Gottschalk of Orbais

Gottschalk (Latin: Godescalc, Gotteschalchus) of Orbais (c. 808 – October 30, 867? AD) was a Saxon theologian, monk and poet who is best known for being an early advocate of the doctrine of two-fold predestination. From his friend Walahfrid Strabo, Gottschalk also received the nickname Fulgentius, after Fulgentius the Mythographer, whom he may have studied intensively.[1]

Early career

Gottschalk was born near Mainz, and was given to the monastic life (oblatus) from infancy by his parents. His father was a Saxon, Count Bern or Bernius. He was trained at the monastery of Fulda, then under the abbot Hrabanus Maurus, and became the friend of Walafrid Strabo and Loup de Ferrières. In June 829, at the synod of Mainz, on the pretext that he had been unduly constrained by his abbot, he sought and obtained his liberty, withdrew first to Corbie, where he met Ratramnus, and then to the monastery of Orbais in the diocese of Soissons. There he studied St Augustine, with the result that he became an enthusiastic believer in the doctrine of absolute predestination, believing in a predestination to condemnation as well as in a predestination to salvation--a position that, to the horror of Gottschalk's opponents, implied that God positively wills some persons to commit evil acts, so that they may be damned.


Between 835 and 840 Gottschalk was ordained priest, without the knowledge of his bishop, by Rigbold, chorepiscopus of Reims. Before 840, deserting his monastery, he went to Italy, preached there his doctrine of double predestination, and entered into relations with Notting, bishop of Verona, and Eberhard, margrave of Friuli.

Driven from Italy through the influence of Hrabanus Maurus, now archbishop of Mainz, who wrote two violent letters to Notting and Eberhard, he travelled through Dalmatia, Pannonia and Noricum, but continued preaching and writing.

Gottschalk was at Trpimir I of Croatia's court between 846 and 848, and his work De Trina deitate is an important source of information for Trpimir's reign. Gottschalk was a witness to the battle between Trpimir and Byzantine strategos, probably of Dalmatia, when Trpimir was victorious.

Predestination controversy

In October 848 he presented to the synod at Mainz at St. Alban's Abbey a profession of faith and a refutation of the ideas expressed by Hrabanus Maurus in his letter to Notting. He was convicted, however, of heresy, beaten, obliged to swear that he would never again enter the territory of Louis the German, and handed over to Hincmar, archbishop of Reims, who sent him back to his monastery at Orbais. The next year at a provincial council at Quierzy, presided over by Charles the Bald, he attempted to justify his ideas, but was again condemned as a heretic and disturber of the public peace, was degraded from the priesthood, whipped, obliged to burn his declaration of faith, and shut up in the monastery of Hautvilliers.

There Hincmar tried again to induce him to retract. Gottschalk however continued to defend his doctrine, writing to his friends and to the most eminent theologians in the lands of Charles the Bald and Louis the German. A great controversy resulted. Prudentius of Troyes, Wenilo of Sens, Ratramnus of Corbie, Loup de Ferrières and Florus of Lyon wrote in his favour. Hincmar wrote De praedestinatione and De una non trina deitate against his views, but gained little aid from Johannes Scotus Eriugena, whom he had called in as an authority.

The question was discussed at the councils of Quierzy (853), of Valence (855) and of Savonnières (859). Finally Pope Nicholas I took up the case, and summoned Hincmar to the council of Metz (863). Hincmar either could not or would not appear, but declared that Gottschalk might go to defend himself before the pope. Nothing came of this, however, and when Hincmar learned that Gottschalk had fallen ill, he forbade him the sacraments or burial in consecrated ground unless he would recant. This Gottschalk refused to do. He died on 30 October between 866 and 870.


Gottschalk was a vigorous and original thinker, but was accused by his enemies of possessing a violent temperament, incapable of discipline or moderation in his ideas as in his conduct. Of his many works we have the two professions of faith (cf. Migne, Patrologia Latina, cxxi. c. 347 et seq.), and some poems, edited by L Traube in Monumenta Germaniae historica: Poetae Latini aevi Carolini (707-738). Some fragments of his theological treatises have been preserved in the writings of Hincmar, Erigena, Ratramnus and Loup de Ferrières. Some of Gottschalk's works (including De Praedestinatione) have been newly discovered in 1931 in a library in Bern. D.C. Lambot's Oeuvres théologiques et grammaticales de Godescalc d’Orbais (1945) has good overview of Gottschalk's works.

From the 17th century, when the Jansenists exalted Gottschalk, much has been written on him. Two studies are F. Picavet, Les Discussions sur la liberté au temps de Gottschalk, de Raban Maur, d'Hincmar, et de Jean Scot, in Comptes rendus de l'acad. des sciences morales et politiques (Paris, 1896); and A. Freystedt, Studien zu Gottschalks Leben und Lehre, in Zeitschrsft für Kirchengeschichte (1897), vol. xviii.


  1. Whitbread, Fulgentius the Mythographer, p. 25 (introduction); MGH Poet. II, p. 362



Further reading

External links

  1. Gottschalk ; Kratés ; Jao Li ; Doslov (in Czech). Brno: Zvláštní vydání (published 1991). 1988. ISBN 80-85436-05-1. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
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