In anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s attempt to reform Roman Catholicism, I am happy to announce the publication of
Reflections on the Protestant Reformation
by Tony Equale
On October 31, 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation issued a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The Declaration summarized and officially sanctioned the many reports of earlier dialogue commissions going back to 1972. In the Preamble the signers state that
on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.
Given the centuries of division that resulted from the mutual condemnations of these two Churches on this very doctrine, that the signatories can announce “a common understanding” leaves many observers baffled and incredulous. If the Churches can now say that “in the light of this consensus, the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century do not apply to today’s partner” it immediately raises the question of just exactly how important could those once contrary expressions have been?
One is daunted by the thought of parsing the verbal niceties that must have gone into this “consensus” when one also learns that “these condemnations are still valid today.” Apparently this most remarkable concurrence has been achieved without any significant modification by either party.
The correct articulation of the function of faith in justification was of primary dogmatic importance to both Churches in the sixteenth century. If that function was indeed never really a source of disagreement, as the Joint Declaration states, then it has to be asked: besides the dispersal of political power, did anything of significance occur in the transformations we call the Reformation?
In the reflections that follow, the “common understanding” of 1999 must serve as an ever-present caveat, providing us with an ongoing corrective as we reflect on the events that tore Christendom apart starting in 1517. For, however authentically “evangelical” a Reformation event might appear to history, we will be constantly reminded by the JDDJ that in five hundred years time it will be dismissed as irrelevant.
This preliminary analysis, therefore, allows us to begin with a tentative conclusion: the true significance of the Reformation might not lie on the visible surface but somewhere deep underground where neither Church could see it at the time … and still may not. It asks a second question: what still needs reforming?
This is much more than a pious resolution. It has to do with religious truth. We are talking about an alleged foundational distortion in the mediaeval view of the world — an error that made life unbearable for the ordinary Christian — that Lutheran evangelical “justification” claimed to have identified and corrected. But, since the doctrine was never in dispute, it means that no such correction ever took place. Reform at the doctrinal level, in other words, never occurred. In all likelihood the error is with us still, affecting “Protestants” as much as “Catholics.”
It suggests there is a doctrinal “reform” of Christianity as a whole that still remains to be achieved — a reform at depths that “justification” never reached.
Christianity was chosen and overhauled by Constantine to be a new engine for a theocratic Roman machine that was already a thousand years old. Everything important was already in place; all Christianity had to do was to keep it all going. In fulfilling that role Rome’s official religion found it necessary to elaborate a new “doctrine” of “God” that was contrary if not contradictory to the Jewish Yahweh that Jesus knew as “Father.” It is this doctrine, I contend, conformed to the needs of the Imperial apparatus that dares to define a “God” that is transcendent, immutable — a pure spirit ruling a purely material universe — in every sense an emperor that mirrored the society that had conjured him.
This imperial “God,” accepted by all without question from then on, lay beyond reach of “justification by faith,” articulated by Luther in the sixteenth century. Like “justification” itself, “God” is a doctrine that all Christians have shared since the days of Augustine.
I submit for the readers’ evaluation the following reflections as prima facie evidence that the traditional “doctrine of ‘God,’” is the source of Christianity’s intrinsic defects.
 JDDJ, Preamble, #5 The document can be found at the Vatican website
 ibid., main text #3 ¶13
 JDDJ, Preamble #1