Not by Faith Alone?

An Analysis of the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification from Trent to the Joint Declaration

Justification by faith alone has been a cause of rupture between Protestantism and the church of Rome since the sixteenth century, and this is an unchangeable fact with important theological and symbolic significance. The present-day status quaestionis of the debate is a contested issue.

 

Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine, has edited a new book with Crossway titled, The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls: Justification in Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Pastoral Perspective. Many factors contributed to the Protestant Reformation, but one of the most significant was the debate over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, Martin Luther argued that justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. This comprehensive volume of 26 essays from a host of scholars explores the doctrine of justification from the lenses of history, the Bible, theology, and pastoral practice—revealing the enduring significance of this pillar of Protestant theology.

Today we are highlighting Leonardo De Chirico’s chapter “Not by Faith Alone?” Here is an excerpt to get you started:


Justification by faith was the matter of the Reformation five hundred years ago, but does it matter in the same way in the present-day ecumenical climate?[1] In responding to the Protestant account of justification, the Council of Trent (1545–1563) understood it inside a synergistic dynamic of the process of salvation. This understanding of grace appears in an updated form in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), signed in 1999 by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. The JDDJ is a clear exercise in an increased “catholicity” (i.e., the ability to absorb ideas without changing the core) on the part of Rome, which has not become more evangelical in the biblical sense.

Justification by faith alone has been a cause of rupture between Protestantism and the church of Rome since the sixteenth century, and this is an unchangeable fact with important theological and symbolic significance. The present-day status quaestionis of the debate is a contested issue. Roughly speaking, there are two ways of coming to terms with its contemporary relevance. According to mainstream ecumenical theology, “the doctrine of justification should not be, today, an element of division between churches.”[2] This does not mean that all differences and distinctions have been overcome, but it does mean that today they are no longer considered impediments to the unity of the church, at least to a certain extent. This is the basic line of argumentation that drives the 2013 Roman Catholic–Lutheran document From Conflict to Communion, prepared for the joint commemorations of the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation.[3] It is a ninety-page joint statement between the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation that attempts to summarize what happened in the sixteenth century, the controversies that arose, and the reinterpretation of the whole in light of pressing ecumenical concerns.

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