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Baptist History Notebook
By Berlin Hisel

Chapter 20
THE BOGOMILS

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      We have studied the major groups of our Baptist ancestors thus far. Our "roots" are easy to see in the Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Cathari, Paterines, Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Henricians, Arnoldists, Waldenses, Albigenses and Anabaptists. There are, however, many smaller and not so well known groups among whom we also find some of our ancestors. Beginning with this chapter we wish to look at a few of these groups.

      The Bogomils will call forth our attention at this time. According to the non-Baptist historians, most of the Bogomils were Dualistic. These historians get most of their source information from a monk named Euthymius, who wrote against them and other heretics (as he supposed). He died in 1118 A. D. He was their enemy.

Location

     They were located primarily in Thrace and Bulgaria. First we have a quote from John T. Christian: "The Bogomils were a branch of the Cathari, or Paulicians, who dwelt in Thrace. Their name appears to have been derived from one of their leaders in the midst of the tenth century, though others declare that their name comes from a Slavic word which is defined, 'Beloved of God.' The Bogomils were repeatedly condemned, and often persecuted, but they continued to exist through the Middle Ages, and still existed in the sixteenth century."1

     Trace is the area now between Greece and Turkey. If the Bogomils were a branch of the Cathari or Paulicians, they were some of our ancestors. It seems to me that they were in our line of ancestry, at least part of them were.

     Henry Vedder has the following concerning them: "The Bogomils are a typical form of this party (Paulicians), more Christian and less Manishaean than some others, and especially interesting because they survived all persecutions down to the Reformation period. Various explanations have


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been given of the name; some say it means 'friends of God'; other trace the party to a Bulgarian bishop named Bogomil, who lived about the middle of the tenth century. What is certain is that the thing is older than the name; that the party or denomination called Bogomils existed long before this title was given to them. They represented through the medieval period, as compared with Rome, the purer apostolic faith and practice, though mixed with some grotesque notions and few serious errors."2

     The "grotesque notions and serious errors" should not bother us too much. Such things exist today among some who call themselves Baptists. Vedder testifies here to the antiquity of their belief, existing long before their name. He also represents them as distinct from, and more pure in doctrine and practice than, the Roman Catholic Church. Also his linking them with the Paulicians says much about the Baptistic tendencies.

Agreed With the Cathari

     J. C. L. Gieseler, in his Compendium of Ecclesiastical History, connects the Bogomils with the Cathari. "From the Euchetae rose the Bogomili, who first made their appearance in the year 1116, when the Emperor Alexius unmaskt their leader Basilius by treachery, and had him burnt to death. In their peculiar doctrine and customs, they agree so marvelously with the Cathari of the western world, that the connection of the two parties, for which also there is historical testimony, cannot fail to be recognized. Even after their master's death the Bogomili maintained their ground in the Greek empire, especially in the region of Philippopolis."3

     Geiseler links them to the Cathari and gives in his footnotes the historians he used as support. He also tells of the burning of one of their leaders. Persecution, we have seen, is linked to those who held to truth in opposition to the error of the Roman Catholic Church.

     Thomas Armitage also calls them Cathari and tells something about them.

     "The Bogomiles were a branch of the Cathari. Herzog thinks that they took their name from a Bulgarian


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Bishop of the tenth century, that they were an offshoot from the Paulicians, and says that they abounded in the Bulgarian city of Philippopolis. They were condemned as heretics and suffered great persecution. Basil, one of their leaders, was burnt in Constantinople in 1118, before the gates of St. Sophia. The Paulicians of Bulgaria furnished the Cathari of Southern France. Gibbon thinks that they found their way there either by passing up the Danube into Germany or through Venice in the channels of commerce, or through the imperial garrisons sent by the Greek Emperor into Italy. But come as they might, we find them at Orleans A. D. 1025, in the Netherlands 1035 and in Turin 1051. About half a century later banishment from their own country drove them in great numbers to the west, and they appeared plentifully at Treves and Soissons, in Champagne and Flanders. Their teachings soon attracted the attention of the priests, the peasantry, and even the nobles. Their followers became so numerous as to demand condemnation by the Council of Toulouse, 1119, and that of Tours, 1163. But despite excommunications and curses, they so grew that in 1167 they held a council of their own and openly formulated their faith and ecclesiastical order, which they stoutly held, against both the Roman hierarchy and the secular power for almost a century."4

Antiquity of the Bogomils

     Dr. John T. Christian quotes from Dr. L. P. Brockett who wrote a history of them: The Bogomils of Bulgaria and Bosnia: "Their historians claimed for them the greatest antiquity. Dr. L. P. Brockett, who wrote a history of them says: 'Among these (historians of the Bulgarians) I have found, often in unexpected quarters, the most conclusive evidence that these sects were all, during their early history, Baptists, not only in their views on the subjects of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but in their opposition to Pedobaptism, to a church hierarchy, and to the worship of the Virgin Mary and 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 America we have an apostolic


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succession of Christian churches, New Testament churches, and that as early as the twelfth century these churches numbered a converted, believing membership, as large as that of the Baptist churches throughout the world today.'"5

     All these things said of the Bogomils by their historian, Brockett, surely make our ancestors to be among them.

Charges Against Them

     Just as Baptists of today who do not believe that baptism saves are charged by some Campbellites with not believing in baptism, the Bogomils were falsely accused by their enemies. Here let us look at a lengthy quote from Vedder:

     "It ought always to be borne in mind, however, that for the larger part of our information regarding those stigmatized as heretics we are indebted, not to their own writings, but to the works of their opponents. Only the titles remain of the bulk of heretical writings, and of the rest we have, for the most part, only such quotations as prejudiced opponents have chosen to make. That these quotations fairly represent the originals would be too much to assume. With respect to the Bogomils, our knowledge is exclusively gained from their bitter enemies and persecutors. All such testimony is to be received with suspicion, and should be scrupulously weighed and sifted before we accept it. Where these prejudiced opponents did not knowingly misstate the beliefs of 'heretics,' they often quite misunderstood them, viewing these beliefs as they did through the distorting lenses of Roman or Greek Catholicism."

     We get our chief information about Bogomil doctrine from the writings of one Euthymius, a Byzantine monk who died in 1118, who wrote a learned refutation of these and other "heresies" of his time. His account is generally accepted by historians as substantially correct a most uncritical conclusion. The Bogomil theology as set forth by Euthymius was a fantastic travesty of the gospel, with marked Manishaean elements. God had two sons, the elder of whom, called Satanael, was chief among the hosts of heaven and created the material universe. In consequence of his ambition


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and rebellion he was driven from heaven with his supporters among the angelic hosts. Then God bestowed power on His younger Son, Jesus, who breathed the breath of life into man and he became a living soul. Thenceforth there was a constant conflict between Satanael and Jesus, but the former met with signal defeat in the resurrection of Jesus, and is destined ultimately to complete overthrow. These are also traces of the docetic heresy in the theology of the Bogomils; they were said to deny that Jesus took real flesh upon himself, but believed his body to be spiritual.

     Euthymius charges the Bogomils with rejecting pretty much everything believed by other Christians. They did not accept the Mosaic writing as part of the word of God, though they did accept the Psalms and New Testament; they rejected water-baptism, like the modern Quakers; they declared the Lord's Supper to be the sacrifice of demons, and would have none of it; they thought churches the dwelling places of demons, and the worship of the images in them to be mere idolatry; the fathers of the church they declared to be the false prophets against whom Jesus gave warning; they forbade marriage and the eating of flesh, and fasted thrice a week.

     Some of these charges clearly appear to be misapprehensions. Trine-immersion, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and infant baptism, were taught by the Catholic Church. Denial of these may have been taken by prejudiced prelates to be denial of baptism itself. There is evidence that the Bogomils practiced the single immersion of adult believers. No doubt they did call the mass "the sacrifice of demons," or something to that effect; but only to a bigoted and ignorant Catholic would that imply rejection of the Lord's Supper, scripturally celebrated."6

     It is this man Euthymius that Neander and other historians (Mosheim, etc.) follow in their histories. I fully agree with Vedder that "all such testimony is to be received with suspicion, and should be scrupulously weighed and sifted before we accept it." We have said over and over in this Notebook that our enemies are the wrong ones to tell the world what we believe.

John T. Christian


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     The following quote from Dr. Christian is appropriate here. "Some Roman Catholic writers have affirmed that the Bogomils did not practice baptism, or observe the Lord's Supper; and, that further, they denied the Old Testament Scriptures. This probably means no more than that they rejected infant baptism, and quoted the New Testament as supreme and authoritative in the matter."7

Their Persecution

     All of the historians, almost, are agreed that the Bogomils suffered much under and from persecution. I conclude this chapter with another quote from Dr. John T. Christian's most excellent history: "The persecutions of the Bogomils, as of other Paulicians, were continuous and severe. Every effort was made to destroy them. "Yet it was not stamped out," says Conybeare, "but only driven underground. It still lurked all over Europe, but especially in the Balkans, and along the Rhine. In these hiding places it seemed to have gathered its forces together in secret, in order to emerge once more into daylight when an opportunity presented itself. The opportunity was the European Reformation, in which, especially, under the form of Anabaptism and Unitarian opinion, this leaven of the early apostolic church is found freely mingling with and modifying other forms of faith. In engendering this great religious movement, we feel sure that the Bogomils of the Balkan States played a most important part" (The Key of Truth, CXCVI)."8

Notes on Chapter 20

1 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 58.
2 A Short History of the Baptists, pages 75-76.
3 Ecclesiastical History, Volume 3, pages 495-499.
4 The History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 278.
5 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 58.
6 A Short History of the Baptists, pages 76-77.
7 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 58.
8 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, pages 58-59.



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