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Bogomils was the name of an ancient Gnostic religious community which had its origin in Bulgaria.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the name was taken from the reputed founder of that sect, a certain pope Bogumil or Bogomil, or whether he assumed that name after it had been given to the whole sect. The word is a direct translation into Slavonic of Massaliani, the Syrian name of the sect corresponding to the Greek Euchites. The Bogomils are identified with the Massaliani in Slavonic documents of the 13th century. They are also known as Pavlikeni, i.e. Paulicians.

It is a complicated task to determine the true character and the tenets of any ancient sect, considering that almost all the information that has reached us has come from the opponents. The heretical literature has to a great extent either perished or been completely changed; but much has also survived in a modified written form or through oral tradition. Concerning the Bogomils something can be gathered from the information collected by Euthymius Zygadenus[?] in the 12th century, and from the polemic Against the Heretics written in Slavonic by St Kozma[?] during the 10th century. The old Slavonic lists of forbidden books of the 15th and 16th centuries also give us a clue to the discovery of this heretical literature and of the means the Bogomils employed to carry on their propaganda. Much may also be learnt from the doctrines of the numerous heretical sects which arose in Russia after the 11th century.

The Bogomils were without doubt the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East and those of the West. They were, moreover, the most active agents in disseminating such teachings in Russia and among all the nations of Europe. They may have found in some places a soil already prepared by more ancient tenets which had been preserved in spite of the persecution of the official Church, and handed down from the period of primitive Christianity. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Bogomils were already known in the West as "Bulgari." In 1207 the Bulgarorum heresis is mentioned. In 1223 the Albigenses are declared to be the local Bougres, and at the same period mention is made of the "Pope of the Albigenses who resided within the confines of Bulgaria." The Cathars and Patarenes, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and in Russia the Strigolniki, Molokani and Dukhobortsi, have all at different times been either identified with the Bogomils or closely connected with them.


From the imperfect and conflicting data which are alone available one positive result can be gathered, viz, that the Bogomils were both Adoptionists and Manichaeans. They had accepted the teaching of Paul of Samosata, though at a later period the name of Paul was believed to be that of the Apostle; and they were not quite free from the Dualistic principle of the Gnostics[?], at a later period too much identified with the teaching of Mani. They rejected the pneumatic Christianity of the orthodox churches and did not accept the docetic teaching of some of the other sects. Taking as our starting-point the teaching of the heretical sects in Russia, notably those of the 14th century, which are a direct continuation of the doctrines held by the Bogomils, we find that they denied the divine birth of Christ, the personal coexistence of the Son with the Father and Holy Ghost, and the validity of sacraments and ceremonies. The miracles performed by Jesus were interpreted in a spiritual sense, not as real material occurrences; the Church was the in-tenor spiritual church in which all held equal share. Baptism was only to be practised on grown men and women. The Bogomils repudiated infant baptism, and considered the baptismal rite to be of a spiritual character neither by water nor by oil but by self-abnegation, prayers and chanting of hymns.

Carp Strigolnik[?], who in the 14th century preached the doctrine in Novgorod, explained that St Paul had taught that simpleminded men should instruct one another; therefore they elected their "teachers" from among themselves to be their spiritual guides, and had no special priests. Prayers were to be said in private houses, not in separate buildings such as churches. Ordination was conferred by the congregation and riot by any specially appointed minister. The congregation were the "elect," and each member could obtain the perfection of Christ and become a Christ or "Chuist." Marriage was not a sacrament. The Bogomils refused to fast on Mondays and Fridays. They rejected monachism. They declared Christ to be the Son of God only through grace like other prophets, and that the bread and wine of the eucharist were not transformed into flesh and blood; that the last judgment would be executed by God and not by Jesus; that the images and the cross were idols and the worship of saints and relics idolatry.

These Paulician doctrines have survived in the great Russian sects, and can be traced back to the teachings and practice of the Bogomils. But in addition to these doctrines of an adoptionist origin, they held the Manichaean dualistic conception of the origin of the world. This has been partly preserved in som& of their literary remains, and has taken deep root in the beliefs and traditions of the Bulgarians and other nations with whom they had come into close contact. The chief literature of all the heretical sects throughout the ages has been that of apocryphal Biblical narratives, and the popes Jeremiah or Bogumil are directly mentioned as authors of such forbidden books "which no orthodox dare read." Though these writings are mostly the same in origin as are known from the older lists of apocryphal books, they underwent in this case a certain modification at the hands of their Bogomil editors, so as to be used for the propagation of their own specific doctrines.

In its most simple and attractive form--one at the same time invested with the authority of the reputed holy author--their account of the creation of the world and of man; the origin of sin and redemption, the history of the Cross, and the disputes between body and soul, right and wrong, heaven and hell, were embodied either in "Historiated Bibles" (Palcyaf) or in special dialogues held between Christ and his disciples, or between renowned Fathers of the Church who expounded these views in a simple manner adapted to the understanding of the people (Lucidaria).

The Bogomils taught that God had two sons, the elder Satanail and the younger Michael. The elder son rebelled against the father and became the evil spirit. After his fall he created the lower heavens and the earth and tried in vain to create man; in the end he had to appeal to God for the Spirit. After creation Adam was allowed to till the ground on condition that he sold himself and his posterity to the owner of the earth. Then Michael was sent in the form of a man; he became identified with Jesus, and was "elected" by God after the baptism in the Jordan. When the Holy Ghost (Michael) appeared in the shape of the dove, Jesus received power to break the covenant in the form of a clay tablet (hierographon) held by Satanail from Adam. He had now become the angel Michael in a human form; as such he vanquished Satanail, and deprived him of the termination -ii = God, in which his power resided. Satanail was thus transformed into Satan. Through his machinations the crucifixion took place, and Satan was the originator of the whole Orthodox community with its churches, vestments, ceremonies, sacraments and fasts, with its monks and priests. This world being the work of Satan, the perfect must eschew any and every excess of its pleasure. But the Bogomils did not go as far as to recommend asceticism.

They held the "Lord's Prayer" in high respect as the most potent weapon against Satan, and had a number of conjurations against ?evil spirits.? Each community had its own twelve "apostles," and women could be raised to the rank of "elect." The Bogomils wore garments like mendicant friars and were known as keen missionaries, travelling far and wide to propagate their doctrines. Healing the sick and conjuring the evil spirit, they traversed different countries and spread their apocryphal literature along with some of the books of the Old Testament, deeply influencing the religious spirit of the nations, and preparing them for the Reformation. They sowed the seeds of a rich religious popular literature in the East as well as in the West. The Historiated Bible, the Letter from Heaven, the Wanderings through Heaven and Hell, the numerous Adam and Cross legends, the religious poems of the "Kalflki perehozhie" and other similar productions owe their dissemination to a large extent to the activity of the Bogomils of Bulgaria, and their successors in other lands.


The Bogomil propaganda follows the mountain. chains of central Europe, starting from the Balkans and continuing along the Carpathian Mountains, the Alps and the Pyrenees, with ramifications north and south (Germany, England and Spain). In. the middle of the 8th century the emperor Constantine Copronymus settled a number of Armenian Paulicians in Thracia[?]. These were noted heretics and were persecuted by the Greek Church with fire and sword.

The empress Theodora killed, drowned or hanged no fewer than 100,000. In the 10th century the emperor John Ziniisces, himself of Armenian. origin, transplanted no less than 200,000 Armenian Paulicians to Europe and settled them in the neighbourhood of Philippopolis, which henceforth became the centre of a far-reaching propaganda. Settled along the Balkans as a kind of bulwark against the invading Bulgars, the Armenians on the contrary soon fraternized with the newcomers, whom they converted to their own views; even a prince of the Bulgarians adopted their teaching. According to Slavonic documents the founder of this sect was a certain priest Bogumil, who "imbibed the Manichaean teaching and flourished at the time of the Bulgarian emperor Peter" (927?968). According to another source the founder was called Jeremiah (or there was another priest associated with him by the name of Jeremiah).

The Slavonic sources are unanimous on the point that his teaching was Manichaean. A Synodikon from the year 1210 adds the names of his pupils or "apostles," Mihail, Todur, Dobri, Stefan, Vasilie and Peter, all thoroughly Slavonic names. Zealous missionaries carried their doctrines far and wide. In 1004, scarcely 25 years after the introduction of Christianity into Russia, we hear of a priest Adrian teaching the same doctrines as the Bogomils. He was imprisoned by Leontie, bishop of Kiev. In 1125 the Church in the south of Russia had to combat another heresiarch named Dmitri. The Church in Bulgaria also tried to extirpate Bogomilism. The popes in Rome whilst leading the Crusade against the Albigenses did not forget their counterpart in. the Balkans and recommended the annihilation of the heretics.

The Bogomils spread westwards, and settled first in Servia; but at the end of the 12th century Stephen Nemanya[?], king of Servia, persecuted them and expelled them from the country. Large numbers took refuge in Bosnia, where they were known under the name of Patarenes or Patareni. From Bosnia their influence extended into Italy (Piedmont). The Hungarians undertook many crusades against the heretics in Bosnia, but towards the close of the 15th century the conquest of that country by the Turks put an end to their persecution. It is alleged that a large number of the Bosnian Paterenes, and especially the nobles, embraced Islam. Few or no remnants of Bogomilism have survived in Bosnia. The Ritual in Slavonic written by the Bosnian Radoslavov, and published in vol. xv. of the Starine of the South Slavonic Academy at Agram, shows great resemblance to the Cathar ritual published by Cunitz, 1853. See F Racki, "Bogomili i Paternai" in Rad, vols. vii., viii. and x. (Agram, 1870); DOllinger, Beitrage zur Ketzergeschjchte d. Atittelalters, 2 vols. (Munich, 1890).

Under Turkish rule the Bogomils lived unmolested as Pavlikeni in their ancient stronghold near Philippopolis, and farther northward. In 1650 the Roman Catholic Church gathered them into its fold. No less than fourteen villages near Nicopolis embraced Catholicism, and a colony of Paviikeni in the village of Cioplea near Bucharest followed the example of their brethren across the Danube.


  • Euthymius Zygadenus, Narratio de Bogomilis, ed. Gieseler (Göttingen, 1842)
  • JC Wolf, Historia Bogomiorum (Wittenberg, 1712)
  • "Slovo svyatago Kozmyi na eretiki," in Kukuljevit Sakcinski
  • Arkiv zapovyestnicu jugoslavensku, vol. iv. pp. 69?97 (Agram, 1859)
  • CJ Jirniek, Geschichte d. Bulgaren, pp. 155, 174?I 75 (Prague, 1876)
  • Korolev, "Dogmatichesko-to uchenie na Bogomiltie," in Periodichesko spisanie, vols. vii.-viii. pp. 75?106 (Braila, 1873)
  • A Lombard, Pauliciens, Bulgares et Bons-hommes (Geneva, 1879)
  • Episcoptil Melchisedek, L'ipovenisnzul, pp. 265 sqq. (Bucharest, 187f)
  • FC Conybeare, The Key of Truth, pp. 73 sqq. and specially pp. 238 sqq. (Oxford, 1898).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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