Gottschalk

Like Augustine before him and Luther and Calvin after him, Gottschalk possessed an overriding sense of the sovereignty of God in salvation, and he brought it to bear upon his turbulent generation.

Born at Mentz in modern Germany, Gottschalk was the son of a respected nobleman, Count Berno of Saxony. At the insistence of his father, he conceded to take a lifelong monastic vow while still a young boy. But upon reaching the age of maturity, Gottschalk sought to be released from this commitment and leave the monastery. The church, however, would not release him, beginning a long-standing rivalry between the two. 

 

Amid the swirling controversies of the ninth century, there was raised a strong voice for sovereign grace belonging to an unknown German monk named Gottschalk of Orbais (ca. 804–869). Like Augustine before him and Luther and Calvin after him, Gottschalk possessed an overriding sense of the sovereignty of God in salvation, and he brought it to bear upon his turbulent generation. It was in this dark hour of history that this medieval theologian stood in the gap to uphold the banner of the doctrines of grace.

Born at Mentz in modern Germany, Gottschalk was the son of a respected nobleman, Count Berno of Saxony. At the insistence of his father, he conceded to take a lifelong monastic vow while still a young boy. But upon reaching the age of maturity, Gottschalk sought to be released from this commitment and leave the monastery. The church, however, would not release him, beginning a long-standing rivalry between the two.

As a concession, Gottschalk was allowed to move to the monastery at Orbais, in northeast France, where something unexpected occurred. Gottschalk became an avid reader of Augustine (354–430), the most dominant teacher of the early Western church. With the bishop of Hippo as his theological mentor, Gottschalk clearly saw the biblical truths of inseparable relationships between human depravity, unconditional election, and monergistic regeneration. Immediately, these grand truths struck his soul like a lightning bolt, igniting his heart with a burning passion for God. Far from being a mere intellectual pursuit, these God-exalting doctrines transformed his life, infusing him with holy zeal.

Gottschalk began to travel extensively, preaching these truths wherever he went. Soon other monks were convinced to embrace them. The doctrines of sovereign grace now had a new champion. He undertook a pilgrimage to Rome and spread Augustinian teaching throughout Italy, the Balkans, and Bulgaria — but not without conflict.

Summoned to appear before the Synod of Mainz (848), Gottschalk was to give an account of his bold teaching on the doctrines of grace. Before the king and church officials, he confessed his unwavering belief in the sovereignty of God in salvation. He stated his doctrine was true to the Scriptures and consistent with Augustine. But the synod decided against Gottschalk and delivered him into the custody of the most powerful bishop in France, the archbishop of Reims, a man named Hincmar (ca. 806–882).

Hincmar ordered Gottschalk to appear before the Synod of Chiersy (849) where he was charged with heresy. Specifically, he was accused of gemina pradestinatio — double predestination — a step in which he went even further than his teacher Augustine. Not only did God eternally predestine His elect to eternal life, Gottschalk maintained that He also foreordained all reprobates to eternal death. When Gottschalk refused to recant, the synod charged him a heretic and flogged him within an inch of his life. His books were publicly burned and he was imprisoned at Hautvilliers.

Prominent church leaders were outraged at this unjust treatment. Had not Gottschalk merely taught the same essential theology as Augustine? Several men stepped forward to lend their support, including such notables as Remigius, the archbishop of Lyon (d. 875), Florus of Lyon (d. 860), Prudentius of Troyes (d. 861), and Ratramnus of Corbie. These men asserted that Gottschalk was not alone in believing the God-exalting truths of sovereign grace. They stood with him, though Florus counseled him to preach the gospel to the lost, not election.

With such respected churchmen taking this strong stand, the controversy boiled to a fever pitch. At the insistence of the king of Francia, the Synod of Chiersy (849) was convened to sort out this theological dilemma. Tragically, this ill-led session adopted a semi-Pelagian position, and Gottschalk remained imprisoned for the next two decades.

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