Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

jddjThe Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ or JD) was an ecumenical agreement on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. The Joint Declaration was completed in February 1997, it was then approved by a supermajority of the Lutheran World Federation churches (89 of the 124 members signed), and then it was signed by the Lutheran World Federation and Catholic Church in Augsburg, Germany in October of 1999 in commemoration of the Augsburg Confession. The Joint Declaration was endorsed by an Official Common Statement by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church and then the Annex to the Official Common Statement was published, mutatis mutandis. In 2009, the ten year anniversary of this landmark document was celebrated in Chicago.

The Joint Declaration is an amazing incarnation of the Legacy of Hans Küng's Doctrine of Justification published forty years prior where he Küng proves that the Catholic Doctrine of Justification is not synergism. The Joint Declaration addresses Lutheranism, but I hope to see in my lifetime a similar ecumenical agreement between Reformed Churches and the Catholic Church that addresses specifically Reformed objections of Catholic Justification, such as those objections raised by Eberhard Jüngel's JustificationFor instance, Reformed theologians have claimed that the Lutheran doctrine of Justification in the Joint Declaration is Osianderian, and that issue raised by the debate between John Calvin and Andreas Osiander (c.f. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.11) will need to be resolved before we see a joint declaration incarnate between the Reformed Churches and Roman Catholic Church. Many Reformed works have been published as foreshadows of such ecumenical unity, such as George Hunsinger's Eucharist and Ecumenism. Despite the work that must be done, this is a remarkable document that gives us hope that one day we may confess the Creed as never before: "we believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church".

A summary statement explaining the Joint Declaration's objective:

"By appropriating insights of recent biblical studies and drawing on modern investigations of the history of theology and dogma, the post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogue has led to a notable convergence concerning justification, with the result that this Joint Declaration is able to formulate a consensus on basic truths concerning the doctrine of justification. In light of this consensus, the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century do not apply to today's partner." (JD 2.13)

The Joint Declaration unifies the Doctrine of Justification between Catholics and Lutherans by understanding each parties as opposing sides of the same coin. Sanctification and Justification are two dogmas that are neither unified or separated, such that the Catholics emphasize sanctification and Lutherans emphasize Justification, but Catholics do not exclude Justification in their formulations on Sanctification, and the Lutherans do not exclude Sanctification in their formulations on Justification, such that the differences are a matter of emphasis. Each difference between the Catholic and Lutheran teaching on the Doctrine of Justification is addressed following this program.

Joint Declaration on the question of human "cooperation":

"We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God's judgment and are incapable of turning by themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God's grace. Because Catholics and Lutherans confess this together, it is true to say:" (JD 4.1.19)

Catholic: "When Catholics say that persons "cooperate" in preparing for and accepting justification by consenting to God's justifying action, they see such personal consent as itself an effect of grace, not as an action arising from innate human abilities." (JD 4.1.20)

Lutheran: "According to Lutheran teaching, human beings are incapable of cooperating in their salvation, because as sinners they actively oppose God and his saving action. Lutherans do not deny that a person can reject the working of grace. When they emphasize that a person can only receive (mere passive) justification, they mean thereby to exclude any possibility of contributing to one's own justification, but do not deny that believers are fully involved personally in their faith, which is effected by God's Word." (JD 4.1.21)

Joint Declaration on Catholic 'washing away of original sin' verse Lutheran 'simul iustus et peccator (at the same time righteous and sinner)':

"Lutherans understand this condition of the Christian as a being 'at the same time righteous and sinner.' Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament and grants the righteousness of Christ which they appropriate in faith. In Christ, they are made just before God. Looking at themselves through the law, however, they recognize that they remain also totally sinners. Sin still lives in them (1 Jn 1:8; Rom 7:17,20), for they repeatedly turn to false gods and do not love God with that undivided love which God requires as their Creator (Deut 6:5; Mt 22:36-40 pr.). This contradiction to God is as such truly sin. Nevertheless, the enslaving power of sin is broken on the basis of the merit of Christ. It no longer is a sin that 'rules' the Christian for it is itself 'ruled' by Christ with whom the justified are bound in faith. In this life, then, Christians can in part lead a just life. Despite sin, the Christian is no longer separated from God, because in the daily return to baptism, the person who has been born anew by baptism and the Holy Spirit has this sin forgiven. Thus this sin no longer brings damnation and eternal death. Thus, when Lutherans say that justified persons are also sinners and that their opposition to God is truly sin, they do not deny that, despite this sin, they are not separated from God and that this sin is a 'ruled' sin. In these affirmations, they are in agreement with Roman Catholics, despite the difference in understanding sin in the justified." (JD 4.4.29)

"Catholics hold that the grace of Jesus Christ imparted in baptism takes away all that is sin 'in the proper sense' and that is 'worthy of damnation' (Rom 8:1). There does, however, remain in the person an inclination (concupiscence) which comes from sin and presses toward sin. Since, according to Catholic conviction, human sins always involve a personal element and since this element is lacking in this inclination, Catholics do not see this inclination as sin in an authentic sense. They do not thereby deny that this inclination does not correspond to God's original design for humanity and that it is objectively in contradiction to God and remains one's enemy in lifelong struggle. Grateful for deliverance by Christ, they underscore that this inclination in contradiction to God does not merit the punishment of eternal death and does not separate the justified person from God. But when individuals voluntarily separate themselves from God, it is not enough to return to observing the commandments, for they must receive pardon and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the word of forgiveness imparted to them in virtue of God's reconciling work in Christ." (JD 4.4.30)

A controversial conclusion of the Joint Declaration is not to repeal the mutual anathemas by the Lutherans symbolic literature or the Counter-Reformation literature (especially the Council of Trent) from the 16th century, but to say that those anathemas no longer have potency today. Catholics retain the Council of Trent in their magisterium, and this became a barrier for a group of conservative Lutherans who is unwilling to dialog unless the council is removed.

"Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration." (JD 5.41)

"Nothing is thereby taken away from the seriousness of the condemnations related to the doctrine of justification. Some were not simply pointless. They remain for us "salutary warnings" to which we must attend in our teaching and practice" (JD 5.42)

The reality is that this is a first step in reconciliation after five hundred years of bad blood since the Reformation.

"The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics. In light of this consensus the remaining differences of language, theological elaboration, and emphasis in the understanding of justification described in paras. [JD] 18 to 39 are acceptable. Therefore the Lutheran and the Catholic explications of justification are in their difference open to one another and do not destroy the consensus regarding the basic truths." (JD 5.40)

"Our consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification must come to influence the life and teachings of our churches. Here it must prove itself. In this respect, there are still questions of varying importance which need further clarification. These include, among other topics, the relationship between the Word of God and church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, church unity, ministry, the sacraments, and the relation between justification and social ethics. We are convinced that the consensus we have reached offers a solid basis for this clarification. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches." (JD 5.43)

The Joint Declaration is a remarkable document and a hope for unity in our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and there will always be those who prefer schism, such as those vocal minority of Luther Churches, like the  LCMS Churches that refused to sign the Joint Declaration We may always hope against hope for the infallibility of the Church, so that we may be one, as Jesus prayed, in the way that he and the Father are one.

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