Catholics and Lutherans reaffirm commitment to communion

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation underscore their commitment to walk together on their common journey from conflict to communion

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation recently announced the publication of the updated Italian translation of the historic ecumenical document called the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

A post on the Council’s website notes that by launching the updated document on January 3rd, the day this year when Catholics and Lutherans recall the 500th anniversary of the ex-communication of Martin Luther, both the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity underscore their commitment to walk together on their common journey from conflict to communion.

Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council, spoke with Thaddeus Jones of Vatican News about the importance of this initiative.

Q: Bishop Farrell, how would you describe the importance of this joint Catholic-Lutheran initiative in updating the Italian translation of the joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

Let me first say how important it was in ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans 20 years ago, when we reached an agreement on the Doctrine of Justification. Most people may not think of it as something very important, but it is fundamental because it goes to the very heart of the Gospel and it goes to the very heart of the controversies that separated Lutherans and Catholics in the 16th century.

Many will remember that Lutherans insisted – that Luther insisted – on the fact that we are saved by the grace of Christ: in faith. Catholics (on the other hand) supposedly insisted that we had to do good works. This is the question that has always hung over the conflict between the Protestant Reformed Movement and the Catholic Church.

So, fundamentally in 1999, there was this agreement between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation that 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. So, we reached an agreement on something that was fundamental, something that caused the rift and the separation and so much conflict down the centuries.

Now, 20 years after this agreement, we decided that we needed to published a new edition in Italian because we noticed that different Italian translations had some deficiencies or different terminologies and so forth. 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.

Q: The original document was drafted and written in English, wasn’t it?

In English and in German. Those are the official texts because many of the people in the dialogue that led to that were naturally German Lutherans or Swedish or Finnish Lutherans and they spoke German. So the text was written in German and in English.

Q: Where are we today in Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical dialogue, especially in view of the progress made over recent decades?

We’re very far ahead from where we were 500 years ago and down the centuries. If you remember Pope Francis in 2017 went to Lund in Sweden to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran reform –  that was the time supposedly Luther pinned his 95 theses on the door of the cathedral.

Regarding the whole idea of where we are at the moment, you could state it in the title of the document that the Lutheran Catholic Dialogue Commission has published for this 500th anniversary: it’s called “From Conflict to Communion”. And that’s where we are.

We are on the road away from conflict towards communion. And that communion grows as we reach new understanding and new agreements between us. So yes, we are in a very different place.


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