USCCB News Release
September 23, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists Mark Tenth Anniversary Of Historic Agreement
WASHINGTON—Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), will join other church leaders in downtown Chicago, October 1, to commemorate the signing of a joint agreement on the Doctrine of Justification, a matter that for centuries divided Christians.
Leaders from the Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist churches will gather at Old Saint Patrick’s Church for a service of Evening Prayer that will include talks paying tribute to the Joint Declaration, signed on October 31, 1999, by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation.
“This is an historic moment on the journey toward Christian unity,” said Father James Massa, USCCB Executive Director for the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. “The Joint Declaration expressed a common understanding of how human beings are made right with God through the life-giving death of Jesus Christ,” Father Massa said.
The Joint Declaration was the product of nearly 35 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the United States and abroad. In 2006, the World Methodist Council affirmed this agreement as an expression of how Methodist too understand the character of salvation as a gift that equips believers for good works of justice and compassion in the world.
Cardinal George and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will lead the prayer service, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and will include choral music and a solemn reading of the Word of God. Bishop Hanson also serves as President of the Lutheran World Federation, which has been the Lutheran partner to the Catholic Church on the global stage since the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, also will speak.
Numerous Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic bishops are expected to attend this event, along with clergy and laity from various Christian traditions. Representing the United Methodist Church will be Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
The topic of justification by faith became the first point of controversy between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church in the 16th century. For more than four centuries prior to the onset of ecumenical dialogues between the churches, Lutherans accused Catholics of believing in salvation by works, whereas Catholics contended that Lutherans and other Protestants had divorced faith from the other two supernatural virtues of hope and love.
The Joint Declaration identifies a consensus that reaches behind the heated arguments of post-Reformation theology and establishes a common ground for understanding Christ’s saving work. The declaration reads: “Together we confess: 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.”
The Joint Declaration does not cover everything that Catholics and Protestants teach about justification, including the meaning of merit and the practice of indulgences, yet its core agreement is a milestone of the modern ecumenical movement. Even where differences are noted in the declaration, both sides agree that they do not fall under the condemnation of either the Council of Trent or the Lutheran Confessions of the 16th century.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who with Dr. Noko was one of the four official signers ten years ago, recently expressed his hope that the declaration would translate into a “joint commitment to deepen our common prayer.”
“May it encourage us to continue our theological dialogue, and building on our common foundations, may it lead to an increase in joint witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Cardinal Kasper said.
Further information regarding the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic and Methodist-Catholic relations is at http://www.usccb.org/seia.