Gottschalk Confessio Brevior

Gottschalk/Godescalc (c. 804–69)

Preface by R. Scott Clark

Born in Bern (not far from Geneva), his parents entered him into an Benedictine monastery. When it was time for him to become a deacon, he tried to leave the monastery and was opposed by his abbot.

Later, in France, he read theology under Ratramnus (d. 868). He went on to study at Reims and Orbais where he began to elaborate his doctrine of predestination. He was reading Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings and became the leader of an early medieval neo-Augustinian movement.

He taught in Italy and in the Balkans, but his doctrine of double predestination generated opposition from his old abbot Rabanus. In 849, Gottschalk returned to Germany to face his critics at the Synod of Mainz where he was condemned, deposed, beaten and sent by Rabanus to a monastery at Hautviller run by the Archbishop of Reims.

From the monastery Gottschalk continued to read and write. Hincmar replied contra Gottschalk by warning his parishioners in his tract, “To the Rural and Simple” to which Gottschalk replied with his Longer Confessio (Confessio prolixior). Hincmar was supported by several theologians, most notably John Scotus Erigena (c.810-c.77). Erigena’s tract itself produced a storm of controversy against Hincmar and Erigena.

The Church itself was split. One regional synod sided with Hincmar and another sided with Gottschalk. In response Hincmar wrote Concerning the Predestination of God and Free Will (De praedestinatione Dei et libero arbitrio) arguing that if God reprobates then he is the author of sin which was mainly a collection of Patristic quotations. Hincmar was mainly a canon lawyer and politician who was outmatched by Gottschalk.

Gottschalk has been regarded as something of a hero by more recent predestinarians. His Confessions were reprinted by Archbishop Usher in 1631 in support of predestination and he was also influential among the Jansenists.

As Jonathan Rainbow (The Will of God and the Cross) has noted, Gottschalk is an important witness to the fact that the doctrine of double predestination was not a Calvinist invention in the 16th century. Indeed, Gottschalk’s turn to Augustine’s strong anti-Pelagianism and anti-semi-Pelagianism was a foreshadowing of the neo-Augustinian renaissance which began before the Reformation and included a number of outstanding late medieval theologians including Gregory of Rimini, from who the Protestants drew their doctrine of predestination.

Trans. Ron Hanko. First published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 12.1 (1978), 42–43.

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I believe and confess that God, omnipotently and
unchangeably, has graciously foreknown and predestined
holy angels and elect men to eternal life, but that He
like manner (pariter) has, by his most just
judgment, predestined head of all the demons, with all
his apostate angels and also with reprobate men, who are
his members, on account of their foreknown particular
future evil deeds, to merited eternal death: this the
Lord Himself affirms in His Gospel: “The prince of this
world is already judged” (John 14:11).

Augustine, beautifully explaining these words to the
people (Augustine on John, tract. 95), has spoken as
follows: “That is, he has been irrevocably destined to
the judgment of eternal fire.” Likewise concerning the
reprobate, the same is true: “Who then believeth not is
already judged” (John 3:18), that is (as the aforesaid
author explains), (tract. xii), already is damned: “Not
that judgment now is manifest, but that judgment is
already wrought.” Likewise explaining these words of
John the Baptist: man has received” (John 3:32), he
speaks in this wise (tract. xiv): is a certain people
prepared to wrath by God, damned with the Devil.” “Those
dead scorners, predestinated to eternal death.” Again
(tract. xlviii): “Why did the Lord say to the Jews:
(John 10:26), “Ye believe not because ye are not of my
sheep” (John 10:26), unless he saw that they were
predestinated to everlasting destruction and not to life
eternal by the price of his own blood.” Also, explaining
these words of the Lord (ibid): “My sheep hear my voice
and I know hem and they follow me and I give to them
eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one
shall snatch them out of my hand: My Father who gave
them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to
snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29),
and he says this: “What can the wolf do? What can the
thief and robber do? They destroy none, except those
predestined to destruction.” Speaking in like manner
concerning the two worlds (tract. lxxxvii) he says: “The
whole world is the church, and the whole world hates the
church; the world, therefore, hates the world, the
hostile that which is reconciled, the damned that which
is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.” Likewise
(tract. cx) he says: “There is a world concerning which
the Apostle says: ‘that we should be condemned with this
world’ (1 Cor 11:32). For that world that the Lord does
not pray, for he certainly cannot ignore that for which
it is predestinated.” Likewise (tract cvii): “Judas the
betrayer of Christ is called the son of perdition as the
one predestinated to be the betrayer.” Likewise in
Enchiridion
(cap. 100): “To their damnation whom he
has justly predestinated to punishment.” Likewise in the
book On Man’s Perfection in Righteousness he says
(cap. 13): This good, which is required, there is not
anyone who does it, not even one; but this refers to
that class of men who have been predestinated to
destruction: indeed, upon those the foreknowledge of God
looks down and pronounces sentence.” Likewise in the
books de Civitate Dei (lib. xxii, c. 24): ” Which
is given to those who have been predestinated to death.”
Likewise blessed Gregory the Pope (Moral. lib. xxxiv,
c.2): “Leviathan with all his members has been cut off
for eternal torment.” Likewise holy Fulgentius in the
third book Concerning the Truth of Predestination and
Grace
(lib. iii, c. 5) says: “God has prepared
punishment for those sinners (at least) who have been
justly predestinated to the suffering of punishment.”
And blessed Fulgentius has composed one whole book
for
his friend Monimus concerning this tantamount
question, that is: Concerning the Predestination of
the Reprobate to
Destruction, (lib. i).

Whence also holy Isodore says (Sentent. 2.
cap. 6): “Predestination is double (gemina)
whether of election to peace, or of reprobation to
death.” The same thing, therefore, (with others) I
believe and confess, though whatever may happen, with
those who are the elect of God and true Catholics,
according as I am helped by divine inspiration,
encouragement and provision. Amen.

False, indeed, is the witness, who in speaking of any
aspect of those things, corrupts them either
superficially or with respect to their essential sense.