DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     November 9, 1999     vol. 10, no. 212

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Following Joint Declaration, New Progress in Dialogue

        ROME, NOV 6 (ZENIT).- The picture of the long and affectionate embrace of two Bishops -- one Catholic, the other Lutheran, following the historic signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which took place in Augsburg on October 31, is the best proof of the joy inspired by an historic reconciliation, which happened after more than 450 years of controversies.

        The two Bishops -- Walter Kasper, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Ismail Noko, secretary general of the World Lutheran Federation, met again last Friday afternoon in Rome -- in the Pro Union Center, to address the challenges and tasks that they must now confront on the ecumenical road. One of the most important points, according to both Bishops, is to help both parts understand the content of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification that touches the very heart of faith.

        What does the agreement mean? "Now, Catholics and Lutherans can give common testimony of the heart of the faith. It is what is most needed in this secularized world. Of course there are issues that remain to be further clarified and studied. There are new tasks to be undertaken. For both Lutherans and Catholics the Bible is fundamental to our faith," Bishop Kasper said.

        Because of this, Bishop Kasper believes that dogmatic questions should be ultimately studied with the help of Sacred Scripture. He went on to emphasize that one of the most important tasks is the translation of the doctrine of justification into language that is accessible to modern Christians. God often seems to be excluded from our world, from our daily life.

        "The question of God's mercy, which so impressed Luther, has become distant for us and often says nothing to us. Together we must be capable of expressing this reality today. It is not simply a question of language. We must ask ourselves: What does God, Jesus Christ, mean to us today? What does believing in God's mercy mean? What does it imply for our life? The doctrine of justification says that with our own efforts alone we cannot construct our life and reach the fullness of happiness. Beyond our life, God's mercy prevails. In everything and in spite of any situation. He is the one who has our life in his hands. Because of this, we, for our part, must be merciful with our brothers and sisters. This is the Good News that we must communicate in a convincing way," Bishop Kasper explained.

        Lutheran Bishop Ismail Noko also forcefully expressed the importance of this agreement. "The signing on justification is much more than an agreement." It is "a sign of hope in a world that suffers," he said. It is a patrimony that must reach universities, seminaries, history books. Henceforth the presentation of Catholicism and Lutheranism must be different. The agreement reached sheds new light. He gave an example: the Pope's own proposal in the encyclical, "Ut Unum Sint," to profoundly study the way his pontifical ministry can be exercised in order to go out to meet brothers of other Christian traditions can now be undertaken with another disposition.

        The key phrase of the Joint Declaration, which summarizes the common understanding of Catholics and Lutherans on justification, can be found in paragraph no. 15: "We confess together that, not on the basis of our merits but only by means of grace and faith in the salvific work of Christ, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts, makes us capable and calls us to do good works."

        Thus, with modern language, the same thing is repeated that was said by the Council of Trent in the two first canons relating to the doctrine of justification. With language proper to the time, that decisive Council for the history of the Church stated: "If someone said, that man can be justified with God by his own works, carried out only by the force of nature, or by the doctrine of the law, without divine grace acquired by Jesus Christ, let him be anathema (condemned)." And it adds: "If someone said, that divine grace acquired by Jesus Christ, is conferred only so that man will be able to live in justice with greater facility and merit eternal life, as if by his free will and without grace he could acquire one or the other -- although with labor and difficulty --, let him be anathema."

        The Catholic Church, meeting in Council, then clarified: "If someone said, that man, without the prior inspiration of the Holy Spirit and without his help, can believe, hope, love and be genuinely repentant, so that he can received the grace of justification, let him be anathema." ZE99110509

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

November 9, 1999       volume 10, no. 212


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