Gottschalk of Orbais

Gottschalk of Orbais
(c. 803-c. 867/869)
   Controversial Carolingian monk and theologian. Gottschalk was a talented theologian whose works provided important interpretations of the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo. He was involved in two major controversies in his life. The first concerned the practice of child oblation, that is, placing a young child in a monastery before the child is old enough to make its own decision. The second was over his teachings concerning predestination, which were based on the works of Augustine but contrary to the orthodox teachings of the time. The predestination controversy involved a number of leading ecclesiastics in the Carolingian Empire and revealed the increasing intellectual confidence and sophistication of these Carolingian thinkers.
   Gottschalk was born in Saxony in 803 and given to the monastery of Fulda as a child by his father. He spent his childhood at monasteries in Fulda and Reichenau under the direction of the abbot and bishop Rabanus Maurus. As an adult, Gottschalk requested that he be released from his monastic vows because he had not taken them personally and because there were no Saxon witnesses to the vow. A church council at Mainz in 829 granted his request, even though it refused to allow him to have the donation made by his father. Rabanus Maurus, however, appealed the decision at a separate church council, and Gottschalk was not released from his monastic vows. He was allowed to join another monastery, and for the next ten years was at monasteries in Corbie and Orbais, where he studied the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo. He also was ordained a priest sometime in the 830s, but without the approval of the bishop in the diocese.
   In the 840s he made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he began to preach the views on predestination he had learned from his study of Augustine. He taught that God had foreseen and in fact predestined the salvation or damnation of all people since before the beginning of time, which meant further that Jesus died only for the saved and that the sacraments were valid only for the saved. These views clearly challenged the authority of the church of his day, and the bishops who defended the church's tradition responded harshly to these ideas. Indeed, when word of his teaching reached the Carolingian Empire, his old rival Rabanus Maurus compelled Gottschalk to defend his views at a church council in Mainz in 848. His teaching was condemned at the council, and he was handed over to Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims. At a second council in the following year, Gottschalk was condemned again and was ordered whipped and imprisoned at the monastery of Hautvillers. His writings were burned, his ordination was overturned, and gradually his right to correspond with others was revoked. Despite the severity of his punishment, Gottschalk refused to renounce his ideas and continued to write on the matter and other theological topics until his death. His ideas were condemned at church councils throughout the 850s and 860s, and a number of other Carolingian ecclesiastics wrote treatises against Gottschalk's views. Indeed, the controversy was so great that it attracted the attention of the Carolingian king Charles the Bald, who requested the opinion of a number of ecclesiastics, including John Scotus Erigena.
   Gottschalk was also a talented poet, and his surviving poetry confirms our understanding of him as an intelligent and pious man. Although few in number, Gottschalk's poems also reveal the quality and variety of poetry produced during the Carolingian Renaissance. His poetry was especially innovative in its use of rhyme. He wrote a number of religious poems, including poems on the canonical hours and predestination as well as one that was a prayer to Christ. His religious poems demonstrate an awareness of human sinfulness, but also a hope for God's mercy and the mediation of God's Son. He also wrote poems of a more personal nature, including one expressing personal melancholy, and another poem to a friend filled with expressions of love for this friend and praise of God. His poetry, as well as his other writings, reveal the success of Charlemagne's efforts to convert and educate the pagan Saxons.
   See also
 ♦ Duckett, Eleanor Shipley. Carolingian Portraits: A Study in the Ninth Century. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962.
 ♦ Laistner, Max L. W. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
 ♦ Marenbon, John. "Carolingian Thought." In Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation Ed. Rosamond McKitterick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp.171-192.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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