St. Prudentius of Troyes took part in some highly controversial events involving predestination — the question of just who was saved by Jesus’ death and the role of grace in our salvation.
Prudentius was born in Spain in the late 8th century and baptized as Galindo. While serving as an attorney in Spain, he fled to Gaul to escape the Saracens and changed his name to Prudentius. He studied in the Palantine school and, in 840 or 845, was elected bishop of Troyes in east-central France where he was chaplain to the Frankish court.
Prudentius was considered one of the most learned bishops in France. His sermon on St. Maura shows that, beyond skill in preaching, he heard confessions, celebrated Mass and administered the last rites.
When Gotescalc, a wandering monk of Orbasis Abbey, began teaching about predestination, Bishop Nottinge reported him to Archbishop Rabanus Maurus of Mentz, one of the most learned and holy men of the time.
Rabanus called a synod at Mentz in 848. Gotescalc was questioned and his errors condemned. He was referred to Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, also a learned and gifted prelate. Another synod was called, in 849, this time in the Diocese of Soissons, at a palace of King Charles the Bald.
This synod also found Gotescalc guilty and ordered him stripped of the priesthood and imprisoned in Haut-villiers Abbey. After consulting Prudentius, Hincmar decided to give Gotescalc time to reconsider. Gotescalc refused to relent and was excommunicated. He spent the next 21 years in confinement.
Meanwhile, some accused Hincmar of not believing in the need for grace. Prudentius stepped forward to explain Catholic teaching in a way he hoped both sides could accept: humans have free will, Christ died to save all people, grace is necessary for salvation and Christ offered up his death in a special way to save the elect. Prudentius’ idea of a double predestination only ignited a new dispute.
However, his skills as a poet earned him the titles: “prince of Christian poets” and “the Homer and the Virgil of Christians.” His work includes the hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” His feast is still celebrated at Troyes.
Sources: “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; catholic.org; saintpatrickdc.org; saints.sqpn.com.
Staley is a retired editor of The Compass.