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Synergism, or synergistic effect, refers to the action of two different effects acting together to create a greater effect than the sum of the actions produced by each acting independently.

Synergism (Gr. synergos, working together)

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Synergism is reference to the doctrine of divine and human cooperation in conversion. Synergism seeks to reconcile two paradoxical truths: the sovereignty of God and man's moral responsibility. Nowhere do these two truths so intersect as in the theology of conversion. One tradition within Christianity, the Augustinian, emphasizes the sovereignty of God in conversion (monergism or divine monergism). Calvin and Luther stood within this heritage. In the Small Catechism Martin Luther wrote: "I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith."

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The other tradition, the Pelagian, emphasizes man's moral responsibility. Modified by such Roman Catholics as Erasmus of Rotterdam and such Protestants as James Arminius and John Wesley, this position stresses the freedom of the will. Erasmus said, "Free will is the power of applying oneself to grace." During the Lutheran Reformation the synergistic controversy occurred. Scholars debate whether or not Philip Melanchthon was a synergist. Certainly he wrote that "man is wholly incapable of doing good" and that in "external things" (secular matters) there is free will, but not in "internal things" (spiritual matters). In the second edition of his Loci, however (published in 1535), Melanchthon wrote that in conversion "Three causes are conjoined: The Word, the Holy Spirit and the Will not wholly inactive, but resisting its own weakness.... God draws, but draws him who is willing. . . and the will is not a statue, and that spiritual emotion is not impressed upon it as though it were a statue."

His followers were called Philippists. His opponents were called Gnesio - or Genuine Lutherans. Melanchthon's position was embodied in the Leipzig Interim (1548). John Pfeffinger (1493 - 1573), the first Lutheran superintendent of Leipzig, sought to expound the Philippist position in De liberatate voluntaris humanae and De libero arbitrio in 1555, ascribing conversion's active concurrent causes to "the Holy Spirit moving through the Word of God, the mind in the act of thinking, and the will not resisting, but complying whenever moved by the Holy Spirit." Nicholas von Amsdorf, friend of Luther, called the "Secret Bishop of the Lutheran Church," attacked Pfeffinger in 1558 for teaching synergism. Victorinus Strigel (1524 - 69), professor at Jena, and John Stoltz (c. 1514 - 56), court preacher at Weimar, became involved.

Matthias Flacius, professor at Jena, became the major adversary of the Philippists. He taught that the "natural man" is comparable to a block of wood or a piece of stone and is hostile toward the work of God. Due to his influence John Frederick II drafted the Weimar Book of Confutations (1558 - 59), causing Strigel to be imprisoned for opposing it. Enforced strictly by the clergy, John Frederick in 1561 deprived ministers the right to uphold it, vesting that power in the consistory at Weimar. Flacius opposed this change and was expelled from Jena in 1561, while Strigel was reinstated in his professorship, signing an ambiguous document. John Stossel (1524 - 78), striving to justify Strigel's position, merely fueled the controversy. John William succeeded John Frederick in 1567. Desiring to resolve the controversy, he issued an edict on January 16, 1568, causing the Philippists to leave Jena, and the Flacianists (but not Flacius) to return.

An Altenburg Colloquy (1568 - 69) failed to solve the controversy. By 1571, however, the Final Report and Declaration of the Theologians of Both Universities, Leipzig and Wittenberg, affirmed "consideration and reception of God's Word and voluntary beginning of obedience in the heart arises out of that which God has begun graciously to work in us." The Formula of Concord (1577) rejected synergism, endorsed Augustinianism, avoided the rhetoric of Flacianism and the tendencies of Philippianism, teaching "through... the preaching and the hearing of his Word, God is active, breaks our hearts, and draws man, so that through the preaching of the law man learns to know his sins...and experiences genuine terror, contrition and sorrow. . . and through the preaching of...the holy Gospel...there is kindled in him a spark of faith which accepts the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake."

C G Fry
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

T G Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord; C Manschreck, Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer; H L J Heppe, Geschichte der lutherischen Concordienformel und Concordie and Geschichte des deutschen Protestantismus in den Jahren 1555 - 1581; G F Schott, The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, III.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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