Skip to main content



As a word, synergism may have a correct denotation: the interplay and concausality of God's grace and man's cooperation in the process of justification and the working out of salvation. However, some proposals under the name of synergism reflect Semi-Pelagian doctrine.

In particular the term refers to P. melanchthon's defense of the human will under grace, especially in connection with the question of conversion. As early as 1521, in his Loci communes, he avoided any discussion of determinism as such, although he stated clearly that since all things happen necessarily according to divine predestination, there is no freedom in man's will. Each new edition of Loci (there were 80 before his death) furnished more evidence that men are genuinely συνεργοί (1 Cor3.9), that is, responsible agents to whom God entrusts the working out of His salvific design.

Sharing fully Luther's positive insight into the absolute gratuity of grace, Melanchthon nevertheless perceived the difficulties arising in the moral order from luther's description of man as simultaneously sinful and just. The two reformers earnestly studied scriptural sources to solve the antinomy. When in December 1525 Luther's De servo arbitrio appeared in reply to Erasmus's De libero arbitrio of the preceding year, Melanchthon rejoiced that the controversy was bringing the crucial problem out into the open.

A humanist by attraction, Melanchthon never completely subscribed to Luther's teaching on the ineradicable depravity of human nature. On the contrary, using an empirical, psychological approach, he developed his own vital intuition of self-sanctification in the ethical sense. Steering clear of Pelagianism, in the 1535 Loci he showed from the dialogical character of the Law that God initiates not only man's justification, but also his sanctification: "You shall know that when we strive within ourselves, when aroused by the promise, we call God and resist our distrust and other vicious desires, that is the very way God desires to convert us."

To grasp Melanchthon's thought requires a study of the evolution of his appreciation of the three conjoined causes: "The Word, the Holy Spirit, and the will not wholly inactive in its own weakness." For him faith was a gift of the Holy Spirit demanding a dynamic reaction from man for its acceptance. "In conceiving faith there is a struggle within us," he explained in the 1532 Commentary on Romans, the struggle precisely between man's power to refuse and his power to receive God's Word. Against the growing number of his monergistic opponents, he held that conversion can take place only when a man, conscious of his personal responsibility, gives a meaningful "Yes," in answer to God's call to him individually. Melanchthon acknowledged the fact that after conversion man continues to bear within himself the wounds of sin, but once regenerated through faith in the Word he is "sweetly helped by the Holy Spirit" to bear witness to the new life given him.

Melanchthon always kept Luther informed of changes in his theological stance. Conversant as he was with Melanchthon's Loci of 1535 and 1544 and his 1537 Examen ordinandorum, Luther refused to reedit his own writings, saying: " by the grace of God we have better methodical works, among which Philip's is the best." In the 20th century, scholars began to see, within the structure of Lutheran theology, the importance of Melanchthon's doctrine of synergism.

See Also: lutheranism; free will and grace; imputation of justice and merit.

Bibliography: j. paquier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) 10.1:502513. f. zoepfl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rah ner (Freiberg 195765) 7:247249. k. rahner, ibid. 9:1231. g. kawerau, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. s. m. jackson (Grand Rapids, Mich 195154) 9:223225. c. l. manschreck, Melanchthon, The Quiet Reformer (New York 1958).

[k. t. hargrove]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Synergism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 14 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Synergism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (August 14, 2018).

"Synergism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 14, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.