Baptist History Homepage

Baptist History Notebook
By Berlin Hisel

Chapter 9

[p. 91]
      Another group of our Baptist ancestors were called Paulicians. That there were some radicals among them we do not deny. Nor do we deny that there are radicals among the people called Baptists today. We again maintain that among the Paulicians we find the true churches of Jesus Christ just as we find the true churches of our day among the people called Baptists.

     In my research of the Paulicians it was found that the charges of heresy against them came from two men, Photius and Siculus. A great number of historians have followed these two men. These two men were Roman Catholics and bitter enemies of the Paulicians. I tell you of these two men before giving the history of the Paulicians, so the student may beware of those church historians who follow the prejudices of these two "enemies of truth."


     First we will see who Photius was and the kind of person he was. Thomas Armitage has this to say about him:

     "Photius possessed great ability, but he was an interested party in his own evidence, and we may fairly question how far he is entitled to absolute credence. As Patriarch of Constantinople, no one was more interested than he in crushing the Paulicians. He was a layman, a great diplomat, and headed one of the most scandalous dissensions of his times. In five days he hurried himself through the five necessary orders, to become Patriarch on the sixth day, thrusting himself into the place of Ignatius, son of Michael I., a man of blameless character, who was deposed because he refused to put the Empress out of the way of plotting Bardas by forcing her into a nunnery. But Pope Nicolas I., by the advice of a synod held at Rome, deposed Photius as an usurper, A.D. 862. In turn, Photius excommunicated the pope, but Gass says that another synod deposed Photius in 867 as 'a liar, adulterer, parricide and heretic.' He was restored to the

[p. 92]
patriarchate on the death of Ignatius, but was degraded and banished by the Emperor Leo in 886 for political intrigue and embezzlement of the public money. Thus is the chief witness on whose word the Paulicians are condemned."1


     Armitage gives the following: "Peter Siculus is not so well-known; but he was a nobleman under Basil when that emperor drifted into a war with the Paulicians. He was sent to Fabrica, a Paulician town, to negotiate an exchange of prisoners, remaining there from seven to nine months under restraint, within an enemy's lines of sufferance. After this, he pretends to write their history as a sect. But they were split up into several sects, and how could he learn the history of them all in that place and time? They were scattered, according to Gibbon, 'through all the regions of Pontus and Cappadocia,' and made up of 'the remnant of the Gnostic sects,' with many converted Catholics, and 'those of the religion of Zoroaster.' This was the training he received from writing a history of the Paulicians, under the absurd notion that they were followers of Manes. Gass remarks that Photius wrote his book before A.D. 867, and Siculus wrote his after 868, the latter having a 'curious resemblance' to the former, from which Siculus 'borrowed.' Gibbon charges him with 'much prejudice and passion' in defining 'the six capital errors of the Paulicians.' Now, on common legal principles, what is the value of these two witnesses? Had they full knowledge of the subject to which they deposed? Were they disinterested and unbiased? And did their testimony harmonize? On the first of these questions we have scant knowledge. As to the second, no more partial witnesses could be chosen, one being patriarch of that religion which the Paulicians opposed, the other ambassador to a prince who was seeking their lives. And as to the third, their testimony conflicts in many points, and bears the marks of ill-will. They openly take the place of accusers rather than of witnesses, and treat them as enemies whom they would destroy. Photius makes no attempt to disguise his hatred, but bluntly titles his book 'against' them. Then, Siculus is so violent in his denunciation that he spends his

[p. 93]
strength and space in scorning what they denied, rather than in stating what they held, his deepest grievance being, that they rejected so much that he avowed. That whole animus of their design and drift is seen in their unblushing effort to stigmatize them as Manichaeans."2

     Please remember that the charges of heresy against the Paulicians, made by many historians, come from this original source. For them to write the Paulician story would be like Satan writing the true gospel.

Origin, Doctrine, Persecution

     Of all the historians, Baptists and otherwise, Joseph Milner gives the best short history of them. This is a very useful source since Joseph Milner was a member of the Church of England. He was no friend to Baptists as all know who are acquainted with his history. I give here a very long quote from him.

     "About the year 660, a new sect arose in the East, the accounts of which are far more scanty than a writer with real Church history would wish. Constantine, a person who dwelt in Mananalis, an obscure town in the neighborhood of Samosata, entertained a deacon, who having been a prisoner among the Mahometans, had returned from captivity, and received from the same deacon, the gift of the New Testament in the original language. So early had the laity begun to think themselves excluded from the reading of the sacred volume; and the clergy, both in the East and the West, encouraged this apprehension. The growing ignorance rendered by far the greatest part of the laity incapable of reading the Scriptures. I do not find any ecclesiastical prohibitory decree in these times, nor was there much occasion for it. But Constantine made the best use of the deacon's present. He studied the sacred oracles, and exercised his own understanding upon them. He formed to himself a plan of divinity from the New Testament; and, as St. Paul is the most systematical of all the Apostles, Constantine very properly attached himself to his writings with peculiar attention, as indeed every serious theologian must do. He will find, no doubt, the same truths interspersed through the rest of the sacred volume and a

[p. 94]
wonderful unity of design and spirit breathing through the whole; but, as it pleased God to employ one person more learned than the rest, it is highly proper, that the student should avail himself of this advantage. That Constantine was in possession of the genuine text was acknowledged universally. A remarkable circumstance! which shows the watchful providence of God over the Scriptures! - Amidst a thousand frauds and sophisms of the times, no adulteration of them was ever permitted to take place.

     "The enemies of the Paulicians give them the name from some unknown teacher, but there seems scarcely a doubt, that they took the name from St. Paul himself. For Constantine gave himself the name of Sylvanus; his disciples were called, Titus, Timothy, Tychicus, the names of the Apostle's fellow-labourers; and the names of the Apostolic Churches were given to the congregations formed by their labourers in Armenia and Cappadocia. - Their enemies called them the Gnostics or Manichees; and confounded them with those ancient sectaries, of whom it is probable that there were then scarcely any remains. It has been too customary to connect different and independent sects into one; and to suppose, that every new phenomenon in religion is nothing more than the revival of some former party. This is frequently the case, but not always. In the present instance, I see reason to suppose the Paulicians to have been perfect originals, in regard to any other denomination of Christians. The little, that has already been mentioned concerning them, carries entirely this appearance; and I hope, it may shortly be evident, that they originated from a heavenly influence, teaching and converting them; and that, in them, we have one of those extraordinary effusions of the Divine Spirit, by which the knowledge of Christ and the practice of godliness is kept alive in the world.

     "The Paulicians are said to have rejected the two epistles of St. Peter. We know nothing of these men, but from the pens of their enemies. Their writings and the lives of their eminent teachers are totally lost. In this case, common justice requires us to suspend our belief; and, if internal evidence militates in their favour, a strong presumption is formed against the credibility of a report, raised to their disadvantage.

[p. 95]
This is the case in the present instance, for there is nothing in St. Peter's writings that could naturally prejudice against those writings persons who cordially received the epistles of St. Paul. There is, on the other hand, the most coincidence of sentiment and spirit between the two Apostles; and, in the latter epistle of St. Peter, toward the end, there is very remarkable testimony to the inspired character and divine wisdom of St. Paul. That this sect also despised the whole of the Old Testament is asserted, but on grounds which seem utterly unwarrantable. For, they are said to have done this as Gnostics and Manichees, though they steadily condemned the Manichees, and complained of the injustice which branded them with that odious name. They are also charged with holding the eternity of matter, and the existence of two independent principles; and with denying the real sufferings and real flesh of Christ. It seems no way was found so convenient to disgrace them as by the charge of Manicheism. But I cannot believe that they held these tenets; not only because they themselves denied the charge, but also because they unquestionably held things perfectly inconsistent with such notions. Is it possible, that rational creatures, men endued with common understanding, could agree to revere the writings of St. Paul, and to consider them as divinely inspired, and at the same time to condemn those of the Old Testament?

     "The pious, intelligent, reader, who is moderately versed in Scripture, does not need to be told, that the Apostle is continually quoting the Old Testament, expounding and illustrating, and building his doctrines upon it; in short, that the New Testament is so indissolubly connected with the Old, that he, who despises the latter, cannot really, whatever he may pretend, respect the former as divine; and that this observation holds good in regard to all the writers in the New Testament, and to St. Paul more particularly. It is allowed also, that the Paulicians held the common orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, with the confession and use of which the whole apparatus of the Manichean fable seems incompatible. Let the reader reflect only on the light in which the manicheism appeared to Augustine of Hippo, after he became acquainted with St. Paul, and he will probably form a just estimate of this whole subject.

[p. 96]
     "This people also were perfectly free from the image-worship, which more and more pervaded the East. They were simply scriptural in the use of sacraments: they disregarded relics, and all the fashionable equipage of superstition; they knew no other Mediator but the Lord Jesus Christ.

     "Sylvanus preached with great success. Pontus and Cappadocia, regions once renowned for Christian piety, were again enlightened through his labours. He and his associates were distinguished from the clergy of that day, by their scriptural names, modest titles, zeal, knowledge, activity and holiness. Their congregations were diffused over the provinces of Asia Minor: six of the principal churches were called by the names of those to whom St. Paul addressed his epistles; and Sylvanus resided in the neighborhood of Colonia in Pontus. Roused by the growing importance of the sect, the Greek emperors began to persecute the Paulicians with the most sanguinary severity; and under Christian forms and names, they reacted the scenes of the Galerius and Maximin. "To their other excellent deeds," says the bigoted Peter, the Sicilian, "the divine and orthodox emperors added this virtue, that they ordered the Montanists and Manicheans to be committed to the flames: also, that if any person was found to have secreted them, he was to be put to death, and his goods to be confiscated." False religion, in all ages, hates the light, and supports herself by persecution, not by instruction; while the real truth as it is in Jesus always COMES TO THE LIGHT of Scripture, and exhibits the light plainly to the world by reading and expounding the sacred volume, whence alone she derives her authority.

     "A Greek officer, named Simeon, armed with imperial authority, came to Colonia and apprehended Sylvanus and a number of his disciples. Stones were put into the hands of these last, and they were required to kill their pastor, as the price of their forgiveness. A person named Justus was the only one of the number who obeyed; and he stoned to death the father of the Paulicians, who had laboured twenty-seven years. Justus signalized himself still more by betraying his brethren; while Simeon, struck, no doubt, with the evidences of divine grace apparent in the sufferers, embraced, at length, the faith which he came to destroy, gave up the world,

[p. 97]
preached the Gospel, and died a martyr. For a hundred and fifty years these servants of Christ underwent the horrors of persecution, with Christian patience and meekness; and if the acts of their martyrdom, their preaching, and their lives, were distinctly recorded, there seems no doubt, but this people would appear to have resembled them, whom the Church justly reveres as having suffered in the behalf of Christ during the three first centuries. During all this time the power of the Spirit of God was with them; and they practiced the precepts of the 13th chapter of Romans, as well as believed doctrinal chapters of the same epistle. The blood of the martyrs was, in this case, as formerly, the seed of the Church: a succession of teachers and congregations arose, and a person named Sergius, who laboured among them thirty-three years, is confessed by the bigoted historians to have been a man of extraordinary virtue. The persecution had, however, some intermissions, till at length, Theodora, the same Empress, who fully established image-worship, exerted herself beyond any of her predecessors against them. Her inquisitors ransacked the lesser Asia, in search of these sectaries; and she is computed to have killed by a gibbet, by fire, and by sword, a hundred thousand persons.

     "We have brought down the scanty history of this people to about the year of 845. To undergo a constant scene of persecution with Christian meekness, and to render both to God and to Caesar their dues all the time, at once require and evidence the strength of real grace. Of this the Paulicians seem to have been possessed till the period just mentioned. They remembered the injunction of Revelation xiii. 10: "He that killeth with the sword, must be killed with the sword: here is the faith and patience of the Saints." "Let Christians believe, rejoice in God, patiently suffer, return good for evil, and still obey those whom God hath set over them. These weapons have ever been found too hard for Satan: the Church has grown exceedingly, wherever they were faithfully handled: and the power of the Gospel has prevailed."3

Paulicians Were Baptists

[p. 98]
     In giving the principles of the Paulicians, Orchard quotes several authorities: "In these churches of the Paulicians, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, they held to be peculiar to the communion of the faithful; i.e., to be restricted to believers" (Jones).

     "The Paulicians or Bogomilians baptized and re-baptized adults by immersion" (Robinson).

     "It is evident", says Mosheim, "they rejected the baptism of infants. They were not charged with any error concerning baptism."

     "These people were called Acephali, or headless (from having no distinct order of clergy, or presiding person in their assemblies) and were hooted in councils for re-baptizing in private houses, says Robinson, and holding conventicles; and for calling the established church a worldly community, and re-baptizing such as joined their churches."4


     The truth, held and contended for, always brings about persecution and a trail of blood. The Paulicians were persecuted. Listen to George Park Fisher: “The Paulicians were persecuted by a succession of Greek sovereigns. It is said that under Theodore not less than one hundred thousand of them were put to death in Grecian Armenia.”5

     John T. Christian writes: "After the year 1000 the Paulicians began to make their appearance in England. In 1154 a body of Germans migrated into England, driven into exile by persecution. A portion of them settled in Oxford. William Newberry (Rerum Anglicarum, 125: London, 1667) tells of the terrible punishment meted out to the pastor Gerhard and the people. Six years later another company of Paulicians entered Oxford. Henry II ordered them to be branded on the foreheads with hot irons, publicly whipped through the streets of the city, to have their garments cut short at the girdles, and be turned into the open country. The villages were not to afford them any shelter or food, and they perished a lingering death from cold and hunger (Moore, Earlier and Later Nonconformity in Oxford, 12)."6

[p. 99]

Notes on Chapter 9

1 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, pages 280-281.
2 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, pages 235-236.
3 The History of the Church of Christ, Volume 1, pages 571-573.
4 A Concise History of the Baptists, page 130.
5 History of the Christian Church, page 162.
6 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 182.

Chapter 10
Baptist History Notebook
Baptist History Homepage