The struggle for the maintenance of the truth goes on unabated in the history of the church of God throughout the ages. That the forces of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism should appear to hold the upper hand in this unceasing conflict need not surprise or discourage us. Indeed, should the opposite be true, then it would be time indeed for us to “sit up and take notice.” 

Of interest to us, in our treatment of the doctrine of sin in this third period, is the place occupied by Gottschalk in this controversy. And then we would present to our readers, first of all, a historical survey of this champion of the truth as set forth by Philip Sohaff in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. IV, 522, ff:

Gottschalk or Godescalcus, an involuntary monk and irregularly ordained priest, of noble Saxon parentage, strong convictions, and heroic courage, revived the Augustinian theory on one of the most difficult problems of speculative theology, but had to suffer bitter persecution for re-asserting what the great African divine had elaborated and vindicated four centuries before with more depth, wisdom and moderation. Incidentally, the name, Gottschalk means: God’s servant. 

The Greek church ignored Augustine, and still more Gottschalk, and adheres to this day to the anthropology of the Nicene and ante-Nicene fathers, who laid as great stress on the freedom of the will as on divine grace. John of Damascus teaches an absolute foreknowledge, but not an absolute foreordination of God, because God cannot foreordain sin, which He wills not, and which, on the contrary, He condemns and punishes; and He does not force virtue upon the reluctant will. (Of course, we do not believe that the Lord ever forces anything upon the will of man. God operates, in the godly and ungodly, through his will, and He does this sovereignly.—H.V.) 

The Latin church retained a traditional reverence for Augustine, as her greatest divine, but never committed herself to his scheme of predestination. It always found individual advocates, as Fulgentius of Ruspe, and Isidore of Seville, who taught a two-fold predestination, one of the elect unto life eternal, and one of the reprobate until death eternal. Beda and Alcuin were Augustinians of a milder type. But the prevailing sentiment cautiously steered midway between Augustinianism and Semi-Pelagianism, giving the chief weight to the preceding and enabling grace of God, yet claiming some merit for man’s consenting and co-operating will. This compromise may be called Semi-Augustinianism, as distinct from Semi- Pelagianism. It was adopted by the Synod of Orange (Aruasio) in 529 (to which we called attention in previous articles—H.V.), which condemned the Semi-Pelagian error (without naming its adherents) and approved Augustine’s views of sin and grace, but not his view of predestination, which was left open. It was transmitted to the Middle Ages through Pope Gregory the Great, who, next to Augustine, exerted most influence on the theology of our period; and this moderated and weakened Augustinianism triumphed in the Gottschalk controversy.

We wish to make a remark here in connection with the above quotation. Philip Schaff here corroborates what Rev. Hoeksema declared in connection with the synod. of Orange concerning its failure to declare itself on the subjects of election and reprobation. However, Schaff writes, very mildly, that the synod left Augustine’s view of predestination open. This, we believe, is hardly correct. We believe that the synod’s failure to call attention to the doctrine of predestination constitutes a serious omission on its part, an effort to compromise with the truth. And we may never compromise with the truth. Any compromise with the truth is always a surrender to the forces of the lie and will never fail to have serious repercussions in the church of God. We now continue with the quotation from Philip Schaff.

The relation of the Roman church to Augustine in regard to predestination is similar to that which the Lutheran church holds to Luther. The Reformer held the most extreme view on divine predestination, and in his book on the Slavery of the Human Will, against Erasmus, he went further than Augustine before him and Calvin after him; yet notwithstanding his commanding genius and authority, his view was virtually disowned, and gave way to the compromise of the Formula of Concord, which teaches both an absolute election of believers, and a sincere call of all sinners to repentance. The Calvinistic Confessions, with more logical consistency, teach an absolute predestination as a necessary sequence of Divine omnipotence and omniscience, but confine it, like Augustine, to the limits of the infralapsarian scheme, with an express exclusion of God from the authorship of sin. Supralapsarianism, however, also had its advocates as a theological opinion. In the Roman church, the Augustinian system was revived by the Jansenists, but only to be condemned.

Let us pause here a moment. Schaff here writes that Luther held the most extreme view on the doctrine of Divine predestination, and that in his book on the Slavery of the Human Will, he went further than Augustine before him and Calvin after him. We may have opportunity, when we call attention to the period of the Reformation, to call attention to the views of Luther and Calvin, although we must bear in mind that, strictly speaking, we are not treating the doctrine of predestination but that of sin. However, in the above quotation of Schaff, that writer adds a footnote, and we quote: “Melanchthon, too, at first was so strongly impressed with the divine sovereignty, that he traced the adultery of David and the treason of Judas to the eternal decree of God; but he afterwards changed his view in favor of synergism, which Luther never did.” Is this what Philip Schaff means when he declares that Luther held the most extreme view on Divine predestination? Then it surely can be shown that Calvin, too, especially in the book, Calvin’s Calvinism, expressed himself very strongly on the doctrine of Divine predestination. And why should we not trace the adultery of David and the treason of Judas to the eternal decree of God? To do so is surely Scriptural we read in John 13:18: “I speak not of. you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. ” This text is a quotation from Ps. 41. Jesus quotes verse 9 of this psalm. The friend of whom we read in this psalm is Ahithophel, David’s trusted counselor, who, at the time of the insurrection of Absalom, deserted David and joined the rebellious cause of his wicked son. This Ahithophel is the Old Testament type of Judas. Now Jesus knew whom He had chosen. When Jesus chose the Twelve He knew that He must select the New Testament fulfillment of Ahithophel. And this does not simply mean that Judas is the New Testament fulfillment of the counselor of David, but it surely means that Ahithophel was called into being by God to serve as type of him who was to be the betrayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s entire passion program was outlined in the Old Testament. And this can only mean that this passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and every step of that program had been determined by the living God from before the foundation of the world. It is surely true that the treason of Judas must be traced to the eternal decree of God. Besides, does anything happen that has not been sovereignly determined by the Living God Who alone does all things according to the counsel of His sovereign will?


Gottschak, the son of count Berno (or Bern), was sent in his childhood by his parents to the famous Hessian convent of Fulda as a pious offering. When he had attained mature age, he denied the validity of his involuntary tonsure, wished to leave the convent, and brought his case before a Synod of Mainz in 829. The synod decided in his favor, but the new abbot, Rabanus Maurus, appealed to the emperor in defense of the obligatory character of the parental consecration of a child to monastic life. He succeeded, but allowed Gottschalk to exchange Fulda for Orbais in the diocese of Soissons in the province of Rheims. From this time dates his ill feeling towards the reluctant monk, whom he called a vagabond, and it cannot be denied that Rabanus appears unfavorably in the whole controversy. 

At Orbais Gottschalk devoted himself to the study of Augustine and Fulgentius of Ruspe, with such ardent enthusiasm that he was called Fulgentius, by one of his fellow-students who had a high opinion of his learning and piety. He selected especially the passages in favor of the doctrine of predestination, and recited them to his fellow-monks for hours, gaining many to his views. But his friend, Servatus Lupus, warned him against unprofitable speculations on abstruse topics, instead of searching the Scriptures for more practical things. He corresponded with several scholars, and made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his return in 847 or 848, he spent some time with the hospitable Count Eberhard of Friuli, son-in-law of the Emperor Louis the Pious, met there Bishop Noting of Verona, and communicated to him his views on predestination. Noting informed Rabanus Maurus, who had in the meantime become archbishop of Mainz, and urged him to refute this new heresy. 

Rabanus Maurus wrote a letter to Noting on predestination, intended against Gottschalk, though without naming him. He put the worst construction upon his view of a double predestination, and rejected it for seven reasons, chiefly, because it involves a charge of injustice against God; it contradicts the Scriptures, which promise eternal reward to virtue; it declares that Christ shed His blood in vain for those that are lost; and it leads some to carnal security, others to despair (these objections are not new to us—H.V.). His own doctrine is moderately Augustinian. He maintains that the whole race, including unbaptized children, lies under just condemnation in consequence of Adam’s sin; that out of this mass of corruption God from pure mercy elects some to eternal life, and leaves, others, in view of their moral conduct, to their just punishment (that God leaves others, because of their moral conduct, to their just punishment, is, of course, a denial of reprobation—H.V.). God would have all men to be saved, yet He actually saves only a part; why He makes such a difference, we do not know and must refer to His hidden counsel.

The Lord willing, we will continue with this historical survey of Gottschalk in our next article. But we do well to notice how the denial of the doctrine of reprobation goes hand in hand with the theory that the Lord would have all men to be saved, and that the advocates of this presentation hate the Scriptural truth of absolute predestination. Indeed, so it is said, why the Lord saves only a part of the human race, whereas He would save all, is something we cannot explain and this must be referred to God’s hidden counsel. And this we also recognize as being taught in our present day. Indeed, our Protestant Reformed Churches are surely in good company. This is verified by history.