Justification in ecumenical dialogue: An assessment of the Catholic contribution

Richard A White, Marquette University


One of the most important topics in recent Protestant-Catholic ecumenical dialogue has been the historically divisive issue of justification. During the past twelve years, Roman Catholic theologians have taken part in three major dialogues which have all published the results of their studies: the US Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue ("Justification by Faith"--1983), the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission II ("Salvation and the Church"--1986), and the German Ecumenical Working Group (Lehrverurteilungen--kirchentrennend?--1986). The results of these efforts were seemingly very positive: a considerable degree of convergence was recognized between the two sides and any remaining differences were not regarded as church-dividing. In part one of our project we survey the reception of these studies, and find that their positive conclusions have not led to a theological consensus; indeed, the reception points to an impasse of sorts. Seeking to account for this, we find that going back as far as Hans Kung's influential book Rechtfertigung, a major theological question has not been adequately considered in the ecumenical discussion, namely, the fundamental issue of the "formal cause" of justification (or the question of what immediately constitutes the person righteous before God). In part two we suggest that Catholic theology would be well served by deepening its appropriation of divine filiation, a central motif in the Council of Trent's "Decree on Justification." Surveying past usage of this theme, we find that filiation was an important way of expressing the mystery of salvation in Scripture and Church tradition, and was actually identified with justification by Trent. Furthermore, the theme is valuable in terms of expressing Catholic teaching with regard to the "formal cause" of justification and lends itself to ecumenical dialogue. Thus, our proposal moves the discussion forward by clarifying Catholic teaching on justification and by suggesting a new avenue for its discussion.

Recommended Citation

White, Richard A, "Justification in ecumenical dialogue: An assessment of the Catholic contribution" (1995). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9601779.