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Preamble

1. The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the "first and chief article"1 and at the same time the "ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines."2 The doctrine of justification was particularly asserted and defended in its Reformation shape and special valuation over against the Roman Catholic Church and theology of that time, which in turn asserted and defended a doctrine of justification of a different character. From the Reformation perspective, justification was the crux of all the disputes. Doctrinal condemnations were put forward both in the Lutheran Confessions3 and by the Roman Catholic Church's Council of Trent. These condemnations are still valid today and thus have a church-dividing effect.

2. For the Lutheran tradition, the doctrine of justification has retained its special status. Consequently it has also from the beginning occupied an important place in the official Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue.

3. Special attention should be drawn to the following reports: "The Gospel and the Church" (1972)4 and "Church and Justification" (1994)5 by the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Joint Commission, "Justification by Faith" (1983)6 of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in the USA, and The Condemnations of the Reformation Era-Do They Still Divide? (1986)7 by the Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic theologians in Germany. Some of these dialogue reports have been officially received by the churches. An important example of such reception is the binding response of the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany to the Condemnations study, made in 1994 at the highest possible level of ecclesiastical recognition ...

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November 1999

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