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Gottschalk of Orbais

Medieval theologian; b. about 805; d. after 866

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Gottschalk of Orbais , medieval theologian; b. about 805; d. after 866, probably October 30, 868 (or 869), in the monastery of Hautvilliers near Reims; son of a noble Saxon count named Berno, who presented him, when still a child, as an oblate in the Benedictine monastery of Fulda. When Gottschalk came of age, he felt no vocation for the religious state, and asked to leave the monastery. But his abbot, Rabanus Maurus, following the prevailing opinion of the age, held that a child, who had been presented as an oblate by his parents, was bound to become a religious, and in consequence, Gottschalk was made a monk against his will. Before receiving major orders he fled from Fulda and obtained dispensation from his vows at the Council of Mainz, in June, 829. Rabanus Maurus, however, appealed to the emperor and defended his position in a special treatise: “De oblatione puerorum” (P.L., CVII, 419-440), whereupon Gottschalk was compelled to live the life of a monk, but was granted the privilege of exchanging the monastery of Fulda for that of Orbais, in the Diocese of Soissons. In order to make his enforced life in the monastery more bearable, Gottschalk, who had brilliant talents, gave himself to the study of theology. He found great pleasure in the works of St. Augustine, whose doctrine on grace and predestination attracted him in an especial manner.

If we may believe his opponents, Gottschalk misinterpreted some difficult passages in the writings of St. Augustine and developed a false doctrine of double complete predestination for eternal salvation and for eternal reprobation. He left his monastery without permission and under the pretense of a pilgrimage to Rome, travelled through Italy, spreading his doctrine wherever he went. In 840 Noting, the future Bishop of Brescia, informed Rabanus Maurus of the rapid spread of Gottschalk’s doctrine in Upper Italy, and asked him to write a treatise against it. The treatise is found in P.L., CXII, 1530-53. After his return from Italy, Gottschalk had himself ordained priest, not by the Bishop of Soissons, to whose diocese he belonged, but by the chorepiscopus Richbold of Reims, and again returned to Italy. In 846 Rabanus Maurus warned Count Eberhard of Friuli against Gottschalk, who was enjoying the count’s hospitality. Gottschalk now returned to Germany by way of Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Noricum. On October 1, 848, he appeared at the Council of Mainz, where his doctrine on predestination was condemned as heretical and he was delivered for punishment to his metropolitan, Hinemar of Reims. At a synod held in Quierzy in the spring of 849, he was obliged to burn his writings, was deposed from his priestly office because he had been ordained by a chorepiscopus without the consent or knowledge of his own bishop, and was whipped in accordance with the rule of St. Benedict, which prescribes such punishment for the refractory monks. He was then imprisoned for life in the rnonastery of Hautvilliers where he died obstinate and mentally deranged, after an imprisonment of about twenty years.

Most of Gottschalk’s writings have been lost. There still remain two short treatises in defense of his doctrine on predestination, in the form of two confessions of faith (P.L., CXXI, 347-366); some fragments of a work against Rabanus Maurus (P.L., loc. cit. 365-368); and some well-written poems (Traube, be. cit. below).

It is doubtful whether Gottschalk’s doctrine on predestination was heretical. There is nothing in his extant writings that cannot be interpreted in a Catholic sense. He, indeed, taught that God does not wish all men to be saved and that Christ died only for those who were predestined to be saved; but these doctrines are not necessarily heretical. He may have meant (and certain passages in his extant writing warrant the assumption) that, in consequence of God‘s foreknowing that some men will die in sin, He does not wish these to be saved; and that Christ’s death was of no avail to those who will be damned for their sins. Gottschalk’s doctrine concerning the Trinity scarcely admits a Catholic interpretation. He appears to hold that the one and common nature of the three Persons in God is merely an abstract universal, which becomes individualized and receives concrete existence in the three Persons and that hence, each Person has its own separate deity (see Hinckmar’s “De una et non trina deitate” in P.L. CXXV, 473-618).

MICHAEL OTT


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