Gottschalk of Orbais: The Trials of A.D. 848–849
Gottschalk had studied his Bible and St. Augustine. He had twelve years of unhindered preaching in southern Europe behind him. His hearing before Rabanus Maurus, archbishop of Mainz, and emperor Louis the Pious, was reminiscent of the apostle Paul before rulers and kings. The charge of heresy against the forty-two-year-old Benedictine monk was much in the order of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ opposition to the apostle from Tarsus.
Confidence in the truth of God makes the preacher bold before men. With the witness of Scripture and the witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, true men of God are not ashamed of the Gospel before any rank of men (Ps 119:45–47).
The synod of Mainz agreed upon the charge of heresy, Gottschalk was bound and whipped publicly before the people on the streets of Mainz. The persecutors of God’s servants are almost always religious men who oppose, oppress, and even kill men of God, thinking they are doing service to God in their political machinations.
For teaching what the apostle Paul and St. Augustine had taught, Gottschalk also served in advance of those who would be persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church and state after him. The blood of Hus, Tyndale, Wishart, and countless Huguenots is a small sample of the list of martyrs that is still growing, today. Faithful service to God includes sufferings and afflictions, but these are also marks of true servants.
The trial at Mainz also led to Gottschalk’s banishment from the German territories; and archbishop Maurus needed someone in the French territories to receive the embattled saint, and who would be willing to continue the persecution of Gottschalk. The archbishop of Reims was just the man. His name was Hincmar; and his hatred of Gottschalk and his biblical teachings matched that of his counterpart, Maurus.
Replete with letters of condemnation, the battered Gottschalk was sent to France with armed guards. He was to suffer in his homeland in the same manner as he had suffered at Mainz.
In the spring of 849, Gottschalk boldly gave testimony before Hincmar, who recognized the threat posed by the preacher of sovereign predestination. The synod at Mainz gave way to the synod of Reims. Charles the Bald convened the synod that met at the royal manor at Quierzy. Fifteen bishops, one king, and one monk heard the prosecution brought by archbishop Hincmar.
How glorious is the defense of the fearless servant of God before men! Twelve bishops agreed with Hincmar and three bishops agreed with Gottschalk, who ably defended the Christian faith and its doctrine of double predestination (election and reprobation). How grievous it is for lovers of truth, preachers of the glorious Gospel to stand trial before unworthy men — ignorant, political, destroyers of God’s prophets.
Charged with guilt and considered a heretic, Gottschalk was defrocked by the synod of Reims held at Quierzy. They led him outside to burn his writings and doctrinal proofs on a bonfire of their own vanity. Flogged within an inch of his life, Gottschalk finally released the parchments of his meticulous works into the flames.
Remanded to the prison cell of the monastery at Hautvillers, fifteen miles south of Reims, an order of silence was placed upon the incarcerated monk.
What must it be like for the reprobate to sit in judgment of a servant of God? What must they experience when the Bible, the doctrines of the faith, and teaching of the fathers is heard by them. Their course is ever the same, be they Pilate, Caesar, Caiaphas, Maurus, or Hincmar. They have been ordained to scoff and then to scourge the true men of God.
The resilience of Gottschalk, in the face of brutal hostility, is remarkable. He knew whom he had believed and what he believed, and he was convinced that God was able to keep that which was committed to Him against the day of evil.
In my next article (#4 of 5), we will consider the life and works of Gottschalk from his prison cell. If you would like to read more, please consider, 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 7, 2022