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The Bogomils and the official church

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The Bogomils and the official church

Document of the age – Appearance and ideology of the Bogomilism

From “Lecture against the Bogomils” by Presbyter Kozma – ecumenical figure from the second half of the X century

“1… It happened so that in the years of the Orthodox Tsar Petar in the Bulgarian lands appeared a pop [pop – Orthodox priest], by the name Bogomil – it is more correct for him to be called Bogunemil [bogomil – Dear to God, Bogunemil – Un-dear to God]. He was the first to start spreading heresy in the Bulgarian lands. (…)

2… Truly (the heretics) are worse and filthier than the devils. (…) And what do they speak? – That it was not God, who created heaven, nor earth, nor all the visible (things)…

3… (For the Cross.)… Because the Jews crucified the Son of God on it, that’s why the cross is most hateful to God. (…)

4… (For the Eucharist.) The Eucharist is not done by God’s benevolence, neither is it Christ’s body, as you say, but it is just a simple food. (…)

6… (For the clergy.) And why do you say that the Eucharist and the spiritual rituals are not assigned by God and you abuse the priests and all the ecumenical orders by calling the faithful priests blind Pharisees and bark much at them as a dog at a horseman? …

8… (For the Virgin Mary.) …they don’t honour the glorious and pure bogomater, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and many are ill-speaking of her. Their words and vileness can not be written in this book. (…)

17… (For the power.) … By cursing the rich, they teach their own not to obey their masters; they detest the tsar; curse the elders; blame the bolyars [nobles]; they think that hateful to God are those, who serve the tsar and they order every servant not to work for his master…”


From one side, as a heretical teaching the Bogomilism should be seen as an expression of discontent, caused by the Bulgarian social reality in the X century, and from another – as a product of the influence of three well widespread in Byzantium and the Balkan dualistic teachings – the Manicheanism, the Paulicianism and the Massalianism.

Creator and first propagator of the teaching was pop [Orthodox priest] Bogomil, who lived in the time of Tsar Petar (927-969). The main Bogomil conception was the belief in the existence and action of two powers: the Good – God, and the Evil – the Devil (the Satan). According to the Bogomils the whole visible world and the humans are a creation of the Devil and only the human soul came from God. The battle between these two beginnings would end with a victory of Good and a triumph of the social justice over the Earth. This eschatological conception (a view of the ultimate fate of the Universe) characterizes the Bogomil dualism as moderate and optimistic and differs it from the extreme dualism of the Paulicians.

The social core of the Bogomil teaching is characterized very well by Presbyter Kozma. According to him the Bogomils detested the tsar, cursed and blamed the bolyars and the elders, thought that hateful to God are those, who work for the tsar and they ordered every servant not to serve his master. These views were an expression of an outcry against the social-political order.

The arrows of the Bogomil criticism were aimed also to the official church and the clergy. They denied the Christian dogmas, cults, liturgies and rituals. They harshly blamed the laxity of the numerous clergy and thought of it as an unnecessary mediator between God and man; they declared it a parasitical estate and called its representatives “servants of the Satan”. Completely negative was their attitude towards the symbols and rituals of the official church (the Eucharist, the liturgies, the icons, the holy relics, the cross, the holy baptism, the holy communion etc.) They called the Christian temples crossroads and did their worship in every house or in the open, as they believed that God is everywhere.

From the Holy Scripture they approved only the New Testament, rejected the Old Testament and thought as wrong the life of the Old Testament humanity. They announced themselves against the strong cult towards the Virgin Mary.

By coming from their primary dualistic views, the Bogomils preached for a fight against Evil. They claimed that man should consciously fight with all the temptations of flesh and spare less cares for it and more for his spiritual improvement. They rejected riches and praised poorness; they recommended abstention from lavish food, forbade to drink wine and eat meat; they blamed those, who wore luxurious clothes. The Bogomils were openly against the wars and murders; they believed that no living creature should be killed, except for the snake. They preached asceticism and resignation; they showed negative attitude towards marriage, but thought of the woman as a creature, equal to man.

The followers of the Bogomil teaching were divided to three main categories: “slushateli” [listeners] (this was the biggest part of them), “viarvashti” [believers] (prepared and accepted in the community with a special ritual) and “savarsheni” [perfects] (from their circle were drawn the Bogomil teachers and preachers). The Bogomils called themselves “good Christians” and thought that by way of life and morals they differ themselves from the others. They were organized in “obshtini” [communities] – brotherhoods, at the head of each was an elder called “dedets”. The Bogomil leaders created a substantial by size literature, in which the main cosmogonic, moral-ethic and eschatological beliefs and notions of the teaching were reflected. Closely connected with the Bogomilistic was also the apocryphal literature, which with its simplicity and approachability suited the lower social ranks. Their wide spreading forced the official church to create “Index of the forbidden books”.

The wide spreading of the Bogomilism among the lower clergy, the peasantry and the crafts-men incited anxiety among the representatives of the church. The fight against the heresy initially started with preaching. A bright exposure from the positions of the official dogmatism was “Lecture against the newly arrived Bogomil heresy” by Presbyter Kozma. The exposures and curses (anathemas) of the official church proved to be ineffective; the state power also had to take precautions against the Bogomils. They were put under merciless persecutions by the tsar’s authority, and some were chained and imprisoned.

The Bogomil movement had in its spreading and manifestations its ebbs and flows. If during Samuil’s reign it didn’t show its negative side, during the Byzantine rule it flourished. At the times of Tsar Boril it spread widely, because of which a large anti-Bogomil convict was gathered in Tarnovo in February 1211. Anathematized were the conceptions of the Bogomils and their 13 leaders were condemned.

The Bulgarian realms proved to be small for the Bogomilism. Initially it spread in the Balkan and Asia Minor provinces of the Byzantine Empire. In 1111 in Tsarigrad [Constantinople] was condemned and burned on a stake the Bogomil leader Vasilii Vrach, who before this for 15 years learned the teaching and for more than 40 years preached it in different regions of the empire. In Serbia, Hrvatsko [Croatia] and Bosnia the Bogomilism made its way in the XII century. Its mass spreading in Bosnia led to its transformation to state religion. The heretical teaching found good soil also in Hungary. Except Bogomils these heretics were also called Babuns, Torbeshes, Kudugers, Patarenes. A wide spreading the Bulgarian Bogomilism found in Western Europe. Already in the XI century through Bulgarian settlers it made its way in Italy (where its followers were called Cathars), from there to France (Albigenses and Bougres), in Germany, Flandres and England. For a long time it was spoken everywhere for “the dangerous Bulgarian heresy”. Through the Bogomilism the name of the Bulgarians received wide popularity in whole of Europe and could be valued as a spiritual phenomenon in the middle ages with a universal character.

For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogomils


Taken from the history textbook for 11th grade of "Anubis", Lesson XIV - "The Bulgarian church - organization, official ideology and heresies"

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