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Was The Joint Declaration Truly Justified? | An Interview with Dr. Christopher Malloy | Carl E. Olson
In October of 1999 the "Joint Declaration On the Doctrine of Justification" (JD)
was signed by representatives from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the
Catholic Church. These included Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the LWF
and Edward Cardinal Cassidy, president (1989-2001) of the Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, who signed the document in Augsburg, birthplace of the
Protestant Reformation. The document elicited a wide range of responses, with
some Protestants (Lutheran and otherwise) and Catholics believing it marked the
end of any substantial disagreements about justification, while others--again,
both Protestant and Catholic--were not convinced that the document answered
satisfactorily a number of substantial questions.
One Catholic critic of the JD was Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., who wrote an essay
critique of the JD in 2002, in the Josephinum Journal of Theology, that highlighted several of his
concerns with the document. But perhaps
the most detailed and lengthy response, at least in English, was published in
Engrafted into Christ: A Critique of the Joint Declaration (Peter Lang, 2005) was written by
Dr. Christopher J. Malloy, an assistant professor of theology at the University
of Dallas since 2001. In the introduction, Dr. Malloy provides a history of the
JD and then writes:
are two lines of scrutiny that can be pursued in an effort to verify the merits
of the Joint Declaration. On the one hand, its historical implication can be
investigated: Did the original positions of each communion not, in fact,
substantially conflict with one another? ... On the other hand, the contents
proper to the JD can be investigated: Does the JD adequately represent the
teachings of both communities? (p 5)
To answer these two essential questions and many other related questions, Dr.
Malloy divides his book into four major sections. The first, "The Teachings of
the Reformation Era" (pp 19-122), sets forth the Catholic and Lutheran
positions, provides important background material about the Council of Trent,
and explains the meaning and importance of the doctrine of "double justice."
The second part, "Contemporary Attempts at Rapprochement" (pp 123-192),
examines the work of three twentieth-century theologians/schools of theology:
Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng, the Finnish School of Lutheran
theologians, and German Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg. Dr. Malloy
shows that of these theologians, only Küng believed that "no doctrinal
alteration is needed by either Protestants or Catholics."
Part three is "Critical
Analysis of the Joint Declaration" (pp 194-313) and includes chapters on
background dialogues, the essence of justifying grace (both Lutheran and
Catholic paragraphs), and resulting difficulties. Dr. Malloy concludes the
third part with this assessment: "The contents of the Joint Declaration,
therefore, are not merely flawed in isolated cases; they are in organic fashion
contrary to the integrity of the Catholic faith." The fourth and final part,
"Evaluating the Divide" (pp 315-387), contains theological reflections "on the
divergent understandings of the essence of justification" and focuses on five
related questions about the nature of justification.
While academic and rigorous in approach, Engrafted in Christ is accessible to the serious reader who has an
interest in the topics of justification, salvation, and recent ecumenical dialogue.
Although focused on Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, the book's examination of the
teachings of Martin Luther are helpful to those wanting to better understand
the theological disagreements that led to and were addressed by the Council of
Trent. It also provides an excellent explanation of the Catholic understanding of justification, built upon both Scripture and official Church
documents. In light of the ongoing conversations--both formal and informal--between
Catholics and Protestants of many different backgrounds, IgnatiusInsight.com
recently interviewed Dr. Malloy about his book, justification, sola fide, and several interrelated issues.
seems that an increasing number of Catholics and Protestants--including some
Lutherans and Evangelicals (Dr. Mark Noll comes to mind, for example)--are
saying that the issue of justification is no longer a central matter of
division between Catholics and those Protestants who adhere to sola fide and a classical Protestant understanding of
justification. Is that the case? Why or how can those claims be made? Do you
agree, generally speaking, with them?
Dr. Christopher Malloy: As
a famous saying goes, "It all depends", that is, on what the words mean. To cut
to the chase very quickly (more nuance below), "faith alone" is not a common
Catholic way of speaking, since Catholics read Paul's "by faith" as signifying
compactly and by synecdoche a set of gifts: sanctifying grace, faith, hope, and
charity. Many Lutherans would disagree, claiming that Paul's "by faith" does
not signify grace and charity as well. Though he is read quite differently by
different Lutherans, Luther himself has been taken by many to exclude charity
from the faith that justifies, that is, from its justifying character. In his
1531 comments on Galatians 5:16, he contends that we shall not need faith and
hope when we have been thoroughly cleansed. In the meantime, we need faith because we still lack the obedience God
demands. Because we lack the obedience God demands in the law, we are damnable
in his sight--he could damn us unless Christ covered us with his
righteousness. Catholics link the end of the need for faith with the advent of
the beatific vision and not with the final cleansing from damnable sins.
According to this line of thought in Luther, however, it seems that faith's
justifying role is not informed by charity but rather supplemental to the
defects of charity.
Right away, you can see a difference between some interpretations of
"faith alone". As everyone knows, the phrase itself is not in the Scriptures;
Luther did not intend to correct Paul, but to correct certain readings of Paul
that he considered erroneous. It is the meanings and referents of terms,
however, that matter, as Pope Bl. John XXIII taught. One reads "faith alone" in
Aquinas's commentary on Galatians, as one does in Luther's 1531 commentary.
Yet, leaving Luther and his many diverging interpreters aside, I can say that
Thomas emphatically meant the following--that no works before justification can
justify the human person. Faith, for Thomas, is itself the justice by which a
human person "is truly just" in God's sight only if and because it is buoyed by hope and informed by the
charity by which the human person cleaves to God as spouse and friend. Some
Lutherans see these characteristics of "cleaving" to God in faith itself. Here,
there is a significant point of contact between Catholics and some Lutherans;
this agreement needs to be celebrated and also further discussed and
IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you mean by "further discussed and
Dr. Malloy: Well, if
indeed it is true that we have here an agreement about justifying faith, about
that which constitutes the justice of the justified person, about that which
"pleases God" in the justified person, then we by logical consequence agree on
many other things.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Could you spell out those consequences? For
example, are any of these relevant in the pastoral sphere?
Dr. Malloy: There is enormous pastoral import to these matters.
For Catholicism, justification makes the human person truly just--interiorly
and before God--so that the justified has the infused grace and the constant
help of God by which to obey all of the law sufficiently. This means that the
human person can avoid every single mortal sin. More, the human person can, by
infused grace and God's constant help, grow in the very grace by which he is
made truly just. He can merit eternal life by his good works wrought in
charity. He can even merit an increase in eternal life. This is mind-blowing,
truly. God has not only justified but also divinized man! So justified and
divinized, man works with God so as to journey to his eternal abode. If he
violates the commandments, however, he loses the grace by which he is
justified. He sins mortally and merits hell. This is a horrific thought, and
yet it is a real possibility. This is why Catholic moral theologians talk so
much about the "moral object" of various acts. For Catholics, the "moral
object" can be a life-threatening issue. At the end of our lives, as St. John
of the Cross warns us, Jesus will ask each of us, "Did you love me above all?"
Paul even speaks of a judgment according to works as part of his Gospel (Rom 2:16).
I have traced the immediate
pastoral impact, but I wish now to add a bit more depth. The Catholic faith
holds that the human person (justified initially by God's power and not by his
own--although not without his own cooperation if he has the use of free will)
is made clean interiorly. When God infuses grace, he releases man from the debt
of obedience man owed, refused, and could not repay, and God heals the soul,
the intellect, and the will. Therefore, the human person standing before God is
released of past debt and healed of everything damnably offensive; hence, the
person incurs no debt presently. He is not punishable by eternal damnation, for
he renders God what is due (unless he commits a mortal sin).
Therefore, in the Catholic
perspective, sins are not merely "covered" as though there persisted in man
something for which God could damn him. Some Lutherans have read Psalm 32:1-2
and Romans 4:7-8 as though God, in justification itself, simply covers still present
sins. The Catholic faith reads this "covered" language as meaning release from
past debt and a "blotting out" of all that is interiorly offensive to God.
Catholics find a Scriptural basis for this in Psalm 51, the privileged "Sitz im
Leben" of which (for the Jews) was the Day of Atonement (for Catholics, every
Friday at Lauds). In this Psalm, the meaning of the "covering" imagery is
revealed by parallelism in verse 9: "blot out all my iniquities". Psalm 32
itself contends that "there is no deceit" (v. 2) in the person so blessed; he
is "righteous" and "upright in heart" (v. 11). Catholics read Paul similarly:
When Paul says, "None is righteous" (Rom 3:10) he does not mean "not one in all
the world". He means that no one is righteous who has not been justified.
In summary, the Catholic teaching on forgiveness is that God's forgiving
act is totally free and totally effective. God releases man from past offenses
and heals the fallen will so that there is in the justified nothing so
offensive that it could be punished with damnation (unless the man commits a
mortal sin). Hence, "No one born of God commits sin" (1 Jn 3:9), that is, a sin
that is mortal (1 Jn 5:16f), for nearly everyone daily commits "venial" sins (1
Jn 1:8), which of their nature differ from mortal sins. Hence, the justified
human person enjoys a heart restored and recreated by God's grace (Ps 51:10) so
that he can walk in all of God's ways (Ezek 36:25-27), fulfilling the New Law
(Rom 8:4-8). Moreover, as Irenaeus specifies, the New Law is more rigorous than the Old Law (e.g., Mt 5-7). While the Gnostics
thought that Christ destroyed the Law, Irenaeus argued the Christian faith:
What is jettisoned is not the 10 Commandments but the temporary socio-political
and ceremonial laws. What matters is not fleshly "circumcision" but a spiritual
circumcision (Rom 2:29; Gal 6:15) and keeping the divine commandments (1 Cor
7:19; Gal 5:6). Of course, the justified person does not follow the law as a
menial servant (Rom 8:14-15) but as a son, as a friend of God (Ja 2:23; Jn
15:14), for his heart has been circumcised (Deut 30:6f) so that he can obey the
law of love (Deut 6:4-9; Rom 13:10).
In short, the heart of the law has not been destroyed by Christ, contrary to the Gnostic
belief. Rather, the heart of the law has been fulfilled and perfected (Rom
10:4; Mt 5:17-19).
IgnatiusInsight.com: Some might ask, "How can anyone love God with
his 'whole strength'?" This seems impossible to many Christians, even many
Dr. Malloy: You have asked
what may be the crucial question. Of course, no one can love God as much as God
is lovable. No one except God, that is. In fact, even Jesus in his human nature cannot love God as much as God is lovable!
Every creature--and Jesus' human love of God is creaturely--"fails" to love God
infinitely. Does this mean that every creature offends God? Of course not! John
Paul II follows the whole thrust of the tradition when, in Veritatis
Splendor, he distinguishes two sides
of the law. There is a negative lower limit, beneath which one cannot go
without losing friendship with God. Every single mortal sin is a violation of
this lower limit. A "fundamental option" for anger towards God, for total
despair, for surrender to concupiscence, is not a necessary condition for mortal sin. It is
certainly a sufficient condition, but mortal sins are rarely so drastic. One
free act of adultery is a mortal sin. "Thou shalt not" is the negative or
"lower limit" side of the law.
The negative side is has as its end a positive side--the Love of God and
Neighbor! The upward side of the law is limitless. Paul strives for the upward
limit, as should all Christians, for we are all called to radical holiness.
Yet, let us not get scrupulous! Let us not think as follows: "Because we can
love more, therefore we have sinned mortally".
We will likely be imperfect. We will likely sin venially. We will likely
have many imperfections--those only others can see! We must make distinctions:
mortal sin is not venial sin; venial sin is not imperfection; one stage towards
maturity is not necessarily "faulty imperfection". The Orthodox are very good
at underscoring a dynamic of Christian life--that we are born as babes and we
must grow. This is the law of life. It is no fault of the adolescent that he is
a bit awkward in basketball. So too, it is not necessarily a sin, and certainly
not at all a mortal sin, for a Christian to be a bit awkward at an early stage
of growth. Yet, as we grow in our Christian vocation, things that before were
out of our control are now in our control. Hence, if I do now the things I used
to do with impunity, I now do them with culpability. Everyone can love God
more. Everyone can grow in love. Thérèse taught us this, and she lived only
twenty-four years! How quickly we can grow--God's grace is powerful.
This is the most urgent thing for a Christian--to press on in the upward
call of Christ (Phil 3:14). At the beginning of my answer to this question, I
noted how important the question is. I say this because Martin Luther and many
others saw the rigor of the commandment to love God. They felt their
unworthiness acutely in the face of this commandment. Some (e.g., Francis de
Sales and Thérèse) even felt condemned by its rigor. To feel condemned does not
mean that one has committed a mortal sin. Indeed, as some theologians have
argued recently, living saints who love God have this role of suffering in
solidarity with the condemned. In their psyche they feel abandoned, but in the
depths of their hearts they cleave to God, and they never lose the deepest
peace. It is certainly not Catholic to say they are "damned" for the sake of
others, even though their love of God is so great that they fear offending God
infinitely more than they fear any punishment (1 Jn 4:18).
IgnatiusInsight.com: You speak of "experience". I have heard it said
that the Lutheran way of framing things is more closely tied to experience than
is the Catholic way of framing things. Is this true, and if so, in what way?
Dr. Malloy: We must make
some distinctions. Whose experience are we speaking of? There are many saints
who did not describe their experience as a dialectic between "condemning law"
and "forgiving mercy".
But let me get to the spirit of your question. Many Lutherans have drawn
attention to the Lutheran "mode of discourse" as "existential". The Catholic
Magisterium, by contrast, typically speaks "metaphysically". That is, the
Catholic Magisterium speaks objectively by way of describing precisely what
happens when God justifies, identifying the aspects involved: God's agency,
Christ's merit, baptism as the instrumental cause, human acceptance of God's
grace (itself enabled by grace), and the essence itself of justification,
namely, the transformation of an enemy into a friend, a child of wrath into a
son. The "essence" of justification involves what God effects in justifying. In
technical terms, it is the "formal cause" of justification. So, the Catholic
mode of discourse covers the many elements pertinent to this event.
The Lutheran mode of discourse is subjective and personal. Lutherans
describe a particular kind of experience, an acute experience of sinfulness,
mercy, and trust--a trust that bears fruit in love.
I have briefly sketched these two "modes of discourse". There is much
truth to the observation that there is often a difference of mode. Advertence
to this difference in modes of discourse can perhaps mitigate differences.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you think that all of the differences can be
explained in terms of different modes of discourse?
Dr. Malloy: I do not think so. Let me cite a text, written in
the 1980s, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: "Simply to trace all these differences
back to misunderstandings is in my eyes a presumptuousness that has its roots
in the Enlightenment and that cannot do justice either to that person's
passionate struggle or to the weight of the realities at issue" (see Church,
Ecumenism, and Politics, p. 104).
The issue Carding Ratzinger was dealing with was precisely Luther's exclusion
of "charity" from justifying faith. Everyone knows, and the Cardinal of course
knew, that Luther holds there to be a charity that begins in the justified
person. Only cheap Catholic apologists of the past denied that Luther spoke of
incipient charity or sanctification. Yet, as many sympathetic readers have read
Luther, he meant by "faith alone" to exclude not merely works performed before
justification but also infused grace and charity from faith's justifying
Now, let me address your
question directly. I would do so in two ways. First, I will take up the issue
of divergent modes of discourse. I believe that this issue poses a legitimate
avenue of inquiry for ecumenical dialogue. Let us say that some Lutherans agree
with the Catholic "metaphysics" of justification. They disagree only with a
certain (let us call it) "traditional reading" of Luther, to which I have
alluded above. If this is true, then, when these other Lutherans speak of sin
"still residing" in the justified person, what do they mean? When they identify
this remaining sin with the very sin that was present before justification,
what do they mean? When, further, they claim that this same sin is of its
nature worthy of eternal punishment, what do they mean? Are they speaking only
"existentially"? Do they mean only, "It is my experience that I feel damned and
unworthy"? Would they agree that this sin is not "real sin, truly of its nature worthy of damnation"?
If they mean these things
only "experientially" and not "metaphysically", then this divergence of
discourse might not indicate a real divergence in doctrine. Much investigation
would need to be undertaken to establish this definitively, however. Moreover,
I think there are pastoral problems with such a mode of discourse in the first
place. For instance, would you want a priest telling a young man that his
"concupiscence for women" is a "true sin, of its nature worthy of damnation"?
Would that priest further this young man's spiritual growth by saying this,
even if he meant it only "existentially"? In fact, Catholic pastoral practice
is much wiser than this other approach, which is quite dangerous and false.
Let's change the subject a bit to make the point more sharply. Say a man
suffering a homosexual tendency were to ask a priest, "Is this tendency a sin"?
The Catholic answer is: "Of course it is not a sin!" That is, no tendency to
sin is a sin, except insofar as a person's freewill choices have fostered the
tendency. Let me add one personal anecdote: I asked a Lutheran convert to
Catholicism the following question: "Do you think you need to repent for
concupiscence?" He could not answer the question. But the Catholic answer is,
"No!" A priest would rightly kick you out of the confessional for confessing
your concupiscence and non-volitional disorders.
This whole matter relates to
those "mortal sins" I mentioned earlier. Catholics do not spread sin out
everywhere; they do not smear it into every good work, as though all human
works are damnable. Trent condemns such smearing. But one of the important
things to observe is this--precisely because Catholics do not "smear" sin
everywhere, they are able to attend to actual sins when they commit them. One
is not a "raging adulterer" unless one is committing adultery, either
physically or with genuine and full "assent" of the mind, which almost always
founds its way into bodily action. Temptation is not sin.
I am not confident that most
Lutherans would want to say that their mode of discourse is purely
"experiential". I am not confident that that they would say, "The sin that
remains, which I 'said' was real sin--It's not true sin, not really." To me, it
would be unhelpful to tell such Lutherans that that is what they mean. Maybe
this is what other Lutherans have meant. But in many cases, I think they want
to be taken at their word, metaphysically, as it were. That's how I read
Luther. In my opinion, he was so agitated about the Catholic reading of Romans
7 because he wanted to be taken seriously (see his lucid Antilatomus). When Luther asks to be taken seriously, and when
one tries to take him seriously, one is not (as some accuse) being
"uncharitable". That is a category mistake. Perhaps such readings of Luther are
inaccurate, but only God knows if the reader is "uncharitable". More to the
point, it begs the question to charge a reading as "uncharitable", since the
reader brings the criteria by which to judge a reading as "charitable" or
"uncharitable". Many Lutherans, for instance, reads Luther in a very
"traditional" manner (explanation on this place-holding name below). Are they
"uncharitable"? Not by their terms! They are trying to be faithful. Let me add
that it is not merely "conservative" Lutherans who would insist on this; Simo
Peura, an outstanding ecumenical Finn with acute intellectual acumen, critiqued
an early draft of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JD)
for denying that remnant sin was true sin.
Part 1 | Part 2
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