Gottschalk of Orbais lived during the Carologinian era (c. 715–c.888 CE; p. 2). Born sometime before 814, his family (or some caretaker) gave him “as a child oblate to Fulda” (25). “During his pueritia or before he was of the age of understanding,” explains Matthew Bryan Gillis, “Gottschalk was allegedly forced by Hrabanus to take the monastic vow and tonsured against his will” (25).
He would challenge the legality of his vow and eventually win his case. From that moment on, he would be a man marked by conviction. Once, in order to prove his theology, he offered to undergo an ordeal. He proposed four barrels be filled with various liquids (water, oil, lard, pitch) under which fire would burn. Then he would dip his entire body into each barrel. If he lived, he considered his theology as vindicated (see 129–131).
Not everyone felt the same. John Scotus Eriugena (c.800–c.877), for example, said, “Indeed, you deserve to burn in oil and pitch, since you did not fear perversely to teach the light of charity and the mystery of predestination” (133). Gottschalk never ended up attempting the ordeal.
Yet this story provides a snapshot into a constant tension in the life of Gottschalk: his absolute confidence in his theological program and the antagonism he garnered among other church leaders. The most significant theological view that he proffered was double predestination.
He argued, using Augustine, that God has predestined not only the elect to salvation but the non-elect to hell. He writes:
“I believe and I confess that the omnipotent and unchanging God foreknew and predestined the holy angels and elected people freely to eternal life, and simultaneously the devil, the head of all demons, with all his apostate angels and all wicked people (that is, his members) through his most just judgment rightly to eternal death most certainly on account of their own foreknown future, wicked deeds . . .” (156).
As one given to logical precision, he almost certainly concluded double predestination on the basis of logical necessity since Scripture and the Fathers teach election to salvation and the providence of God. Certain passages may also teach or imply predestination to hell.
Whatever the case, Gottschalk affirmed double predestination which meant that one must rely on God’s grace for salvation in utter humility (since one cannot contribute to one’s salvation). Election, as such, did not create major problems for the 9th century Carolingians. Double predestination did. And so for years, debate over the doctrine raged. It is hard to know who “wow.” Officially, Gottschalk did not. Yet he had a large following, and twelve-hundred years later we read about Gottschalk and not, say, Archbishop Hincmar.
Gillis provides ample discussion of Gottschalk’s doctrine, but he focuses on contextualizing Gottschalk within the ninth century among Carolingians. In this regard, his work is a success. He gives a detailed, evidence-based portrayal of the ninth century world in which Gottschalk lived. Anyone wanting to know more about this era, how state and religious authorities interacted, and about Gottschalk himself will need to read Gillis’ work. I recommend Heresy and Dissent in the Carolingian Empire.
Disclaimer: OUP provided me with a review copy of the book.