Paulicians: Mystery Eastern Christian Sect

Anyone who wants to know who the Paulicians were will be confronted with a confusing amount of opposing accounts and statements about them.  They have been misrepresented by their enemies as being Manichaeans, Gnostics, dualists, and so on, by both Eastern and Western Churches, so our knowledge of them must also necessarily be confused.  The following entry from a usually reliable Wesleyan dictionary of ecclesiastical and church history demonstrates the problem.  It seems to be a confused mix of Catholic and Protestant sources, consequently it doesn’t portray the Paulicians in a good light; in fact, based upon its description of them, one wouldn’t even regard the Paulicians as a Christian sect, despite some of the positive statements made about them.

PAULICIANS: The origin of this sect is doubtful.  Some have considered them as Manichaeans, founded by two brothers, Paul, and John, inhabitants of Samosata.  Others assume that they are called after one Paul, an Armenian, who lived about AD 711.  Again, others have supposed that the name was given them in consequence of their extraordinary veneration for the writings of the apostle Paul.  The opinion of Geisler is that, about AD 600, a person called Constantine appeared as a reformer; that he belonged to a Marcionite church in Mammalis, in Samosata.  This man had been greatly moved by reading the Scriptures of the New Testament, especially the writings of St Paul, and under a new impulse, he made his appearance in a dualistic church in Kibossa, in the province of Colonia, in Armenia.  He himself held the dualistic principle, believing in the existence of two eternal and independent principles, the one good, the other evil; and; without renouncing these, he resolved, as a genuine disciple of Paul, to form a Pauline church.  He appointed successors like himself, under whom the Paulicians continued to spread themselves into Asia Minor, and had Phanaroa in Helenopontus as their chief settlement.  They differed greatly from the Manichaeans in having no kind of church government, save that which recognised a perfect equality among their rulers and teachers, who changed their ordinary names for Scripture appellations.  They acknowledged all the books of the New Testament, except the epistles of St Peter.  They also rejected the Old Testament, and adopted the Gnostic dogma that this world was not created by the Supreme Being.  They denied the human nature of Christ, and maintained that He was invested with a celestial body, which passed through the Virgin as a pure stream passes through a channel.  They refused to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, regarding the account of the institution as a merely figurative representation. In a similar way they viewed baptism.  The numerous particulars in which they differed from the Christian church not only exposed them to misrepresentations, but also to the most deadly persecutions.  They were compelled to abandon their country, and some of them began to migrate westward in order to escape the Grecian yoke.   About the middle of the eleventh century considerable numbers were dispersed through Italy, Germany, and France; and were known as Cathari, Patarini, Bulgarians, Albigenses, Beghards.  One of their chief excellencies is, that they have always been intrepid opponents of the abominations of the Romish church” (Ecclesiastical Dictionary).

Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Paulicians” p. 447-448, pub. Wesleyan Conference Office, London

The well-known Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church has a somewhat similar view of them but without any positive statements, revealing its dependence on sources hostile to the Paulicians:

PAULICIANS: Members of a sect in the Byzantine Empire.  Their founder seems to have been Constantine of Mananali, who established a community at Kibossa in Armenia, and was stoned c. 684.  They were severely persecuted in the 9th cent.; many accepted Islam, and those who sought refuge in Bulgaria seem to have amalgamated with the Bogomils in the 10th cent.  They apparently ceased to exist as a separate sect in the 12th cent.  They professed a dualistic doctrine, denied the reality of Christ’s body and of the Redemption, and considered his teaching to be Christ’s most important work.  Like Marcion, they repudiated the OT and held Luke and the Pauline epistles in particular esteem” (Oxford Dict. Christian Church).

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Ed. Livingstone, Dr. E. A., 2006, entry “Paulicians” p. 445, pub. Oxford University Press.

On the other hand, there are church histories and dictionaries which vindicate the Paulicians, revealing them to be completely biblical and faithful Christians; and because of this they were ruthlessly persecuted by the Eastern (Greek) Church, and then by the Western (Rome) Church.  The following excerpt is from a Baptist encyclopedia written and edited by David Cloud, and it gives us a far more realistic and researched view of the Paulicians.  Cloud writes:

PAULICIANS: An example of the conflict between the Bible and apostate churchianity in the first millennium involved the Paulicians.  This occurred in the eastern or Grecian part of the empire.

In roughly AD 660, a young Armenian named Constantine Sylvanus received a gift of the Four Gospels and the fourteen Epistles of Paul.  Constantine, we are told, prized these new treasures and made these Scriptures the rule of his faith.  It is probable that the name ‘Paulicians’ was derived from the love Constantine and his fellow Christians had for the Apostle Paul and for apostolic doctrine.  Regardless of the exact origin of their name, it is a fact of history, acknowledged by their enemies, that the Paulicians attempted to found their Christianity strictly upon the Bible.  Constantine’s New Testament later included the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of James and Jude, and the Three Epistles of John (George Faber, the History of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, 1838, p. 50-51).  Orchard tells us that the Paulician churches ’were formed as much upon the plan and model of the apostolic churches as it was in their power to bring them’ (History of Baptists, p. 132).  Armitage testifies, ‘As best they could, they were trying to get at the Bible, and to follow its light’ (p. 239).  For this they were hated by those who had thrown off biblical restraint.   Persecutions were soon poured out upon these bible believers.  ‘The Paulicians were sentenced to be capitally punished, and THEIR BOOKS, WHEREVER FOUND, TO BE COMMITTED TO THE FLAMES, and further, that if any person was found to have secreted them, he was to be put to death, and his goods confiscated’ (Orchard p. 134).  Constantine was stoned to death in 690 for his love for the word of God. The man who oversaw the stoning was named Simeon.  He was later converted, became the leader of this people in the place of Constantine, and ‘finally submitted himself to the flames, rather than abandon the faith which, by a sacrifice of all his worldly goods and prospects, he had embraced’ (Faber, p. 60).  Another leader of the Paulicians, Sergius, was cut into two pieces with an ax.  In those days an entire group of Paulicians was burned to death in one enormous funeral-pile (Faber p. 47).  The persecutions began during the life of Constantine and continued through the centuries following.  They began in the Grecian empire under the authority of the emperors and empresses, but as the persecuted Paulicians were scattered to Italy and other parts of Europe, they came to the attention of the Papacy as well.  The persecutions which were poured out upon the Paulicians beginning in the 7th century caused them to be scattered throughout Europe, everywhere carrying with them the New Testament faith.  The Lutheran historian Mosheim, writing in the 17th century, says, ‘From Italy the Paulicians sent colonies into almost all the other provinces of Europe, and gradually formed a considerable number of religious assemblies, who adhered to their doctrine, and who realized every opposition and indignity from the popes.’  They were later known by many names, including Paterini, Cathari, Bulgarians, Patarins, Gazarians, Turlupins, Runcarians, and Albigenses.  ‘Many historians, besides Gibbon, such as Muratori and Mosheim, regard the Paulicians as the same people as the forerunners of the Albigenses, and in fact, as the same people.’  The term ‘Albigenses’ probably derived from a Council which was held in the year 1176 at the town of Lombers near Albi, ‘for the purpose of examining certain reputed heretics’ (Faber p. 221).  One of the latest of these is Professor Conybeare, one of the highest authorities on Paulician matters (John Christian, A History of the Baptists in the United States, I p. 53).

Though the Paulicians were charged by their persecutors with following the unscriptural practices of Manicheanism, many faithful historians have proven that this was not the case.  Their ‘heresy’ was in cleaving to Scripture alone and in rejecting human tradition.  The Grecian and Catholic authorities made every effort to destroy the witness of these separated Christians, and to keep the New Testament Scriptures from the people.  The power of this separated Christian movement was in the Scriptures and in the sound teaching which was derived from the Scriptures, and the apostate ‘church’ attempted to destroy the books and manuscripts which provided this power.  They accomplished their wicked deed so effectively that we do not have the actual writings of the Paulicians.  What we know of them, we know largely by the mouth of their persecutors. 

 Paulician history has come to us mainly through the persecutors of the Paulicians, and it scarcely has its parallel for calumny in the annals of the centuries.  They have always been coupled with the Manichaeans, and nothing has been too base to say of them.  Bossuet and Bowers have been effectively answered by the learned Lardner….(Bossuet) confounded the Paulicians with the Manichaeans, principally because he implicitly trusted their two enemies, Photius and Siculus, the authors who have sent their names down from the ninth century on a tide of acrid invective.  Arnold of Germany, Beausobre and Lardner have honoured themselves with sedate investigation and judicial candor, and have set right many of the inconsistencies and contradictions of Photius and Siculus.  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….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 against Bardas by forcing her into a nunnery.  But Pope Nicholas I, by the advice of a synod held at Rome, deposed Photius as an usurper, AD 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 Patriarchate on the death of Ignatius, but was degraded and banished by the Emperor Leo for political intrigue and embezzlement of the public money.  This is the chief witness on whose word the Paulicians are condemned….

THE PAULICIANS THEMSELVES CERTAINLY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN WHAT THEY WERE, AND BOTH THESE WITNESSES EXPLICITLY STATE THAT THEY REPELLED THIS CHARGE WITH GREAT SPIRIT.  But what difference did that make with these maligners?  So long as they could befoul their fame by that odious brand, they pinned the charge to them as if it was true.  Gibbon states that the Paulicians disclaimed the theology of Manes, and the authors of the kindred heresies, and the thirty generations, or aeons, which had been created by the fruitful fancy of Valentine.  The Paulicians sincerely condemned the memory and the opinions of the Manichaean sect, and complained of the injustice which impressed that invidious name on the simple votaries of St Paul and of Christ.  All through, these witnesses judged them by a false standard of their own raising, while the Paulicians are allowed no counter evidence nor cross-examination, nothing but denial and protest…..THERE WERE DIFFERENT CLASSES OF MANICHAEANS AS WELL AS PAULICIANS, BUT PHOTIUS AND SICULUS LUMP THEM EN MASSE AND CONVICT THEMSELVES AGAIN AND AGAIN OF MISREPRESENTATION IN MATTERS OF PUBLIC NOTORIETY….

As best they could, (the Paulicians) were trying to get at the Bible and to follow its light (Thomas Armitage, ‘A History of the Baptists’, 1890, pp. 234-239).  

Wherever the Word of God was made to speak in the common language of men, it brought its gifts of eternal salvation and wisdom and sanctification and joy and every blessing of God through Jesus Christ.  In a word, the Bible brought light to men.  It showed the error of man-made tradition and condemned ecclesiastical apostasy.  Those who desired to found their Christianity upon the Bible alone, who desired to found churches after an apostolic fashion, came into conflict with those who were busy creating a man-made form of Christianity which conformed to the world.  Our knowledge of the spread of Christianity and of the spiritual conflicts between truth and error during the centuries immediately following the deaths of the apostles is relatively meagre.  We have seen that portions of the Word of God were translated into major tongues and distributed to some extent”.  (All emphases his).

Way of Life Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Christianity, ed. Cloud, David W., 2008, entry “Paulicians” 431-432, pub. Way of Life Literature, Port Huron, MI 48061

So we have here a classic case of misrepresenting, maligning, and vilifying the people of God by apostates and enemies of the gospel.  And it was done so thoroughly that the lie is taught in most theological colleges as historical truth.  Thus the Paulicians, those faithful servants of God are hardly known to Christians today, most never even having heard of them.  The record of their relationship to God through their salvation and their faith have been expunged from history, their reputation so severely trashed that they have gone down in history as heretics, and there is no remembrance of them – not as the Paulicians, that is. 

They are better known to modern Christians today as Cathari, Albigenses, and Waldenses, due to the savage and brutal “crusades” against them by the Catholic Church in its attempts to utterly wipe out these people who refused to adopt Catholicism as their religion, abandon the bible as their sole authority, and Jesus as head of the Church.  Even so, the lies and misrepresentation of these groups in the West are the same as those made against the Paulicians in the East.  But God knows them – each and every one of them.  And on that great Day of Judgment when all must stand before God, it will be far better for the Paulicians than for the Orthodox Churches; far better for the Cathari, Albigenses and Waldenses than for the Church of Rome.  Which of them loved their enemies and prayed for those who spitefully used them (Matt 5:43-48)?  Which of them knew Jesus (Matt 7:21-23)?  Not that anybody gets saved by works; but the Paulicians demonstrated their faith by their works (James 2:14-269; whereas Rome says we are saved by grace and works; by being part of the Catholic Church; by taking the Mass; by Confession to a priest; etc.

“And what shall I more say?….[they] had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword….being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy….” (Heb 11:32-38).

“Verily I say unto thee, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.  But whoso shall offend (cause to stumble) one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:3-6).