1. The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran
Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the "first and
chief article"(1) and at the same time the "ruler and judge over all other
Christian doctrines."(2) The doctrine of justification was particularly
asserted and defended in its Reformation shape and special valuation over
against the Roman Catholic Church and theology of that time, which in turn
asserted and defended a doctrine of justification of a different character.
From the Reformation perspective, justification was the crux of all the
disputes. Doctrinal condemnations were put forward both in the Lutheran
Confessions(3) and by the Roman Catholic Church's Council of Trent. These
condemnations are still valid today and thus have a church-dividing effect.
2. For the Lutheran tradition, the doctrine of justification has retained
its special status. Consequently it has also from the beginning occupied an
important place in the official Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue.
3. Special attention should be drawn to the following reports: "The Gospel
and the Church" (1972)(4) and "Church and Justification" (1994)(5) by the
Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Commission, "Justification by Faith"
(1983)(6) of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in the USA and "The
Condemnations of the Reformation Era - Do They Still Divide?" (1986)(7) by
the Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic theologians in
Germany. Some of these dialogue reports have been officially received by
the churches. An important example of such reception is the binding
response of the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany to the
"Condemnations" study, made in 1994 at the highest possible level of
ecclesiastical recognition together with the other churches of the
Evangelical Church in Germany.(8)
4. In their discussion of the doctrine of justification, all the dialogue
reports as well as the responses show a high degree of agreement in their
approaches and conclusions. The time has therefore come to take stock and
to summarize the results of the dialogues on justification so that our
churches may be informed about the overall results of this dialogue with
the necessary accuracy and brevity, and thereby be enabled to make binding
5. The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that
on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the
Roman Catholic Church(9) are now able to articulate a common understanding
of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ. It does not
cover all that either church teaches about justification; it does encompass
a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that
the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for
6. Our Declaration is not a new, independent presentation alongside the
dialogue reports and documents to date, let alone a replacement of them.
Rather, as the appendix of sources shows, it makes repeated reference to
them and their arguments.
7. Like the dialogues themselves, this Joint Declaration rests on the
conviction that in overcoming the earlier controversial questions and
doctrinal condemnations, the churches neither take the condemnations
lightly nor do they disavow their own past. On the contrary, this
Declaration is shaped by the conviction that in their respective histories
our churches have come to new insights. Developments have taken place which not only make possible, but also require the churches to examine the
divisive questions and condemnations and see them in a new light.