Vatican preparing ‘joint message’ on Martin Luther with Lutheran World Federation

By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in Rome on Oct. 23, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 8, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s ecumenical office is preparing a “joint message” on Martin Luther with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a cardinal said Friday.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Vatican News on Jan. 8 that, 500 years on, the Vatican and the LWF had “faced the challenge of clarifying, from the ecumenical point of view, the historical, theological, and canonical questions relating to the excommunication of Martin Luther.”

“This task has been entrusted for some time to an ecumenical group of experts,” Koch said, adding that he believed that “in the near future it will be possible to issue a ‘Joint Message.’”

Jan. 3 marked the 500th anniversary of the excommunication of Martin Luther by Pope Leo X. According to Koch, “this event continues to represent a painful wound in the history of Catholic-Lutheran division.”

The Swiss cardinal added that Luther’s response to the excommunication, in which he called the pope “Antichrist,” also contributed to the alienation between Catholics and Lutherans.

Koch gave the Vatican News interview following the publication of an updated Italian translation of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, a document signed in 1999 by the Vatican’s ecumenical office and the LWF.

The LWF describes itself as a global communion of 148 churches in the Lutheran tradition, representing more than 75.5 million Christians in 99 countries. In the US, the Lutheran World Federation includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but neither the Missouri nor Wisconsin Synods.

“The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification of 1999 represents an important step on the path of Catholic-Lutheran reconciliation,” Koch said. “The crucial question of Christian existence of how one arrives at salvation and remains in salvation had given rise to bitter controversies in the 16th century that eventually led to division in the Church.”

He noted that after centuries of disagreement, “Catholics and Lutherans were able to confess together, in a differentiated consensus: ‘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.’”

Koch explained that, although the 1999 joint declaration was originally a bilateral document born of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, later the World Methodist Council, the Anglican Communion, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches endorsed it.

The cardinal said that he and the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the LWF, wrote an ecumenical foreword to the new Italian edition of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification to demonstrate their “firm intention to continue the journey of reconciliation under the guidance of the Gospel.”

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1 Comment

  1. The link in this article to the Joint Declaration (from a Lutheran site) omits the PREFACE (and ANNEX) which reads that “The solemn confirmation of this Joint Declaration on 31 October 1999 in Augsburg, by means of the Official Common Statement WITH ITS ANNEX, represents an ecumenical event of historical significance” (caps added).

    From the ANNEX–part of the “differentiated consensus”–we find embedded in the question of justification the variously understood meaning of “concupiscence.” That is, whether sinfully flawed mankind is still essentially good at some level, or totally depraved by his very nature and then totally whitewashed as under Martin Luther’s early theology of grace?

    In the Annex—which is INTEGRAL to the complete Joint Declaration—Ratzinger writes, for example: “The concept of ‘concupiscence’ is used in different senses on the Catholic and Lutheran sides. In the Lutheran Confessional writings ‘concupiscence’ is understood as the self-seeking desire of the human being, which in light of the law, spiritually understood, is REGARDED AS SIN. In the Catholic understanding concupiscence is an INCLINATION, remaining in human beings even after baptism, which comes from sin and presses toward sin” (caps added).

    From such pivotal distinctions bearing on CHRISTIAN ANTHROPOLOGY, comes (for example) the Catholic understanding that while homosexual tendencies are “objectively disordered”, they are NOT sinful in themselves—a message affirming BOTH (a) the intrinsic right of all to personal respect and (b) the call to all for holiness in action (distinguished from inclinations). A message lost on a world awash in identity politics, the tyranny of relativism, and the barking of competing victimhood slogans.

    I am insufficiently skilled to find on the Internet a complete version of the Joint Declaration as originally published in hard copy in 1999…. So, hypothetically only, what would a possibly TRUNCATED Joint Declaration—absent the Preface and Annex—mean or enable (!) regarding moral theology and consistent pastoral theology? Hypothetically, would such ecumenism announce indirectly the last nail in the coffin of Veritatis Splendor (1993)?

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