Gottschalk of Orbais: The Years of Imprisonment A.D. 848–868

David Norczyk
3 min readMar 7, 2022

For the final twenty years of his life, Gottschalk, the servant of God abode in a prison cell at the monastery of Hautvillers. He suffered for doing well.

It was this chapter in his life that provided the conditions for the written broadcast of his theology. This came in the form of a “Shorter Confession,” given much to the doctrine of reprobation. The “Longer Confession” dealt with double predestination and other doctrines.

Compaction is often the way of God for His servants. One must consider the vagabond life on the run by William Tyndale in exile from England; or A.W. Pink’s self-exile on the Isle of Lewis, in the final decade of his life; or Paul, at Caesarea or Rome.

From his dungeon room, correspondence also made his existence more bearable. Gottschalk was bound in body but not in Spirit. He even corresponded with his arch enemies on theological topics.

Gottschalk’s doctrinal teaching and imprisonment spurred others to think and study more on the subject of sovereign predestination. It became Hincmar’s worst nightmare. His persecution of the learned monk, faithful preacher, and immovable inmate only raised interest in the dispute. Hincmar had put Gottschalk on trial, but in a strange juxtaposition, Hincmar was put on the defensive in public.

As a successor to Pelagius and predecessor to Arminius, Hincmar relentlessly labored to slander Gottschalk. This was to preserve public opinion and even his own position as archbishop of Reims. The charges of heresy, blasphemy, mental illness, vanity, obstinacy, and even demon possession swirled throughout the Frankish kingdom against Gottschalk.

The irony of slanderers is the charges they make against their prey. They charge their opponents with the very things they themselves display. This was true in this case, and later in the Remonstrant’s (followers of Jacobus Arminius) case against the faithful of the Reformed faith.

All of this was because Gottschalk refused to hold the position that Christ died for everyone in the world. Gottschalk even agreed to suffer a “trial by ordeal,” which was almost a guarantee of death (think of those incarcerated in the book of Daniel). Gottschalk’s enemies feared a miraculous act of God, so they would not be a party to it.

For such was the season of the early to mid-ninth century A.D. For such was the servant of God, born for such a time and circumstances as these. Gottschalk was a smoking flax, and many others caught the fire from his life and teaching. Sill, these doctrines soon became dormant again, only to be resurrected by the Protestant Reformers seven hundred years later.

Despite his imprisonment, Gottschalk was the indirect cause of a synod, called and convened at Quierzy in A.D. 853. Hincmar presented a case for man-centered theology, which taught that man being free to choose good or evil by his own will. It taught that God, being constrained in eternity past to look ahead in time to see what each person will do with Christ, would then decide after that to elect one or not. In addition, God’s love for everyone and desire for everyone to be saved was held hostage to the sovereign will and decision of every man. Also in this scheme, Christ died for everyone, everywhere and as a patient fan of each man, God sits in mere hope for each man to judge the validity of Christ Jesus.

Political intrigue and theology persisted with Lothair, the emperor of the territory between Charles the Bald and Louis the German, calling a synod at Valence in A.D. 855. Almost to Lothair’s dying wish, the decisions at Valence were written and sent to Charles the Bald. The decisions on predestination at Valence diametrically opposed the decisions at Quierzy. Gottschalk was alone in prison, but not alone in his theology.

Later in A.D. 859, all three kings of the Holy Roman Empire were set to convene to settle the matter. A delay caused the convention to be held in October 860 at Touchy, France. Forty bishops from fourteen provinces affirmed, with Gottschalk and Augustine, their agreement with sovereign predestination. Still, Hincmar, using a style of confusing terms and diluting ideas (see Arminians at Synod of Dordrecht) won the day. The Roman Catholic Church continued to hold to the Pelagian heresy.

In my next article, I will conclude with the fifth (#5 of 5), on some lessons from the life of Gottschalk. I continue to recommend reading, Gottschalk, Servant of God by Connie L. Meyer; (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2015).

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

March 7, 2022



David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher