Thursday, December 05, 2002

This really irks me

As I'm getting into my dissertation work, I've been reading and re-reading various responses to the documents which have come out of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, specifically the U.S. document from 1983 and the well-known universal document, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in 1999.

A while back I read the LCMS's response to the JDDJ, The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in Confessional Lutheran Perspective. While I greatly respect and esteem the LCMS for its doctrinal emphasis in general, I sometimes worry that its members (or at least some of them) haven't quite got the ecumenical thing figured out yet. The following is always foremost in my mind when it comes to examples:

The former President of the Synod, Alvin Berry, had requested that the departments of systematic theology of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and of Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis prepare evaluations of the JDDJ; these evaluations, along with a summary of them, constitute the LCMS response.

In its evaluation the Fort Wayne department of systematics rightly pointed out that the Lutheran and Catholic differences in their theologies of original sin play an important role in the question of justification. As they write, "Lutherans hold that original sin is really sin and that it remains after Baptism. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that original sin is eradicated by Baptism and that concupiscence is not really sin." Exactly correct, and this is one of (if not the) major sticking points in this dialogue. I agree completely with the evaluation at this point.

My problem is with the sentence that follows shortly. The evaluation introduces the Council of Trent's statement on concupiscence thus: "The issue came to a head in Trent's Decree Concerning Original Sin (Fifth Session), which calmly anathematized St. Paul: 'This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin.'"

Which calmly anathematized St. Paul??? This little jab really irks me. I could understand it if it came in the context of a polemic on the issue, but it really seems out of place in an evaluation of an ecumenical statement. The fact is, we (Lutherans and Catholics) disagree on what exactly St. Paul meant in places like Rom 6-8 and Col. 3. We don't read his language to mean that the concupiscence in the justified is actually sin; they do. I am aware of and acknowledge this difference of interpretation, and naturally I think that ours is correct. But I would never say that Lutherans "anathematize" Paul in their understanding of what concupscence is. This just seems really out of place and uncalled for to me. Maybe I'm over-reacting, but everytime I read this line, it gets me going.

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