Got Chalk? No, Gottschalk!

On occasion, you realize you have a new hero of the faith. I cannot remember when I first heard his name, but I am confident it was when I was reading someone who made a list of good guys from church history. There it was, the peculiar name, “Gottschalk.”

Born into a wealthy family of Saxony heritage, which spoke an old type of the German language, Gottschalk was the son of Count Bernus and his wife. He was only with them for a short period in life.

It was A.D. 806 when the child named, “servant of God,” entered the world in the Frankish territory at Mainz. Charlemagne had become the Holy Roman Emperor just six years before. Pope Leo III made a power play in the ongoing tension between church and state. By crowning Charlemagne emperor, Leo secured his own seat.

As a young boy, Gottschalk was given by his parents, along with his inheritance to the Roman Catholic Church. He resided in the care of Benedictine monks at Fulda monastery (founded by Boniface in A.D. 744), where he began an illustrious academic career.

Life was austere for those under the Rule of St. Benedict, the code for monastery living. Strict adherence included a tonsure (peculiar ringed haircut around a bald top), prayer seven times a day, meals of trenchers (bread bowls with soup or stew) eaten in silence at the refractory, daily manuscript copying on parchments (animal skins), and access to a notable library of six hundred volumes. Learning was in the Latin language, which Gottschalk used to write poetry for the rest of his days.

Life in the monastery barracks included a mentor relationship, ample food, simple clothing, and simply the best education available in the middle ages before the formation of universities.

As a teen, Gottschalk was moved south to the island monastery at Reichenau for further learning. There he met his life-long friend, Walafrid Strabo. Later, both Strabo and Gottschalk were moved again to Fulda monastery — 260 miles to the north. It was customary for young monks to move about monasteries before settling in at one for life.

By this time, A.D. 826, Rabanus Maurus was abbot at Fulda. When Gottschalk decided he was not monk material, he sought release from vows. A church synod at Mainz granted his release in A.D. 829, but Maurus was determined to prevent this weakening of commitment to the monastery system. His hatred of Gottschalk, for his attempted defection, would remain for life.

When an appeal hearing was granted Maurus, Gottschalk was forced to remain a monk and was transferred to the monastery at Orbais. Here Gottschalk would secure his location identity for the sake of history. Today, he is known as, “Gottschalk of Orbais.”

Although he was a slave of the monastery system, he employed his photographic memory and great education to study Augustine of Hippo. At Corbie and Orbais, Gottschalk befriended like-minded Dominicans, Ratramnus and Rimbert. In studying the Bible and Augustine, these men agreed on the doctrine of sovereign predestination. He was also personally connected to the archbishop of Reims.

This era of instability was troubled by Viking raids during the 820s and 830s. There was also political intrigue by the three sons of Emperor Charlemagne, as his territory ruling offspring vied for the ultimate seat of power in Europe. This state trouble also paralyzed the church until the Treaty of Verdun in A.D. 843. This was the beginning of the formation of nation states in Europe.

Gottschalk was free to study during these years, as his arch enemy, Rabanus Maurus, was occupied with church/state business. In my next article (#2 of 5), we will explore Gottschalk’s transition from student to traveling preacher.

Recommended reading: Gottschalk, Servant of God: A Story of Courage, Faith, and Love for the Truth by Connie L. Meyer; (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2015).

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

March 6, 2022


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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher