural realities…simply religion deinstitutionalized and shorn of any exclusionary doctrines.”
The Joint Declaration reminds us that authentic Christian faith IS grounded in a clear apprehension of supernatural realities and the relationship of the truth of those realities to the transformation of human society. As Lutherans and Catholics come together as a result of opportunities created by the Joint Declaration, it is to be hoped that we will do so in the Spirit of sharing in this common mission to bring Christ to the world.
From a Catholic perspective, this ongoing articulation of the truth of salvation also means that the doctrine of justification must be seen in the light of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration that “it pleased God to make people holy and to save them not merely as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people.”(Lumen gentium 9) This, too, is critical to our witness to Christ in the world. It is absolutely essential, as the world moves toward a global society, that we come to understand how true human communion, the fruit of salvation, is rooted in the fundamental Christian teaching on the Trinity. The consensus reached in the Joint Declaration allows us to turn toward the broader theological issues of how justification is to be understood within the communal reality of the Church as people of God and sacrament of salvation, and also within the reality of the Trinity which is the model and source of the communion of love.
We are pointed in this direction by the clarifications offered in the Annex to the Joint Declaration. There it is affirmed that justification “as an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our Churches to Christ has its truth and specific meaning within the overall context of the church’s fundamental Trinitarian confession of faith.” The International Lutheran-Catholic Commission in its 1994 document, Church and Justification, had already pointed out that, in the light of the Trinity, both justification and church must be seen as mutually indispensable criteria for the life of the Church.
“Our faith encompasses justification and the Church as works of the triune God which can properly be accepted only in faith in him… We believe in justification and the Church as mysterium, a mystery of faith, because we believe solely in God, to whom alone we may completely consign our lives in freedom and love and in whose word alone which promises salvation, we can establish our whole life with complete trust. Consequently we can say in common that justification and the Church both guide us into the mystery of the triune God and are therefore mysterium, the mystery of faith, hope, and love” (Church and Justification 5).
The Rev. Dr. Frank C. Senn is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston and Ecumenical Representative of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod.
The Rev. Scott Hebden is Associate Pastor of St. Philomena Catholic Church in Chicago and an adjunct staff person in the Ecumenical Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
 Augsburg Confession 4; The Book of Concord, ed. and trans. by Theodore G. Tappert et al. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 30.
 See “Justification by Faith (Common Statement),” 63; Justification by Faith: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, ed. by H. George Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, Joseph A. Burgess (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985), 38.
 See the more detailed historical analysis by George Tavard in “Ecumenical Implications of Past Condemnations,” Ecumenical Trends 26:4 (April 1997), 57-60.
 See Otto H. Pesch, “Existential and Sapiential Theology: The Theological Confrontation between Luther and Thomas Aquinas,” in Jared Wicks, ed., Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1970), 61-81; also John J. McDonnell, “The Agreed Statement on Justification: A Roman Catholic Perspective,” Ecumenical Trends 28:5 (May 1999), 72-73.
 The formulation of the principle is given by Edward Cardinal Cassidy, “The Meaning of the Joint Declaration on Justification,” Origins 29:18 (October 14, 1999), 282-83.
 The phrase is Luther’s. The closest a confessional statement comes to it is in The Smalcald Articles: “The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ our God and Lord, ‘was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification’ (Rom. 4:25)…. On this article rests all we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world.” (II, 1:1, 5)
 See, for example, The Eucharist. Report of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Commission (Geneva: Lutheran World Federation, 1980).
 Tappert, 316-17.
 Quoted in J. Augustine Di Noia, “Joint Declaration between Lutherans and Catholics on the Doctrine of Justification: Some Observations from a Catholic Perspective.” Address given at the CCET Conference, October 28, 1996.
 The Annex clarified the consensus reached in the Joint Declaration in the light of the resolution on the Declaration by the Lutheran World Federation of June 16, 1998 and the response by the Catholic Church of June 25, 1998. See text in Origins 29:6 (June 24, 1999), 87-88.