Justification (theology)

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Justification is a central concept of Christian theology within the doctrine of grace .

The doctrine of justification asks what must happen so that the relationship between man and God , which has been burdened by sins of man, can come back to normal. The centuries-long controversy about what an adequate doctrine of justification should convey had its focus during the time of the Reformation and the Catholic Reform .

The main adversaries of yore - the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Churches - settled their dispute on Reformation Day 1999. However, some aspects are still controversial, the discussion of which is requested by those not involved or those who have lost the dispute.

Conceptual and historical

Memorial plaque in Augsburg, at the place where the joint declaration on the doctrine of justification was signed (St. Anna)

The word justification is a takeover of the Latin iustificatio and the Greek δικαίωσις ( dikaíōsis ).

Old and New Testament

Justice (Hebrew צדקה zedaqah , righteousness as deed; as well as äd zädäq , as condition) is a key word already in the so-called Old Testament and means both the covenant faithfulness of God and the covenant obedience of people (of the covenant people), the inner attitude as well as the external ( social) behavior.

In the New Testament the noun occurs only twice ( Rom 4,25  EU and 5,18 EU ). The associated verb δικαιοῦν ( dikaioūn ) is used more often in the Pauline letters for God, who procures his rights by including people who have been estranged from their existence without them having a claim to it - with all life-affirming consequences.

Details of the doctrine of grace were controversial in all Christian epochs, in the early days for example the question of whether a Christian who has sinned again after being baptized can be justified again. An attempt at a solution was and is the practice of penance and confession .

Justification and Reformation

During the Reformation , justification, which for Martin Luther was one of the unreliable teachings of the church, became a central point of contention. For a long time, postponed reforms put the Church in the West in danger of overlooking key biblical messages or withholding them from the faithful and replacing them with an abundance of traditional guidelines, customs and regulations that were misunderstood to the effect that a person was able to through to announce the life response to the justification work of Christ the fulfillment of Beichtauflagen and devotions ( acts of love , but also relics adoration, drain payments or fairs ).

In the churches of the Reformation (with reference to Paul and the church fathers ) it is reminded that justification is indeed an extremely useful event for people, but is entirely on the side of God - and not that of people. From there the healing effect is established, developed and given through Christ alone and can be received by the believers solely through faith trusting in him, but not through any action directed towards God ( Rom. 3.28  EU ; 4.25 EU ) . Faith, in turn, is brought about solely through the word of the proclamation of Christ, which is contained in the Bible in a fundamental and sufficient manner and is updated in the sermon ( sola gratia , sola fide , sola scriptura , solus Christ ).

In art, the Lutheran doctrine of justification found its expression in the image program “Law and Grace”. This was in the Wittenberg workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder . developed and found widespread use in printing and paintings, but also on pulpits. The image and its message contributed significantly to the ideological and theological success of the Reformation.

Roman Catholic attitude

On the Catholic side ( Council of Trent ) and also by the Orthodox Churches, Luther was accused of claiming that his justification was merely a rulings of justice without consequences, not an effective act of justice . The sacraments of the church, however, would actually share in the "poured grace" (gratia infusa).

In the post-Reformation era of confessionalization , this contrast was strongly emphasized, and both sides sided with the association. In the context of the ecumenical dialogue since the early 20th century, a rapprochement began, in the course of which both the concerns of the Reformation and the sacraments and the practice of penance were mutually appreciated.

The highlight of this rapprochement was the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification , which was drawn up by Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran theologians and solemnly signed on October 31, 1999 in Augsburg.

The end of the dispute was neither without imitators nor without aftershocks. Numerous Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians criticized this declaration. One of the spokesmen was the dogmatist Jörg Baur from Göttingen and an example of those churches that distanced themselves from the declaration is the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church .

Meanwhile, on July 23, 2006, the President of the World Council of Methodist Churches , Sunday C. Mbang, signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification at a world conference in Seoul.

Orthodox churches

In the Eastern Churches there is no corresponding Greek expression for justification (the translation with dikaiopoiia is a modern word creation), so that it remains incomprehensible what is meant by this in the Churches of the West. Contents that connect this with justification emerge in those within the framework of Trinity belief .

See also


  • Wenzel Lohff , Christian Walther : Justification in the modern life context. Studies on the interpretation of the doctrine of justification. Gütersloh publishing house Gerd Mohn, Gütersloh 1974.
  • Wilfried Härle , Eilert Herms : Justification. The understanding of reality of the Christian faith. Göttingen 1980 (UTB 1016).
  • Johannes Brosseder : Reformation belief in justification and its power in contemporary ecumenical dialogue. Selected contributions to ecumenical theology from three decades Christine Funk ea (ed.), Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 978-3-87476-347-9 .
  • Friedrich Hauschildt , Udo Hahn (ed.): Justification today. Why the central insight of Martin Luther is timelessly topical. Lutheran Church Office (VELKD), Hanover 2008, ISBN 978-3-9812446-0-1
  • Walter Klaiber , on behalf of the Lutheran World Federation (ed.): Biblical foundations of the doctrine of justification. An ecumenical study on the common declaration on the doctrine of justification. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig / Bonifatius, Paderborn 2012, ISBN 978-3-374-03083-5 .
  • Anne Burghardt (Ed.): Liberated by God's grace. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2016, ISBN 978-3-374-04264-7 .
  • Oliver Pilnei, Martin Rothkegel (Ed.): Just by faith. Worldwide impact and ecumenical reception of the Reformation doctrine of justification. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2017, ISBN 978-3-374-04572-3 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/Glossar/Rechtfertigungslehre.html
  2. Barth: Dogmatik , p. 530; 533f.
  3. Barth: Dogmatik , p. 528f; 513 with reference to the Confessio Augustana , Article IV.
  4. Fleck, Miriam Verena: “A consoling report”. The belief allegory “law and grace” in Europe between the late Middle Ages and early modern times . Korb 2010, ISBN 978-3-939020-05-9 .
  5. ^ Fischer, Sören: Law and Grace: Wolfgang Krodel d. Ä., Lucas Cranach the Elder Ä. and the redemption of man in the image of the Reformation, publication for the special exhibition of the same name at the Sacral Museum St. Annen from March 31 to May 28, 2017, with contributions by Thomas Binder, Sören Fischer, Ingo Sandner and Kai Wenzel . Kamenz 2017, ISBN 978-3-910046-66-5 , pp. 9-42 .
  6. Götz J. Pfeiffer: "When you sit by the Cantzel here, look to heaven with your mind". The Renaissance pulpit in Neuswarts and its pictorial program . In: Fulda history sheets . tape 94 , 2018, p. 73-90 .
  7. World Council of Methodist Churches approves the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
  8. Barth: Dogmatik , p. 531.