The Greek and Eastern Churches/Part 1/Division 2/Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

THE PAULICIANS

(b) Gibbon, chap. liv., and Bury, Appendix 6; Finlay, Byzantine Empire, Book i. chap. iii.; Smith's Dictionary of Chr. Biog., article "Pauliciani"; F. C. Conybeare, The Key of Truth, 1898; Karapet Ter-Urkrttschian, Die Paulikianer in byzantinischen kaiserreiche, 1893.

The Paulicians, to whom Gibbon devotes a whole chapter of his history, have been the most egregiously libelled of all the Christian sects. The orthodox Church accused them of the very scandals that the pagans had imagined with regard to the early Christians, and with no more basis of fact to rest their charges upon. Even ecclesiastics who behaved more reasonably confounded them with the hated Manichæans, or at best with the heretical Marcionites. The simplicity of their religious faith and life, and their rejection of the extravagances and superstitions of the later Church, led to their history and tenets being dragged into theological controversies with which they had no immediate concern, and therefore, of course, to monstrous perversions of them. But quite recently, following minor results of research, Mr. Conybeare has rendered a great service to their memory by his publication and translation of the ancient Paulician work. The Key of Truth,[1] together with a valuable historical and critical study of it. We are now able to brush away the libels of centuries and go to an original source for our knowledge of the teachings and practices of these much maligned people.[2]

Beyond the Taurus mountains in the south-east of Armenia there lived during the eighth and ninth centuries a community of Christians cherishing their own discipline, rites, and doctrines apart from the main body of the Eastern Church and all its later developments. These people, who came to be known in the outside world as Paulicians, and who afterwards accepted the title for themselves, owe their original separateness to their geographical seclusion. Therefore it is quite arguable that they should be regarded as representing the survival of a more primitive type of Christianity rather than as the followers of a heresy which sprang up nearer the time when they emerged into the daylight of history, and Mr. Conybeare connects them with the primitive Adoptionists, whose views can be traced back to very early times.[3] The ideas of these people are now to be seen in The Key of Truth, which is a book of the Throuraketyi, or Paulicians of Thouraki, composed about the year 800. This book reveals a simple Church order with no hierarchy. There is only one grade of the ministry consisting of the "elect," and the ministers are called indifferently by the various titles of apostle, priest, bishop, elder. Admission to the Church is by baptism, which must be sought voluntarily. Infant baptism is repudiated. There is no idea of original sin; therefore infants do not need baptism. The proper time for baptism is the age of thirty. After his baptism, which should be in a river, the Holy Spirit enters the immersed person. There are three sacraments—repentance, baptism, the body and the blood. The latter, the Eucharist, is taken at night, and not separated from the Agape, which is still preserved. Mariolatry and the intercession of saints are rejected; image worship, the use of crosses, relics, incense, candles, and resorting to sacred springs are all repudiated as idolatrous practices. The idea of purgatory is rejected. The holy year begins with the feast of John the Baptist. January 6th is observed as the festival of the baptism and spiritual rebirth of Jesus. Zatik, or Easter, is kept on the 14th Nisan. We meet with no special Sunday observances, and possibly the Saturday Sabbath was maintained. There is no feast of Christmas or of the Annunciation.

When we come to consider the question of doctrine, we note that the word "Trinity" never appears in the book. Yet it is to be observed that the rite of baptism consists of one immersion followed by the throwing of three handfuls of water over the candidate. The system is not Marcionite, for it has no traces of Docetism. On the contrary, it is Adoptionist. The Paulicians have been accused of rejecting the Old Testament. But The Key of Truth shows that this was not actually the case. It contains quotations from the Old Testament, though these are but few, and its chief authority is the New Testament, the whole of which it accepts. The Paulicians have also been accused of the Manichæism of holding that the world was created by Satan. This is a libel, perhaps to be attributed to their denial that Christ created it.

We can well understand why people holding such views and carrying on such practices as are here described were persecuted by the Greek Church. In many respects their position resembles that of the iconoclastic emperors, some of whom came from the neighbourhood of the Paulicians and may have been influenced by them. Ancient Oriental Baptists, these people were in many respects Protestants before Protestantism. They held to a simple spiritual conception of Christianity, to a democratic Church order, and to an unorthodox view of the nature of Christ. A dogmatic, hierarchical, ritualistic, superstitious Church could not possibly tolerate them. Their fiercest enemies were the monks, of whom they had no good opinion. They said that the devil's favourite disguise was the appearance of a monk.

The first leader of the Paulicians known to us, commonly regarded as their founder, was Constantine, who came from the village of Mananalis, not far from the cataract of the Euphrates mentioned by Pliny. Like so many other great leaders of religion he received his first impulse from Scripture. A deacon coming home from Syria, where he had been held captive by the Saracens, was hospitably entertained by Constantine, in return for which kindness he gave his host two volumes, one containing the Gospels and the other St. Paul's Epistles. Constantine eagerly devoured them, and they lit in him the fire of missionary enthusiasm. Especially interested in St. Paul, he adopted the name of the apostle's companion Silvanus, started on a tour of preaching about the year 657, and continued his work for some twenty-seven years. Going up the course of the Euphrates, he crossed the great barrier of the Taurus and carried his gospel into more western regions of Asia Minor. He had now left the tolerant rule of the caliphate, which in so far as it gave liberty to the Christians did not trouble itself to distinguish between the sects, regarding orthodoxy and heresy with equal contempt, and he had come within the bounds both of the empire and of the Church. There his success in founding churches of his own persuasion, which he named after St. Paul's churches, was so great that the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus had his attention directed to it, with the result that lie sent an imperial officer named Simeon to the spot to suppress the movement. Constantine Silvanus and many of his followers were arrested. They refused to lecant, and their faitliful testimony was so striking that it won over Simeon to their side, and he was to be seen later going about as a teacher in the mission under the Pauline name of Silas. Meanwhile Silvanus had been stoned to death, and in the year 690 Simeon and several others among the Paulicians were killed by order of the cruel Emperor Justinian ii.

During the next century divisions broke out among the Paulicians. For a time Paul the Armenian—to whose name some trace the title of the sect—was its leader, and on his death each of his sons, Gegnœsius and Theodore, claimed the succession. Gegnœsius, who was the elder, based his claim on appointment by his father. The doctrine of apostolical succession was now creeping into this church, which had stood at first for spirituality and democratic simplicity. But Theodore claimed to receive his grace, as his father had received grace, direct from God. The unseemly disputes that now arose again called the government's attention to the Paulicians, and in the year 722 Gegnœsius was summoned to Constantinople and brought before Leo the Isaurian. It was well for him and his followers that the emperor was the great protestant Iconoclast. Had he been a bigoted champion of orthodoxy it would have gone ill with the Paulicians; but there was much in common between these people and the iconoclastic emperors,[4] and Leo listened to Gegnœsius very tolerantly and could see no harm in his doctrines, nor could the awed patriarch Germanus detect any lurking error in them. The result was that the accused teacher was sent back home with imperial letters for the protection of the Paulicians. Throughout the reigns of the iconoclastic emperors they generally enjoyed imperial favour and were seldom molested.

After a period of depression owing to divisions and unworthy leadership during the latter part of the eighth century, the Paulicians revived at the beginning of the ninth century under the leadership of the good and gifted Sergius. Like Silvanus, this man was led to a new way of life under the influence of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, to which he had been referred by a woman member of the sect. He now objected to the orthodox Church on account of its withdrawal of the Scriptures from the attention of the people. As we read this story of Sergius we seem to be anticipating the history of the Reformation, which took the same lines in regard to the Bible.

Sergius followed the curious example of earlier leaders of the sect and took a Pauline name, Tychicus, when he entered on a similar missionary career. He carried on his labours for thirty-four years, visiting almost every part of the central plateaus of Asia Minor. In one of his letters he wrote, "I have run from east to west, and from north to south, till my knees were weary, preaching the gospel of Christ."[5] Meanwhile, like his great predecessor St. Paul, he maintained himself by working with his own hands, his trade being that of a carpenter. This really promised to be a great religious revival. If the iconoclastic party of the government had joined heartily with the spiritual movement among the Paulicians we might have seen a reformation in the East anticipating the Reformation in the West by many centuries. But there was one fatal hindrance to this grand consummation. The methods of force pursued by the imperial government were not such as could effect a real reform of religion. The contamination of unscrupulous politics vitiated the hope of effective improvements and even led to a reversal of policy. Leo the Armenian, although an Iconoclast, endeavoured to strengthen his position by pleasing the Church party in permitting an attack on the Paulicians. It was a wicked course of action, and fatal to any statesmanlike improvement of the situation. So terrible was the persecution which now broke out, that some of the Paulicians murdered their judges and then fled out of the empire and took refuge with the Saracens.

Under Michael ii. the sect again enjoyed peace, and the influence of Sergius grew and spread. Photius ascribes to him terms of strange elation in saying, "I am the porter and the good shepherd and the leader of the body of Christ and the light of the house of God. I, too, am with you always, even unto the end of the world."[6] But we must be always on our guard against the reports of an enemy, especially when he is also an ecclesiastic.

When the iconoclastic regime was broken, and the orthodox party came back into power under the Empress Theodora (a.d. 842), there was no hope of a just treatment of heretics. Imperial commissioners were now sent into the suspected districts, and those who refused to submit to the Church were condemned to death by hanging, crucifixion, beheading, drowning. The deaths have been reckoned at from 10,000 to 100,000. Again the Paulicians were goaded to measures of retaliation. An officer in the imperial army of the East, named Carbeas, raised a rebellion, and was joined by 5,000 of the troops.[7] He had the best excuse for his action, if civil war is ever permissible, for he had learned that his father had been impaled by the orthodox officials. This barbarous method of execution, which has been frequently practised by the Turks in their recent massacres of Christians, was here adopted by men who pretended to be Christians themselves and who professed to be acting in the interest of a holy Church and in defence of its creed. The maddened insurgents crossed the border of the empire, and with the permission of the caliph fortified the city of Thephrike,[8] which became their headquarters. Thence they issued in raiding parties, with the co-operation of Omar the Emir of Melitene, and repeatedly ravaged the frontier of the empire. Petronas, the brother of Theodora, who was entrusted with the command of the imperial army, could not do more than stand on the defensive. At length Theodora's son, Michael the Drunkard, led an army in person against the combined Saracens and Paulicians. He was defeated at Samosata and compelled to flee for his life. More than a hundred tribunes were taken prisoners, and those who could not ransom themselves were put to torture. Carbeas was succeeded in the leadership of these fierce, fighting Paulicians by Chrysocheir, who, still in alliance with the Saracens, carried the war into the heart of Asia Minor, as far as the western coast and almost up to Constantinople itself, pillaging Ancyra and Ephesus, Nicæa and Nicomedia. At Ephesus the invaders stabled their horses in the cathedral, and showed the utmost contempt for the pictures and relics, of which they regarded it as the idol temple. The Emperor Basil i. was compelled to sue for peace and to offer a heavy bribe to buy them off. But Chrysocheir scornfully refused his terms and would be satisfied with nothing less than the emperor's retirement to the West and surrender of the whole of the Eastern Empire. Basil had no alternative but to fight. He collected all the available forces of the empire and precipitated them on the rebels.[9] Chrysocheir was taken by surprise and killed while in retreat. Thephrike was deserted by the insurgents, entered by the imperial troops, and laid waste (a.d. 871). It was a complete and final victory for Basil, and it put an end to any further danger of serious invasion. But many of the rebels had escaped to the mountains. There they continued their independence in alliance with the Saracens, and from time to time joined in border raids.

Meanwhile there was another body of Paulicians in Thrace, the descendants and converts of some whom Constantine Copronicus had transported to this part of Europe. These people conformed outwardly with the orthodox Church, and did not attempt any revolt on their own account; but they were credited with sending aid to their more warlike brethren, to whom they stood in the relation of Covenanters to Cameronians, or that of Corsican villagers to the banditti. They assiduously propagated their protestant teaching throughout Thrace; they also sent to Bulgaria missionaries, who were very successful in winning over many of the recent converts of the Greek missionaries. The Paulicians in Thrace were allowed a measure of home rule in return for their services in defence of the empire. They held the city of Philippopolis and occupied a line of villages and castles in Macedonia and Epirus, and the orthodox inhabitants were dominated by them. During the Norman war in the reign of Alexius Comnenus, 2,500 of them deserted. But they were afterwards subdued and punished. Alexius wintered at Philippopolis and devoted himself to arguing with them.[10] So successful was he—according to his daughter—that she styled him "the Thirteenth Apostle." Philippopolis was beautified with gardens for the benefit of those who had succumbed to the arguments of the imperial controversialist; but while they were permitted to remain there, they had lost all power. We must not make too much of the admiring princess' testimony in this matter. Undoubtedly there were many stubborn heretics who could not be persuaded even by an emperor's apostolic eloquence, and probably these people joined the new sects that were now springing up.

One of these sects consisted of the later Euchites, who have been associated with the Paulicians as continuators of the hated heresy. They were scattered over the same districts of Thrace in which the Paulicians had been planted. All that we know of them is dependent on a treatise written by an opponent,[11] who was probably the very man whom the Byzantine government had sent to Thrace to suppress them. We cannot therefore expect an unbiased opinion from such a source. The Euchites were charged with the curious dualism of believing in two sons of God. Satanaël the elder corresponds to the Gnostic demiurge, while the younger is Christ to whom heavenly things are assigned. The sect was said to worship both sons, as springing from the same Father. If so, these Euchites could not be Manichæan, and their dualism must be different from the Persian. But some were reported only to reverence the younger son, since he had chosen the better part, the heavenly—still without saying anything ill of the senior; while others were said to honour the elder as the first-born and creator of the world, and even to ascribe envy to the younger son, on account of which he sends earthquakes, hail, pestilence. But this is confusing and uncertain. What seems clear is that the Euchites were an ecstatic sect who attributed great value to long, exciting prayers. We first hear the name as early as the fourth century; and traces of them in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor are to be met with again and again during the intermediate ages. There is therefore reason to suppose that they lingered on to the time of the activity of the Paulicians, under whose influence they were quickened into renewed earnestness. If it is true that they held every man to be inhabited by a demon from his birth, they would seem to have accepted a very extravagant doctrine of original sin, which would be in sharp conflict with the belief of the Paulicians, who denied anything of the kind. But demonology was now rampant in Christendom, and people would not look too nicely at the question of consistency in accepting it. Still, if the Euchites held this view, they must not be identified with the Paulicians, who show no trace of it.

Another body commonly associated with the Paulicians, especially in Bulgaria, was that of the Bogomiles, or "Friends of God."[12] The fullest account of their tenets is given by Euthymius,[13] according to whom they rejected the Mosaic writings and the God of the Pentateuch, and regarded the men who are there said to be well-pleasing to Him as inspired by Satan. Thus they invite comparison with the ancient Cainites. But a curious peculiarity in the views of the Old Testament attributed to them by Euthymius is that they reckoned the Psalms and the Prophets among the Christian Scriptures. The Pentateuch is not concerned with the supreme God. It only narrates the doings of His elder son Satanaël, who was originally seated at the right hand of his Father, but was cast out of heaven for plotting a revolt, together with the angels he had corrupted. The creation of the world, including mankind, is his work, except that in order to have men endowed with souls he is compelled to call in the aid of his Father. This he does with the promise that the newly created race shall take the place in the service of the Supreme that has been vacated by the fallen angels. But he cheats his Father by seducing Eve in the form of a serpent, and from her begetting Cain and his twin-sister Calomena. Then Adam begets Abel from Eve. Thus Satanaël is the father of Cain, and Adam the father of Abel, while they both have the same mother, Eve. When the supreme Father discovers the fraud he deprives Satanaël of divinity. But this strange being continues to exert great influence over mankind, and through Moses produces the law which brings many evils on our race. In order to counteract these evils the Father sends forth the Logos, who is like Michael, the angel of great counsel, and who enters the Virgin Mary, appears with a phantom human body, teaches the gospel, overcomes Satanaël—afterwards called Satan—ascends to Satanaël's place at the right hand of the Father, and finally sinks into the bosom of the Father, from which He originally came.

Unlike the Paulinists, the Bogomiles rejected water baptism, and allowed only the baptism of Christ as a spmtual baptism, called "exhortation."[14] This was conferred by a rite which consisted in laying the Gospel according to St. John on the head of the candidate, invoking the Holy Spirit, and chanting the Lord's Prayer. Like the Euchites, they attached great value to prayer, which they regarded as the essence of religion in opposition to the Catholic view of the sacrifice of the mass. Here they were Protestant of the Protestants. For as with baptism, so with the Lord's Supper, they repudiated the material elements in the sacrament, and in this respect anticipated the Quakers.

Too much must not be made of these statements in detail. We possess no service book of the Bogomiles, and we have to view them through the coloured glasses of prejudiced antagonism. Still, much of what is attributed to them reads like a revival, or perhaps even a survival, of second century Ophite Gnosticism; and the very antiquity of these notions makes it likely that they were really held by the Bogomiles more or less as described. We can hardly suppose that such old-world fancies would be raked up out of the rubbish heap of a past nearly one thousand years old in order to be gratuitously attributed to them. Therefore it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the Bogomiles must have adopted some system of dualism. On the other hand, there are Armenian scholars who have recently studied the subject, and come to the conclusion that they are not Marcionite. Now we saw that The Key of Truth makes it quite certain that the Paulicians were not Marcionite. Yet both have been so regarded in the past. In the Greek historians they are both called Manichæans. That is Anna Comnena's title for all these bodies of heretics—a convenient title because odious. Since we now know that the Paulicians were grossly libelled, we may suspect that the Bogomiles were also more or less seriously maligned. Their dualism was probably less pronounced than has been supposed. Yet, inasmuch as we cannot deny to them something of the kind, we should scarcely class them with the Paulicians. A prominent Paulinist, a physician named Basilius, has been commonly regarded as the leader of the Bogomiles of his day; but that is an error.[15] This man was closely examined by the Emperor Alexius at Constantinople, and proving true to his faith burnt at the hippodrome. The Princess Anna spreads her description over several pages in dilating on the scene—how the fire was constructed of the biggest trees, and how in every respect this was a magnificent triumph for her father over the horrible heresy. Her filial enthusiasm would be quite touching if it were not so tigerish.[16]

In the year 1140 there was a great stir at the discovery of supposed Bogomile errors in the writings of Constantine Chrysomalus soon after his death, and they were condemned at a synod held under the patriarch Leo Stypiota in Constantinople. According to these writings Church baptism is inefficacious, and nothing done by unconverted though baptised persons is of any value. God's grace is received at the laying on of hands, but only in accordance with the measure of faith. Three years later two Cappadocian bishops were deposed at another Constantinople synod as Bogomiles.[17] As late as the year 1230 the patriarch Gennadius complained of Bogomiles stealing secretly into houses and leading the pious astray. The Albigenses in the West—so cruelly slaughtered in the crusade of Simon de Montford—appear to be more or less closely related to these heretics. Probably they suffered from the same libels. These people may have held theoretical errors. But their real offence was opposition to the sacramental materialism of the Church.

  1. From a MS. written a.d. 1782 and found by Mr. Conybeare in the archives of the Holy Synod of Edimatzin.
  2. The origin of the name "Paulician" is somewhat obscure. There is no foundation for the notion of ninth century polemical writers, that it is to be traced to a Manichæan of the fourth century named Paul, since the Paulicians were certainly not of Manichæan origin. The writer in Smith's Dictionary of Christian Biography regards it as a reference to the Apostle Paul. Like the Marcionites, the Paulicians made much of St. Paul's Epistles, and Photius says that they themselves derived their name from the apostle (Photius, ii. 11; iii. 10; vi. 4). Mr. Conybeare derives it from Paul of Samosata, quoting the Armenian writer Gregory Magistros, who says, "Here then you see the Paulicians who got their poison from Paul of Samosata" (Key of Truth, p. cv.). In the 19th Canon of Nicæa the followers of Paul of Samosata are called Pauliani; Pauliciani is the Armenian form of this name, the "ic" or "ik" being a diminutive introduced in contempt. They did not at first call themselves by the title, but simply designated themselves "Christians." It may have been flung at them by opponents to connect them with the heretic Paul, and subsequently interpreted by them in a new meaning to refer to the apostle and so throw off the libel.
  3. Adoptionism is found in the Shepherd of Hermas and other early Church writings, perhaps also in the New Testament, in the discourses of St. Peter (e.g. Acts v. 31), which represent the primitive Christology, preceding (1) the miraculous birth idea expressed in the infancy narratives of the first and third Gospels, especially in Luke i. 35, and (2) the still more developed conception of the pre-existent Son of God becoming incarnate, in St. Paul and St. John (e.g. Gal. iv. 4; John i. 14).
  4. Mr. Conybeare regards the iconoclastic emperors as virtually Paulicians.
  5. Photius, i. 22.
  6. Photius, i. 21.
  7. Continuator, 103.
  8. Now Divigri.
  9. It is a mistake of the Continuator to suppose that Basil crossed the Euphrates. Failing to take Tephrice, his aim was Melitene, the Saracen stronghold west of the Euphrates. See Anderson in Class. Rev., April 1896, p. 139.
  10. Anna Comnena, Alexias, xv. 9.
  11. Διάλογος περὶ ἐνεργείας δαιμόνων by Michael Psellus. He was a teacher of philosophy of Constantinople, of wide knowledge on a variety of subjects. His bunk is a storehouse of information concerning contemporary information. He died a.d. 1105.
  12. Θεόφιλοι.
  13. Panoplia, Tit. 23, Narratio de Bogomilis. The Princess Anna Comnena will not describe their tenets lest she should pollute her lips. She writes: ἰνα μὴ γλῶτταν μολύνω τὴν ἑμαυτῆς (Alexias, xv. 9; vol. ii. p. 357).
  14. παράκλησις.
  15. See Bury's Gibbon, chap, liv., Appendix 6.
  16. Anna Comnena, Alexias, xv. 9.
  17. Mansi, xxi. 583.