Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Ralph Del Colle
Mark Johnson, Mickey Mattox
In 1998, the theologian Gerhard Ebeling helped to initiate a rancorous, public debate among theologians in Germany over whether the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification presents "a consensus in the basic truths of the doctrine of justification" by co-editing the famous letter of protest. Why would he want to do this? The fact that some argue he held a distinguished position in ecumenical circles during the 1950s and 1960s makes this question somewhat intriguing. Moreover, how will this opposition impact the continuation of ecumenical discussions between Lutherans and Catholics?
Through a comparison of the Joint Declaration and the letter of protest with an examination of texts relating Ebeling's hermeneutical anthropology, which highlights how the word of God creates faith in the listener, and makes one to exist in the presence of God (i.e., the word-event), along with his understanding of the purpose of ecumenism and the church, this study argues that Ebeling refused to support the Joint Declaration for two reasons. First, the Joint Declaration allows for an understanding of justification that requires human cooperation in justification, which creates a very different picture of Christian reality in comparison to that of Ebeling, for whom one is justified purely through the action of God's word, without a human contribution, which creates faith in the believer and changes the way that one exists. Second, the Joint Declaration's presentation of the doctrine of justification does not produce an agreement upon the nature and function of the church, which demonstrates not only that there is no consensus on the doctrine of justification, but also that there are fundamental differences over the function of the church in the Christian life, which justifies schism.
Finally, by comparing Ebeling's hermeneutical anthropology with the continuing objections of his students and colleagues (Drs. Mark Menacher, Gerhard Forde, and Eberhard Jüngel), this study concludes, somewhat paradoxically, that while Ebeling's hermeneutical anthropology itself could serve as a source for deepening the consensus reached in the Joint Declaration, it may well also be the source of objections to the continuing discussions between Lutheran and Catholics for years to come.