Oxford history of the christian church



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5. The dualist heresies.


Individual heretics who had fallen into Christological error, often without meaning to, could be challenged and put right. The allinvasive dualist sects were far more insidious and consequently difficult to grapple with. 74 These sects were often particularly associated with Alexius I by reason of the confrontations during his reign so dramatically highlighted by Anna Comnena. But the dualist sects had a long history going back to the Gnostics and Marcionites in the early Christian Church and to the third-century Persian Mani and the Manichaeans. In the early middle ages a form of dualism was developed in the Armenian regions by a militant sect, the Paulicians. 75 Their stronghold was Tephrice in western Armenia. They were aggressive and constantly raided over the border and they had spread into Asia Minor. The Byzantines tried to root them out in their drive eastward though not very successfully. In the eighth century these Paulicians had gained a foothold in Europe. Along with Armenian and Syrian monophysites they had been transplanted to Thrace by the Byzantine Emperors Constantine V and Leo IV, the imperial purpose being the acquisition of first-rate soldiers for use in the wars against the Bulgars. Transplantation of this kind was normal Byzantine policy. The Paulicians kept their identity and were not converted to orthodoxy. It was also easy for them to infiltrate across the frequently changing frontier marches into Bulgaria.

Something of the Paulicians in the ninth century is known from Peter of Sicily who had first-hand knowledge of the sect because in 869 he had been sent to Tephrice as imperial ambassador. He wrote an attack on these heretics calling his work a history of the Manichaeans, though it is clear that the two sects were not identical. The Byzantines often used the term 'Manichaean' as synonymous with 'Paulician'. Another source of information was the account of the 'recently revived' Manichaean heresy, a work attributed to 'Photius, the most holy archbishop of Constantinople'. 76 The essence of the Paulician belief appears to have been a distinction between two principles of good and evil. Matter was regarded as evil and hence the fundamental Christian belief in the Incarnation was rejected together with the sacraments and the hierarchy. There were many variations for, as John of Damascus was driven to confess of these and similar heresies, 'they differ among each other in utter confusion for their false teaching is divided up into innumerable factions'. 77 Some insight into what Paulicians thought — or rather what contemporary Byzantines believed them to think — is found in surviving forms of abjuration. 78 One nondoctrinal characteristic certainly seems to have distinguished the Paulicians and to have remained unaltered, that is their aggressive militancy and the close-knit nature of their communities. The movement had been strengthened in the tenth century by a further transplantation when John I Tzimisces moved a batch of Paulicians to the regions around Philippopolis, again in the hope of getting good recruits. But whatever form it took, this heresy was not eliminated and was still found in the Comnenian period.

The problem was further complicated both for the Byzantine Empire and for Bulgaria by the rise of yet another version of dualism in the Balkans in the tenth century. 79 This was Bogomilism, getting its name from its founder Bogomil ('loved of God') and closely linked to Messalianism. Mindful of the danger to orthodoxy (and to the establishment) the tenth-century Bulgarian tsar Peter (927-69) asked the Byzantine Patriach Theophylact (933-56) for advice in dealing with this form of what he described as 'Manichaeism mingled with Paulicianism'. Theophylact wrote two letters to him, one of which has survived. He laid down the ecclesiastical penalties for the different degrees of offence ranging from leaders (who if they repented had to be rebaptized) to the simple-minded who had no idea that they were participating in heresy. He pointed out that the civil penalty for obdurate heretics was death, but advised Peter to use persuasion and show clemency. The form of the anathema to be used set out the heretical doctrines under nine headings. 80

This sect was attacked by a Bulgarian priest Cosmas in a treatise written in Old Church Slavonic. 81 He does not actually use the term Bogomil for the movement, this came later probably in the mid-eleventh century and was found Zigabenus Panoplia Dogmatica which he wrote at Alexius I's request. 82 Unlike the Paulicians the Bogomils did not believe in two equal principles of good and evil but they made the Devil the elder son of God and a lesser force, and his brother was the younger son, the Logos-Son. The Devil was the creator of the world and it therefore followed that all material things were evil, including the sacraments. The Church and the priesthood were rejected; marriage was condemned; meat and wine were renounced. Certainly in their early days and until well on into the twelfth century the Bogomils seem to have had no regular church organization of their own. They did have leaders called 'apostles' and they followed their own way of religious life, holding prayer-meetings, using only the Lord's prayer and adopting a strict rule of fasting. They were less active and more contemplative than the warlike Paulicians and to outward appearances they must often have seemed to be simply orthodox monks leading devout and ascetic lives.

The Bogomils at first appealed mainly to the lower classes, the poor and oppressed peasantry and also to the lower clergy. That they were justified in their criticism of the established Church is borne out by Cosmas's plea for a higher standard among clerics and particularly monks whose behaviour, he maintained, contributed towards the prevalence of the heresy of 'these wicked dogs'. 83 Cosmas also stressed another danger. The Bogomils had no respect for the established temporal regime, indeed they even encouraged disobedience towards those in authority such as the tsar or the great landowners. In a polity like Bulgaria, modelled closely on that of Byzantium, church and state stood together and the teaching of the Bogomils, if carried to its logical conclusion, would have undermined both.

With the final conquest of the Bulgarian kingdom by Byzantium in the early eleventh century the danger was brought still nearer home. 84 Already in the previous century the Bogomils had spread rapidly throughout the old Bulgaria, particularly in Macedonia. Then with the incorporation into the Byzantine Empire there was increased Hellenization of the unpopular upper hierarchy in the Bulgarian Church as well as the usual oppressive taxation and exacting landlords. This caused misery and discontent and on occasion revolt and the Bogomils, with their criticism of the establishment, understandably had a great appeal and gained many converts. Their influence was by no means confined to Bulgarian peasantry. It was entrenched in some of the other European provinces and reached the capital, while a form of the heresy was rampant in Asia Minor and in certain areas was found under the name of the Phundagiagitae. Contemporary concern is revealed in a letter of the monk Euthymius of the Peribleptos house in Constantinople written to fellow monks in Acmonia in Phrygia, a place which he himself knew personally. He was writing sometime after the year 1034. This letter contains valuable information on the teachings of the Bogomils at that time and brings out the heretics' emphasis on monastic life and their debt to neo-Messalianism. 85 Another critic of the eleventh century heresies was the author of a dialogue on demonology in which he censured a number of heresies, grouped together under the name 'Euchitae' and marked by some of the characteristics of both Bogomils and Messalians together with a good deal else, particularly demonology. But the demonology as expounded in this work was not really part of Bogomil teaching, though the Bogomils, partly influenced by the Messalians, did lay special emphasis on the role of demons inhabiting human beings. 86

By Alexius Comnenus's day in the late eleventh century it was evident that Paulicians, Bogomils, Messalians, and other variants of dualist sects were well entrenched and widespread throughout the European and Asian provinces. Alexius's attacks on the two main groups are known in some detail from Anna Comnena. The Paulicians in Thrace (called Manichaeans by Anna) were subjected to long discussions with the Emperor himself lasting all day and far into the night. Alexius was then staying at Philippopolis in 1114 awaiting a Cuman attack from the north and was possibly apprehensive that the Paulicians might join the Turkic raiders. The three Paulician leaders, who were named by Anna, were unmoved, tearing Alexius's argument to shreds as though with sharp boars' teeth, so Anna said. But many appeared to yield to imperial persuasion. These were rewarded, the more important by 'great gifts' (unspecified) and the rest, farmers and labourers, were given arable land and vineyards and farm stock (which may have influenced their decision) and they were settled near Philippopolis at Neocastrum. 87

On different occasions the Messalians and the Bogomils were attacked though without much real success. Anna correctly described the Bogomil doctrine as a mixture of Manichaeism ('which we also call the Paulician heresy') and Messalianism. The Bogomils and Messalians were a more tricky proposition than the Paulicians in that they went about looking like devout monks though inwardly ravening wolves, and their hold on the unwary was the greater since they pretended to conform to the Orthodox Church though in fact holding quite different tenets. They had even penetrated into some of the most important households in Constantinople. There is in fact a suggestion in Armenian sources that the formidable mother of Alexius Comnenus had succumbed to heresy. The fullest statement is in Matthew of Edessa but it is confused in detail and not conclusive. If Anna Dalassena did fall into heresy it would be one explanation why she faded out of her grand daughter's history. 88 If she did err she presumably repented; she retired to the monastery of Christ the All-seeing which she had founded in Constantinople. 89



Quite early in his reign Alexius tried to win over a Messalian or Enthusiast, Theodore of Trebizond (Blachernites, he had been a priest at the church of the Blachernae). The Emperor failed and the man was handed over to the synod and condemned to perpetual anathema. 90 Alexius's more spectacular effort was some time around 1110. He was evidently greatly stirred by the widespread notoriety and influence of the Bogomils. The leader of this sect, Basil, was invited to the imperial palace and under pretence of friendly discussion and possibly imperial conversion was induced to expound his heresy to the Emperor. The room was partitioned by a curtain and behind this was a secretary taking down the dialogue. The Senate, with military men and ecclesiastics, including the Patriarch Nicholas III, were also seated behind the curtain. Neither Basil nor his twelve 'apostles' could be won over either by persuasion or by imprisonment. Finally the synod decided that Basil, the chief heretic who remained defiantly unrepentant, should be burnt. This took place in the Hippodrome and is described by Anna Comnena in great detail and almost with relish. 91 It may have been at this time that the synod also drew up thirteen anathemas against the Bogomils and Messalians and heretics of a similar nature. 92

But neither Alexius nor any other authority was successful in rooting out the heresy. In various forms the dualists persisted until the end of the middle ages. They turned up in widely separated regions of what had been the Byzantine Empire before 1204, and probably only a small proportion of those taken in by the heresy were detected. In the mid-twelfth century Michael Italicus, the archbishop of Philippopolis in Thrace, evidently complained to his old pupil Theodore Prodromus about heretics in his diocese and Theodore replied that they too had their troubles in Constantinople. 93 At the end of John II Comnenus I's reign and the beginning of Manuel I's several cases came to trial in Constantinople. In 1140 the synod in the capital condemned the writings of Constantine Chrysomalus described perhaps unjustly as a mixture of Bogomilism and Messalianism. These works were apparently read with avidity by the monks of St Nicholas near the Hieron and were circulating in other monasteries. With Chrysomalus the monk Peter and the proedrus Pamphilus were named. Chrysomalus was anathematized and handed over to the civil authorities. The other two received only very light penalties as they admitted their error and said that they had not really understood the implications of the doctrines which they had accepted. The offending books were to be burnt. 94 Other offenders detected came from a far distant part of the Empire in Cappadocia. The bishops Clement of Sasima and Leontius of Balbissa were denounced to the metropolitan of Tyana and he deposed them from episcopal office and sent the case to the synod in Constantinople. The synodal document (1 October 1143) listed various practices and beliefs known to be Bogomil, some of which the defendants denied despite written evidence and witnesses from their dioceses. This did not seem to be such a clear-cut case as some. In the end the synod resorted to the commonly used precaution of confinement in isolation to prevent the spread of heretical views. 95 At the same time there was a case brought against a monk Niphon from Cappadocia who was accused of Bogomilism and pending investigation was kept in solitary confinement in the monastery of the Peribleptos. In 1144 he was condemned and excommunicated. In 1146 he was however let out of the monastery and leniently treated as a friend by the new Patriarch. This was Cosmas II Atticus (1146-7), described by the historian Cinnamus as a simple fellow whose indiscretion brought about his own deposition. 96 In the Macedonian provinces the various forms of the dualist heresy continued to flourish during Manuel's reign. As in Alexius's day in Thrace there seemed to be a mixture of 'Manichaeans' (presumably Paulicians), Bogomils (which often included, or were synonymous with, Messalians), and Armenians (monophysites). Such is the information in the life of Hilarion, bishop of Moglena in Macedonia during Manuel Comnenus's reign. The Life hinted that Manuel himself was drawn towards the heresies, which might reasonably be taken as only indicating the interest which was to be expected from the theologically-minded Emperor. The Life then went on to recount how Manuel urged the bishop to follow up his conversion of the monophysites and 'Manichaeans' by similar work among the Bogomils. Hilarion was said to have been successful both with these and with the monophysites and 'Manichaeans', though this is hardly borne out by later events. 97

After 1204 the dualist heresy continued to flourish in early thirteenth-century Bulgaria, by now an independent kingdom. The tsar Boril (1207-18) made efforts to suppress it, as his Synodicon of 1211 showed. But Bulgarian dualism was not eradicated. As late as the second half of the fourteenth century Theodosius of Trnovo, monk and promoter of hesychasm in his country, thought it essential to warn his fellow countrymen first against the Bogomil and Messalian heresies, and then only secondly against the antiPalamites. 98

The dualist movement in the Second Bulgarian Empire had indeed from the outset repercussions because of Bulgaria's proximity to Thrace (and the newly formed Latin Empire and principalities). It was easy for the heresy to spread and even to become a pawn in the complicated political moves of that period. In what was left of the old Byzantine Empire dualism persisted, if it only occasionally came to the surface in the patriarchal registers or elsewhere. Patriarch Germanus II of Nicaea (1223-40) thought it necessary to send a warning to the inhabitants of Constantinople denouncing the Bogomils and Messalians and setting out the main points of their heresy; this letter was to be communicated to all the churches and read out on every Sunday and on each festival. 99 There was at that time no Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople (which was in Latin hands) and Germanus, though of necessity seated in Nicaea, regarded himself as the Patriarch of the lost capital. The dangers of heresy featured in other surviving works of Germanus, such as his sermon on Orthodoxy Sunday and his Contra Bogomilos. 100

The most spectacular episode in anti-dualist activity in the later middle ages in the Orthodox Church was the accusation of Messalianism and Bogomilism brought against the monks of Mount Athos by Barlaam in the mid-fourteenth century. Mount Athos had become a centre of Orthodox spirituality and churchmen of influence, such as Gregory Palamas, had often been monks on the Holy Mountain for a time. The opportunity for attack arose because of the hesychast stress on a contemplative inner life and a spiritual experience leading to knowledge of God. This had always been part of the monastic tradition in the Orthodox Church, but it received special emphasis and development in the fourteenth century when the hesychasts claimed that their methods led to a vision of the light of Tabor. The movement became the concern of a wide circle outside Mount Athos. It was also caught up in the various political cross-currents and animosities associated with Palamism. 101 Barlaam's accusation of 1341 was refuted and in fact counter-charges of a different kind brought against him. 102 There was however probably some ground for his attack. When in 1350 the hieromonk Niphon of Mount Athos was wrongly accused of the heresy he was cleared by a special letter to him from the synod, but in this letter mention was made of monks tainted with Messalianism who had been chased from Mount Athos. 103 It would appear that the heresy had penetrated the Holy Mountain. This was not unlikely in view of the comparative proximity of Thrace and Bulgaria, and if so it was a lapse which was evidently exploited by the anti-Palamites.

Thus the dualist heresy in all its variants was present in Byzantine life at every level. The Messalians and Bogomils were the most difficult to deal with because, unlike the militant and close-knit Paulician communities, they had perfected a technique of dissimulation. They also stressed an ascetic way of life which had on the surface some similarity with the contemplative practice of Orthodox monasticism. Amid concern with the pressures of external problems, and latterly of impending disaster, it is easy for the historian to overlook the insidious all-pervading nature of the dualist heresies. But occasional references in patriarchal registers and the sparse comments in other surviving sources reveal its prevalence and the rampant suspicions all too readily engendered, perhaps of a fellow monk or of a father or grandmother. 104 The provincial synodica string together the usual lists of dualist doctrines to be anathematized, but something of the pressing nature of the practical problem is shown in the synodicon of an Athenian suffragan where appeal was made for deliverance from 'the present' invasion of towns, villages, and whole settlements by these proselytizers who were unceasingly prowling round clothed in a 'pseudo-monastic habit', calling themselves 'Christians' and 'fellow-citizens of Christ', mixing freely with the orthodox and taking in the more simple minded. 105 It was easy for these false monks to pass from house to house, crossing frontiers in their peregrinations, perhaps even travelling westwards. 106 It was not for nothing that Balsamon in the late twelfth century could speak of 'whole fortresses and Bogomil villages surrendered to the heretics to be led astray by them'. He was commenting on the limitations of a heretic's civil rights as defined in earlier legislation (general councils, Justinian, Basilics). 107 Such legislation laid down standing penalties, for instance limiting rights of inheritance. In general with few exceptions the Byzantines in contrast to their contemporaries in the West, were comparatively lenient, usually resorting to excommunication, often with solitary confinement in a monastic house. Accusations, which were sometimes made out of malice, usually seem to have been fairly sorted out by the ecclesiastical authorities. It is possible that the synod under Patriarch Michael II Oxites had ordered Bogomils to be burnt but the only evidence seems to be Balsamon's criticism of this action with the comment that it was not within the competence of ecclesiastical tribunals to inflict any kind of physical punishment against heretics; this was the responsibility of the civil power (ὁπομἰτνóς νóμος). 108

How sensitive the issue of the Bogomil and Messalian heresies had become in educated and monastic circles as early as the eleventh century is shown by the care with which the editor of Symeon the New Theologian's works tried to make sure that no taint of Messalianism attached to his master's words as when he substituted the harmless εἛɑτσθ)1F30τως for ɑἰσθητω+̑ (perceiving with the senses). 109 In fact Symeon probably did mean to speak of an actual sensible experience of the Holy Spirit working within a man. But he was nevertheless orthodox, believing as he did in θDZ0ωσdz0ς and the sanctification of matter. Unfortunately a sensible perception of the Holy Spirit was also part of the Messalian religious experience though for very different reasons. It is noticeable that later on in 1140 one of the synod's charges against Constantine Chrysomalus's mixture of Messalianism and Bogomilism was his claim that during the charismatic experience it was necessary to feel the Holy Spirit within oneself. The word used in the Greek document was ἀἰσθε+́νετετ, precisely what the editor of Symeon had wished to avoid. 110

Thus, fragmentary as the evidence is, it suffices to indicate the elusive nature of this dualism and the ease with which it could be confused, at least on the surface, with orthodoxy. It was never completely rooted out during the middle ages, though with the political decline of the Empire in the face of the Ottoman advance and the submission of the Balkan principalities less is heard of it. Increasingly large tracts of once dualist strongholds fell into Muslim hands or became tributaries. Their believers probably merged into the world of Islam, leaving only the curious massive carved tombstones with their strange symbols standing scattered in the Bosnian countryside as witness to this medieval dualism.



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