Ten years after it appeared, we still continue to hear that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a “breakthrough” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. The media loves to perpetuate this myth. In fact, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a fraud. It was a sell-out by revisionist Lutherans to Rome.

Rome is not to be faulted in any of this. The Papacy maintained the historic position of the Roman Church, and did not change it. Mainline liberal Lutherans, however, compromised the key doctrine of the Scriptures and the very heart of the Lutheran Confessions. When I served as Assistant to the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, at the time this statement came out in 2000, we prepared an extensive set of documents illustrating precisely why the JDDJ is a fraud and a betrayal of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Was Trent set aside by the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification?

No, quite the contrary. The Vatican was very careful to make it clear that it has not set aside the Council of Trent and that Trent still remains authoritative, binding dogma for the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christianity Unity, the individual responsible in large part for Rome’s involvement in the Joint Declaration, went out of his way to clarify this point in a press conference held when the JDDJ was signed. Here is what he had to say:

“Asked whether there was anything in the official common statement contrary to the Council of Trent, Cardinal Cassidy said: ‘Absolutely not, otherwise how could we do it? We cannot do something contrary to an ecumenical council. There’s nothing there that the Council of Trent condemns” (Ecumenical News International, 11/1/99).

With this statement by Cardinal Cassidy in mind, one is led to wonder how a document that is alleged to be a faithful Lutheran statement of justification contains nothing that Trent condemned.

What Did Trent Condemn?

Canon IX: If anyone says that the ungodly is justified by faith alone in such a way that he understands that nothing else is required which cooperates toward obtaining the grace of justification . . . let him be condemned.

Canon XII: If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sin for Christ’s sake, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be condemned.

Canon XIV: If anyone says that a man is absolved and justified because . . . he confidently believes that he is absolved and justified . . . and that through this faith alone absolution and justification is effected, let him be condemned.

Note: These canons clearly indicate that something more than trust in Christ is necessary for salvation

What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach?

Cardinal Cassidy stated without qualification that Trent is still a normative ecumenical council for the church. Though perhaps more carefully stated, in more gentle language, the Catechism of the Catholic Church still asserts the position of Trent, frequently footnoting Trent in its many discussions of church doctrine. Here are some quotes from the Roman catechism. Emphasis is added.

“No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods” (Catechism, par. 2027).

“Merit is to be ascribed, in the first place, to the grace of God, and secondarily to man’s collaboration. Man’s merit is due to God” (Catechism, par. 2025).

“Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man” (Catechism, par. 2019).

“Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons”(Catechism, par. 2021).

“The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearning of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom” (Catechism, par. 2022).

“The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful” (Catechism, par. 2008).

“Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the body of Christ” (Catechism, par. 2003).

“As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins” (Catechism, par. 1394).

“As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God” (Catechism, par. 1414).

“Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father?Every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes the forgiveness of our sins” (Catechism, par. 1437).

“Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is called “penance” (Catechism, par. 1459).

What Response did the Vatican issue to the JDDJ?

There was a formal response issued by the Vatican that is careful to point out that the condemnations of Trent still apply against significant Lutheran doctrines. The Vatican’s response clearly affirms Rome’s historic position that justification is a process involving both God’s grace and the good works of human beings, in other words, the classic Roman position that salvation is not by grace through faith alone, but by grace plus human merit and good works.

What follows are quotes from the document Response of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration of The Catholic Church and The Lutheran World Federation On The Doctrine of Justification. It is available at the Vatican’s www site by clicking here. It is found on the web page devoted to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

“The Catholic Church has noted with satisfaction that Note 21, in conformity with Canon 4 of the Decree of Justification of the Council of Trent, states that man can refuse grace; but it must also be affirmed that, with this freedom to refuse, there is also in the justified person a new capacity to adhere to the divine will, a capacity that is rightly called cooperatio . . . it is difficult to see how the term “mere passive” can be used by Lutherans in this regard, and how this phrase can be compatible with the affirmation by Lutherans in Note 21 of the full personal involvement in faith”

“The Catholic Church also maintains with Lutherans that these good works of the justified are always the fruit of grace. But at the same time, and without in any way diminishing the totally divine initiative, they are the fruit of man, justified and interiorly transformed. We can therefore say that eternal life is, at one and same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merit.”

“God’s gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation ? this must be understood in the sense that the gifts of God’s grace do not depend on the works of man, but not in the sense that justification can take place without human cooperation.”

“The level of agreement is high, but it does not yet allow us to affirm that all the differences separating Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine concerning justification are simply a question of emphasis or language. Some of these differences concern aspects of substance and are therefore not all mutually compatible, as affirmed on the contrary in Note 40.”

“If, moreover, it is true that on those points on which a consensus has been reached the condemnations of the Council of Trent no longer apply, the divergences on other points, must, on the contrary, be overcome before we can affirm, as is done generically in Note 41, that these points no longer incur the condemnations of the Council of Trent. That applies in the first place to the doctrine on “simul iustus et peccator.”

How is Justification Confessed in the Book of Concord?

The following quotations from the Book of Concord are merely but a few examples of the Lutheran Confessions’ insistence that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone is the only way to avoid obscuring the glory and merit of Christ. Note also that these quotes clearly refute the statements quoted from the Catholic Catechism and the Council of Trent.

“The doctrine of repentance has been completely corrupted by the pope and his adherents, who teach that sins are forgiven on account of the worth of our work. Then they bid us to doubt whether forgiveness is obtained. Nowhere do they teach that sins are forgiven freely for Christ’s sake and that by this faith we obtain the remission of sins. Thus they obscure the glory of Christ, deprive consciences of a firm consolation, and abolish true worship (that is, the exercise of faith struggling against despair)” (Treatise, 44).

“It is completely erroneous to imagine that the Levitical sacrifices merited the forgiveness of sins before God and that by analogy there must be sacrifices in the New Testament besides the death of Christ that are valid for the sins of others. This notion completely negates the merit of Christ’s suffering and the righteousness of faith, it corrupts the teaching of both the Old and the New Testament, and it replaces Christ as our mediator and propitiator with priests and sacrificers who daily peddle their wares in the churches. If anyone argues, therefore, that the New Testament must have a priest who sacrifices for sin, this can only apply to Christ. The whole Epistle to the Hebrews supports this interpretation. We would be setting up other mediators besides Christ if we were to look for some other satisfaction that was valid for the sins of other

Articles by Paul T. McCain

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