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Gottschalk of Orbais: Reactionary or Precursor of the Reformation?

  • D. E. Nineham


Gottschalk is a surprisingly unfamiliar figure in this country. Since Archbishop Ussher produced the first modern study of him in 1631, very little has been written about him in English-speaking countries, whereas in France and Germany he has been the subject of innumerable articles and many books. There has been renewed interest in Gottschalk since Dom Morin stumbled on some long-lost works by him in the Bongars library in Bern in 1931. For English readers it may be well to begin with a brief account of the facts.



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Zfk = Zeitschrifl für Kirchengeschichte; Rev. Ben. = Revue Bénédictine; MGH Epp. = Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae; RMAL = Revue du Moyen Age Latin; RHR = Revue de I’Histoire des Religions

1 Cotteschalci el praedestinalianac controversine ab to molac Historia.

2 Most notably in recent years: Vielhaber, K., Gottschalk der Sachse, Bonn 1956, and Jolivet, J., Codescalc d’Orbais el la Trinité, Paris 1958. Devisse, J. devoted a large part of the first volume of his three-volume study, Hincmar archevêque de Reims, Geneva 1975, to the controversies surrounding Gottschalk. Also important are the three long articles by Freystedt, A., ‘Studien zu Gottschalks Lebcn und Lchrc’, I—III, ZJK xviii (1898), 122; 161–82; 529–45;. Epperlein, S., Herrschaft und Volk im karolingischen Impcrium, Berlin 1969. McKeon, P. R., ‘The Carolingian Councils of Savonnieres (859) and Tusey (860) and their background’, Rev. Bén. lxxxiv (1974), 75110, and Ganz, D., ‘The debate on predestination’, in Charles the Bald: court and kingdom, eds Gibson, M. and Nelson, J., Oxford 1981, 353–73. The name is spelt in twelve different ways in the sources, but Gottschalk is now generally agreed to be the most correct spelling. It means ‘God’s servant’ and was chosen for symbolic reasons by a pious father.

3 See his lively account in ‘Gottschalk retrouvé’, Rev. Bén. xliii (1931), 303–12; these works were published, together with a number of others, by Dom. Lambot, C. under the title: Oeuvres théologiques el grammaticales de Codescalc d’Orbais, Louvain 1945.

4 See below pp. 5, 14, 15.

5 De oblatione puerorum, PL cvii. 419ff.

6 Vielhaber, Gottschalk, 16, argues that Gottschalk probably returned voluntarily to the monastic state.

7 Hraban’s letter in MGH Epp. v, Karolini aevi, iii. 481ff.; for the Balkan mission see Annales de Saint-Bertin, ed. F. Grat, J. Vieillard and S. Clémencet, Paris 1964, and the ‘Dicta cuiusdam sapientis de corpore et sanguine domini’ given in PL cxii. 1510ff. as a letter of Hraban, but now recognised as being by Gottschalk, and printed in Lambot, op. cit. 324ff. The chronology of these events and the identity of Noting are matters of some controversy. Vielhaber, op. cit. 21, thinks that Gottschalk went on his Balkan mission of his own initiative before Hraban’s letter reached Eberhard. See also Chatillon, F., review of Lambot in RMAL v (1949), 255–72, esp. at p. 261 n. 6, and K. Schmid, Kloster Hirsau, Freiburg-im-Breisgau 1959. Hraban’s letter speaks of a secta (p. 482); even if this includes Gottschalk and his supporters, there are some grounds for thinking that Gottschalk was not the first to revive strict Augustinian teaching on predestination at the time.

8 PL exxv. 84.

9 MGH Epp. viii. 169.

10 E.g. PL xxxv. 1711 and 1742; xl. 279; xli. 437; xlv. 1007. Aergerter, E., ‘Gottschalk et le problème de la prédestination au IXe siècle’, RHR cxvi (1937), 187233, seems to be simply wrong on this point.

11 Since, after Adam’s fall, good use of free will was impossible apart from grace, this concession did not amount to much.

12 See e.g. Harnack, A., History of Dogma, v, London 1898, 292ff.

13 Cf. e.g. Tixeront, J., History of Dogmas, iii, St Louis, Mo-Frciburg-Baden 1916, 299. for items in the controversy on which the council failed to comment.

14 Gregory the Great was a major influence from the beginning of the seventh century onward, and for all his respect for Augustine, he interpreted him along lines which allowed a considerable part to the human will in the attainment of salvation. Cf. e.g. PL lxxvi. 870, 699–700; and see Turmel, J., ‘La controverse predestinatienne’ Revue d’Histoire et de la Littéraiure Religieuse x (1905), 4769, esp. at pp. 48—9.

15 Cit. n. 7 above.

16 On that sec p. 2 above; but it is difficult not to sec here as well one of a scries of moves by Hincmar against the whole institution of chorepiscopi. to which he was much opposed.

17 PL cxxi. 1029–30, where Florus speaks of ‘unheard of examples of cruelty’ inflicted on Gottschalk.

18 See Hefele, C. J. and Leclercq, H., Histoire des Conciles, iv. 1, Paris 1911, 156.

19 Cf. e.g. PL cxxv. 613.

20 Published in ZJK x (1888), 258ff. and now in MGH Epp. viii. 37, pp. 12ff.

21 Most notably, the Hypomnesticon, which Gottschalk also took to be by Augustine, and a work from the pen of Pelagius himself, the De obduratione cordis Pharaonis, PL, Suppl. i. 1506ff.

22 PL cxv. 97 1ff.; cxix. 606ff.

23 See now Radding, C. M., A World Made by Men, Chapel Hill 1985, esp. pp. 128ff. for the point that in the ninth century parties to a controversy made little attempt to persuade one another by reasoned argument, in the way they began to do from the early eleventh century onward. In the period with which this article has been concerned each side to a dispute was normally content to amass biblical and patristic texts which supported its point of view, without attempting to deal with texts which appeared to point in other directions, or to advance an hypothesis which made sense of the evidence taken as a whole. The resolution of the matter was felt to be the responsibility of authority figures, in this case, Radding suggests, Charles the Bald.

24 PL cxxi. 13ff.

25 PL cxxii. 356ff.

26 See Marenbon, J. A., Early Medieval Philosophy, London 1983, 55ff.

27 PL cxv. 1009ff.

28 PL cxix. 101ff.

29 The only matter on which it parted company with him was that of free will, a subject which in general played a surprisingly small part in the controversy.

30 PL cxxi. 985ff, traditionally attributed to Remigius, the new archbishop, but in fact largely the work of Florus.

31 This smaller post-council meeting is generally thought to have been ‘packed’ by Hincmar; Devisse, Hincmar, i. 200ff; attempts, not very successfully, to defend it.

32 H. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolum et Definitionum, Freiburg-im-Breisgauio, 22, 144–5; note secundum praescienliam suam… praedeslinavit, with reference to the elect.

33 PL cxxi. 1083ff.

34 Ibid. 1091.

35 See Ganz, ‘Debate’, 354–5.

36 PL cxv. 1365.

37 See Lambot, ‘Lettre inédite de Godescalc d’Orbais’, Rev. Bén. lxviii (1958), 41ff.

38 Op. cit. 363.

39 Also spelt Thusey; Devisse, Hincmar, and Wallace-Hadrill, , The Frankish Church, Oxford 1983, 368, confuse it with Douzy, which was in fact a different place; see the map in Gibson and Nelson, Charles the Bald, 17.

40 Wallace Hadrill, op. cit. 273.

41 PL cxxvi. 122ff.

42 E. Amann, Histoire de I’Église, VI: L’Époque carolingienne, ed. A. Fliche and V. Martin, Paris 1937, 342. On the extremely complicated problems connected with the proceedings at Savonnières and Tusey see McKeon, ‘Carolingian Councils’.

43 See Ganz, ‘Debate’, 365. Significantly, questions about the usurpation and wrong use of church property are the primary concern of the synodal letter.

44 Florus died in c. 860, Prudentius in 861 and Lupus in 862; Walafrid was already dead by 849.

45 MGH Epp. viii. 187, p. 196.

46 Ibid. p. 197.

47 PL cxix. 492.

48 See above n. 7 and add Lambot, Oeuvres, 335–7.

49 Apparently about 850.

50 Histoire, 337.

51 Hymn for the common of many martyrs, first vespers.

52 Corpus Christi, hymn for matins; in the office for many martyrs summa o has been substituted for trina.

53 Although most of Gottschalk’s work has disappeared, there are 300 or so large pages on these topics in Lambot, op. cit. More of Hincmar has survived, and, quite apart from his letters, his writings on these topics account for 570 columns in PL cxxv, or well over a quarter-of-a-million words.

54 Devisse, Hincmar, i. 129; Regula S. Benedicti, cc ii and xxviii.

55 In connection with the conclusions he draws from them, see J. J. Ampère, Histoire littéraire de la France, iii, Paris 1840, 92–3.

56 PL cxxi 1029–30.

57 See Mabillon, J., Annales Ordinis S. Benedicti, Paris 1703, ii. 686.

58 On this constantly repeated expression see Bardy, G., ‘Post Apostolos ecclesiarum magister’, RMAL vi (1950), 313–16.

59 Cf. e.g. PL xlv. 1497 and 1120; PL xliv. 577 and 429.

60 Cf. e.g. PL xlv. 1029ff. See also Vacant, A., Mangenot, E. and Amann, E., Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, xii, Paris 1933, c. 2856. Devisse, Hincmar, i. 121, speaks of an Augustinian ‘pédagogie de la prédication prédestinatienne’. Cf. how Ussher told Laud he had written his book on Gottschalk in Latin so as to avoid troubling the common people with such questions. C bndar of State Papers, Ireland, 1625–32, 618. Gottschalk, on the other hand, was suspicious of good works as a sign, being acutely aware of the possible deceptiveness of all early manifestations; cf. his analogy of the ‘bent’ stick in water, Lambot, Oeuures, 375.

61 PL xlv. 1025. Compare 1017–18.

62 Though cf. McKeon, ‘Carolingian Councils’, 105.

63 Annales de St-Bertin, 82. Cf. Hincmar, MGH Epp, viii. 187, p. 196. For the authenticity of this account sec Cappuyns, M., Jean Scot Engène, Louvain-Paris 1933, 124 n. 3, and J. Nelson, ‘The Annals of St Bertin’, in Gibson and Nelson, Charles the Bald, 15–36 at p. 22.

64 gemina, a term introduced in this connection by Isidore of Seville, Sententiae ii. 6.1.

65 ‘Debate’, 356–7.

66 As noted earlier, strict predestinarianism is not easily combined with a high estimate of cult and sacraments, or those responsible for them; and Gottschalk himself made clear his belief that in the last resort God is the only one with a right to implicit obedience, while referring to church dignitaries as potentiolae (‘punies’), Lambot, Oiuvres Théologiques, 96. As for those allegedly influenced by Gottschalk, they said, according to Hraban: ‘What need is there for me to toil for my salvation and eternal life? If I do good and I am not predestined for heaven, it is of no use; if on the other hand I do evil, that is no obstacle, for God’s predestination assures me of eternal life’, MGH Epp. v. 491.

67 Frankish Church, 368.

68 E.g. divulgatum est (Hraban), ibid. 481; or ut audivi (Hincmar), PL cxxv. 84.

69 The contentions of Weber and Tawney can surely not be written off entirely.

70 Aergerter, ‘Gottschalk et la prédestination’, 213.

71 For which see MGH Poet. lat. aevi karol. iii, iv and vi, and Godman, P., Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, London 1985.

72 To dismiss the sentiments in these moving poems as simply conventional, as Grabert, H. did, Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte viii (1937), 611, is absurd; no reader can miss the genuine lyrical quality of Gottschalk’s best known poem,’ Ut quid iubes, pusiole?’, which Vielhaber has suggested is addressed to Christ as earthly child and heavenly Lord. See Raby, F. J. E., A History of Christian-Latin Poetry, 2nd edn, Oxford 1953; Waddell, H., The Wandering Scholars, 7th edn, London 1938, 57 (‘his verse, the most musical… in Europe for centuries’); and Godman, op. cit. 40ff., who also writes appreciatively. Note, too, how often Gottschalk’s prose writings take the form of a sustained prayer, or end in a prayer. Vielhaber sees in him an anticipation of the mystical piety of the twelfth century, Gottschalk, 53–4.

73 E.g. Lambot, Oeuvres, 312–13.

74 See below, and on Gottschalk as ‘reactionary’ cf. G. F. Wiggers, ‘Schicksale der augustinische Anthropologie, Fünfte Abtheilung: Der Mönch Gottschalk’, in (Nieders) Zeitschrift für die historische Theologie (1859), 471–591.

75 E.g. PL cxxi. 1029.

76 ‘Gottschalk’, 303; see also Devisse, Hincmar, i. 266, Wallace-Hadrill, Frankish Church, 369, and Chatillon, RMAL, 258, who goes even further.

77 Contrast the treatment of him in Devisse, op. cit., Wallace-Hadrill, op. cit. and Duckett, E. S., Carolingian Portraits, Ann Arbor 1962, for example, with the estimates of Morin and Amann.

78 Guizot once likened him to Bossuet.

79 ‘Gottschalk et la prédestination’, 203.

80 Exception should be made for Corbie, St Riquier and perhaps one or two other centres.

81 Lavaud, B., ‘Précurseur de Calvin ou témoin de 1’Augustinisme? Le cas de Gotescalc’, Revue Thomiste xv (1932), 71101 at p. 99.

82 Ganz, ‘Debate’, 355.

83 PL cvii. 419ff., esp. 431–2.

84 MGH Concilia i. 46ff.

85 On that see especially Jolivet, Godescalc.

86 Gottschalk represented the later (? and mature) Augustine.

87 ‘Die Krise des karolingischen Imperiums’, in Engel, J. and Klinkenberg, H. M. (eds), Aus Mittelaltcr und Ncuzcil: G. Kallen, zum 70 Geburtstag, Bonn 1957, 115.

88 Whereas, in spite of his concern with the ecclesiastical body (above p. 9), Gottschalk’s teaching undeniably had an individualistic tendency, the soul in unmediated relationship with God, and salvation dependent wholly on election.

89 PL cxvi. 92.

90 ‘Gottschalk et la prédestination’, 221.

91 MGH Poetae Latini medii aevi, iii, Carm 1, str. 7, and Lambot Oeuvres, 338.

92 E.g. PL cxxv. 479–80 and 585. Is there a moral somewhere here for theological debate today?

93 If Florus suggested ‘a handling of the matter by reverent and peaceful investigation rather than fire and the sword’ (PL cxxi. 1030), that was the prescription of a scholardeacon, not a powerful archbishop with pastoral responsibilities, responsibilities which should certainly not be under-estimated in our judgement of Hincmar’s conduct in this case.

94 Frankish Church, 368.

Gottschalk of Orbais: Reactionary or Precursor of the Reformation?

  • D. E. Nineham


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