Gottschalk of Orbais: The Preaching Years (A.D. 836–848)
Raised as a monk at the monasteries of Fulda and Reichenau, Gottschalk desired to leave the life of a monk. Seen as a threat to the entire monastery, Rabanus Maurus appealed the decision of the Synod of Mainz, and constrained Gottschalk. His reassignment to the monastery at Orbais relieved some of the tension for everyone.
Gottschalk was ordained as a priest at Orbais and licensed to preach. He was careful to support all of his arguments from Scripture, and this was especially important when it came to his preaching double predestination (election and reprobation).
In A.D. 836, Gottschalk traveled south from Orbais to Italy, a trek of 620 miles, to spread the Gospel and the doctrinal truth that brought him and many of his hearers much comfort.
Over the next ten years Gottschalk would preach in Austria, Bavaria, Caesarea, Constantinople, and Croatia. Everywhere he went people heard of God’s sovereignty, His immutability, His power, and His choice of the elect and the reprobate from eternity past.
Gottschalk also understood that if God the Father chose some to salvation, then Christ’s death was for these chosen ones, who were particularly redeemed and atoned for by Christ at the Cross.
With clarity of mind and the desire to make Christ known, Gottschalk employed his love for poetry and letters to advance the good news, even when opposition to his ministry became fierce. For some ten to twelve years, the trumpet sounded between the Alpine Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
As recent as 1996, the country of Croatia remembered the labors of Gottschalk, almost 1200 years ago, with an honorary postage stamp.
During his decade of itinerant preaching, he was based in northeast Italy at Frioul, where he was cared for by the margrave, Eberhard. Eberhard and his wife, Gisela, the daughter of Louis the Pious and granddaughter of Charlemagne, were blessed to have a man of God at their castle.
In 840, Bishop Notingus of Verona summoned Rabanus Maurus, who was passing nearby, so he could discuss the preaching of Gottschalk, now in his 30s. The result of this meeting was a number of writings against sovereign predestination by Maurus, who suggested that promotion of these ideas was heresy.
Rabanus Maurus was soon distracted by political intrigue within the empire. Besides that, the Vikings were raiding Paris (845) and the Arabs were attempting to take Rome (846). In the midst of trouble for the Holy Roman Empire, Gottschalk remained free to plant the seed of God’s Word, unhindered by church politicians.
In 845, Rabanus Maurus was made the archbishop of Mainz. This new position gave him leverage to take action against Gottschalk. Maurus corresponded with Eberhard with harsh denunciations against Gottschalk. Using the not-so-subtle art of character assassination, Maurus undermined Gottschalk to Eberhard, his provider.
The 846 letter to Eberhard at Frioul did not prompt action from Gottschalk to leave Italy until 848. A synod was set for October 1, 848, at Mainz. Gottschalk packed his bags and headed north into the territory of Charles the Bald and archbishop Rabanus Maurus. He was not ashamed of the Gospel he preached, and soon he would be standing before rulers and kings, again.
Ending his twelve years of itinerant preaching, the servant of God would now bear witness of truth and give an able defense of his faith. Mainz had been the place that granted him release from the monastic life, but the seat of power there now belonged to the very man who stymied Gottschalk’s release.
On trial, alongside the man of God, was the biblical doctrine of sovereign predestination. Ordinary men would flee from such a court of unsympathetic judges, but Gottschalk was no ordinary man. He was a Spirit-filled preacher, poet, and epistle writer, called to give an account of the hope within him. He would suffer much for the Gospel, demonstrating he was the servant of God.
In my next article (#3 of 5), we will consider Gottschalk’s trials in Mainz and then at Quierzy. 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).
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 6, 2022