OFFICIAL COMMON STATEMENT by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church


1. On the basis of the agreements reached in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JD), the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church declare together:

„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“ (JD 40).

On the basis of this consensus the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church declare together:

“The teaching of the Lutheran Churches presented in the 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 41).

2. With reference to the Resolution on the Joint Declaration by the Council of the Lutheran World Federation of 16 June 1998 and the response to the Joint Declaration by the Catholic Church of 25 June 1998 and to the questions raised by both of them, the annexed statement (called „Annex“) further substantiates the consensus reached in the Joint Declaration; thus it becomes clear that the earlier mutual doctrinal condemnations do not apply to the teaching of the dialogue partners as presented in the Joint Declaration.

3. The two partners in dialogue are committed to continued and deepened study of the biblical foundations of the doctrine of justification. They will also seek further common understanding of the doctrine of justification, also beyond what is dealt with in the Joint Declaration and the annexed substantiating statement. Based on the consensus reached, continued dialogue is required specifically on the issues mentioned especially in the Joint Declaration itself (JD 43) as requiring further clarification in order to reach full church communion, a unity in diversity, in which remaining differences would be „reconciled“ and no longer have a divisive force. Lutherans and Catholics will continue their efforts ecumenically in their common witness to interpret the message of justification in language relevant for human beings today, and with reference both to individual and social concerns of our times.

By this act of signing
The Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation
the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in its entirety.
October 31, 1999

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9 Responses to OFFICIAL COMMON STATEMENT by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church

  1. Schütz says:

    Okay, I posted that to make it clear that:

    1) the Catholic Church has an official Declaration (that is, it is official magisterial teaching) which it has signed together with the Lutheran World Federation (which was authorised to do so on the basis of the overwhelmingly positive votes taken by all its member and associate Churches)

    2) While neither side has repealed its condemnations of the sixteenth century, it has declared that these condemnations do not apply to either communion’s explanation of the doctrine of justification AS IT APPEARS in the JDDJ.

    3) Let it be said that as an official statement of authentic Catholic Magisterium, the Catholic expression of the doctrine of Justification in the JDDJ IS THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE MATTER.

    4) Lutherans alone can be the judge of how accurate the expression of the Lutheran doctrine of justification is in the JDDJ. But it should be acknowledged that the bulk of Lutherans throughout the world considered it an adequate statement for the purpose.

    5) The document itself notes that further work must be done on the doctrine of justification–in other words, neither the Catholic nor the Lutheran side has the “complete truth” in regard to this doctrine. That should be obvious for even in our own day, fresh understandings of Paul’s doctrine have begun to emerge that have nothing to do with the 16th Century controversies (eg. N.T. Wright).

    6) but both signatories of the JDDJ are emphatic that our salvation is entirely the work of God’s grace in us through Jesus Christ and has nothing at all to do with our own efforts or abilities.

    7) Thus we have become aware that our different ways of explaining the doctrine of justification cannot be contradictory of this basic agreement that God saves us by his grace in Christ–we do not save ourselves by own efforts. This enables us to recognise that our different doctrines of justification need not be essentially church dividing, and that we can work together to come to a full understanding of the way that God works his justifying grace in us.

  2. Chris Jones says:

    Without even examining the doctrinal content of the Joint Declaration, there are a couple of problems with this.

    There is a difference between saying that the mutual condemnations “do not apply” and saying that they have been repealed or withdrawn. Even if the condemnations do not apply to the doctrine contained in the JDDJ, they still apply to the doctrine contained in the Reformation-era formularies. That is, the Catholic Church may accept the JDDJ, but it still rejects and condemns the Lutheran Confessions. And the LWF Lutherans may accept the JDDJ, but they still reject the Council of Trent.

    This raises the issue of how authoritative, really, the JDDJ is, compared to the authority level of the Reformation-era formularies. Certainly on the Catholic side there is a clear hierarchy of doctrinal statements. The Sunday homily of an ordinary parish priest in an American suburb is less authoritative than an ex cathedra Papal decree (and there are gradations of authority in between). If I recall correctly, the decrees of an ecumenical council confirmed by the Pope occupy a fairly high place in the hierarchy of Catholic doctrinal authority — “infallible and irreformable” is the phrase that comes to mind.

    What is little noticed is that on the Lutheran side, too, there are gradations of doctrinal authority; not so systematically stated as on the Catholic side, but there nonetheless. And in this Lutheran hierarchy of doctrinal authority, the Lutheran Confessions occupy a very high place. The Scriptures, of course, are the highest authority, but the Lutheran Confessions are a key part of the interpretive rule by which we read and understand the Scriptures. It is not too much to say that the Confessions are what define us to be Lutheran.

    Either the doctrine of the JDDJ is the same as that of the Confessions, or it is different. If it is the same, then the Catholic Church has, implicitly but really, admitted that it erred in condemning the Confessional teaching in the first place. If it is different, then the LWF, in agreeing to the JDDJ, has placed another doctrinal definition on a higher level of authority than the Lutheran Confessions, and relativized, if not denied outright, the teaching of the Confessions. To that extent they have ceased to be authentically Lutheran. And the Catholic Church, rather than taking a step towards reconciliation with Lutheranism, has merely come to an agreement with some people who formerly were Lutherans.

    In any case, the anathemas of Trent still apply to the Lutheran Confessions, so in order to get out from under those anathemas, a Lutheran must (at the very least) let JDDJ take precedence over the Confessions, which means (implicitly but really) to cease to be Lutheran.

  3. Chris Jones says:

    neither the Catholic nor the Lutheran side has the “complete truth” in regard to this doctrine.

    A body which claims to be “the Catholic Church” which does not have “the complete truth” about a doctrine so close to the heart of the Gospel, is something of a contradiction. Doesn’t “Catholic” pretty much mean “having the whole truth”?

  4. Schütz says:

    Oh so many misunderstandings. Where to start?

    1) What the Catholic Church teaches is true, but the Church does not claim to have understood or formulated “the whole truth”. As we can see from the development of doctrine throughout the history of the Church (the creeds and councils etc), the Holy Spirit continues to lead his Church deeper into the Truth revealed in Christ. At no point do we claim to have grasped the WHOLE truth, and EVERY ASPECT of the truth, on any doctrine. I don’t think this is controversial.

    3) the mutual condemnations DO apply to the 16th century formulations of the doctrine of Justification contained in Trent and the Book of Concord as explained and interpreted for eachother in the JDDJ. What the JDDJ says is “Oh, so THAT is what you meant when Trent/BOC said such and such about justification. Well, that’s alright then. We have no problem with that.” In otherwords, the JDDJ is saying that the condemnations on both sides applied to a misunderstanding of what both sides really taught.

    3) A Declaration is the most authorative document a curial (Vatican) office can produce and is given the full authority of papal approval. Compare to the Declaration “Dominus Iesus”. Both these declarations have the same authority as a decree of a Council approved by the Pope–as can be seen from the fact that the Second Vatican Council itself issued “Declarations” (eg. on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintergratio). Take it from me–a declation is big stuff. What is in a Declaration is to be taken as THE position of the Catholic Church on any matter.

    4) My interpretation of what has happened is that the LWF, in agreeing to the JDDJ, has not “placed another doctrinal definition on a higher level of authority than the Lutheran Confessions”, and thus “relativized, if not denied outright, the teaching of the Confessions”. Rather the LWF, in the JDDJ, has issued an authoritative interpretation of what the Lutheran Confessions teach, a footnote, as it were, or a hermeneutic. Now surely this is no different from what any Lutheran Church does when it applies the words of the Confessions to concrete situations. Like the words of Scripture, the words fo the Book of Concord must be interpreted (the problem with having your magisterium in a book is that a book cannot interpret itself). The JDDJ is an authoritative (for the given level of authority you choose to grant the LWF) interepretation of the Confessions.

    I do hope this clarifies matters.

  5. Schütz says:

    To which I should add that BECAUSE the JDDJ expresses the Catholic Church’s authoritative interpretation of the Decrees of the Council of Trent with regard to the doctrine of Justification, you may take the Declaration AS our statement of what the condemnations of Trent meant and what they applied to. Any interpretation of Trent that conflicts with the Declaration’s interpretation is therefore excluded by the Catholic Church. You do not have to fear that we will revert to another interpretation. We will certainly grow in our understanding, but no present or future understanding can contradict the JDDJ.

  6. Schütz says:

    To which I might still add, that there are certainly possible ways of interpreting the statements contained in the Lutheran Confessions regarding justification that conflict with the interpretation the Lutheran party laid out in the JDDJ. Many of those Lutherans who reject the JDDJ do so because they reject the interpretation of the doctrine of Justification given by their own Lutheran theologians in the JDDJ. They hold other ideas about what is the authentic Lutheran teaching of Justification. To these other interpretations it is quite possible (but not necessarily certain) that the condemnations of Trent still apply.

    But, in that case, it would be a case of Lutheran against Lutheran and not Lutheran against Catholic. It would be a case of Lutherans accusing their own fellow Lutherans of “obscuring” or “forbidding the gospel” in which case it would be more accurate for them to call the LWF “The Antichrist” than the pope! Perhaps here is one situation in which our protestant brothers would embrace a “both/and” approach!

  7. Past Elder says:

    The LWF does not have a single confessional body in its membership.

    The document simply agrees on modernism. Much like we used Protestant historical-critical methods in our Catholic Scripture classes. Lutheran modernism and Catholic modernism rejoice to find find they are both — modernist!

    How wonderful that only half a millennium later modernists discover what each other “really said”.

    Why should anyone trust anything the Roman church says. It is built in: it can both/and anything and everything so that it is always the same because it must be the same because Rome says it.

    There is never a contradiction, only a development; never a change, only a growth; never a rejection, only a deeper understanding; and if you don’t think so, you are just misinformed or misunderstand. We are always right. We know that because, since we are always right, we are always right when we say we are always right.

    The Roman church will never say anything it says contradicts, changes or rejects anything it said before. It can’t, because it is sure it will never need to. So if this always-right church assures us it will never change something, how will we know if it does or it doesn’t, since it will always assure us that nothing has changed really despite anything that may appear to the contrary.

    The catch being, you will only rest assured when you are Catholic yourself. It is simply another way of saying every knee must bend to the Roman pontiff, highly nuanced so it seems like what you really wanted to do all along once these misunderstandings got cleared up.

    Thus they tell the Orthodox that their faith is the same as Rome’s essentially, when it is not; they tell Lutherans the same, when it is not — hell, everybody really wants to be Catholic, they just don’t know it yet! And whether that happens with racks and soldiers or dialogue and ecumenism doesn’t matter in the least. You end up Roman either way, just in the new way, the way of phenomenology, you think it was a good thing and what you really wanted all along!

  8. Schütz says:

    “everybody really wants to be Catholic, they just don’t know it yet! And whether that happens with racks and soldiers or dialogue and ecumenism doesn’t matter in the least. You end up Roman either way”

    How clever you are, PE! You’ve finally figured it out! And I’ve had the quote about “the fervant Romanist” at the top of my blog for all this time.

    (SCHUTZ: Stage left, twirls moustache while snickering: Hee, hee, hee.)

  9. Past Elder says:

    Since the gag order seems close, I quote rather than write myself:

    “However, the most damning of the condemnations of this decree of the Council of Trent, and the most necessary for our time, is the very last one. For the very least that the Joint Declaration can be said to do is to state that the “doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century do not apply” (§13), and that they are no longer (if ever) for the good of the Church, providential and helpful for making the Church and the Faith more clearly known. And yet it is this very statement which is condemned by a solemn, binding, infallible anathema. Even those who accept the Catholic teaching on Justification, but refuse to accept that the clear definitions of Trent are truly for the good of the Church, are anathematized. This is the sense of Canon 33, Dz 843:

    If anyone shall say that because of this Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the Holy Synod in this present decree, there is in some degree a detraction from the glory of God or from the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that the truth of our Faith, and in fact the glory of God and of Jesus Christ are not rather rendered illustrious; let him be anathema.

    Horror crawls up our spine at the thought of Catholic prelates falling under such an explicit anathema, and attempting to officially bind the Church itself to be condemned by its own anathema. Yet we must face up to this sobering reality if we are to understand the gravity of the present crisis in the Church, which is truly a crisis of Faith in the most profound way, and not just of discipline. May the Blessed Mother grant to us all the interior life, a life of prayer budding forth from sanctifying grace, to see through this confusion and keep up the combat of Faith for the kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, which Our Lord pours into our souls from the Cross.

    (from one of the links offered above)

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