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The Bogomils of Bulgaria and Bosnia

The Early Protestants of the East.

Author of
"The Cross And The Crescent", "History Of Religious Denominations", etc.

Original source: http://www.concentric.net/~wtullos/bogomils.htm

Entered to Act of Congress, in the year 1879, by the
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.



Introduction.—The Armenian and other Oriental churches.

Dualism and the phantastic theory of our Lord's advent in the Oriental churches.—The doctrines they rejected.—They held to baptism.

Gradual decline of the dualistic doctrine.—The holy and exemplary lives of the Paulicians.

The cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the Empress Theodora.—The free state and city of Tephrice.

The Sclavonic development of the Catharist or Paulician churches.—Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Servia its principal seats.—Euchites, Massalians, and Bogomils.

The Bulgarian Empire and its Bogomil czars.

A Bogomil congregation and its worship.— Mostar, on the Narenta

The Bogomilian doctrines and practices.—The Credentes and Perfecti.—Were the Credentes baptized.

The orthodoxy of the Greek and Roman churches rather theological than practical.—Fall of the Bulgarian Empire.

The Emperor Alexius Comnenus and the Bogomil Elder Basil.—The Alexiad of the Princess Anna Comnena.

The martyrdom of Basil.—The Bogomil churches reinforced by the Armenian Paulicians under the Emperor John Zimisces.

The purity of life of the Bogomils.—Their doctrines and practices.—Their asceticism.

The missionary spirit and labors of the elders and Perfecti.—The entire absence of any hierarchy.

The Bogomil churches in Bosnia and the Herzegovina.—Their doctrines more thoroughly scriptural than those of the Bulgarian churches—Bosnia as a banate and kingdom.

Bosnian history continued.—The good Ban Culin.

The growth of the Bogomil churches under Culin.—Their missionary zeal and success.

The authorities from whose testimony this narrative is drawn.—Its thorough corroboration by a cloud of witnesses.

The era of persecution.—The crusades against the Bogomils.—Archbishop of Colocz.

Further crusades.—The hostility of Pope Innocent IV.—More lenient, but not more effective, measures.

The establishment of the Inquisition in Bosnia.—Letter of Pope John XXII.—Previous testimony of enemies to the purity of the lives of the Bogomils.

Further persecution.—A lull in its fury during the over-lordship of the Serbian Czar Stephen Dushan.—The reign of the Tvartko dynasty.

The Reformation in Bohemia and Hungary a Bogomil movement.—Renewal of persecution under Kings Stephen Thomas and Stephen Tomasevic.—The Pobratimtso.

Overtures to the sultan.—The surrender of Bosnia to Mahomet II. under stipulations.—His base treachery and faithlessness.—The cruel destruction and enslavement of the Bogomils of Bosnia and, twenty years later, of those of the Duchy of Herzegovina.

The Bogomils not utterly extinguished.—Their influence on society, literature, and progress in the Middle Ages.—Dante, Milton, etc.—The Puritans.—Conclusion.

A liturgy of the Toulouse Publicans in (probably) the Sixteenth Century.

Were the Paulician and Bogomil churches Baptist Churches?




Introduction.—The Armenian and other Oriental churches.

Dualism and the phantastic theory of our Lord's advent in the Oriental churches.—The doctrines they rejected.—They held to baptism.

Gradual decline of the dualistic doctrine.—The holy and exemplary lives of the Paulicians.

The cruelty and bloodthirstiness of the Empress Theodora.—The free state and city of Tephrice.

The Sclavonic development of the Catharist or Paulician churches.—Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Servia its principal seats.—Euchites, Massalians, and Bogomils.

The Bulgarian Empire and its Bogomil czars.



THE belief that there had existed through all the ages since the Christian era churches which adhered strictly to scriptural doctrines and practice—churches which were the true successors in faith and ordinances of those founded by the apostles, and had never paid homage to Greek patriarch or Roman pope— was firmly impressed upon the minds of the Baptist church-historians of the first fifty years of the present century. They believed also that these churches were essentially Baptist in their character, and some of them made extensive researches among the works of secular and ecclesiastical historians of the early centuries to find tangible proofs to sustain their conviction. They were partially, but only partially, successful, for the historians of those periods were ecclesiastics of either the Greek or Roman churches, who added, in most cases, the bitterness of personal spite, from their discomfiture by the elders of these churches, to their horror at any departure from papal or patriarchal decrees.

For the last twenty-five or thirty years the ranks of the Baptist ministry have been so largely recruited from Paedobaptist churches—all of which had their origin, confessedly, either at the Reformation or since—that many of our writers have been disposed to hold in abeyance their claims to an earlier origin, and to say that it was a matter of no consequence, but there was no evidence attainable of the existence of Baptist churches between the fourth and the eleventh or twelfth centuries.

To the writer it has seemed to be a matter of great consequence to be able to demonstrate that there were churches of faithful witnesses for Christ who had never paid their homage or given in their allegiance to the anti-Christian churches of Constantinople or Rome. Even in idolatrous Israel, in the reign of its worst king, Ahab, the despairing prophet was told by Jehovah, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him " Was it possible that among these many millions of misguided souls who had given themselves over to the delusions of the Greek and Roman churches, there was not at least as large a proportion, who had not been partakers in the sins or these anti-Christian churches, but had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb?

It was true that both the Greek and Roman churches had put the brand of heresy on every sect which had dared to deny their dogmas; but might it not be that beneath that brand could be discerned the lineaments of the Bride of Christ?

My attention was first called to the possibility of discovering more than had hitherto been known in regard to these early Protestants of the Eastern lands some two years since, While engaged in some studies for a work on the Eastern Question. In the Christian churches of Armenia, Bulgaria, and Bosnia I believed were to be found the churches which from the fifth to the fifteenth century were the true successors of the churches founded by the apostles' in all matters of faith and practice. The "Historical Review of Bosnia," contained in the second edition of Mr. Arthur J. Evans' work on Bosnia in 1876, first opened my eyes to the wealth of the new historical discoveries thus brought to light in Bosnia and Bulgaria. Mr. Evans is a member of the Church of England, an eminent scholar, thoroughly devoted to archaeological investigations, and had made very patient and successful researches on this very subject. While he had explored the libraries of Mostar and Sarajevo, as well as of the Greek and Roman Catholic convents throughout Bosnia and the Herzegovina, I found that a considerable portion of his facts were gleaned from two recent historical works—Herr Jirecek's Geschichte der Bulgaren (Berlin, 1876), and M. Hilferding's Serben used Bulgaren, originally published in the Sclavonic language, but translated into in 1874. Jirecek is a Bohemian, and, I believe, a Roman Catholic, but a man of great fairness. Hilferding is- a Russian, and attached to the Greek Church. Both treat largely (as they are under the necessity of doing) of the Bogomils, as these early Christians were called, since their history is very largely the history of the two nations for five or six centuries. Both give very minute descriptions of the faith and life of these people, and most of the historical facts given in the following pages are derived from them. But wherever Mr. Evans could find anything in the early secular or ecclesiastical writers of the Dark Ages or medieval times bearing on this subject he has carefully gleaned it, even though it were but A single sentence. This has been done, on his part, solely from a love of archaeological research, for he has evidently no special sympathy with the people about whom he writes; but he is entitled to the praise of manifesting a judicial fairness as between them and their persecutors.

My own labor on the subject has not been confined to the verification of Mr. Evans' quotations and references, but has extended in certain directions which he had left untouched, such as a careful study of all those affiliated sects whose connection with the Bogomils he had demonstrated, and the tracing up, so far as possible, all hints in regard to their special tenets. Among these I have found, often in unexpected quarters, the. most conclusive evidence that these sects were all, during their earlier history, Baptists, not only in their views on the subjects of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but in their opposition to Paedobaptism, to a church hierarchy, and to any worship of the Virgin Mary or the saints, and in their adherence to church independency and freedom of conscience in religious worship. In short, the conclusion has forced itself upon me that in these " Christians " of Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Armenia we have an apostolic succession of Christian churches, New Testament churches, and Baptist churches, and that as early as the twelfth century these churches numbered a converted, believing membership as large as that of the Baptists throughout the world to-day. I have chosen in the narrative to present only the facts ascertained, without making any deductions from them. They are so plain that the wayfaring man can comprehend their significance. In the Appendix (II.) I have endeavored to summarize these facts and to show their significance to Baptists. I now offer the whole as a humble contribution to Baptist church history.

L. P. B.

Brooklyn N. Y., February 1, 1879.




THE wars which from time immemorial have devastated the fair lands of Eastern Europe and Western Asia have had in most cases a religious basis. At first, in pagan times, the worshippers of the gods of the hills attacked the adherents of the gods of the valleys or of the plains; later, the devotees of Bel or Baal made war upon the worshippers of the one living and true God. When Christianity became the religion of the state, its emperors and generals turned their arms against the pagan Avars and Bulgarians, or, full as oft, upon those Christian sects which from their purer worship were denominated heretics by the orthodox. This condition of warfare on religious grounds has continued throughout all the centuries of the Christian era, even down to our own time, sometimes assuming the form of a fierce and bloody persecution against the protesting churches who refused obedience to the Roman or the Greek Church, and sometimes. raging in terrible conflict against the Turk. Even in the war recently in progress, the cross of the Greek Church was arrayed against the Mohammedan crescent.

It is, however, only one division of this series of religious conflicts which specially concerns us—that which relates to the power claimed by the self-styled orthodox Greek and Roman churches to put down, by force and bloodshed, every form of faith which they were pleased to denounce as heresy.

No sooner was the Christian church, by the conversion of Constantine, relieved from the pressure of persecution, than its bishops and leaders began to magnify what it had previously regarded as trifling errors into heretical dogmas which threatened not only the peace, but the very existence, of Christianity. The Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Alexandria, the Bishop of Carthage, and the Bishop of Nicomedia were ranged against each other in hostile array; council succeeded council; the emperor sided now with Arius and now with Athanasius—first with the iconoclasts and next with the makers and worshippers of images; and in a few years the followers of the Prince of peace were wielding the weapons of a carnal warfare against each other. These hostilities and conflicts continued through the following centuries, until they culminated in the separation of the two bodies in the East and in the West, since known as the orthodox Greek and the Roman Catholic churches.

But there two churches, differ as they might, had yet many points in common. Their greatest differences were that the Greek Church adhered somewhat more strictly to the early forms of the primitive and apostolic church in its ordinances and ritual, and that it did not recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Both paid divine honors to the Virgin Mary; both addressed their prayers and homage to saints and angels; both used pictures, icons, statues, and crucifixes in their worship. and both denounced as heretics all who differed from them in belief. By both, also, the churches of the remote East were regarded as fountains of heresy. The Roman Church considered them as guilty of all the seven mortal sins, and the Greek Church proclaimed, that for those who continued in these heretical doctrines there was no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come.

And what were these fearful heresies? The positive doctrines of their belief are hard to trace, since they are only recorded in the accusations of their bitterest enemies. They probably differed considerably in different periods. There had come down to most of these churches from the old Aryan inhabitants of Persia some of the dogmas which had distinguished them, surrounded as they were by idolaters, in their maintenance for more than three thousand years of a purely theistic worship. These Aryans, like their descendants, the Parsees of the present day, held to two principles which governed this world and all worlds—the good principle, called also Ormuzd, and the evil principle or spirit, which they named Ahriman. Both they believed to be subordinate to the Great First Cause, who dwelt in the light unapproachable and had delegated nearly equal power to these two spirits. There is room for admiration that these thoughtful sages, without the light of revelation, should have approached so close to the truth as they did, and yet the great problem of the entrance of sin into the world, and the self-evident fact of its continued existence and its terrible effects, might well, in the absence of purer light, have led them to this belief in dual divinities.

When the religion of Jesus Christ was revealed to these orientals by the preaching of the apostles and their followers and the diffusion of a few manuscript copies of the Gospels, and, later, of the other books of the New Testament, it is not surprising that they should have recognized in Jesus the Ormuzd of their old faith, and in Satan their evil spirit, Ahriman, and, for want of better instruction, should have attributed to them the qualities, powers, and functions which their reformers and prophets had assigned to the two principles; nor that some of the other fictions of their older faith, so dear to Oriental minds, should have clung to their new doctrines, through the slow-moving centuries' till they were displaced by the clearer light of Revelation.



As a matter of history, we find that most of the Oriental churches, and indeed some of those of Asia Minor which had been founded by the apostles, were permeated with these dualistic doctrines, though in different degrees. It would not be far from the truth were we to say that there have been traces of it among the most evangelical churches of all the ages since, even down to our own time. As to the doctrines which they did not believe, the evidence is more satisfactory. They honored the Virgin Mary as the mother of our Lord according to the flesh—though there were different opinions even on this point but they refused any worship to her as a divine or superhuman being. True to their old Aryan training, they repudiated alike picture and icon, statue and image, crucifix and crosier. They recognized no bishop or high priest; their elders served them in their simple ritual, and expounded to them the word of God. The initiatory rite of their faith has been to some extent a matter of dispute; with nearly all there is ample evidence that it was as in the Greek Church, an immersion in water, though probably not a trine immersion, and without the anointing, and other ceremonies.

But many of their enemies, overlooking the fact that all their members received baptism on their admission into the church, because it was not attended with the ceremonials and adjuncts of the Greek Church, have spoken of their ceremony of ordaining and setting apart their elders and "perfect ones " as a spiritual baptism, called by them consolamentum and administered by the simple imposition of hands.1 The denial of their practice of water-baptism is due solely to this misapprehension. The strictness and ascetic character of their doctrines led them to prohibit all architectural display. Their churches were simple, plain, barn-like buildings, without tower, steeple, or bell. They knew nothing of nave, transept, chancel, or altar. The bare walls of the room had no ornaments; rude seats accommodated the worshippers; a table covered with a white cloth, on which lay a copy of the New Testament, or, if they were unable to obtain this, the Gospel of St. John, sufficed instead of pulpit for their aiders.2

At first, with but limited instruction, and with only a small portion of the New Testament in their hands, there is no reason to doubt that their doctrinal views, whether measured by the standard of the Christianity of those times or of our own, were in some respects heretical. The leaders of the Paulicians in the fifth and sixth centuries are reputed to have held these opinions: that God had two sons; that the elder, whom they called Satanael, had been at first endowed with all the attributes of deity and was chief among the hosts of heaven; that by him, through the power bestowed upon him by the Father, the material bodies of the universe—suns, moons, and stars—were created, but, in consequence of his ambition and rebellion, he was driven from heaven, and took with him the third part of the heavenly host. Then, they said, God bestowed the power on his younger son, Jesus, whom he made the heir of all worlds, and gave him the power over all spiritual intelligences. Satanael had created our earth, but Jesus breathed into man the breath of life, and he became a living soul. Thenceforth there was a constant conflict between Satanael and Jesus. The former compassed the death of the latter after his assumption of the human form and nature, but by this very act Satanael secured his own defeat, for Jesus rose from the dead, the conqueror over his great enemy and all his foes, and was received into heaven in triumph, having redeemed by. his death all who should trust in him.3 We see in this system of doctrine—which it is only right to say comes to us through their enemies—many traces of the old dualistic theory of the good and the evil spirits, but the whole is illumined by a brighter and better hope—that of the speedy triumph of the right and the good— than ever cheered the heart of Zartusht or gleamed from the pages of the Zendavesta.



As the years gathered into decades and the decades into centuries, and the number of copies of the Scriptures was multiplied and carefully studied by these diligent and simpleminded inquirers after truth, their views of the divine revelation became clearer, their doctrines more scriptural, while their lives were as pure as ever. Well might they assume the title of Cathari—"the pure"—from that beatitude of our Lord which they had from the first made their motto and their rule of life: "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." Even their bitterest enemies and persecutors could not deny their exemplary character, however strongly they might denounce their want of reverence for images and icons, and their abhorrence of Mariolatry. More than once their foes, even in the act of persecution, were, like St. Paul, converted to their faith and became their leaders and martyrs. But their pure and blameless lives did not in the least degree protect them from cruel persecutions. They had become very numerous among the Armenians and the inhabitants of the Caucasus region, and as early as the beginning of the sixth century a considerable number of their leading men had sealed their testimony at the stake, victims of weak or dissolute emperors goaded to persecution by the persuasions or threats of ambitious and unscrupulous bishops.

Occasionally, when the emperor happened to be himself an iconoclast, or destroyer of the statues, images, icons, sculptures, and bas-reliefs which abounded in all the churches which had sanctioned the Eastern or Greek ritual, there would be a temporary lull in the persecution, as was the case when Constantine. ("Copronymos," as the monks derisively called him) ascended the throne in 741, and signalized his acceptance by a general onslaught upon the statues and pictures of the Greek churches; but even he so far sympathized with the general hostility to the " Paulicians "—the name which their enemies then gave them—that he transplanted a large colony of them to Thrace that they might vex and annoy his heathen subjects, the Bulgarians, a mixed race, part Tartar and part Sclavonian.

But this movement, if it was intended as a punishment, failed of effect. The Armenian Paulicians won their way to the hearts of their heathen neighbors and converted great numbers of them to their own faith, and such was the influence of their pure and exemplary lives upon the emperor, that in the later years of his ion,, reign he too was considered a Paulician.4 But on the accession of his son, Leo IV. (775-78O), and still more under the regency and rule of the ambitious but infamously cruel Irene, his widow, the images and pictures were restored to the churches and the relentless persecution of the Paulicians was renewed. Irene was dethroned and banished in 802, but the persecuting disposition continued amid the frequent changes of rulers till 815, when Leo V. for five years renewed the rule of the image-breakers, and the Paulicians had a brief period of rest. For the next twenty-two years foreign wars attracted the attention of the emperors—Michael II. and Theophilus—from very active persecution.



On the death of Theophilus his empress, Theodora, became regent (her son, Michael III., being but five years of age), and for fifteen years ruled with a rod of iron. It is a remarkable fact that the empresses and empress-regents of these Byzantine dynasties were always more cruel, destructive, and persecuting in their dispositions than the emperors. Theodora was no exception to this rule. She restored the images and pictures, convened a council of bishops at Nicaea, which she compelled to register her edict for the maintenance of these idolatrous pictures in the churches, and then turned her whole energies to the destruction of the Armenian Paulicians. She issued her decree that all her subjects should conform to the Greek Church, and when the Armenians refused she sent her armies into their land, put to death, either by the sword or the stake, over one hundred thousand Paulicians (some accounts say two hundred thousand), and drove the remainder into exile.5

Satisfied at last that this cruel queen (whose private life was as infamous as her rule was imperious and despotic) meant nothing less than their utter extermination, the Armenians rose in rebellion, having as their leader a brave Paulician named Carseas, asserted their independence, and after driving Michael III. and the usurper Bardas out of Armenia and threatening Constantinople, established the free state of Tephrice with absolute freedom of opinion for all its inhabitants.6 From the capital of this free state, itself called Tephrice,7 went forth a host of missionaries to convert the Sclavonic tribes of Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Serbia to the Paulician faith. Great was their success—so great that a large proportion of the inhabitants of the free state migrated to what were then independent states beyond the emperor's control. The free state of Tephrice declined for some years, and finally became extinct by the emigration of most of its inhabitants and the surrender of the remainder to the Saracens. The times were not propitious to its permanence—for a higher intelligence than then existed among the masses is essential to the existence of a free state—but it had lasted sufficiently long to demonstrate that the religious basis is the best on which to found a state, and that it was possible for a nation to exist while maintaining perfect religious freedom. More than seven hundred years later these problems were wrought out with a grand success on the coasts of a land in the far West, of whose existence no man then dreamed, the motives which prompted the establishment of a free state being the same in the latter as in the former case, and the doctrines professed by these exiles for their faith differing very slightly.



We have now reached a stage in the history of these Cathari, or Paulicians, when their movement takes a new departure. Hitherto it has been mainly of Armenian origin; henceforward it becomes Sclavonic. Bulgaria has become an independent state—an empire, indeed—taking in both banks of the Danube and extending northward into what is now Southern Russia, and southward almost to the gates of Constantinople. More than once its czars, as its rulers were called, had knocked so loudly at those gates that the feeble successors of Constantine started back with affright and were ready to buy a peace by the payment of great sums of money. Two thousand pounds of gold, or nearly four hundred and fifty thousand dollars of our money (a vast sum in those days), was the tribute annually paid by one of these emperors to the Bulgarian czar. On the west and north-west three other independent states were rising into prominence—Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. Their inhabitants were Sclavonians, and their government, at first patriarchal, had gradually taken on monarchical forms, till, though usually in accord, each state was practically independent; and for the most part all acted in concert with the semi-Sclavonic empire of Bulgaria in resisting the inroads of the Greek emperors. Later they united, now under a Serbian, now under a Bosnian, and anon under a Hungarian, leader in fighting the Turk.

Already, in the beginning of the tenth century, these independent states, and especially Bosnia, had been considerably leavened with the Paulician doctrine, to which its enemies, though never weary of denouncing them as Manichaeans, about this time began to apply a new name, that of Bogomils or Bogomiles, while the Bulgarian writers called them also Massalians alla Euchites. There are various explanations of the origin of these names, the most plausible being that they are substantially the same name translated into the Syriac, Greek, and Sclavonic languages. The term Massalians is said to be derived from a Syriac word signifying " those who pray," and the Greek Euchites has a similar meaning; while Bogomil is thought to be derived from the Bulgarian Bog z'milui, signifying "God have mercy." Prayer being the most characteristic act of the Bogomilian worship, as well as of the sects with which it was allied, this derivation has the merit of probability as well as of tradition.8 Another tradition mentions a Bulgarian elder or pope (the Sclavonic term for priest) named Bogomil. This is a possible Bulgarian name, and answers to the German Gottlieb or the Greek Theophilus, each signifying "beloved of God."

The believers in these doctrines, it should be observed, never called- themselves by any of these names, and had even dropped that of Cathari, which at an earlier period they had assumed. They called themselves simply "Christians,"9 and it must be confessed that they did more honor to the name than any of their persecutors.



THE doctrine had during the tenth century taken deep root in Bulgaria and Servia. The czar Samuel, the most illustrious ruler of the Bulgarian Empire, was himself a convert to the faith, while of one of the early Serbian princes, St. Vladimir, it is recorded that he was the zealous enemy of the Bogomils, though his son Gabriel and his wife were members of that sect. From its first introduction into these countries the professors of the Bogomilian faith, under whatever names they were known, had been active propagandists and missionaries, and their success was the more remarkable from the extreme simplicity of their ritual and their absolute avoidance of all appeals to the sensuous element in human nature. Though Bulgaria and Servia were at this time independent states, at least so far as the Byzantine empire was concerned, the state churches were in accord with the Church of Constantinople, and acknowledged their allegiance to the Greek Patriarch. Whatever we may think now of Byzantine architecture, the gorgeous ornamentation of the churches within and without, their chimes of bells, their pillars, porticoes, naves, transepts, and chancels of the most costly marbles and syenites, their altars resplendent with jewels, the sacred paintings and sculptures glowing with color which adorned the walls, the air heavy with the odor of precious incense, and the richly robed priests and bishops who chanted and intoned the service,—were all it would have seemed, so attractive to the Oriental taste, with its love of beauty and of sensuous delights, that no simpler and ruder service would have commanded their attention for a moment.


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