Sunday, April 3, 2011
April 6 - Feast of Saint Prudentius Galindo
I find predestination to be an uninspiring doctrine. It holds that God has already decided which among us sinners is saved and there's nothing we can do about it. Of course, those who are damned are still responsible for their sins, but even those who are saved are unworthy. Their salvation results not from anything they did or didn't do, but rather from God's unknowable and predetermined choice.
Double predestination is the belief that God has not only decided whom to save but whom to damn. I find the distinction meaningless, since damnation was the only alternative to salvation, but to the ninth century theologians, it had some significance. That's right -- ninth century. Folks want to hang this predestination heterodoxy on John Calvin, but it was around for centuries before he espoused it.
The hero of this story might well be a monk named Gottschalk of Oblais, for he was surely persecuted for his faith, viz. double predestination. He was hounded throughout Europe, whipped, beaten, imprisoned, exiled, and threatened with worse. When Hincmar, bishop of Reims, got him in custody, he summoned scholars from all over to refute the idea and force the monk to recant.
Enter Prudentius. Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers (or was it cheesemakers), and that being so, Prudentius must be a saint. He did not defended predestination, but not double predestination. Further, he did pointed out that Gottschalk's ideas had been put forward by St. Augustine himself, among the biggest dogs in the sacred kennel. He argued that Gottschalk ought to be released, and the idea, not the man, should be defeated. After Gottschalk was released (and denied sacraments and consecrated burial, because Hincmar was a prick), Prudentius wrote a long treatise on the subject, assailing the free will views of John Scotus Eriugena.
I've got doubts about Prudentius. He seems to have used his intellect to navigate a tricky course between theology and politics. While I'd most likely try to steer the same course, I do not admire him for doing so. Still, blessed are the peacemakers, and a more stubborn approach would probably not have freed Gottschalk.
Posted by Tom Major at 8:43 AM