Pontifical council re-issues document claiming unity between Catholic and Lutheran doctrine
VATICAN CITY, January 7, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Foundation (LWF) have released an updated version of their joint document on justification to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s excommunication from the Catholic Church.
Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1521 by Pope Leo X, but the PCPU and the LWF chose to mark the 500th anniversary by releasing a new Italian translation of their document, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). Announcing the news, the PCPU said it demonstrated the “commitment to walk together on their common journey from conflict to communion.”
In an interview with Vatican News, the secretary of the PCPU Bishop Brian Farrell, explained the deliberate timing of the document’s release: “We have done this because we are in the 500th anniversary of a very important moment in the history of the Church. As you know in these days we have celebrated the 500th anniversary of the excommunication of Luther, so we thought that would be a good anniversary in which to publish this: to show that we’re not in the same place.”
The original document was agreed to in 1999, and a statement released at the time mentioned that Lutherans and Catholics had made “a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” It called for “continued dialogue” 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.”
Bishop Farrell welcomed the fact that such an eventuality seemed to be occurring: “We’re very far ahead from where we were 500 years ago and down the centuries,” he said. “We are on the road away from conflict towards communion. And that communion grows as we reach new understanding and new agreements between us.”
The English translation of the JDDJ declares that a new common understanding reached by Catholics and Lutherans regarding the doctrine of justification, means that “the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.”
As Farrell described it: “we do have the same doctrine and it basically says this: ‘together, we Lutherans and Catholics, confess that 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 and makes us capable of doing good work’.”
An annex to the original JDDJ stated that in light of the agreement, “the mutual condemnations of former times do not apply to the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines of justification as they are presented in the Joint Declaration.” This change has been effected by employing “insights of recent biblical studies” as well as “drawing on modern investigations of the history of theology and dogma.” It is these aspects which, according to the JDDJ, have fulled “the post-Vatican II ecumenical dialogue.”
Lutherans and Catholics have engaged in a “common listening,” the text adds, which has led to a “consensus in the basic truths,” and “differing explications in particular statements” which are supposedly compatible with that consensus.
The 20th century theologian Dr. Ludwig Ott, described how the Lutheran concept of justification departs from the Catholic teaching through the “conviction that human nature was completely corrupted by Adam’s sin, and the original sin consists formally in evil concupiscence. Luther conceives justification as a juridical act by which God declares the sinner to be justified, although he remains intrinsically unjust and sinful.”
On the contrary, Fr. William Most notes that the Catholic teaching “means the reception of (sanctifying) grace for the first time. This grace changes us, making us share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1. 4) which is far different from being totally corrupt.”
Farrell also mentioned another document in connection to the JDDJ, namely “From Conflict to Communion,” a joint work between the PCPU and the LWF released in 2017. In the foreword to that work, the two groups stated that “we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church.”
Five ecumenical imperatives are outlined within it, but none of them deals with the primacy of the Catholic Church or Catholic teaching. Instead, emphasis is repeatedly placed on “unity” and “encounter with the other.”
The new translation and increased ecumenical ties, come as the latest steps in an increasing number of actions undertaken by Pope Francis, in order to align the Catholic Church with the Lutherans. Back in 2016, Francis took part in a commemorative event in Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the castle church of Wittenberg. Prior to his trip, Francis had received a mixed group of 1,000 Lutherans and Catholics in the Vatican, speaking from a stage which bore a statue of Luther, and claiming “it is not licit” to “convince [non-Christians] of your faith.”
A year later, the Vatican announced it was issuing a stamp depicting Luther at the foot of the cross, in order to commemorate the Protestant revolt.
Then in January of 2020, Lutheran Evangelical Reverend Michael Jonas stated that in a private audience, Pope Francis had “stressed” how “Catholics and Protestants are very close to one another in what they do in their public worship.”
In response to the Pope’s increasing celebration of Lutheranism, Bishop Athanasius Schneider noted that “We have already had an infallible response to the errors of Martin Luther: the Council of Trent.”