The former President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has sharply criticised the German Protestant Church’s failure to mention the historic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” of 1999 in its recent position paper on the theological foundation of the Reformation.
The position paper, which was published last month, “doesn’t mention the 1999 Joint Declaration with a single word. I could hardly believe it. That really hurt me,” Cardinal Kasper said in Berlin last week. The failure to mention the 1999 Declaration did “not bode well” for the Reformation Anniversary coming up in 2017, he underlined, and added that he hoped this was not the German Protestant Church’s last word on the matter.
The 1999 Declaration is seen as a pivotal consensus document between the Catholic and Lutheran Churches. Essentially it says that Lutherans and Catholics explain justification in different ways but share the same basic understanding. The central passage 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 us and calling us to good works.” The declaration acknowledges that good works are a response to God’s grace and not the cause of it.
The Catholic Church would participate in the 2017 anniversary celebrations “if we are invited”, Cardinal Kasper said. He was of the opinion that the two Churches could “celebrate what has been bestowed on us over the last decades”, but it was essential “not to forget what we have already formulated together”.
The Chairman of the German Protestant Church Council, Nikolaus Schneider, presented the position paper as a theological foundation for the anniversary but emphasised that it was a guideline and not a requirement.