CHURCH TEACHING THAT
REMAINS IN THE TRUTH
294. This study has shown a notable degree of Lutheran-Catholic agreement on the gospel that
makes the church apostolic and keeps it such (Part 2) and on the fundamental role in the church of
the ordained ministry of word and sacrament (Part 3). The present Part takes up issues concerning
how church teaching remains in the truth revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
295. Two major topics now come to the fore: the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in their
canonical authority in the church and the church's ministry of official teaching. Lutherans and Catholics
agree that the church has the essential basis of its teaching in the canonical Scriptures, which witness
to the history of God's saving deeds in Israel and to the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that the world may
hear a message that becomes effective in the power of the Holy Spirit. By the same Spirit God has
promised to keep the church constantly in the truth, which comes about by church teaching that lives
from God's word witnessed in Scripture, a word which by proclamation creates and builds up the
church as a communion in the truth.
296. From the time of the Early Church, official teaching ministries have existed to preserve and
communicate the message and doctrine of the apostles, principally by interpreting the authoritative
Scriptures. But notable differences have existed since the Reformation, and even more since the First
Vatican Council, over the structuring of these ministries which constitute the church's teaching office
and over their functioning in relation to the authoritative Scriptures to maintain the church in the truth of
God's saving revelation.
297. While Lutherans and Catholics agree that the church lives by the word of God, to which Holy
Scripture is the original witness, we have differed over the way in which the canonicity of Scripture is
grounded and made certain and over the way in which Scripture is authentically interpreted in binding
doctrines. But the participants in this dialogue remain confident that a methodical re-examination of
our history and doctrines can bring progress toward agreement on these questions.
298. The following sections offer first a New Testament orientation to the truth of doctrine, to teaching
ministries, and to the resolving of doctrinal conflicts (Section 4.2). Then follow early and medieval
developments regarding teaching in accord with the transmitted faith, the establishment of the biblical
canon, and methods and instances of biblical interpretation in the church (4.3). Then our perspectives
on Scripture, doctrine, and teaching ministries will be presented as they emerged from the Lutheran
Reformation (4.4) and from Roman Catholic developments from Trent to Vatican II (4.5). A final
section (4.6) will state the nature and degree of our ecumenical agreement on teaching which
preserves the church in the truth of our salvation in Christ.
4.2 Biblical Orientation
299. According to John 18:37, Jesus says before Pilate, "For this I was born, and for this I came into
the world, to testify to the truth." The Fourth Gospel emphasizes throughout that Jesus came to serve
the truth. His whole life was so uncompromisingly committed to the truth and this truth was so much
God's revelation of himself in Christ, that he said to his disciples in the farewell discourse, "I am the
way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). While no one has ever seen God, God's only-born Son, "has
made him known" (Jn 1:18). Jesus is the witness to the truth, the only one in whom the witness and
what is witnessed are identical (Jn 5:31-38). Jesus brings truth to the world, by giving believers a
share in God's life and opening for them the way to God. Concerning this truth, Jesus says, "the truth
will make you free" (Jn 8:32). This means freedom from sin and death, which is freedom to believe
and to love, given by the Spirit. Church teaching that remains in the truth speaks of nothing else than
the truth of God that Jesus revealed in the Spirit for the salvation of the world.
200. In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus is the teacher who speaks the truth, as the scribe acknowledged
after Jesus answered him with the double commandment of love (Mk 12:28-34). Jesus alone deserves
to be called "teacher" in the full sense: "You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher" (Mt
23:8). Church teaching maintained in the truth recognizes the primacy of Jesus as teacher, aiming to
fulfill his mission mandate of "teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Mt
201. According to Acts, the risen Christ addressed to the eleven the commission, "you will be my
witnesses ..." (Acts 1:8). They carried out this mission along with other heralds of faith after the Spirit
had come upon the whole church gathered at Pentecost and filled everyone (Acts 2:1-13). Stephen,
Philip, Barnabas and Paul, along with many unnamed witnesses empowered by the Spirit, shared with
the twelve apostles the founding mission of the church. In Acts 13:47 Paul says about Barnabas and
himself, "So the Lord has commanded us, saying 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that
you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" But the apostles and all other Easter-witnesses
sense their bond in the Spirit with the Old Testament prophets (cf. Rom 1:1-4). But in the church, they
are the first, but not the only ones, who serve the gospel by their witness in the following of Jesus
202. In Paul's letter to the Romans, the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. 1:9), preached by the apostle (1:1),
is the saving power of God for everyone who has faith, because the gospel reveals the righteousness
of God (Rom 1:16f). This is the inherent truth of the apostolic gospel. For this "truth of the gospel" (Gal
2:5.14) Paul intervened at the apostles' council in order to show the universality of the righteousness
of faith imparted by Christ (Gal 2:1-10). Paul underscored that in the controversy over the mission to
the gentiles the Jerusalem leaders recognized that he had been entrusted with the "gospel for the
uncircumcised," just as Peter had been entrusted with the "gospel for the circumcised" (2:7). He
therefore emphasized as well that "James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, . . .
gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship" (2:9).
203. Witness must be given to the truth of the gospel for the sake of the uniqueness of God and of the
promise the gospel brings. Any other "gospel" falsifies the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Consequently,
already in Paul we find an "anathema!" (Gal 1:6-9). Paul saw as most important the shared struggle
concerning the truth and the search for deeper understanding of the truth. Remaining in the truth is, to
be sure, a question of correct teaching and right understanding, but it is much more a question of the
following of Christ and of a faith in the gospel that works through love (Gal 5:6). No human authority
can guarantee possession of the truth, but still Jesus promised that the "Spirit of truth" would remain
both "with" and "in" his disciples (Jn 14:17).
204. Paul as apostle was also teacher of his congregations and he names "teachers" among those to
whom God has given charismatic ministries in the church (1 Cor 12:28). Paul was remembered in the
church as a "teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Tim 2:7). Ephesians sees teachers as
Christians who, together with the evangelists and pastors, perform a special service, on the foundation
of the apostles and prophets, for the growth of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11).
205. In the Pastoral Letters the public teaching of the gospel in the church appears to be the special
task of the episkopos (overseer), along with the presbyteroi (elders). As teacher, the episkopos has to
speak out to correct teaching deviating from the gospel. This task of teaching is essential to the
church, as appears in the connection of this ministry and its exercise with the apostolic gospel. Those
whom the Spirit has made teachers in the church are called to teach the gospel publicly so that the
unity of the church grows in the truth. Fulfilling their ministry, they stand in the church, which as a
whole and in its individual members shares in the prophetic mission of Jesus Christ to give witness to
206. The New Testament shows that disputes over the gospel broke out even among the apostles and
teachers. At issue was the correct understanding of the faith and its practice. This was the case in the
conflict between Paul and Peter at Antioch described by Paul in Gal 2:11-14. This follows the account
of the apostles' council (2:1- 10), at which recognition of Paul, the missionary to the gentiles, as an
apostle was sealed by a handshake. But when Paul was in Antioch he withdrew from common meals
with the entile Christians, in which Paul saw "hypocrisy" and a contradiction of the "truth of the gospel"
(Gal 2:14) and of the freedom given by the gospel (cf. Gal 2:4). Paul opposed Peter "to his face"
(2:11). Holding to the basic principle of justification by faith (Gal 2:15f), he assumes that Peter as well
holds this, as he speaks of "we" in what follows. Paul sees his ecclesial fellowship with Peter as not
broken by Peter's conduct and he struggles to keep it intact.
207. All through his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul makes an impassioned effort to maintain
the bonds of church communion. He links the argument of the moment with a basic determination: "I
am astounded that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are
turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing
you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim
to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!" (Gal 1:6-8). Such
conflicts are for Paul a threat to church fellowship and so the conflict over "another gospel" called for
clarifications, both concerning Paul's mission as apostle of the gentiles (Gal 1:15f) and on justification
by faith without works of the Law (Gal 2:16-20).
208. For Paul, certain notions of the gospel show that ecclesial fellowship is no longer intact, as was
the case with the "false believers" who slipped into the apostles' council (Gal 2:4), along with the
somewhat different conflicts with those who deceitfully disguised themselves as apostles in Corinth (2
Cor 11:13; cf. 11:5 and 12:11) and with the "dogs" who teach evil in Philippi (Phil 3:2). Throughout, the
issue is justification by faith which grounds both the mission to the gentiles and the unity of the church,
in which "There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; for all of you are one in
Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). Paul is the New Testament author who shows that disputes over the truth are
a way to grasp this truth, defend it, and testify to it. Conflict became necessary, to keep human
considerations and plausible ideas from replacing the apostolic witness to the truth in the power of the
209. Acts and the Catholic Letters show that disputes broke out in the early communities, even among
church teachers, over basic tenets of christology and eschatology. In his Miletus discourse in Acts
20:17-38, Paul warns the presbyters of Ephesus, whom he addresses as episkopoi: "Some even from
your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them" (Acts
20:30). So Paul exhorts them to follow his example of dedicated ministry and above all to hold to what
he preached and taught. In the Pastorals the bishops must especially be firm in "sound teaching" (1
Tim 1:10; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3; cf. 1 Tim 4:6; 6:3), which is central in the example and doctrine of the
apostle. The Letters of John, Jude, and 2 Peter make clear that early communities were also torn over
teaching departing from faith in Jesus' divine sonship and denying the credibility of his message of the
reign and kingdom of God. In such cases, 1 John points to the decisive need to hold to what is
fundamental, namely, the saving work of Jesus Christ and the witness of those who first experienced
this: "We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with
our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life" (1 Jn 1:1).
210. Teaching must serve the truth of the gospel and thereby the building up of the church and
ultimately human salvation. In the New Testament, the resolution of disputes is decided by objective
agreement with the original apostolic witness. Even Paul demanded that prophecy should be in
agreement with faith (cf. Rom 12:6). This must be decided by the quality of better arguments, but also
by the effects of the teaching: consolation for those in sorrow, faith for those who doubt, love by those
who hope, and the building up of the church. The subject of this knowledge in faith is the whole
church, but for the individual Christian the voice of conscience is decisive, however weak it may be (1
211. In accord with this New Testament perspective, the church in later times takes as the basic
testimonies of its doctrine the recollections of Jesus recorded in the gospels, the early creedal
formulas (for example, Rom 10:9f.), the baptismal confessions, the first communities' liturgy, prophecy
and catechesis, the letters of the first communities, the letters of the apostles, and not least of all the
Holy Scriptures of Israel (Rom 1:2). Thus the fundamental document for church teaching is the Bible
of the Old and New Testaments, which forms the canon, criterion, and yardstick of the church's
teaching for all time.
212. God's truth presents itself to believers in the power of the Spirit, for the same Spirit who
empowers witnesses to the gospel also makes it possible for others to hear and understand. Faith
confessing the truth is both insight into and affirmation of this truth, along with the trust making it
possible to commit one's whole life to this truth (Rom 10:9). But knowledge, for the duration of time, is
affected by human limitations and errors, which will only be overcome in that consummation of seeing
God "face to face" (1 Cor 13:12). But even now we are, in a manner effective for our salvation, known
by God, which is mediated by knowing God in faith (Gal 4:9). This then is the faith that with hope and
love "abides" (1 Cor 13:13), even though it is lived out by persons whose spirit is willing but flesh is
weak (Mk 14:38).
213. According to John, the risen Christ breathed upon his disciples (Jn 20:22) to give them life, much
as God breathed into Adam the breath of life (Gen 2:7). In this Spirit they are sent, as Jesus was sent
by the Father (Jn 20:21). The Spirit, "which believers in him were to receive" (7:39), is the "Spirit of
truth" (14:17; 15:26). This is the Paraclete, the advocate, supporter, exhorter, and comforter, who will
abide "forever" with Jesus' disciples (14:16), who "will teach them everything" and remind them of all
that Jesus had said to them (14:26). The Spirit will witness on Jesus' behalf (15:26). In his farewell
discourse, Jesus states the promise that will accompany the disciples on their mission: "When the
Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (16:13).
4.3 Doctrine and Apostolic Truth in Early and Medieval Developments
214. This section identifies multiple components of church teaching and indicates how they witnessed
in the church to the truth of God's word during the centuries before the outbreak of controversy in the
4.3.1 Early Testimonies to the Gospel, Doctrine, Teachers, and Scripture
215. In connection with the emerging canon of New Testament books, the Apostolic Fathers refer in
varied contexts to the components of gospel, teaching, ministers, and the inherited Scriptures of
Israel. First Clement's call to restore order in Corinth has a gospel background, as seen in references
to the blood of Christ poured out to bring repentance and redemption by the Holy Spirit abundantly
given (12,7, 21,6, 49,6, 2,2, 8,1) and to Jesus Christ as the highpriest in whom believers are called to
justification not by holy deeds but by faith effected by God (36, 32,4). Ignatius of Antioch spoke of the
new life opened in Christ, "who for our sakes suffered death that you might believe in his death and so
escape dying yourselves.
He is our hope, and if we live in union with him now, we shall gain eternal life" (Trallians 2,1-2).
216. In Didache, chs.1-6, sound teaching is a catechesis on walking in the "way of life" while avoiding
"the way of death". Ignatius knows that the Ephesians closed their ears to an alien "evil doctrine"
(Ephesians 9,1). Against error Ignatius responds by insisting that Jesus "was really born, ... really
crucified and died, ... was really raised from the dead" (Trallians 9).
217. The Didache speaks of itinerant teachers, apostles, and prophets, whose way of life should be
examined before they may stay in the community (11,1-8, 13,1-7), where teachers instruct on the "two
ways" (7,1). For Ignatius, the bishop serves by witnessing publicly to the gospel. At the martyrdom of
Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, a mob cried out, "This is the teacher of Asia, the father of Christians, the
destroyer of our gods, who teaches many not to sacrifice nor to worship" (Mart. of Polycarp 12,2).
318. First Clement assumes that the inspired Scriptures are well known (45,2, 53,1, 62,3), and cites
them frequently. Ignatius insisted that Scripture be interpreted in the light of Christ's cross, death, and
resurrection (Philadelphians 8,2; Smyrnians 7,2).
219. On the basis of the gospel, doctrine, teachers, and the Scriptures, the Roman Church took action
ca. 140 A.D. against Marcion. Justin tells of Marcion's heretical teaching on a God greater than the
Creator and Father of Jesus (First Apology 26, 58), for which Marcion had been expelled in order to
protect the truth of apostolic and scriptural teaching. This action of doctrinal episcopé was a watershed
that clarified orthodox teaching and ensured for later ages, against Marcion's reduction, the two-part
canon of Scripture including the four canonical gospels, Acts, and apostolic letters.
4.3.2 The Rule of Faith
220. Works of the late second and early third century indicate a form of "sound doctrine" which serves
as a central means in keeping the churches in the truth of God's revelation. Irenaeus of Lyons,
Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen present the "canon of truth" or "rule of faith" (regula
fidei), that is, a set framework and content of faith, now professed and taught in the churches as
coming from the apostles. The rule is to believe in God, the Father Almighty, who created all that is; in
Jesus Christ, the Son who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who spoke
through the prophets of Christ's birth, passion, resurrection, and ascension, of the future resurrection
and coming manifestation of Christ in glory as just judge of all (Irenaeus, Adversus haereses I, 10, 1-2). In the rule of faith, Christian tradition received an early but very clear formulation.
221. The rule was not verbally fixed, but it gave structure to the transmission of the gospel and basic
doctrine to catechumens, before their baptism when they came under this norm of belief. The rule
expressed faith's trinitarian structure which protected the unity of creation, redemption, sanctification,
and revelation. Adaptation was possible, when errors made it necessary to emphasize particular
points, as in formulations of the unity of the two testaments against Marcion and the reality of the Son
of God's entry into the flesh of our humanity against strains of gnosticism.
222. The rule was not applied to the prophetic and apostolic books as an ecclesiastical principle
external to them. For the rule expressed Scripture's meaning, which teachers were publicly
transmitting in the churches to foster an ordered understanding of God's saving works. The rule was a
formulation, but, as Irenaeus said, it corresponded to the salvation written in believers' hearts by the
Holy Spirit who had anointed them (Adversus haereses III, 4, 2).
4.3.3 Creeds for Professing the Apostolic Faith
223. Early formulations for professing the apostolic faith are known in the New Testament, as in the
concentrated declaration, "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3) or, as Paul expands this, to "confess with your
mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead" (Rom 10:9).
Around 200 A.D., in North Africa, the one being baptized first renounced Satan and then professed
faith in response to three set questions about belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Tertullian, De
corona 3; also Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21). The earliest baptismal creed involved a dialogue
with answers of "I believe" to questions about the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
224. Many fourth century creeds served in the catechumenate, in which the handing over of the
church's creed (traditio symboli) marked a passage in preparation for baptism. After instructions on
the contents, candidates publicly recited the creed before the assembled community (reditio symboli;
cf. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, 2,5). These declarative creeds formulated the core of God's
revelation of himself and the work of salvation in Christ. In the creeds the doctrinal component of
Christian tradition became explicit regarding the central contents of the transmitted faith.
225. The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. began a new development with its declarative creed for the
whole church (DS 125; Tanner, 5), expressing the faith in a form that excluded error about Jesus
Christ. This dogmatic creed protected the apostolic faith, while prohibiting an erroneous biblical
interpretation and securing the understanding of salvation as God's own work in his divine Son. In
church life, the Nicene Creed was not used in the catechumenate for the expression of personal faith
by individual believers, but was professed by the people in many eucharistic liturgies and served
bishops and teachers working publicly as a criterion of communion between the churches and as a
norm of orthodoxy.
226. As public professions, creeds derive from the preaching of Christ's apostles and are used under
the supervision of those who expound and guard the transmitted word in the churches. But in personal
profession of the creed an individual allows God's good news to reach its intended term in giving new
life in the Triune God. Consequently, Thomas Aquinas stated the principle: "The act of the believer
does not reach its term in the formula but in the reality expressed" (Actus autem credentis non
terminatur ad enuntiabilem sed ad rem. Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 1, art. 2 ad 2). The creed
expresses the truth of revelation, but the text is not the ultimate object. Professing a creed is, by the
work of God's Spirit, a moment in movement toward union with God in saving communion.
4.3.4 The Canon of Scripture
227. Contemporaneous with growing clarity on doctrine, by the rule of faith and creeds, the churches
also arrived at greater certainty about the biblical writings received from Israel and from the apostolic
generation. A few decades after Nicaea, the limits of the canonical Christian Bible, whose central
content was already clear, was more precisely defined. Here the term "canon" has two over- lapping
meanings. It is first the catalogue of the books making up the Bible of the church. But as the
"canonical" Scriptures, the Bible is the normative criterion of the life and teaching of the church.
228. In Judaism down to ca. 100 A.D. the Torah and Prophets were essentially closed collections
while the Writings, even with the singular authority of the Psalms, varied in extension in the traditions
of different groups. But in the reconstitution of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple, the
rabbinical conception eventually prevailed, by which absolute authority for synagogue teaching was
ascribed to the canon of twenty-two books originating in Hebrew, to the exclusion of additional works
included in the Septuagint Greek Bible of diaspora Jews.
229. From the beginning, the Scriptures of Israel, later called the "Old Testament", constituted the
Bible of Christians, as the first part of Holy Scripture. Consequently, it was of central importance when
the church rejected Marcion's denial of any role for Christians of the Scriptures of Israel. This led to a
campaign in catechetics and theology (as in Irenaeus and Origen), which accentuated the essential
contribution of the Old Testament's witness to faith in the one God who is Creator of all and Father of
230. But soon, differences emerged over the status of the Septuagint books not included in the Jewish
canon, Tobit, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and parts of Esther (chs. 11-16) and
Daniel (3:25-90, chs. 13-14). In the East, Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem, joined by Jerome, saw
these books as giving useful instruction for life but not as canonical authorities for faith. But in the
West, Augustine defended these books as proven in usefulness in the liturgy and in their contribution
to both doctrine and piety. The regional councils of Hippo in 393 A.D. and Carthage in 397 A.D.
sanctioned the more extensive canon, which Pope Innocent I confirmed in 405 A.D. (DS 213). These
actions insured the presence of the "deuterocanonical" books in the Vulgate Bible of Western
231. The canon of New Testament books emerged by the continuous use of the four gospels and
apostolic writings, while other early Christian works were not received by the whole church as
canonical. Two factors led to the clarity widely attained in the third and fourth centuries. Marcion had
reduced the authoritative texts to ten Pauline letters and an edited text of Luke. Gnostic teachers
featured further books of alleged origin from Jesus and the apostles. In reaction, writers in the great
churches, like Irenaeus, criticized both views, especially by applying the regula fidei, so as to go well
beyond Marcion's reduction, while rejecting works of Gnostic provenance as being infected with error.
232. Early in the fourth century Eusebius told of a broad consensus over four gospels, Acts, the
Pauline corpus, and 1 John, but also related that differences exist over James, 1-2 Peter, Jude, and 2-3 John, while the standing of Revelation is debated (Ecclesiastical History, III, 25). The earliest list
corresponding to our New Testament canon is Athanasius's Festal Letter of 367 A.D., which imposed
uniformity on the lectionaries of Egypt and ruled out Gnostic gospels and apocalypses. The Western
canons of Hippo, Carthage, and Pope Innocent agreed in listing the twenty-seven books that
exclusively make up the New Testament canon of the Christian churches.
233. Numerous individuals contributed to giving the Christian biblical canon its shape and content.
Bishops, alone or in synods, took important actions to regulate public liturgical reading of Scripture.
For this, a principal criterion of judgment was the coherence of the received books with the transmitted
faith, as is evident in the rejection of Gnostic "gospels" which lacked accounts of the passion, death,
and resurrection of Jesus. The transmitted faith conveyed the central contents of early and
uncontested gospels and letters. All the received New Testament books had connections with
apostles of Jesus, so as to bring their readers into nearness to Jesus and to the church-founding
ministries of the apostles and their close associates.
234. The books of the canon serve to keep the church in every age "apostolic", as the creed professes
that it is and will remain. The canon gives all Christians the list of the books they read and interpret on
a daily basis in order to deepen the authenticity of their faith and to take guidance from God's word of
truth in the changing circumstances of their lives.89
235. The establishment of the canon leads to two further questions. First, how did the canonical
Scripture contribute to the dogmatic tradition that emerged in the teaching of general councils?
Second, how did early and medieval teachers interpret the biblical books to make their communication
of the truth of revelation formative of the faith and lives of believers?
4.3.5 The Councils of the First Eight Centuries
236. The service rendered to the truth of faith and to its public profession by the Council of Nicaea (cf.
no. 325, above) had ample precedent in regional synods of bishops beginning in the second century,
such as those that condemned the Montanist "new prophets" (after 160 A.D.). Major synods of bishops
meeting at Antioch in the third century condemned the adoptionist christology of Paul of Samosata,
whose errors were detailed in the synods' letters to other regions of the church. Norms of penitential
practice were laid down in synods at Elvira (Spain) in 306, Arles (Gaul) in 314, and Ancyra (Asia Minor
and Syria) also in 314. In 320, ca. 100 bishops of Egypt and Libya gathered in Alexandria to judge
Arius' teaching as contrary to the gospel teaching on the Word (Logos) who was from the beginning
and by whom all things were made. Bishop Alexander of Alexandria sent out encyclical letters to other
bishops to warn them against receiving followers of Arius, because they opposed the apostolic
doctrine of piety.
237. The Council of Nicaea, in 325, raised synodical practice to the level of all the churches of the
Empire. Its Creed was gradually received as expressing and protecting the orthodox faith and
subsequent councils, both regional and ecumenical, made it the authoritative starting point of their
doctrinal deliberations. At Ephesus in 431, the reading of the doctrinal texts of Nestorius and Cyril of
Alexandria was preceded by the Nicene Creed, which was to serve as the norm for judging the
doctrines of the two disputants as orthodox or deviant.
238. The acta of the Council of Chalcedon refer frequently to the previous Councils of Nicaea,
Constantinople, and Ephesus, assuming that they have taught the truth concerning God and Christ.
Gregory the Great revered the first four general Councils on a par with the four gospels, since the
Councils are a foundation on which rises the edifice of the church's faith.90
239. In conciliar teaching, bishops gave testimony to the faith of the church that should be held
inviolately, in binding decisions about what should and should not be preached and taught publicly and
about how Scripture should and should not be interpreted.
240. At the great councils, deliberations took place before an open book of the gospels, placed on a
chair to indicate that Christ was presiding. But while later theological writers defended conciliar
teaching by amassing Scripture texts in expounding doctrines, councils themselves judged
controverted doctrines by their agreement or disagreement with the teaching of earlier councils and
works of recognized orthodox teachers. When synodical letters communicated the decisions of
councils, as after Ephesus in 431, the basis given was the "faith of Nicaea" taken as the epitome of
241. At Second Nicaea in 787 A.D., the Council document approving the veneration of images began
with four biblical texts, but then gave a long list of patristic texts in evidence of the tradition of honoring
images. Earlier creeds and Church Fathers were decisive in councils because in doctrinal controversy
both sides appealed to Scripture, as in the Arian appeal to texts subordinating the Son to the Father.
Later Councils deliberated in the presence of the open gospels, but the doctrines that they taught
served to renew for their time what they received from their predecessors in the conciliar tradition.
4.3.6 Interpreting the Truth of Scripture for the Church: Early and Medieval Approaches
242. While Christians of every age have heard from Scripture God's authoritative word, they also know
what the Ethiopian eunuch said about the reader of Scripture needing guidance (Acts 8:30-31).
Interpretation is, thus, a constant activity, in which, however, different methods have been employed.
Writers of Late Antiquity discussed the ways and means of an interpretation which recovers for the
church the binding truth of God's revelation from its attestation throughout the Bible.
243. Jesus cited Israel's Scriptures as authoritative and inspired (Mk 2:25, 11:17, 12:36), while
indicating that their center was love of God and neighbor (Mk 12:29-31). The apostolic preaching of
Jesus' death and resurrection declared these events to be "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4),
while the same Scriptures were central in apostolic pastoral teaching, "for whatever was written in
former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the
Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom 15:4). The Letter to the Hebrews solidified the church's hold on
the inherited Scriptures by typological readings of the Israelite Scriptures applied to Jesus, while the
evangelist Matthew reflected Christian assurance that Jesus' coming and life "fulfilled what had been
spoken by the Lord through the prophet" (Mt 1:22, etc.). In John 5:39, Jesus asserts that the
Scriptures testify on his behalf, while the Gospel of Luke ends with the risen Jesus assuring the
disciples "that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms must be
fulfilled" (Lk 24:44). Apostolic practice in searching the inherited Scriptures is sketched in Paul's
defense that he was "saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would take place: that the
Messiah must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to
our people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:22-23).
244. A notable second-century approach to Scripture is Justin's amassing of Old Testament
testimonies predicting what took place in Christ and in the spread of Christianity. Irenaeus insisted that
the regula fidei conveys in summary form the biblical message relevant for faith. The regula is
accepted by patristic interpreters as a norm with which interpretation must be consistent. In it a
doctrinal authority came upon the scene, expressing an aspect of tradition and applied publicly by
teachers in the church to guide reading and interpretation of Scripture.
245. In the milieu of cultured Alexandria, Clement and Origen adopted Hellenistic traditions of
allegorical interpretation, in order to find in Scripture a total meaning. Paul used the methods of
allegory (Gal 4:24) and typology (1 Cor 10) for interpreting the Scriptures of Israel as pointing to Christ.
This developed in the Early Church in complex ways, to give a biblical basis for doctrine and conduct,
for learned accounts of the world and human nature, and for mystical instruction. Faith in inspiration
instilled the expectation of finding in the texts, beyond the surface of the letter, many meanings given
by God's Spirit to instruct and nourish life and prayer, in interpretation that expressed in practice the
sufficiency of Scripture for faith and conduct.
246. The school of Antioch, represented by Theodore of Mopsuestia and John Chrysostom, insisted
that events narrated in Scripture had for the authors and their first readers a meaning which
interpretation must respect and set forth with sober attention to the plain sense of the texts. The
Antiochenes saw prophecies and types of Christ in the Old Testament, but far fewer than what was
offered by the spiritual reading of the Alexandrines. Antiochene interpretation, privileging a single
original meaning, suffered by its association with Nestorius, but was well exemplified by Augustine's
close reading of Paul in his anti-Pelagian works. It fostered detailed, textual study and was received in
the medieval principle that in debate the original, literal sense of Scripture was alone probative of
"sacred doctrine" (Thomas Aquinus, Summa theologiae., I, q. 1, art. 10 ad 1).
247. Augustine made the famous affirmation that the authority of the church moved him to believe the
gospel (Contra ep. Fundamenti, 5, 6), but also said that the canonical books provide all that is needed
for faith and for life in hope and charity (De doctrina christiana, 2, 9, 14). The biblical authors have
never erred, but they also left texts difficult to grasp, and so interpretation must turn for guidance to the
rule of faith, received from clear passages of Scripture and from the church's authority (Ibid., 3, 2, 2).
But all of Scripture must in the end be related to its purpose, namely, fostering the love of God and
neighbor, as Scripture itself testified (Ibid., 1, 36, 40).
248. After Augustine's death, Vincent of Lerins gave the famous rule for understanding rightly the
divine and authoritative word of Scripture, that is, "to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere,
always, and by all" (ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est
[Commonitorium, 2, 5]). Tradition thus conveys the true meaning of Scripture for the church, but this
tradition develops, without substantially changing, to bring forth further understanding in the church
(Ibid., 23, 1ff.). Vincent sought to explain an authentic doctrinal interpretation of Scripture, which
however is in itself a perfect witness to truth "in itself for all things more than sufficient" (cum ... ad
omnia satis superque sufficiat [Ibid., 2, 2; also 29, 3]).
249. For Vincent the problem is that interpretations of Scripture vary with the variety of interpreters
(Ibid., 2, 3-4), and many heretics offer scriptural warrants for their doctrines (Ibid., 25, 3). When this
happens, appeal must be made to the agreed teachings of the forebears in the catholic communion
(Ibid., 28, 5), especially to the decrees issued by bishops gathered in council (Ibid., 23, 18 and 29, 5),
as at Ephesus where Nestorious was judged to be at odds with the Catholic faith transmitted by
authentic witnesses in the whole known world (Ibid., 29-30). Scholarship is not agreed on Vincent's
precise intent, but it is clear that for him the tradition expressed in the Fathers and Councils is not
another source beside Scripture, but is instead the very truth of Scripture as this is articulated in the
250. But for some Fathers tradition had another sense beyond the transmitted truth of Scripture,
namely, certain practices passed on orally from the apostles, as held, for example, by Tertullian (De
corona, 3- 4) and Augustine (De baptismo, 2, 7, 11). Basil of Caesarea listed such apostolic traditions
not recorded in Scripture which are observed in liturgical prayer and sacramental rites (De Spiritu
Sancto, 27), in a text given an extended afterlife in the Decretum of Gratian (Dist. XI, c. 5). In Basil,
Scripture is not being supplemented by orally transmitted doctrines of faith, but instead the church is
consolidating its worship and life in forms which loyal Christians will follow in practice.
251. In the twelfth century, Master Gratian contributed to our question by recognizing, along with
official conciliar and papal teaching, the interpretation of Scripture by others, namely commentators
who combine spiritual gifts, learning, and a sound use of reason. While those holding jurisdiction in the
church have pre-eminence "in deciding cases", including doctrinal disputes, in the exposition of
Scripture the commentators come first (Decretum, Dictum ante Dist. XX, c. 1). A century later, St.
Thomas spoke similarly of the two chairs, which differ in their task and competence: the "magisterial
chair" from which teachers communicate acquired learning concerning the faith, and the "pontifical or
episcopal chair" from which prelates make binding decisions as shepherds of Christ's flock
(Quaestiones quodlibetales, III, 4, 1). The Thomist ecclesiologist Juan Torquemada, O.P. (d. 1468),
distinguished between scholars who show what the biblical text means, which does not require the
assent of believers, and the Pope who determines in a binding way the meaning of Scripture to be
held in the church (Summa de ecclesia, II, 107). Thus, medieval teachers of unquestioned authority
know well a plurality of ecclesial agents who serve revealed truth.
252. For Thomas Aquinas the truth of faith is transmitted and professed in the creeds of the church,
which are several in answer to successive heretical attacks (Summa theologiae., II-II, 1, 9 ad 2).
Creeds have been issued by general councils, but when error makes it necessary the Pope, in virtue
of the mandate of Lk 22:32 and his service of unity in faith, can also ascertain what is of faith and
formulate this in an updated creed (Ibid., q. 1, art. 10).
253. For Aquinas and the teachers of the high Middle Ages, magisterial actions clarify the meaning of
the prophets and apostles who mediate God's word to us in Scripture. Scripture is the materially
sufficient source of sacred doctrine, with the meaning also being inherent in tradition.91 But late-medieval accounts of the sources of Catholic truth grew ever more refined, and in polemical defenses
against Marsilius of Padua and John Wycliffe, novelties emerged, such as deriving the authority of
Scripture from the church that authoritatively fixed the canon (Guido Terreni, O. Carm., d. 1342) and
expanding Basil's unwritten traditions of practice to include binding tenets of faith going back to Christ,
not given in Scripture but instead transmitted orally until formulated in writing and approved by the
church, e.g., on the sacrament of confirmation (Thomas Netter, O. Carm., d. 1430; Gabriel Biel, d.
254. Early sixteenth-century Europe was a place of rising expectations of better preaching, Christian
instruction, and pastoral care. Calls for reform had been heard with some frequency (cf. Part 2, no. 92,
above). When printing made Scripture newly accessible, soon in editions in the original Hebrew and
Greek, new possibilities opened for reform based on the pre-eminent source of faith and life. Glossed
bibles surrounding the text with blocks of early Christian commentary soon lost their appeal. When the
Reformation translated calls for reform into action, numerous questions became urgent for which
previous centuries offered no agreed answers. How does Scripture ground authentic doctrine, e.g., for
catechesis? In the manifold contents of Scripture, what is the center that should control interpretation?
In interpreting God's word, what is the proper interrelation between previous traditions, creeds,
councils and the Pope, and textually based theological proposals?
4.4 The Church Maintained in the Truth According to the Lutheran Reformation
4.4.1 Canon, Interpretation of Scripture, and Teaching in the Lutheran Reformation
255. For the Reformers, a close connection linked the issue of the church being maintained in the
truth with the certainty, "that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church."92 They
understood this church as "the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached
and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel."93 Thus for the church to remain
church, being maintained in the truth of the gospel is essential. The promise that the church will
continue to exist pertains to the church as a whole. However, in the era of the Reformation divisions
broke out precisely over the question of truth and error in doctrine and over preaching and the
administration of the sacraments. These divisions made it questionable for those in one part of
Christianity whether those who taught differently were remaining in the truth. On certain issues, groups
came to contest in a definitive manner the validity of teaching by others.
256. Initially the controversy broke out over questions of dogmatic content, regarding both
indulgences, in doctrine and practice, and the certainty of faith by which a penitent should in
confession rely on the word of absolution. But when Luther was accused of heresy and the Pope
censured a list of his teachings as heretical or offensive or false,94 this immediately raised new
questions, first, about the authorities to which one could appeal in deciding for or against such a
judgment and, second, about the proper instances of judgment which were competent and relevant in
such a case. Between 1517 and 1521 the controversy escalated in intensity with startling rapidity.
257. As the controversy began, Luther repeatedly named the authorities that had to be heard in a
doctrinal controversy, namely, Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the canonical decretals, and he
did this in the assumption that they would be in agreement, with Holy Scripture having the leading
role.95 But in the course of the dispute Luther became more and more convinced that several positions
cited against him from canon law were not convincingly based in Scripture and that this deficit was
being covered by appeals to the authority of the teaching office. With this, the traditional ordering of
the authorities became questionable for Luther and thereby the competent instances of teaching
became themselves an issue of controversy. In 1518 at Augsburg Luther met a representative of the
magisterium in the person of Cardinal Cajetan and during his exchange with him Luther appealed from
the poorly informed Pope to one better informed, doing this in the expectation that in the eventual
decision of the Pope he would hear Christ speaking.96 But shortly after, when Luther saw the letter with
the Pope's instructions to Cardinal Cajetan,97 he also appealed to another instance, one in which the
whole church, which does not err, would speak, namely, a Council.98
258. Shortly after Luther's Augsburg hearing before Cajetan, the Pope made an authoritative
clarification on indulgences.99 But because the text gave no biblical or other arguments, Luther did not
hear in it either the voice of Christ or of the church. Soon after, Luther began raising exegetical
objections against the biblical grounding of papal primacy and questioned the way in which his
opponents were presenting papal authority, even though this was not authoritatively defined. And so
when the Pope's bull of 1520 demanded that he recant his teachings, Luther responded by calling the
Pope "the Antichrist" and based this on the charge that the Pope was putting himself above the word
of God and creating new articles of faith.100
259. For Luther the further appeal to another instance remained in force, namely, to a Council. But
during the Leipzig Disputation of 1519, he took the position that the Council of Constance had erred in
condemning certain propositions of Jan Hus, which led Luther inevitably to deny the inerrancy of
Councils. Therefore Luther concluded that he could submit to a conciliar decision only after testing its
validity on the basis of Holy Scripture. With this, Luther seemed to be an individual opposing the
church, that is, the instances that traditionally were competent to speak for the church, namely, the
Pope who had already censured many of his teachings, and the council that he could not unreservedly
acknowledge as a final judge. On the other hand, Luther was really not alone but was leading a
growing movement, because more and more people were being convinced by his notion of the gospel
and by the arguments he was presenting.
260. At the time, Luther's dispute quickly reached a stage beyond any easy solution, although in
retrospect after study of the sources, one can certainly imagine another outcome. There was at that
time no unanimity over the systematic ordering of Christian norms. The plurality of possible
conceptions left a larger area for maneuvering than the actual course of events would suggest.
Appearances, in this case, can deceive, for both sides were to an extent facing the same problems
and tasks, while the area of agreement between them was more extensive than many would suppose
261. Both Luther and his opponents agreed that Holy Scripture is normative for church teaching. The
dispute however was about the precise relationship between the church and Scripture, as became
clear at the Leipzig Disputation between Luther and Johann Eck (1519), where conflict about the
canon broke out over the question of the biblical basis of the doctrine of purgatory.101 Luther denied the
possibility of grounding purgatory in Scripture, because the text cited for this, 2 Maccabees 12:46, was
from a book not belonging to the canon and so was for Luther not a suitable proof against denials of
purgatory. Regarding canonical validity, Luther made a clear distinction between the books of the
Hebrew canon and books transmitted only in the Septuagint. Johann Eck offered the counter
argument that even though 1-2 Maccabees was not in the Hebrew canon the church had nonetheless,
with an appeal to St. Augustine, received it as canonical.102 To this Luther responded that the church
was not able to ascribe more authority to a book than the book had in itself.103
262. Eck then framed his objection to Luther's idea of Scripture with a general principle, "It is by the
authority of the church that Scripture is authentic."104 This pertains first to canonicity, with books of
Scripture being canonical on the basis of their being recognized by the church. Second, as a
consequence, the church is capable of giving binding interpretations of Scripture and is obliged to do
this. The basis for this was the often cited statement of Augustine, "I would not believe the gospel, if
the authority of the church did not bring me to do this."105 Luther's opposing position is that
interventions of the church regarding the extent of the canon mean to be judgments in which the
church ascertains that certain books have shown themselves to her as the word of God and because
of this, the church has declared the books canonical.
263. The Lutheran Reformation declined to issue a complete list of canonical books of Scripture, a fact
all the more remarkable in light of the emphatic opening statement of the Formula of Concord, "that
the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated
and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone."106 The
Lutheran option rests on Luther's view that for recognizing the canonical and apostolic standing of a
book, its apostolic authorship was less important than its content. The books of Scripture are brought
together to form a unity by their central content, Jesus Christ. Luther stated, "Take Christ out of the
Scriptures, and what will you find left in them?"107 Everything in Scripture points to Christ, and because
the apostles' office is to preach Christ, consequently the touchstone for the apostolic standing of
particular books is whether or not they "inculcate Christ."108 This is not verified in the Letter of James,
who also interprets Abraham in a manner contrary to Paul's doctrine of justification.109 But one should
note the fact that Luther did not act on his very critical comments on James by excluding the Letter
from the canon. He only changed the order of the last nine New Testament books, placing James
toward the end.
264. The reformers needed no special justification for holding that the Scriptures were normative in
their two original languages. "For it was not without purpose that God caused his Scriptures to be set
down in these two languages alone - the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. Now if God did
not despise them but chose them above all others for his word, then we too ought to honor them
above all others."110 "Although the Gospel came and still comes to us through the Holy Spirit alone, we
cannot deny that it came through the medium of language, was spread abroad by that means, and
must be preserved by the same means."111 This explains many of the obscurities that people find in
Scripture, so that "they have held that God's word is by its very nature obscure and employs a peculiar
style of speech. But they fail to realize that the whole trouble lies in the languages. If we understood
the languages nothing clearer would ever have been spoken than God's word."112 Theology should
learn its way of speaking about God from the words that God himself used, and for this, knowledge of
the original languages is needed, along with familiarity with the original biblical text.
265. The biblical writings are externally clear in a meaning that everyone can grasp. One can clarify
obscure passages in Scripture in the light of clear passages. For this one must know the languages
and be able to apply all the requisite philological methods. But Scripture is really understood by the
heart taking hold of its inner clarity, which is beyond the ability of a person whose heart is darkened.
For this one needs the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is the one who opens to us Holy Scripture as God's
word, preserves it, and makes it credible. By reason of its clarity, Scripture can be grasped through
itself and in its own spirit. It should not be interpreted according to peculiar ideas of the reader and
according to one's own spirit. "Note that the strength of the Scripture is this, that it is not changed into
the one who studies it, but that it transforms one who loves it into itself and its own strengths."113
Scripture alone should reign, for which it must be its own interpreter.114
266. For Scripture to interpret itself means that formally one understands and explains particular texts
by other texts. Regarding content, this means that the Letter to the Romans throws light on the whole
of Scripture of which it is the summa, being "really the chief part of the New Testament and is truly the
purest gospel."115 To do this is for Luther the working out of what he grasped by his reformation
insight.116 At issue was the right interpretation of Romans 1:16f and in particular the meaning of "the
righteousness of God." Laboring in search of understanding, Luther sought the meaning of that
phrase, "meditating day and night," until by God's grace he was given a philological discovery,
"attending to the connection between the words." The outward clarity he thereby found in the text led
him to inner clarity and with this to a new relation to God, so that the whole Scripture took on a new
appearance. This overpowering experience of discovering meaning, in which Scripture became by
God's Spirit an acting subject, points to what Luther means by the clarity and self-interpretation of the
267. The communication of the scripturally-attested gospel (as distinguished from the Law) occurs
both in a worshiping assembly and in personal experience of an individual, by the transmission of "the
main doctrine of Christianity", that is, "Christ for me (pro me)." 117 The office of preaching is thus a
teaching office and correlatively "teaching" is for the reformers both proclamation and doctrine. When
one preaches in the name of the Triune God, God makes himself present for human salvation,
granting knowledge of himself together with trust in his word. God's word is doctrine, because it brings
to those who hear and believe it a definite content which then fundamentally marks them. Faith as
reliance on God's address and as taking hold of Christ entails as well the essential dimension of
assent to the articles of faith.118 Faith as trust and as assent are not contrary to each other but are
intrinsically related, because the articles of faith always contain the pro me and so draw the believer
beyond himself or herself into relation with God. But this relation needs the articles of faith to insure
that it is with the true God and not with a false God. The reformers hold that doctrine is so important
that, "as one's doctrine is, so is one's faith as well. If the doctrine is correct, then one's faith is right,
but false doctrine is poison that makes faith false and dead."119 Consequently one holding pastoral
office not only has to "graze" but also to protect, as takes place when one points out heretical errors.120
268. For the church to remain in the truth, the individual has to have daily contact with Holy Scripture,
for which Luther names three steps which show the right way to study theology, namely, prayer,
meditation, and temptation.121 Since Scripture teaches about eternal life, it opens itself to the
knowledge of the heart only by the Holy Spirit's enlightenment and guidance. Consequently the
believer always begs for the Holy Spirit in prayer before beginning attentive and repeated reading in
meditation on Scripture. But what we read is often contrary to what we meet in life and experience,
and so we meet temptation by what seems to refute Scripture. But precisely these experiences of guilt
and sin, under accusation by God's law, of God's hiddenness amid opposition posed by life in the
world lead the believer to understand Scripture more deeply and to experience the reliability of God's
word. Amid such biblical meditation, believers not only experience that they interpret Scripture but that
Scripture itself becomes the active subject of interpretation. Scripture interprets its interpreter. This is
the interpretation that gives rise to doctrine that is not our own but God's doctrine.
269. Every church doctrine setting forth the content of faith in a proper linguistic form, as in the
catechism, in confession, or in theological proposals, has to be grounded directly or indirectly in Holy
Scripture. Luther is emphatic on this: "Doctrine has to be pure Scripture." 122 We see this exemplified in
the catechism. The three components of the Creed, the Our Father, and the Ten Commandments
represent "all that Scripture contains and should be always preached, all that a Christian has to know,
and they express this both in its basics and its richness."123 The contents of the catechism ought to be
learned and practiced daily, so that one adds experience, just as in study of Scripture: one ought "to
read it daily and make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation and
meditation the Holy Spirit is present."124 This is all the more valid because "God himself is not ashamed
to teach it daily, for he knows of nothing better to teach, and he always keeps on teaching this one
thing without proposing anything new or different. And all the saints know of nothing better or different
to learn."125 Like study of Scripture, study of the catechism should be both communitarian and
personal, that is, both by catechetical preaching or an exercise led by the father of the family and by
personal meditation. Luther's catechisms became books of both public worship and private devotion.
Their inclusion in The Book of Concord in 1580 gave them doctrinal authority at the highest level.
270. The church in her doctrine can only make explicit what Scripture contains. At issue is the
church's apostolic character. After Christ, the apostles' and prophets' authority is beyond compare.
The successors of the apostles have to follow apostolic authority when they present something as
teaching. The church may not issue new articles of faith, but its doctrine may only bring to light the
doctrine of Scripture and defend this against errors, in which she can and must say, "This doctrine is
not ours, but God's."126 When Luther sets in opposition God's word and human doctrines, this is not
the same as the common distinction made today between divine and human discourse. "We do not
censure human doctrine because it comes from human beings, but because it contains lies and
blasphemy against Scripture, which itself is written by human beings, but not from themselves, for it is
from God."127 Consequently a council will show that it is gathered in the Holy Spirit and represents the
whole church speaking in it, by basing its decisions and utterances on Holy Scripture. A council does
not have authority just because according to its own self-understanding it is rightly gathered in the Holy
Spirit. Such authority depends on it working on the basis of the apostles and proceeding not according
to its own ideas but according to the analogy of faith.128
271. This does not make superfluous the Church Fathers. To be sure they are not an independent
source of doctrine which adds to Scripture, which of itself is impossible because of their variety and
some internal oppositions between their teachings. But the reformers' appeals to the Fathers served to
make clear that they were presenting not new doctrine but teaching that agreed with the Scripture as
the Fathers understood and interpreted it. Luther said he was publishing the three ancient creeds, "so
that I may again bear witness that I hold to the real Christian Church", in agreement with all of
Christendom.129 Melanchthon, in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, refers throughout to Early
Church dogma and the Church Fathers.
272. The visitations carried out in Electoral Saxony beginning in 1527 show how highly the reformers
valued the transmission of correct doctrine. The Instructions for the Visitors set forth important points
of doctrine with the practical intention of instructing and examining parish pastors. The office of
superintendent was established for oversight over doctrine and life in the communities of a given area
and for examining new candidates for pastorates. For the consequences of having capable or
incompetent preachers had become clear, whether for good or evil. This led to introducing a regional
office of oversight with episcopal tasks, most of all to see to it that the communities of their area
remained in the truth.130
273. Responsibility for maintaining the church in the truth is not exclusive to superintendents, but also
concerns pastors and other members of the community. One can recognize a Christian community by
the fact that in it the gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered in accord
with their institution. But this never occurs without bearing fruit, so that such a community is familiar
with the voice of its Lord and consequently is able to discern true from false doctrine.131 This, to be
sure, is the case only among Christians well-formed for hearing the truth, who have, through preaching
and catechetical instruction, along with personal meditation on Scripture and the catechism, become
capable of judging doctrine.
274. The Lutheran confessions, that is, the Augsburg Confession, Luther's Small Catechism, and the
other confessions collected in The Book of Concord, have taken on particular significance for
maintaining Lutheran churches in the truth. Early on, they had a place in local church orders and
pastoral office-holders were and still are today bound to them by oath at the time of ordination so that
they remain norms of their ministry. The Book of Concord declares that Holy Scripture is the sole rule
and norm of doctrine, while the three creeds of the Early Church together with the Augsburg
Confession and other doctrinal documents of The Book of Concord constitute a norm subordinated to
that of Scripture. This doctrinal tradition is "well founded in God's word", and with it one can therefore
differentiate pure teaching from false doctrine.132
275. That the church be maintained in the truth is from beginning to end God's work. "When he
deserts us and leaves us to our own resources, our wisdom and knowledge are nothing. Unless he
sustains us constantly, the highest learning and even theology are useless."133 The reformers were
certain that the Triune God was laying the foundation and working in the church, and so they were
able to give to the human actions of preaching, teaching, meditating, and confessing their proper place
with a view to maintaining the church in the truth.
4.4.2 The Ministry of Teaching in Lutheran Churches
276. Lutheran churches have no teaching office in the form of an institution in the church consisting of
a particular group of individuals authorized, by belonging to the college of bishops, to issue binding
judgments, and in certain circumstances ultimately binding judgments, concerning the contents of
God's revelation or how doctrinal controversies are to be settled. Nonetheless, doctrine does play a
major role in Lutheran churches. To be sure, between these churches and even within them,
differences exist over the understanding of doctrine and over the importance doctrine has in the
church. Similarly differences exist over which normative texts beyond Holy Scripture and which
instances should have a role in formulating teaching and just what this role is. But one can still state
the following regarding that which one can call the ministry of teaching in Lutheran churches.
277. Holy Scripture is the normative documentation of the apostolic gospel and so it constitutes the
norm of all doctrine, both for preaching and the administration of the sacraments, as well as for all
activities of the church that could be called "apostolic".
278. The proclamation of the gospel in word and sacrament, taking place in the power of the Holy
Spirit, makes present to human beings the gospel and with the gospel Christ himself. In this event the
Holy Spirit conveys to men and women the gospel as saving truth for themselves regarding God and
humans while the same Spirit awakens in them faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith and the
church are thus grounded in Jesus Christ, while such preaching within worship is the fundamental
event of teaching.
279. Because the Holy Spirit opens human hearts to receive the truth of the gospel proclaimed to
them, that same Spirit is also the one who maintains them in this truth. But the Holy Spirit makes use
of the correct doctrine of the gospel and the rightful administration of the sacraments in leading us to
lay hold of the truth of God's word with inner conviction. Thus the Spirit creates and sustains our faith
in God. Erroneous doctrine and incorrect administration of the sacraments are obstacles impeding this
work of the Spirit. This explains the fierce character of the Reformation-era controversies over correct
doctrine and sacramental administration, which remains so to the present day. To be sure, a human
teaching is correct only when it takes place within the ambit of the Holy Spirit's work and in trust in the
280. Christian teaching is either directly or indirectly interpretation of Holy Scripture, even though
Scripture is to this day interpreted by some differently than by others. This can lead to opposition
between teachings and cause an outbreak of controversy. The church has always tried to settle
controversies by seeking afresh a consensus over scriptural interpretation and then to formulate this in
a binding confession of faith. But this has often led to new controversies, so that lengthy exchanges
are often necessary before confessions of faith are widely received. Many Lutheran churches hold as
binding doctrine the confessions and confessional documents of the Book of Concord, while all the
churches of the Lutheran World Federation hold that especially the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and
Luther's Small Catechism present accurately the word of God.134
281. Christian teaching also entails the rejection of doctrines which obscure the gospel or which direct
faith to "another gospel" (Gal 1:6- 9). However this should be "not with human power but with God's
word alone"135 and without secular penalties for those accused as responsible. For, "by burning
heretics . . . we act contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit."136 Sad to say, during the Reformation era the
Lutheran estates did not always observe this basic principle.
282. For Lutherans the doctrine of justification has had from the beginning a special role regarding the
whole of Christian teaching, because this doctrine points to the right relation between God who
justifies and sinful humans. Justification doctrine makes clear that Christ is the only mediator of
salvation and that justification comes to the sinner by grace alone to be accepted by faith alone.
Justification doctrine includes the trinitarian and christological confession of the church's faith,
directing this toward God's saving encounter with us. God has "given himself to us all wholly and
completely, with all that he is and has."137 God the Father sent Jesus Christ, his Son, into the world, to
become salvation for all by his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit makes the
person and work of Jesus Christ present to human beings, so that they may attain salvation and the
church may come to be and be maintained. The latter takes place through the audible and visible word
of promise through which the Holy Spirit awakens faith (JDDJ, no. 15). Catholics and Lutherans agree
in stating that the doctrine of justification is the "measure and touchstone for the Christian faith. No
teaching may contradict this criterion."138 Justification doctrine "constantly serves to orient all the
teaching and practice of our churches to Christ" (JDDJ, no. 18). All churches have to be self-critical by
examining whether their teaching, preaching, and whole ecclesial practice agrees with the nature, will,
and work of the Triune God, as justification doctrine brings this to expression.
283. Public teaching is the specific task of the ordained ministry. But because this ministerial activity
aims to render possible the priesthood of all baptized believers and develop their capacity of judgment,
as a consequence ordination cannot be taken as grounding a monopoly regarding Christian insight
into the truth. The ministry of teaching is instead cared for through the collaboration of different and
diverse personal subjects, in which those who are not ordained have an essential responsibility for
teaching. The latter, however, are duty bound, just like the ordained, to give for their doctrinal
utterances reasoned arguments derived and worked out from Holy Scripture. In this way the ministry
and the community relate to each other in reciprocal responsibility for doctrine.
284. Bishops have the task of public teaching at the supra-local level, where a wider spatial-temporal
ministry has been entrusted to them for a special service of the church's unity and teaching. They
carry out this ministry both by their own preaching and the positions they take on doctrinal questions,
along with their special co-responsibility for correct teaching by pastors. For its remaining in the truth,
the church needs this supra-local responsibility for correct teaching (episcopé), regarding both the
diachronic and synchronic dimensions. Lutheran churches structure this activity in different ways, in
most cases by having the bishop or church president exercise this task in collaboration with a synod in
which the non-ordained are members. Those responsible for episcopé exercise their care for
continuity in teaching over time by examining candidates for ordination, by ordination itself, and by
visitations. By contacts with those exercising episcopé in other churches, they care for unity and
catholicity in teaching in their own time. At ordination, pastors pledge themselves to carry out their
teaching ministry in agreement with Holy Scripture and with its interpretation in the Reformation-era
confessions of faith, for which they can be called to task. If one holding the office of ministry publicly
and obstinately goes against Scripture and the Lutheran confessions, he or she may in many Lutheran
churches be subject to a doctrinal disciplinary process which can lead after lengthy examination to
ascertaining the person's deviance from Scripture and the confessions and because of this even to
removal from the ministry and loss of the rights granted along with ordination.
285. Theology has decisive importance for the teaching ministry in its different forms, for it supplies
methodical reflection on the God who justifies and sinful human beings, and on all that must be said
on this basis about God, human beings, and the world. In theology the word of God and faith are
decisively important. Theology reflects the fundamental relation of faith to Holy Scripture by a
constantly renewed effort to grasp the meaning of the canonical writings, while it deals with new
questions and methods. Theology does this in the context of the binding interpretation of Scripture
given in the church's confessions of faith and by its attention to church history, which is as well a
history of biblical interpretation. Theology presents doctrinal content in a systematic organization and
in relation to questions, insights, and methods of one's own time with its grasp of reason and
knowledge. Theology relates its acquired understandings to the fundamental actions of the church in
worship, witness, and service, and thus to the pastoral leadership of congregations and the church.
Theology, because it is related to its own time and context, is innovative and it contributes essentially
to the church being able suitably "to give an account of the hope" that is in her (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). As
theology develops new understandings, it gives rise as well to conflicts, but it also provides the place
and the means for working through these conflicts.
286. Since Holy Scripture stands in need of interpretation, a mere citing of biblical passages does not
suffice to demonstrate that a teaching or practice actually agrees with Scripture. In the face of
divergent and mutually contradictory interpretations, the churches have to constantly search for a
renewed consensus over how to understand Scripture and to relate it to the confessions. Similarly, the
confessions, which express the consensus over biblical interpretation attained by previous
generations, are themselves in need of interpretation. Here as well the church has to work continually
toward agreement. As it moves through history, the church is constantly concerned with handing on
the witness of Scripture, with receiving it in new situations, and then again with handing it on further.
287. In all this, a variety of interpretations and explanations have their necessary and legitimate place,
corresponding to the differences of time and place, and of subjects and contexts. The ministry of
teaching in Lutheran churches has to make such variety possible and encourage it, while at the same
time attending carefully and energetically to seeing that amid the variety that which is common and
binding is maintained. A variety in which the unity in doctrine is no longer recognizable goes against
the unity of the church (cf. Eph 4:3-6). Inversely the attempt to impose uniformity in doctrine to the
exclusion of different explanations contradicts the variety of the members of the body of Christ with
their different charisms. The teaching ministry has to serve the absolute priority of the word of God
over all that takes place in the church. Thus, on the one hand, it has to make sure that the apostolic
gospel is heard, believed, understood, and lived out amid the variety of persons and amid the different
contexts of church life. On the other hand this ministry has to see to it that the truth of the gospel not
be swept away by the undertow of subjectivity in its hearers, readers, and their contexts. This latter
requires a clear awareness of the alien character of the word of the cross over against all the
assumptions about life and its understanding which humans carry along with themselves. Even
believers and church ministers are not exempted from the danger of watering down this alien
message by accommodating it to the world. The teaching ministry must be able, by its interpretation of
Scripture amid changing contexts, both to distinguish between legitimate variety and necessary
agreement, and as well to relate these to each other. To the extent this is realized, teaching gains
authority and serves the unity and catholicity of the church.
288. An oversight (episcopé) extending beyond single congregations is ecclesially necessary.
Lutheran churches institutionalize and practice this. But the issue arises whether such exercise of
oversight should be limited to particular Lutheran churches. For particular Lutheran churches are
autonomous churches, with autonomy as well in dealing with doctrinal questions. But there are no
convincing theological arguments why this ecclesially necessary oversight should be structured only
regionally. Historical facts and factors should not be elevated to the level of theological arguments.
The insight given to the Lutheran reformers into the truth of the gospel, expressed for example in
Articles I-XXI of the Augsburg Confession, is the confession that unites Lutheran churches. In regard
to this, a mutual and shared doctrinal responsibility should be possible and seen as an important task.
Since communion between Lutheran churches is made possible by their agreement on the doctrine of
the gospel and administration of the sacraments (CA VII), it should also be possible to achieve
communion in living out that doctrine, at least by the duty of mutual accountability and regular
consultation on doctrinal issues. By extending the exercise of a doctrinal ministry in this way more
widely than in a single church, local problems and perspectives would be relativized and correctives
from other churches can be seriously considered. The Lutheran World Federation, under mandate of
the Lutheran churches, has repeatedly taken on this task in order to bring about a common judgment
on doctrinal issues. An example is the decision of the LWF World Assembly in Budapest (1984) to
suspend from membership the white churches of southern Africa which had not ended racially- based
church divisions and had not unambiguously condemned the apartheid system. Another example is
the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in Augsburg in 1999 by representatives of
the LWF and of the Roman Catholic Church, which took place after an extensive LWF consultation
and a decision-making process in Lutheran churches. Thus the world-wide Lutheran communion does
indeed have an instrument for arriving at common doctrinal formulations.
289. From what has been said in nos. 383-385 and 388, above, one sees that Lutheran churches
realize the teaching ministry through the collaboration of many different individuals and instances,
along with an interplay of many different processes. But for Lutherans neither this complex
collaboration of different instances nor a continuous line of those holding ministerial office can
guarantee that the churches preserve the message of salvation it its apostolic identity. It is instead the
Holy Spirit, to whom the churches look for their preservation in the truth, and for this they pray.
Nonetheless, pastors exercise their teaching ministry in eschatological responsibility for the eternal
salvation of those entrusted to them (cf. Acts 20:17-26). In 1528 Luther stated in his "Great
Confession": "I desire with this treatise to confess my faith before God and all the world, point by point.
I am determined to abide by it until my death and (so help me God!) in this faith to depart from this
world and to appear before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ."139
4.5 Catholic Doctrine on the Biblical Canon, Interpretation of Scripture, and the
4.5.1 The Canon of Scripture and its Basis
290. The previous section told of the dispute between Luther and Eck over Second Maccabees and
especially concerning the role of the church in establishing the biblical canon (nos. 361-362, above).
The widespread Reformation denial of the doctrinal authority of the Old Testament "apocrypha" made
it imperative that the Council of Trent should take up this question, and at its Fourth Session, 8 April
1546, the Council formally accepted the "deuterocanonical" books as integral parts of the Old
Testament Scripture of the Catholic Church (DS 1502; Tanner, 663-64).
291. The Tridentine decree on the canon did not offer arguments for its decision, but the reasons and
the basis of certainty about it can be known from the prior conciliar discussion and from indications in
the canon-decree itself (DS 1501-05; Tanner, 663-64). Further insight into the Catholic position on the
basis of the canon comes from major theologians and from what Vatican Councils I and II laid down
292. The canon came under discussion early at the Council of Trent, after its first action of formally
accepting as the "shield of faith" (Eph 6:16) the Nicene-Constantinoplian Creed, in imitation of
previous councils (Tanner, 662). The next step was to identify the sources from which the Council
would draw the content of the doctrinal and reform decrees to follow, that is, "what witnesses and
supports it will especially use in strengthening its teachings (dogmata) and renewing practice (mores)
in the church" (DS 1505; Tanner, 664). The sources will be the Scriptures and apostolic traditions
which communicate the gospel of Christ.
293. On the Old Testament canon, some Tridentine Fathers proposed that the basis had already been
given by theologians, such as J. Cochlaeus, J. Eck, A. de Castro, and J. Driedo, who had argued
against the reformers that the larger canon had become gradually clear in church tradition under
God's enlightenment. One argument for proceeding to a simple declaration of the canon without
further deliberation was that previous councils, such as Third Carthage ( A.D. 397) and especially
Florence (Decree of Union with the Copts, 1442, DS 1334-35; Tanner, 572) had treated the matter,
with the latter decree confirming a thousand-year tradition of taking the deuterocanonical books as
belonging to the Bible. Appeal was also made to the canonical prohibition of taking up again what an
earlier council had decided (Decretum, Pars II, C. XXIV, Q. 1, c. 2). The Tridentine Canon is thus
based on the authority of tradition, both as constant practice has shaped the church's life and as
Councils have declared this and thereby made it certain.
294. A further basis for the Tridentine biblical canon appears in the decree itself. The canonical books
are the books "as they have, by established custom, been read in the Catholic Church, and as
contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition" (DS 1504; Tanner, 664). For the Fathers at Trent, the books
contained in the Vulgate made up the Bible by which they in accord with long-standing practice had
been schooled in Christian doctrine and spirituality, which they had heard read at Mass, and had
recited in the Liturgy of the Hours. Trent called for the text of the Vulgate to be thoroughly revised (DS
1508: Tanner, 665), so that it might better fulfill its role as the official text for public use (DS 1506;
Tanner, 664). But, the canonicity of the books offered by the Vulgate could not be questioned, without
implying that the Bible in actual use for centuries had misled the faithful regarding the books conveying
295. Luther and Eck also clashed over the role of church authority in establishing the canon of
Scripture. Today, historians of Catholic doctrine judge that many pre-Tridentine controversialist
theologians often practiced an "attack theology" that lacked sensitivity to nuances and to what was
valid in their opponents' positions. This is the case in Johann Eck's argument that adherents of the
Reformation are caught in a self-contradiction when they cite scriptural authority in arguments against
the church's constitution and customary practices, for how do they know that the Scriptures are
canonical except from the church?141
296. Later, the master controversialist R. Bellarmine was more aware of the complexities of the
historical development of the Old Testament canon, with the gradual acceptance of the
deuterocanonical books. He also knew of internal criteria by which biblical books show their canonical
value. Bellarmine declared that the church did not "make canonical" books which were not so before,
but instead declared, in Councils, which books were to be held such, and this not rashly or arbitrarily,
for it was based (1) on many testimonies of the Fathers, (2) on similarities recognized between the
content of books once held in doubt and the content of other books of undoubted canonicity, and (3)
by the discernment of the Christian people, a process to which St. Jerome alluded in reference to the
way in which the Letter of James gradually came, on its own merits, to be recognized as
297. In 1870 Vatican Council I, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, made
Bellarmine's first point into binding doctrine when it declared that the church does not confer canonical
authority, but holds the biblical books "to be sacred and canonical, not because, after having been
carefully composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority", but because
"having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been
delivered as such to the Church" (DS 3006; Tanner, 806). The church and its hierarchy are recipients
of the inspired and canonical books.
298. What had been implicit at Trent became explicit at Vatican Council II, namely, that knowledge of
the biblical canon is a benefit of the tradition which comes from the apostles and is understood
progressively in the church. "By means of the same tradition, the full canon of the sacred books is
known to the church, and the Holy Scriptures themselves are more thoroughly understood and are
constantly made effective" (DV 8.3). The canon is thus a case in which Scripture and tradition go
together, for it was in the midst of the ongoing public transmission of the gospel, summarized in the
rule of faith and the creeds, along with practices that promote the life of faith, that the canon became
299. But the same Vatican II document that ascribes to tradition the making known of the canon goes
on to urge a many-sided promotion of biblical reading and study in the church, because of the intrinsic
efficacy of the Scriptures. "For, since they are inspired by God and committed to writing once and for
all time, they present God's own word in an unalterable form, and they make the voice of the Holy
Spirit sound again and again in the words of the prophets and apostles. . . . Such is the force and
power of the word of God that it is the church's support and strength, imparting robustness to the faith
of its daughters and sons and providing food for their souls" (DV 21). Theology and the ministry of the
word must take strength and vitality from Scripture (DV 24) and all the faithful are forcefully
(vehementer) urged to practice prayerful reading of Scripture in which God converses with them (DV
400. Catholic doctrine, thus, does not hold what Reformation theology fears and wants at all costs to
avoid, namely, a derivation of scriptural authority as canonical and binding from the authority of the
church's hierarchy which makes known the canon.
401. Catholic doctrine furthermore acknowledges what the Reformation stresses, namely, the inherent
power of the biblical word to impose itself as a norm and guide, that is, as a "canon" of life before God.
This recognition of the inherent quality of Scripture stands, even while Catholic doctrine sees
canonicity, that is, public binding authority for doctrine, life, and worship, as coming from Scripture only
in intimate connection, first, with the faith-life of believers, who are formed by the expressions of
tradition, such as the creeds, and in whom Scripture is recognized as normative and, second, with the
ministry of those responsible for articulating, especially in Councils, a clear delineation of the
boundaries of the Scriptures which are to shape public teaching, life, and worship in the whole church.
4.5.2 Biblical Interpretation: Trent to Vatican II
402. The previous section set forth the Reformation principles of biblical interpretation (nos. 364-366),
especially on Scripture being its own interpreter (nos. 366 and 368). In response, the Council of Trent
spoke to the question of Scripture-interpretation as one topic (DS 1507; Tanner, 664) in a longer
reform decree which it approved on the same day that it issued the doctrinal decree (DS 1501-05;
Tanner, 663-64) on the triad Gospel-Scripture-Traditions and on the biblical canon. The second
decree was drafted after the Tridentine Fathers had discussed various abuses in the use of Scripture.
First, to bring uniformity to public use of Scripture in the Western church (in Latin texts of the Missal,
Liturgy of the Hours, Catechisms, etc.), the decree declared the Vulgate to be the official Latin version
(DS 1506; Tanner, 664).143 Then Trent issued, in a dense paragraph, norms to correct malpractice in
403. On interpretation, two recent precedents had gone before Trent. (1) The Fifth Lateran Council
had in 1516 censured preachers who twist the meaning of Scripture by their own rash and
idiosyncratic interpretations, e.g., in predicting the day of judgment. Preachers are to preach and
explain "the gospel truth and Holy Scripture in accordance with the exposition, interpretation, and
commentaries that the church or long use has approved."144 (2) In France, the Council of Sens, for the
region of Paris, had in 1528 taken up issues of early Reformation controversy and first posited the
authority and truth of Scripture by citing 2 Pet 2:20- 21 and 2 Tim 3:16-17, before going on to decry
arbitrary interpretations. Against heretics, who always claim to be interpreting Scripture, one must
penetrate to the deeper meaning by following "ecclesiastical interpreters". When conflicts arise over
the faith, it is often not enough to amass Scripture texts, but eventually the certain and infallible
authority of the church must intervene to settle the dispute. The same church which discerns canonical
books from apocryphal ones is able to discern "the catholic meaning from a heretical meaning."145 The
same decree, however, had located the ecclesial authority for settling doctrinal questions in Councils,
which are guided by the Holy Spirit.146
404. Trent's regulatory paragraph combines Fifth Lateran's aim of excluding arbitrary, non-traditional
interpretations with the Council of Sens's appeal to the judgment of the church, when Scripture is
being interpreted as the source of the faith and Christian practice: The council further decrees, in order
to control those of unbalanced character, that no one, relying on his personal judgment in matters of
faith and customs which are linked to the establishment of Christian doctrine, shall dare to interpret the
sacred Scriptures either by twisting its text to his individual meaning in opposition to that which has
been and is held by holy mother church, whose function it is to pass judgment concerning the true
meaning and interpretation of the sacred Scriptures; or by giving meanings contrary to the unanimous
consent of the fathers (DS 1507; Tanner, 664). Here the Fathers and the church, especially the
conciliar tradition, are a negative norm coming from the past, against which the Bible should not be
construed. The "judgment of the church" functions in the present, doing what the Council of Sens
attributed to councils, namely, assessing and judging what interpreters are putting forth as biblical
expressions of the faith and of the right forms of Christian life and worship. Without use of the term,
the church's "magisterium" of official teaching is becoming a part of the Catholic doctrinal tradition.
405. In 1870 Vatican Council I renewed Trent's reform decree on biblical interpretation in the
Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Filius but with a change, because it affirmed that the church's sensus
Scripturae, a negative norm in Trent, is the true meaning of Scripture (DS 3007; Tanner, 806). But in
the wake of Vatican I, the limits of the ecclesial sensus became evident as the Magisterium insistently
urged Catholics to take up the work of scholarly Scripture study, with the tools of linguistic, historical,
and literary expertise. One does not achieve a recovery and exposition of the biblical witness to
revelation and the life of faith by recourse to what the church, in the teaching of Councils and Popes,
holds and teaches, for other interpreters must enter this work.147
406. Vatican II declared, as belonging to the apostolic faith, the conviction that Scripture is sacred and
canonical, because its authors wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (DV 11). The Constitution
continues by saying that Scripture therefore conveys without error the truth which God, intending to
foster our salvation, wanted set down. But the recovery of that truth, by interpretation, is then
presented in DV 12 as a many-sided enterprise, involving both (1) a reading based on the application
of the scholarly means to recover what the original authors intended to communicate and (2) a reading
in faith, attuned to the Holy Spirit, which draws (i) on the whole content and Christ-centered unity of
Scripture, (ii) on the church's tradition, in which Scripture has had its ongoing impact; and (iii) on "the
analogy of faith," that is, the coherence of the articles of faith in the economy of revelation. Insofar as
interpretation is an ecclesial work, (3) it is "ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church", to which
God has entrusted the ministry of guarding and interpreting his word. But the Church's judgment, the
Council states, develops toward maturity in its teaching activity under the influence of exegetical
contributions resulting from the aforementioned scholarly and faith-based readings of the sacred text.
407. Before taking up the question of the magisterium and church doctrine, an interim proposal may
be offered on the Lutheran and Catholic views of authentic interpretation of the Bible. First, when
Catholic doctrine holds that the "judgment of the church" has a role in authentic interpretation of
Scripture, it does not attribute to the church's magisterium a monopoly over interpretation, which
adherents of the Reformation rightly fear and reject. Before the Reformation, major figures had
indicated the ecclesial plurality of interpreters (cf. no. 351, above). When Vatican II speaks of the
church having an "ultimate judgment" (DV 12) it clearly eschews a monopolistic claim that the
Magisterium is the sole organ of interpretation, which is confirmed both by the century-old official
promotion of Catholic biblical studies and the recognition in DV 12 of the role of exegesis in the
maturing of magisterial teaching.
408. Because the Scripture comes from God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, no single organ,
even an ultimate one, is able to offer an exhaustive interpretation of Scripture's meaning. In fact, the
interventions of the teaching office focus primarily, not on biblical texts themselves, but on
interpretations of Scripture which are circulating publicly and impinging on the teaching of the doctrinal
heritage. The magisterial judgment discerns the value of interpretations, as it assesses them in the
framework of the church's ongoing responsibility to carry on public teaching of true doctrine and to
promote authentic sacramental worship.
409. Second, one should recall the extensive attention given by Catholics to the doctrine of biblical
inspiration, both in authoritative teaching and in theology.148 This grounds the conviction held in
common with the Reformation that the Spirit-inspired biblical text has its own efficacy in conveying
revealed truth that forms minds and hearts, as affirmed in 2 Tim 3:17 and stated by Vatican II (DV 21-
25; cf. no. 399, above).
410. But Catholics hold that this efficacy has been operative in the church over time, not only in
individual believers but as well in the ecclesial tradition, both in high-level doctrinal expressions such
as the rule of faith, creeds, and conciliar teaching, and in the principal structures of public worship.149 The saving truth of Scripture has come to expression in formulations which are both comprehensive of
Scripture's witness to God's saving work and at times quite pointed on critical points of dogmatic
clarification. Scripture has made itself present in the tradition, which is therefore able to play an
essential hermeneutical role. Vatican II does not say that the tradition gives rise to new truths beyond
Scripture, but that it conveys certainty about revelation attested by Scripture.150 Therefore Catholics
are reserved about the statement that "Scripture interprets itself", since it is applied to the formation of
a certain faith in God's revelation. But Catholics do not deny the basis of the Reformation's "self-interpreting" Scripture, namely its efficacious power. In Catholic parlance, because of its inspiration
Scripture is, in fact, "the highest authority in matters of faith", even when it must be linked, for the
reason just stated, with "Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God"
(Pope John Paul II, Ut unum sint, 1995, no. 79).
4.5.3 The Teaching Office in Catholic Doctrine
411. Section 4.4 included an account of the teaching ministries and processes which serve the
transmission and communication of doctrine in Lutheran churches (nos. 367, 372-373, and 383-387,
above). To carry forward a dialogue in this area, the present section offers fundamental considerations
on the church's magisterium as this has developed in the Catholic Church and is understood in
412. It is only right, first, to register a Catholic appreciation for several Lutheran convictions expressed
in section 4.4 of this Part. Catholics agree with Lutherans that correct doctrine is essential in shaping a
right relation of faith with God and with his saving work in Christ (cf. no. 367, above). Catholics agree
on the importance of a ministry of regional oversight of teaching to care for the unity and catholicity of
teaching (nos. 372 and 384, above), even while they see this related to the universal episcopé of the
Successor of Peter. But along with Lutherans, Catholics also ascribe to the Holy Spirit the effective
maintaining of the church in the truth of the gospel and in correct celebration of the sacraments (cf. no.
379, above). Human teachers and office-holders serve this work of the Holy Spirit.
413. However, beyond these shared convictions, the teaching office of the Catholic Church has taken
on a structure and mode of operation notably different from Lutheran teaching ministries, as presented
above in Section 4.4.2 (nos. 376-389). As an instance of teaching, the petrine office has exercised a
major role, along lines suggested earlier (cf. above, Part 2, no.88). The two Vatican Councils have
spoken on magisterial infallibility and the papal office, but also on episcopal collegiality and the sensus
fidelium. Significant clarifications have been made regarding the different levels of doctrinal binding
force of magisterial utterances. In order to advance the Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical exchange, the
following paragraphs offer a clarifying sketch of this development.
414. During the nineteenth century, the understanding of the Catholic teaching office (magisterium)
came to be clearly distinguished and defined in its contemporary meaning as the office of binding
teaching exercised by the bishops of the church. Now recognized as distinct from sacramental powers
(potestas ordinis) and from jurisdiction in church governance (potestas iudictionis), the power to teach
(potestas magisterii) was identified as also essential to the episcopal office in the church. This resulted
from a development by which, beginning in the sixteenth century, increased emphasis had fallen on
the role of the hierarchy in preserving the truths of faith and as a consequence the church's remaining
in the truth became increasingly dependent upon the teaching office of bishops and especially the
415. Corresponding to this development, emphasis shifted from the indefectibility of the whole church
to the infallibility of the teaching office. This resulted, in the centuries after the Council of Trent, from
the church finding itself confronted by the modern criticism of revelation and the claim of autonomy of
the human subject, which brought to the fore the issue of how to effectively guarantee the objective
truth of revelation. An influential current of the nineteenth century Catholic ecclesiology conceived in a
juridical manner the infallible authority of the Pope as a type of sovereignty adequate to guarantee the
secure preservation of revelation and as supplying the condition making possible a doctrinal judgment
of ultimate binding force.
416. Influences from this historical context left their mark on Pastor aeternus, the Constitution of
Vatican I which defines the authority held by the Pope when he exercises his petrine ministry in
essential points of faith and morals by infallibly proclaiming the faith of the church. What Vatican I
taught, however, was related to historical factors, since it intended to exclude the Gallican tenet that
the certainty of papal ex cathedra teachings arises exclusively from the subsequent assent of the
church to them. Against this, Vatican I declares that infallible teachings of the Pope are binding "of
themselves, and not by the consent of the church" (DS 3074; Tanner, 816), thus ruling out the
existence of any instance of decision over the Pope by which his infallible teaching would be subject to
417. Pastor aeternus teaches that the Pope, when he teaches ex cathedra as universal Pastor, is
protected from error by the charism of infallibility. This charism is given to him personally, specifically
when he exercises his office at its highest level of authority. But while the Fathers of Vatican I were
convinced that the Pope would investigate the sensus ecclesiae by hearing the testimony of the
bishops, they did not make this a formal condition of a doctrinal definition.151
418. According to Vatican I, infallible teaching concerns doctrinal matters essential to faith and morals
which come from God's revelation. Following Vatican I, a systematic account was worked out
concerning the further levels of official church teaching, with their different degrees of binding authority
and of force of law.152 Concerning the interpretation of Scripture, the teaching authority, as indicated
above (no. 408) is less concerned with clarifying the exegesis of particular passages than with
discerning the coherence of interpretations with the sense of Scripture which the church has received
and brought to expression in her creed and articles of faith.
419. Vatican Council II aimed to broaden the ecclesiological outlook of Vatican I by taking account of
the roles in the church of the episcopate and of the whole people of God. Also the Council's return to
the original Christian sources produced new orientations, as when the Constitution on Divine
Revelation declares, "This magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It
teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy
Spirit, it listens to this devoutly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully" (DV 10). Vatican II's
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church modifies the treatment of the hierarchy and papal infallibility by
placing them within the witness given by the whole people of God in its prophetic role.
420. The people as a whole have a faith that does not err, as described in LG 12. The whole body of
the faithful, who have received an anointing which comes from the Holy One (cf. 1 Jn 2:20.27), cannot
be mistaken in belief. It shows this characteristic through the entire people's supernatural sense of the
faith, when "from the bishops to the last of the faithful" (Augustine) it manifests a universal consensus
in matters of faith and morals. By this sense of faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the
people of God, guided by the sacred magisterium which it faithfully obey, receive not the word of
human beings, but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Thess 2:13), "the faith once for all delivered to the
saints" (Jude 3). The people unfailingly adhere to this faith, penetrate it more deeply through right
judgment, and apply it more fully in daily life.
421. The whole people of God thus become bearers of revelation and subjects who carry ahead
tradition. By their sensus fidei, stemming from the Holy Spirit's anointing, they cannot err in faith. The
text moves beyond a solely passive infallibility in receiving what comes from an active infallibility of the
magisterium. The people of God is instead originally addressed by revelation and responds actively by
the sense of faith. Led by the magisterium, they accept a specific message of God's word, penetrate it
with true discernment, and apply it in life. The sensus fidei enables people to recognize revelation and
calls forth a relation of connaturality with the truth handed down. In virtue of this vital relationship, the
people are able to discern truth and falsehood in questions of faith and grasp revelation on a deeper
level so as to live in correspondence with it.
422. Within the people of God, bishops have a pastoral ministry that includes magisterial teaching.
Vatican II restates the doctrine of papal infallibility, but places it within episcopal collegiality (LG 25).
The college cannot act without its head, but correspondingly the papal magisterium functions within
the communion of the universal episcopal college. All who exercise the magisterium must use the
appropriate means to make sure that they teach in accord with revelation: "The Roman Pontiff and the
bishops, in virtue of their office and because of the seriousness of the matter, are assiduous in
examining revelation by every suitable means and in expressing it properly" (LG 25).
423. Lumen gentium repeated Vatican I's statement on the irreformability of papal definitions by their
own nature, and not by the consent of the church.153 But Vatican II also emphasized the sensus
fidelium, for through the Spirit, "Christ's whole flock is maintained in the unity of the faith and makes
progress in it" (LG 25).
424. Thus, while the magisterium is not simply the transmitter of teachings already held by the church,
it is also clear that definitions influenced by the charism of the teaching office will find an echo in the
faith of the church and call forth assent. If this were not forthcoming, it could well indicate that proper
limits were not observed and the necessary conditions had not been fulfilled for a magisterial action to
425. The whole body of Christ is anointed by the Holy Spirit, so that a supernatural "sense of faith"
gives believers the ability to recognize the word of God in what is taught and to grow in personal
understanding of God and his saving work. Thereby, in communion with other instances of witness,
the faithful constitute an indispensable means toward maintaining the church in the truth.
426. When one considers the church's teaching office in a broader historical perspective, it becomes
clear that magisterial formulations of truths of faith do not in fact communicate the truth in its fullness.
They do clarify necessary lines of demarcation which ensure that the church remains faithful to the
truth of faith. But the setting of boundaries against theological conceptions incompatible with Catholic
doctrine is frequently accompanied by a painful loss that impoverishes the full recognition of the truth
of faith. Rejecting an error in a moment of confrontation brings with it the danger of a one-sided
fixation on the contrary of what was seen to be erroneous.
427. Also, while magisterial teachings issued as fully obligating represent for Catholics a necessary
word of the church in given situations, history shows that they are not the church's last word. Such
definitions can settle controversies threatening the identity and integrity of the truth of faith, but beyond
this they need to be received by the faith of the church, in order to be recognized in their lasting
significance for keeping the church in the truth of the gospel. This reception of magisterial teaching
has the support of the same Holy Spirit who maintains the whole church in the truth, and thereby an
aspect of truth which was first excluded as contrary to the Catholic faith can subsequently, amid the
appropriation of the magisterial teaching, be taken up again in a form reconcilable with the faith of the
428. When the teaching authority gives positive expositions of the faith of the church, it intends to
show the interconnections of the doctrines of the faith, so as to guide believers toward understand
better the entire truth of the gospel. To the extent that such teaching claims to be infallible, its positive
content not only serves proclamation in a given moment, but also the future content of the church's
faith, which is led by the Holy Spirit to penetrate the truth of faith with a deeper understanding. What is
especially emphatic in a given intervention comes in time to find its appropriate location in the
hierarchy of truths (UR 11). Presentation by the magisterium of the truth of faith along with
clarifications of the binding force of particular contents does not mean that such a presentation
prevents the church in the future from finding under the lead of the Holy Spirit new formulations of its
faith which correspond better to the challenges of new historical situations. The actual development of
the Catholic sense of faith shows its ongoing movement through crises and conflicts toward the
original fullness of truth concerning God's saving work that the gospel proclaimed once and for all.
4.6 The Church Maintained in the Truth: Conclusions
429. This dialogue intends to contribute to bringing about full communion between the Catholic Church
and the Lutheran churches of the world. Such communion requires a common profession of the truth
given to humankind by God's saving work and word. In moving toward this goal, the differences in faith
and doctrine between Lutherans and Catholics must be examined in common, with the aim of
discovering convictions held in common and of clarifying whether differing theological explanations are
open to reconciliation.
430. This Part has examined how our two traditions understand the means by which the Holy Spirit
works in the church to maintain it in the truth of faith and sound doctrine coming from the apostles. It
has reported the results of investigations of the New Testament (4.2), of early and medieval
expressions and servants of teaching the truth coming from God in Christ (4.3), of Lutheran
convictions on the canon, interpretation of Scripture, and the teaching ministry (4.4), and of Catholic
doctrine on the canon, biblical interpretation, and the teaching office (4.5).
431. This section now presents the results in two steps. (1) From what has gone before, both in
explicit statements and in operative presuppositions, three significant foundational convictions held in
common will be named. This is the area of full consensus. (2) Out of what has been discovered in this
phase of dialogue, three topics of differentiated consensus will be named, in which the remaining
differences have been shown not to be church-dividing. This is the area of reconciled diversity.
4.6.1 Shared Foundational Convictions of Faith
A. The Gospel of God's Grace in Christ
432. First, Lutherans and Catholics fully agree that God has issued in human history a message of
grace and truth, by word and deed, which culminated in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ, to which Easter witnesses testify in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is God's definitive
and personal word of grace, transcending God's manifestation of himself through Moses and the
prophets. As affirmed in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, by our common faith in
the gospel we hold to the heart of the New Testament witness to God's saving action in Christ, namely
that our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we
receive in faith. For we believe that God is with us to deliver us by his free gift from sin and death and
to raise us to eternal life (JDDJ 17 and 36).
B. The Gospel and the Church
433. Second, Catholics and Lutherans fully agree that God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ for
human salvation continues to be announced in the gospel of Christ that the apostles first preached
and taught, as they gathered communities of believers in whose hearts the Holy Spirit inscribed the
message of grace and truth. By this gospel, the crucified and risen Lord shows himself to be alive and
active to save, as the church continues to proclaim him by word and sacrament. The church of every
age stands under the imperative to preserve in continuous succession God's word of saving truth.
Made bold by Christ's promise to be with his disciples always, the church carries out his mandate to
announce his gospel in every place from generation to generation.
C. The Gospel, the Canonical Scriptures, and the Church's Teaching and Life
434. Third, the Scriptures are for Lutherans and Catholics the source, rule, guideline, and criterion of
correctness and purity of the church's proclamation, of its elaboration of doctrine, and of its
sacramental and pastoral practice. For in the midst of the first communities formed by Christ's
apostles, the New Testament books emerged, under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, through the
preaching and teaching of the apostolic gospel. These books, together with the sacred books of Israel
in the Old Testament, are to make present for all ages the truth of God's word, so as to form faith and
guide believers in a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. By the biblical canon, the church does not
constitute, but instead recognizes, the inherent authority of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures.
Consequently, the church's preaching and whole life must be nourished and ruled by the Scriptures
constantly heard and studied. True interpretation and application of Scripture maintains church
teaching in the truth.
4.6.2 Topics of Reconciled Diversity
435. Recalling that, because of the differences of times and places, the one truth of the gospel has to
take on a variety of expressions, we turn to show how our different traditions can, on topics of
significant differences, mutually recognize in each other the shared truth of the apostolic gospel of
A. The Canon of Scripture and the Church
436. Lutherans hold that the complex historical process leading to the formation of the canon of
Scripture is not to be understood as if the church were conferring on Scripture an authority over faith
and life, but instead, that through reading the books and teaching their content, the church was
coming to perceive and acknowledge, under the Holy Sprit's guidance, the books' canonical authority,
to which the church submitted.
437. Catholics hold, in line with formulations of Vatican Councils I and II, that the books of Holy
Scripture are transmitted to the church as inspired, sacred, and canonical (DS 3006; Tanner, 806; DV
11.1). In issuing lists of the canonical books, bishops and church councils were not constituting the
books as normative testimonies to God's saving work and word, but were recognizing that they were
such in themselves and in their effective contribution to the faith and life of the church. When
theological accounts of the canon identify persons in ministries who specified which books were
received as canonical, Catholics see in this an indication of those who are responsible for public
teaching and the worship of the church, in which the canonical books have primary roles.
438. This conception is compatible with the Lutheran position sketched above, namely, that the core of
the canon came to its ecclesial validity because the message of its books validated itself. But certainty
about what makes a book canonical does not exclude different conceptions about the outer
boundaries of Scripture. The question of the number of canonical books is secondary to the qualitative
issue of canonicity, which corresponds to there being among Lutheran churches no magisterial
determination of the limits of the canon.
439. Luther's judgment that the Apocrypha are not part of Holy Scripture155 and the Council of Trent's
decision to include them in the canon156 have led to the traditional Lutheran-Catholic difference over
the limits of the canon. Nevertheless Luther also held that the Apocrypha were "useful and valuable for157
reading" and this led to their being printed, not only in Luther's published Bibles of 1534 and 1545,
but as well also in numerous editions of the Bible brought out down to today under Lutheran auspices.
Naturally they are given in today's interconfessional editions of the Bible and several readings from the
Apocrypha occur in contemporary Lutheran liturgical lectionaries (Cf. no. 394, footnote 133, above).
440. Among Lutherans a new evaluation of the Apocrypha and of their belonging to the canon is
presently underway, especially among exegetes. When they face the issue of the unity of Scripture,
with an awareness shaped by historical-critical principles, many Scripture scholars are emphasizing
three considerations. (1) When the New Testament books were being composed, the canon of the
writings that became the "Old Testament" was not yet definitively fixed. (2) The Holy Scripture of
earliest Christianity was mainly the Septuagint. (3) If one limits the Old Testament to the Hebrew
canon, then a huge gap is left in the tradition-process between the Old and New Testaments, which
makes it difficult to grasp the New Testament in its unity with the Old Testament. Thus the question of
the unity of Scripture, in the changed context of today, brings with it a change in the controversy over
the limits of the canon and reduces its importance.
441. Therefore regarding the biblical canon and the church, Lutherans and Catholics are in such an
extensive agreement on the source of the Bible's canonical authority that their remaining differences
over the extent of the canon are not of such weight to justify continued ecclesial division. In this area,
there is unity in reconciled diversity. However, this fundamental agreement on the canon makes it
imperative to clarify the Catholic and Lutheran positions on the role of tradition in biblical interpretation
and on the office of teaching in the church.
B. Scripture and Tradition
442. Catholics and Lutherans agree, not only that Scripture developed historically from a process of
tradition both in Israel and the apostolic church, but as well that Scripture is oriented toward a process
of being interpreted in the context of ecclesial tradition.
443. When Catholics affirm that tradition is indispensable in the interpretation of the word of God (Ut
unum sint, 79; cf. nos. 404-406, above), they are connecting the gospel and Scripture with the
Christian faith lived and transmitted in history, where transmission has given rise to valid expressions
of that faith. Such expressions are: the rule of faith (nos. 320-322, above); creeds, particularly that of
Nicaea-Constantinople (nos. 323-326, above); and conciliar formulations of articles of faith (nos. 337-340, above). These relate to God's saving work as concentrated summaries and clarifications of what
is announced in the apostolic gospel and documented in the books of Scripture. Catholics claim that
these come from Scripture and, as fundamental expressions of faith and life, they should orient church
teaching and biblical interpretation. These expressions of tradition are among the principal means by
which, throughout the centuries, the Holy Spirit has maintained the church in the truth of God's saving
word and believers have been led to grasp rightly the message of salvation present in Scripture.
444. Catholics have taken hold anew of the patristic and high-medieval conviction that Scripture
contains all revealed truth, which leads to a significant distinction. The many "traditions" are the forms
of life and practice which apply God's word and are observed out of fidelity to the community of faith.
Scripture is the inspired word of God, while tradition is the living process which "transmits in its entirety
the Word of God entrusted to the apostles by Christ and the Holy Spirit" (DV 9). This transmission is
not the source of new truths by which the content of inspired Scripture would be supplemented, but it
does give rise to the elementary expressions mentioned in no. 150, which are not simply "human
traditions", for they express and render certain the biblical content of faith.
445. When Lutherans speak of Scripture and tradition, they must first make a conceptual clarification.
By "traditions" or, as they often say, "human traditions", the reformers and the confessions often
indicate "human ordinances in spiritual or ecclesiastical matters,"158 which are practices of church life
enacted by human beings without grounding in Scripture, but which people should observe because,
and insofar as, they promote the good order of the church. A first condition is that people do not
observe them believing that they are necessary for salvation or that by their observance one merits
salvation. Second, such practices may not go against any commandment of God. If these two
conditions are not fulfilled, "human traditions" have to be repudiated. But all enactments "which are not
contrary to the Holy Gospel" may be retained.159
446. For the reformers the Early Church's creeds are different from the "human traditions" just
indicated. They see these as well grounded in Holy Scripture and so having authority as accurate
summaries of the gospel and as defenses against errors. The Augsburg Confession explicitly holds to
these creeds and develops their content in its doctrine of justification. The Confession also adopts the
Early Church's condemnation of doctrinal errors. In this way the reformers demonstrate the catholicity
of their teaching, to which they add numerous references to the Church Fathers, who are for them
witnesses to correct interpretation of Scripture. When Lutherans call these latter expressions of the
faith "traditions", they are then seeing Scripture and tradition as belonging to each other. The reformers also gave expression to their faith and understanding of Scripture in confessional
documents and the catechism, which have to this day an important role in communicating the
apostolic gospel, which Scripture attests in a normative manner. This tradition rightly orients the
church in its witness to the gospel and its reading of Scripture, so that the church's teaching prolongs
the apostolic witness to the truth of God's revelation.
447. Lutherans further insist that while Scripture and tradition are connected, Scripture should not be
absorbed into the tradition-process, but should remain permanently superior as a critical norm, coming
from the apostolic origins, which is superior to the traditions of the church. Catholics agree with this,
because Scripture is "the highest authority in matters of faith" (Ut unum sint, 79) and Scripture
continues to direct the church in the "continual reformation" of its life and teaching of which it has need
448. Therefore regarding Scripture and tradition, Lutherans and Catholics are in such an extensive
agreement that their different emphases do not of themselves require maintaining the present division
of the churches. In this area, there is unity in reconciled diversity.
C. The Teaching Office: Its Necessity and Context in the Church
449. This presentation of Lutheran-Catholic reconciled diversity on the church's teaching office treats
the topic at the fundamental level of its necessity and of the context in which it acts. Section 4.5.3
(nos. 411-428, above) related the extensive development of the ecclesial function of the magisterium
in the Catholic Church during the centuries of Lutheran-Catholic separation. The historical shifts in
Catholic doctrine in this period, along with refinements of recent origin, make the Catholic magisterium
considerably different from the functioning of teaching authority in the Lutheran churches with the
office of bishops and their synodical forms. Therefore, the present exposition envisages the questions
it treats only at a fundamental level, on which nonetheless an ecumenical advance can be proposed.
C.1 The Existence of a Ministry of Public Teaching at the Local and Supra-local Levels
450. Lutheran doctrine locates the ministry of teaching primarily in the local congregation, for which
ministers are properly called and ordained to teach publicly and administer the sacraments (Augsburg
Confession, Art. 14). Linked to sound exegesis and theological reflection, the teaching office is a
necessary component of church life, by which individuals become responsible in the public life of the
church for transmitting the gospel, by which the priesthood of all believers is built up. The Lutheran
confessional tradition also holds that a supra-local teaching responsibility is essential in the church, for
oversight of discipline and doctrine (Augsburg Confession, Art. 28). Such a teaching office brings to
expression how every worshipping congregation is linked with other congregations in the church. In
current Lutheran church constitutions, the concrete form of this supralocal ministry will differ, but
synods which include lay members and represent the whole priestly people are the essential context in
which bishops exercise their oversight, so that no single minister has exclusive competence.
451. But in speaking about the teaching ministry in Lutheran churches, one must not focus exclusively
on office-holders and institutions, but also take account of the processes of interactions between
office- holders, of interventions by Christians practicing the common priesthood of the baptized, and of
theologians who contribute the results of their scholarly study and conclusions on doctrinal questions.
Lutheran churches earnestly hope that through these processes the Holy Spirit is maintaining them in
the truth of the gospel, as they continue to read and listen to Scripture in their own times, while
seeking to be faithful to their confessions of faith as they face the challenges of their own day.
452. In Catholic ecclesiology "magisterium" designates the mission of teaching that is proper to the
episcopal college, to the Pope as its head, and to individual bishops linked in hierarchical communion
with the successor of Peter. It is an essential institutional component of the church for pastoral service,
with a proper authority distinct from jurisdiction for governance. But the episcopal teaching office
operates within an extensive network of ministers of the word, among whom ordained pastors of
parishes have a singular importance in preaching and catechizing. While some ministries of the word,
such as that of theologians, are exercised in virtue of intellectual competence, the magisterium
functions in virtue of a capacity for discerning the truth of God's word, based on a charism conferred
by episcopal ordination.
453. In spite of their different configurations of teaching ministries, Lutherans and Catholics agree that
the church must designate members to serve the transmission of the gospel, which is necessary for
saving faith. Were a teaching office not present and functioning in specific ways on the levels of both
the local congregations and for regions of several or many congregations, the church would be
C.2 The Teaching Office Among Several Instances of Witness to God's Word
454. Lutherans and Catholics agree that those who are responsible for teaching in the church
contribute significantly to keeping the church in the truth. Their teaching stands in service to the faith of
the whole church. But those who teach function in relation to several instances of witness to the word
455. In Catholic theology, Melchior Cano's influential posthumous work of 1563 presented ten loci
theologici as domains of knowledge formed by the process of tradition in such a way that each locus
or area showed forth the truth of revelation. The pastoral magisterium therefore, when it formulates
doctrine, even at the highest level, does not act in isolation from Scripture and its interpretation in the
loci, from the creed and past teaching, from the church's ongoing worship, and from the witness of
holy people. The magisterium is in constant interaction with these instances of testimony to God and
his revelation. It must, above all, take account of the reality of the inerrant faith of the people as a
whole (LG 12; cited in no. 420, above), so that in its service there will be "a unique interplay (singularis
conspiratio) between bishops and faithful" (DV 10).
456. The Lutheran teaching ministry includes many participating agents and instances, with no one of
these able to rightfully claim exclusive competence for itself, as set forth amply in nos. 383-389,
above. Responsible persons exercise this ministry in ways that are personal, collegial, and communal,
in the midst of the ongoing processes already indicated.
457. Thus Lutherans and Catholics are in fundamental agreement on there being a network of several
instances of witness to God's word which constitutes the essential context within which those
exercising the teaching office must carry out their responsibilities.
C.3 The Teaching Office in its Constructive and Critical Functions
458. Lutherans and Catholics agree that the teaching ministry or magisterium serves the faith of the
whole church by its public witness to the truth of God's word. It must proclaim the gospel of God's
grace, interpret the biblical witness, and further transmit the word of God entrusted to the whole
church and expressed in the confessions and articles of faith. The aim is to assist all members of the
church toward professing their faith in accord with God's revelation in Christ and in freedom from
error. Thus, the teaching office or ministry is a necessary means by which the church is maintained in
the truth of the gospel of Christ.
459. Lutherans and Catholics further agree that the teaching ministry must include the authoritative
discernment of doctrine offered publicly, leading to judgments that preserve true teaching.
Interpretations of the faith contradicting the apostolic gospel must be excluded, in accord with Gal 1:9
(cf. Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. VII, 48). According to the Augsburg Confession, it
pertains to the office of bishop, "to judge doctrine and reject doctrine that is contrary to the gospel"
(Augsburg Confession, Art. 28, 21). In Lutheran churches today, this task is carried out collegially and
in synodical structures.
460. The church's witness to the truth exists in history and thus has aspects of both finality and
provisionality. Lutherans and Catholics agree that a particular concern of the teaching ministry is
therefore to give public voice in an ongoing manner to the definitive coming of God to humankind in
the death and resurrection of Christ, in which believers place their ultimate trust for life and final
salvation. But faith is professed and lived out in history, amid cultural changes, which requires an
ongoing search for appropriate doctrinal expressions adequate to God's truth in this time before the
ultimate eschatological manifestation of Christ as Lord and Savior of all.
- Below, Sections 4.4 (Lutheran) and 4.5 (Catholic) will treat the traditional arguments and differences over the canon and the Conclusion (4.6) will examine the degree to which they are open to ecumenical reconciliation.
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- Epistle I, 25; PL 77, 478, which was later well known through its citation in Gratian’s Decretum, Dist. XV, c. 2.
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- See Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions (London, 1963), 107-118 (Ch. 3, Excursus A), “The Sufficiency of Scripture according to the Fathers and the Medieval Theologians.”
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- Augsburg Confession, Art. VII. BC 42.
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- The complete list of censured propositions is given in DS 1492.
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- He repeatedly charged that the Pope had issued a doctrine without giving the grounds in Scripture, the Fathers, the canons, or even arguments from reason. Ad dialogum Silvestri Prieratis de potestate papae responsio (1518), WA 1, 647,32f, 648,19f, and 648,35. In his appeal to the Pope, Luther declared that he wanted to hold and say nothing which could not be proven from Scripture, the Fathers, and the sacred canons (Appellatio M. Lutheri a Caietano ad Papam ), claiming that his Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses had done just this. WA 2, 32,28f.
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- Luther, Appellatio a Caietano. WA 2, 32,25-27.
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- Luther, Acta Augustana. WA 2, 23–25,4.
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- Luther, Appellatio F. Martini Luther ad Concilium (28 November 1518). WA 2, 36-40.
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- Decree “Cum postquam” (9 November 1518). DS 1447-49.
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- The bull in which Pope Leo X called for Luther’s recantation is “Exsurge Domine” (15 June 1520), given in DS 1451-92. Luther’s “Antichrist” accusation, we note, has in the interim been explicitly revoked by Lutherans.
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- Disputatio inter Ioannem Eccium et Martinum Lutherum (1519). WA 59, 525,2866– 549,3655.
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- WA 59, 528,2958-2963. Cf. Augustine, The City of God, XVIII, 36 (CSEL 40/2, 326).
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- WA 59, 529,2985f.
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- J. Eck, Enchiridion locorum communium adversos Lutheranos, ed. P. Fraenkel, Corpus Catholicorum 34 (Münster 1979), 27.
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- Contra epistulam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti, no. 5 (CSEL 25/1, 197). Cf. no. 347, above.
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- The Epitome, no. 1. BC 486.
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- The Bondage of the Will (1525), WA 18, 606,29; LW 33, 26.
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- Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude (1522). LW 35, 396; WADB 7, 384,27.
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- Ibid., WADB 7, 384,9-18.
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- To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain
Christian Schools (1524), LW 45, 359; original at WA 15, 37,18-22.
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- Ibid., LW 45, 358; WA 15, 37,4-6.
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- Ibid., LW 45, 364-365; WA 15, 41,3-5.
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- Lectures on the Psalter (1513-15), on Ps 68,14; LW 10, 332; original at WA 3, 397,9-11.
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- Assertio omnium articolorum. WA 7, 98,40 – 99,2.
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- Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. LW 35, 365; WADB 7, 2,3-4.
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- Cf. WA 54, 185,12–186,24; LW 34, 336-339.
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- Lectures on Galatians (1535), on Gal 2:4-5. LW 26, 91 (translating WA 40I, 168,20-27).
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- Ibid., on Gal 5:5. LW 27, 33 (WA 40II, 27,14-16).
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- Sermon on Gen 9 (1527). WA 24, 207,21-23.
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- Lectures on the Epistles to Titus and Philemon (1527). WA 25, 29,1f.
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- Preface to Vol. 1 of the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings (1539). WA 50, 658,29–660,30.
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- Church Postil (1522), on the Epiphany. WA 10/I/1, 605,7f.
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- From Luther’s catechetical work of 1520, Eine kurze Form des Glaubens. Eine kurze Form des Vaterunsers. WA 7, 204,9-11.
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- Preface to the Large Catechism, in BC 381.
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- Ibid., BC 382.
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- Sermon on Sunday “Judica” (1526). WA 20, 300,18.
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- Von Menschenlehre zu meiden und Antwort auf Sprüche (1522). WA 10/2, 92,4-7.
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- Cf. Luther’s Disputation on the Authority of a Council (1536). WA 39I, 186,18-22.
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- The Three Symbols or Creeds of the Christian Faith (1538). LW 34, 201, from WA 50, 262,8f.
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- Cf. Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (1528). LW 40, 313f; WA 26, 235,6-39.
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- That a Christian Assembly or Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge all Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proven by Scripture (1523). LW 39, 305-314; WA 11, 408-416.
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- BC 14.
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- Luther, Lectures on Galatians (1535), on Gal 2:13; LW 26, 114; WA 40I, 205,23-25.
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- Constitution of the Lutheran World Federation, Art. II, Doctrinal Basis.
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- Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVIII, 21. BC 95.
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- Luther, Explanations of the Ninety-five Theses (1518). LW 31, 245, translating WA 1, 624,35-625,5.
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- Luther, Confession Concerning the Lord’s Supper (1528). LW 37, 366, translating WA 26, 505,38f. What follows is based on LW 37, 366-368, from WA 26, 505,38–507,16.
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- JDDJ, Annex to the Official Common Statement, no. 3.
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- Confession concerning the Lord’s Supper, LW 37, 360, translating WA 26, 499,6-10.
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- Developments after Vatican II indicate some practical convergence between Protestants and Catholics over the apocrypha or deuterocanonical books. The German Evangelical Lectionary of 1985 contains 24 pericopes from them, while the Lectionary of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, in its three year cycle of three readings for Sundays and solemn feast days, includes only a modest selection of 18 passages from them. Among recent inter-confessional translations, the German Einheitsuebersetzung (1979) gives the deuterocanonical books according to the Vulgate order, while the Revised English Bible (Great Britain, 1989) and the New Revised Standard Version (USA 1989) offer these books in a special section between
the Prophets and the New Testament, in accord with a practice approved by the Vatican in 1968 and renewed in 1987. But the New International Version (1978), widely used by evangelical Protestants, never offers the apocrypha.
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- Enchiridion locorum communium (1525), Loc. I, Response to Objection 3.
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- De Controversiis christianae fidei, Vol. I (1586), Contr. De Verbo Dei, Lib. I, cap. 10. The third way is “excommuni sensu et quasi gustu populi Christiani.” Bellarmine treated the canon in the first of all the controversies because the Scriptures are for the Catholic Church “the Word of God and rule of faith” (cap. 1). He marshals long chains of patristic testimony to show wide recognition of the disputed Old Testament
books declared canonical by the Councils (Carthage III, Florence, Trent).
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- Trent declared the Vulgate “authentic” for public use in the Western Church of the Roman Rite at a time when new Latin translations were circulating, such as Psalters from the Hebrew by Felice de Prato (1515), Agostino Giustiniani (1516), and in Cardinal Cajetan’s Psalms Commentary (1527). Erasmus had published his new Latin version of the New Testament, alongside the Greek text, in 1516. Sante Pagnini, OP, had brought out a Latin Bible in 1528 in which the Old Testament was a new translation from the Hebrew and Isidore Clarius, OSB, published another Hebrew-based Old Testament in a Bible of 1542. A theologian of influence on Trent, J. Dreido of Louvain, had defended the Vulgate in 1535, not as inspired or inerrant, but as a long-used instrument of transmitting the faith. Where it renders the original Hebrew and Greek inadequately, it does not support any heresy nor is it thereby dangerous for public use. The Presidents of the Council of Trent asked the Pope to have the Vulgate revised, so it might be a “pure and genuine” edition,
while also calling for preparation of corrected Hebrew and Greek biblical texts. CT, 5, 29 and 1, 37.
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- Tanner, 636.
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- Mansi, 52, 1164.
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- Ibid., 1163f.
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- The Popes sought to promote Catholic biblical studies in encyclicals of 1893 (Leo XIII, Providentissmus Deus), 1920 (Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus), and 1943 (Pius XII, Divino afflante Spiritu). The Pontifical Biblical Commission, after curtailing scholarly freedom by its anti-modernist guidelines under Pius X (1905-
14), became an instance of positive promotion in 1941 (Letter to the Bishops of Italy in defense of philological, historical, and literary analysis of Scripture), 1964 (Instruction on the development of the content of the Gospels), and 1993 (The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church).
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- That the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors has been declared by Vatican I (DS 3006; Tanner, 806), Leo XIII (DS 3292-93), and Vatican II (DV 11). Between 1870 and 1960, influential theological accounts of inspiration were proposed by J.B. Franzelin, M.-J. Lagrange, A. Bea, K. Rahner, L. Alonso Schoekel, and P. Benoit.
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- Catholics find central biblical contents conveyed in a vital manner by the yearly cycles of liturgical seasons and feasts, as well as by the binding structure of prayer“to the Father, through Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.”
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- After describing the coordinate roles of Scripture and Tradition in communicating God’s Word, the Council concludes: “Thus it is that the church does not draw its certainty about all revealed truths through Holy Scripture alone” (DV 9).
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- The official report on the meaning of Pastor aeternus, given by Bp. Vincent Gasser, stresses the essential connection between (1) the agreement of the church in union with the whole teaching office, which is a rule of faith for the Pope, and (2) the action by which the Pope issues an infallible definition of a content of faith.
(Mansi, vol. 52, cols. 1213D-1214A, 1216D).
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- These were set forth recently by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in its 1990 Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, nos. 15-17 and 23-24. The document is given in Origins 20 (5 July 1990), pp. 118-126.
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- As stated in the Introduction to this study document, the present Commission has not included in its dialogue an exchange focused on the special teaching ministry of the Bishop of Rome. Other Lutheran-Catholic dialogues have treated this, both in the United States and Germany. Also, papal teaching has not played a major role in our study document, in which at critical points Catholic doctrine has been drawn from the Councils of Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II.
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- Interim considerations pointing to reconciled diversity were already given above in nos. 400-401, on the biblical canon and the church, and in 407-409, on biblical interpretation in Lutheran and Catholic accounts. Also, no. 412 showed an initial convergence on doctrine and the teaching ministry.
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- Bible of 1545. WADB 12,3. Cf. the 1534 Bible (WADB 12,2).
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- DS 1502; Tanner, 663-64.
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- WADB 12,3 (cf. 12,2).
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- Luther, Marburg Articles, no. 13. LW 38, 88; WA 30III, 168,3f.
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- Torgau Articles. BSLK 107,25.
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