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Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification: An Orthodox Perspective

Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification: An Orthodox Perspective

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Lucian Turcescu
Lucian Turcescu

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Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 38:1, Winter 2001
SOTERIOLOGICAL ISSUES IN THE1999 LUTHERAN-CATHOLIC JOINT DECLARATION ONJUSTIFICATION: AN ORTHODOX PERSPECTIVELucian Turcescu
 Introduction
In this essay I have limited my reflections mostly to Lutheran-Orthodox is-
sues,
because significant progress has been achieved in the dialogue betweenthese two denominations, particularly with regard to their two fundamentalsoteriological images, justification and deification, respectively. I will also tryto see how the Joint Declaration
1
can further help Lutherans and Orthodox toadvance toward a fuller communion.
 Lutherans and Orthodox on Justification and Deification
In recent decades an issue widely debated between Lutherans and Orthodox hasbeen that of the meaning of justification and deification as the core soteriologicalimages in the two denominations. Justification, as the theme of the
N.A.A.E.
confer-ence confirms it, has also been the main topic discussed between Lutherans andRoman Catholics, almost since they resumed the dialogue. Regarding justification,recent scholarship has stressed the widespread degree of doctrinal pluralism anduncertainty relating to the doctrine on the eve of the Reformation; the general issuesthat related to the doctrine of justification were the subject of continuing discussionwithin late-medieval Catholicism.
2
Nevertheless, as the Joint Declaration clarifies, a message of justification is al-ready present in the
Bible.
After reference to texts relevant for the doctrine of justifi-cation in the Hebrew Scriptures (8) and the Gospels (9), the Joint Declaration indi-cates that the most important text is Paul's Letter to the Romans. Rom.
3:23-25
inparticular states that justification of sinful human beings is effected by God's gracethrough faith. This is also the text that came into prominence during the Reforma-tion period.Contemporary biblical scholarship acknowledges that Paul's most frequently
'Quotations from
the
Joint Declaration are taken from
the
Lutheran World Federation and the RomanCatholic Church, 
Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith
(Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: Wil-liam
B.
Eerdmans Publishing
Co., 2000);
paragraphsarenoted by number in parentheses.
2
Alister
E.
McGrath, "Justification," in HansJ.Hillerbrand, 
ed
in
chief;
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, 
vol.
2
(New York and Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 
1996), 
pp.
360-368.
64
 
Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification 65used image to refer to the salvation in Christ, "justification"
(dikaiosune), 
is drawnfrom Paul's Jewish background and denotes a societal or judicial relationship, eitherethical or forensic (that is, related to law courts; see Dt 25:1). The
 righteous
 or up-right person
(dikaios)
came to refer usually
to
one who stood acquitted
or
vindicatedbefore a judge's tribunal (Ex. 23:7;
1
Kgs. 8:32). Jews also
tried
to
achieve
the
statusof "righteousness" or "uprightness" in the sight of Yahweh the Judge by observingthe rules and regulations of the Mosaic law (see Ps. 7:9-12). When Paul says thatChrist has "justified" humans, he means that Christ has brought it about that theynow stand before God's tribunal acquitted or innocent. The characteristicallyPauline contribution to the notion of justification is his affirmation of the gratuitous
and
unmerited character of this justification of all humanity in
Rom.
3:20-26.
3
What I want to illustrate by using the latest biblical insights into the notion of  justification is that this notion
had
a forensic character
even
for
the
ancient Hebrews.This holds true despite attempts by some Orthodox and even Lutheran theologiansto dismiss the forensic and extrinsic characters of 
this
notion and to attribute themonly to medieval and Reformation developments.
4
For example, in critiquing Lu-ther's view of justification, Orthodox theologian Georges Florovskywrote:
"For Lu-
ther 'to justify' meant to declare one
 righteous
 or
just, not 'to make'
 righteous
 or just—it is an appeal to an extrinsic justice which in reality is a spiritual fiction."
5
Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlicky has noted that "justification"
has
been
"malignedas a 'law-court metaphor' that
traps
theological thought in legalism," but he empha-sizes that this "law-court metaphor
comes
 from
 Israel's prophets" themselves.
6
As it has been noted time and again in recent scholarship, Orthodox havetended to emphasize the notion of deification or divinization
(theosis), 
as the choiceimage expressing salvation, at the expense of that of justification. Deification is adoctrine based on 2 Pet. 1:4: "Thus [Jesus] has given us ... his precious and verygreat promises, so that through them you may escape
 from
 the corruption that is inthe world because of lust, and may
become
participants of the divine
nature'
 9
(em-phasis mine). Building on this text, Orthodox regard deification, that
is, 
human
par-ticipation in the divine nature, as made possible by the incarnation of the seconddivine person and as the result of the Holy Spirit's activity in humans. Vladimir
3
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "Pauline Theology/'
in
Raymond E. Brown et al., eds., 
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
(London:
G.
Chapman, 1990), p. 1397. Biblical quotations throughout this essayaretaken from
The
New
Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, 
New Revised Standard Version(New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 1989).
4
Chrestos Androutsos (1869-1937), 
Symbohke
ex
epopseos Orthodoxem, 
2nd
ed
(Athens, 1930); I hadaccess to
a
Romanian translation titled
Simbolica, 
tr.
Iustin Moisescu (Craiova: Editura Centrului Mitropolitanal Olteniei, 1955), p. 201. Valerie A. Karras, "Beyond Justification: An Orthodox Perspective," in Michael RootandWilliam G. Rusch, eds., 
The Joint Declaration on Justification: Its Ecumenical Implications
(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, forthcoming in 2002); Aden Ross, "Justification and Sanctification:
A
Conversation be-tween Lutheranism and Orthodoxy,"
St.
Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, 
vol. 38, no.
1
(1994), pp. 87-109;Gerhard O. Forde, 
Justification by
Faith:
A
Matter of Death and Ufe
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp.8,41-43.
3
Georges Florovsky, 
The
Byzantine Ascetic
and 
Spiritual Fathers
(Vadez: Buescherveitreisbanstah, 1987), 
p.
30.
6
Paul
R.
Hinlicky, "Theological Anthropology: Toward Integrating
Theosis
and Justification
by
Faith,"
 J£.S
34 (Winter, 1997): 49.
 
66
Journal of Ecumenical StudiesLossky wrote: "The Son
has
become like
us
by the incarnation; we become like Himby deification, 
by
partaking of the divinity in
the
Holy Spirit."
7
Orthodox theologian and bishop, Máximos Aghiorgoussis, correctly explainedthis difference in emphasis between Lutherans and Orthodox by stating that, whenPaul distinguished in
Rom.
8:28-30
among predestination, calling, justification, andglorification, these are all stages in one process, that of salvation. "In other words,"he continued, "justification is not a separate act of God but the negative aspect of salvation in Christ, which is freedom
 from
 sin, death, and the devil; whereas sancti-fication is the positive aspect of God's saving act, that of spiritual growth in new lifein Christ communicated
by
God's Holy Spirit."
8
Although
I
would
not
use
the
quali-fications "negative" and "positive" that Bishop Aghiorgoussis used, I concur withhim that justification
and
sanctification
are
part
of the same process of salvation.The concept of justification
"is
central to Pauline and Augustinian theology andvirtually dominates the Western theological tradition."
9
The East and West devel-oped different perspectives on salvation due to their confrontation with different his-torical circumstances. 'The East experienced the rise of Byzantium, but the Westknew the trauma of the fidi of Rome in the
 fifth
 century,"
10
when Augustine devel-oped his soteriologe The West had thus to ask the question about the justice of Godin histoiy more so than the East has had to do. Also, Alisier McGiath is probablycorrect in his statement that Orthodox theology's lack of interest in "justification" isdue to the fact that the Eastern Church never developed the interest in Roman lawthat led to the Western commitment to justification
as
the
fundamental soteriologicalmetaphor.
11
Even if Patriarch Cyril Lucaris of Constantinople (1572-1638) used theconcept of justification in his works, that merely illustrates, according to McGrathhis unusual relationship with the Reformed church of his
day, 
rather than
any inher-ent
trends
within Orthodox theology
itself.
Regardless of 
the
explanation for the Orthodox overlooking of justification, bythe twenty-first century
I
think it is the Orthodox churches'
turn
and
responsibility toask the question about God's justice in histoiy and to try to account for
their
behav-ior in the fece of persecution. The last centuiy was the century of 
both
right-wingand left-wing totalitarianism, and the Eastern Orthodox churches were confrontedwith serious persecution and attempts at extermination
by
the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Modern society is increasingly demanding anaccount of 
all
Christian denominations' behavior
vis-à-vis
totalitarianism, as Chris-tians claim to be beacons of morality. So, perhaps Orthodox churches will start to
7
Vladimir Lossky, 
In the Image and Likeness of God, 
ed
J. H. Erickson (Crestwood, NY:
St
Vladimir'sSeminary Press, 1974), 
p.
109.
*Maximos Aghiorgoussis, "Orthodox Soteriology," in John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias, eds. and
in-
tra, 
Salvation
m
Christ:
A
Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue
(Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), pp.48-49.
9
Hinlicky, 'Theological Anthropology/'
p.
48.
10
Ibid,p.45.
11
Alister
E.
McGrath, 
Iustitia Dei: A History of the Doctrine of Justification, 
2nd
ed.
(Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press, 
1998
[orig. in
2
vols., 1986]), p.
4.
Christos Yaimaras, 
The Freedom of Morality, 
tr.Elizabeth Briere, Contemporary Greek Theologians
3
(Crestwood, NY:
St
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 
pp.
151-153.

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