The Nature of Justifying Grace: A Lacuna in the Joint Declaration
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The Thomist 65 (2001): 93-120 THE NATURE OF JUSTIFYING GRACE: A LACUNA IN THEJOINT DECLARATION CHRISTOPHER J. MALLOY The Catholic University ofAmerica Washington, D.C. In obedience to the Father's will to unite all things in Christ, the Catholic and Lutheran communions are engaging in dialogue about various issues, most notably justification. This charitable collaboration and the renunciation of the destructive animosities of the past offer grounds for rejoicing and hope. A recent fruit of this dialogue, thejoint Declaration on the Doctrine of]ustification1 (hereafter,JD), claims to present a description of the fundamental truths about justification that conflicts with neither the Lutheran nor the Catholic anathemas from the Reformation era. Among those truths are the sinner's absolute need for God's prevenient mercy, a gradual transformation ofthe sinner, and a recognition of some form of merit. Despite its noteworthy accomplishments, the JD appears not to have resolved an important and contentious issue, the identity of the "formal cause" of justification or that by which a man stands just before God. The Council of Trent carefully defined this formal cause and surely counted it as one of the fundamental truths of justification. Nevertheless, none of the relevant documents even mentions the phrase "formal cause."2 While the I Origins 28:8 (1998): 120-27. 2 "Annex," Origins 29:6 (1999): 87-88; "Official Common Statement," Origins 29:6 (1999): 85-87; "Official Catholic Response," Origins 28:8 (1998): 130-32. The national and preparatory dialogues have also not faced this issue in all its rigor. Often, the Lutheran and Catholic positions are simply juxtaposed as two inseparable poles or images of redemption: Catholics emphasizingthe transformative element and Lutherans emphasizing the gratuitous 93 94 CHRISTOPHER j. MALLOY phrase itself is expendable, what it signifies is of paramount importance. There has long been dispute about what constitutes that by which a man stands just before God. Catholics confess that justifying grace formally causes justification because it is an infused grace that expels all damnable sins by inhering in a man. The Lutheran confessional documents, on the other hand, teach that, since the sanctifyinggiftsimparted together with justification do not expel all damnable sin, the sinner cannot thereby stand just before God.3 Thus, they hold that justifying grace itself consists in Christ's own righteousness which God attributes to the believing sinner.4 These incompatible notions of justifying grace stand as two sides of a doctrinal chasm that divides Lutherans and Catholics. The chasm's breadth is more palpable when seen in light of "double justice," a compromise theory so named because it attempts to combine the formal causes from each communion's doctrine. The confessions reject double justice for mutually opposed reasons: Catholics, because it includes Christ's righteousness as a formal cause; Lutherans, because it includes infused righteousness. Hence, short ofdoctrinal change, an agreement on basic truths can be reached only through an equivocation on the term "justifying grace." Because this term serves as a focal point of reference, such an equivocation would have manifold conseelement . See, e.g., Condemnations ofthe Reformation Era, ed. Karl Lehmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 47-48. See also the various essays in the second volume of this project: W. Pannenberg and K. Lehmann, eds.,Justification by Faith: Do the Sixteenth-Century Condemnations Still Apply?, trans. Michael Root and William G. Rusch (NewYork: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1997), esp. 36-37, 78-79, 115-18, 137-38, 156-59. See alsoJustification by Faith, vol. 7 ofLutheransandCatholics in Dialogue, ed. H. George Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, andJoseph A. Burgess (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985), pars. 46-48, 90-99. 3 See The Book ofConcord: The Confessions ofthe Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959). Although various traditions, interpretations, and emphases have arisen among Lutherans, this collection serves as a basic point of reference, and it is reaffirmed as such by theJD's and the Annex's citations of it. 4 See Apology 4:116 in The Book of Concord. See below for the variety of Lutheran theologies with regard to the attributive or declarative nature of justification. JUSTIFYING GRACE IN THEJOINT DECLARATION 95 quences. Both...