The third century found the Western churches, and specifically the bishop at Rome, gaining authority. The doctrinal debate over whether to observe the memorial of the death of Jesus on the Passover, or instead, to celebrate his resurrection, supposed to have occurred on Easter Sunday, was such an issue that it even received its own label the Quartodeciman controversy. The name comes from the Latin word meaning “fourteenth.”
The 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica discusses the problem: “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed. Thus the Passover, with a new conception added to it of Christ as the true Paschal lamb and the first fruits from the dead, continued to be observed.
“Generally speaking the Western churches kept Easter on the first day of the week, while the Eastern churches followed the Jewish rule, and kept Easter (Passover) on the 14th.
“St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that see, on the subject; and urged the tradition, which he had received from the apostle John, of observing the 14th day. About 40 years later (197) the question was discussed in a very different spirit between Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycrates. Victor demanded that all should adopt the usage prevailing at Rome.
“The few who afterwards separated themselves from the unity of the church and continued to keep the 14th day, were named Quartodecimani, and the dispute itself is known as the Quartodeciman controversy” (article “Easter,” pp. 828-829).
Historian Karl Baus writes in his work From the Apostolic Community to Constantine: “The Quartodeciman minority remained faithful to their previous practice. The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) expelled the Quartodecimans from the ecclesiastical community. Thereafter, their numbers continually declined, though even into the 5th century the great church had to deal with them on occasion” (pp. 271-272).
The 4th century turned out to be a time of monumental change in the Christian world. The church at Rome far overshadowed the smaller groups in the East who strove to remain faithful to the doctrines of the first apostles.
But whether Eastern or Western, for nearly 250 years those who were called Christians had to persevere through trial and tribulation. As the 4th century began there seemed to be no change in sight, persecution continued.
Beginning with Nero’s persecutions in A.D. 64, Christians by the year 303 had weathered nine major persecutions from the Roman government.
The terror that began in 303 was no different. That 10th persecution lasted 10 years. The Roman emperor was Diocletian. Yet, in spite of every effort to stamp out Christians, God’s Church was able to endure. And in spite of the persecution, the Western church, with its principal bishop at Rome, gained ever increasing influence.
Early in the 4th century, as Roman persecution raged, a momentous change came. Constantine, a leading Roman general and the man proclaimed Caesar by the Roman armies, commanded his troops in the battle of Malvian Bridge. Rome was about to become his.
Prior to the battle, Constantine, a worshiper of the sun, allegedly experienced an amazing vision: He saw a flaming sign of the initial letters of the name of Christ and heard a voice say, “By this sign you will conquer.” Taking this as an omen, Constantine had his soldiers paint those letters, chi and rho, on their shields.
His armies were victorious, and the Roman relationship to the Christian church was at that moment forever changed. At Milan, Constantine issued a proclamation that came to be called the Edict of Toleration, or the Edict of Milan. It accepted Christianity as an official religion in the Empire with legal equality for other religions, it was A.D. 313.
But the Christianity that Constantine acknowledged was primarily that of the church in the West. Constantine found that churches in the East and even in other parts of the vast Roman Empire differed significantly in doctrine and practice.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about what happening: “Captivated by Christianity, Constantine wanted to give it the protection of the state; for, in time with the old Roman idea, he regarded himself as Pontifex Maximus of Christianity. As such, he thought it his task to settle a controversy that was upsetting the politico-religious unity of his Christian empire. When another synod in Antioch late in 324 failed to effect the desired unity, the Emperor decided to settle the controversy by a general synod of the more important bishops of the world” (vol. 10, p. 432).
Thus the first great ecumenical council was called in the Asia Minor city of Nicea in A.D. 325. It was a major turning point. The emperor had already decreed that the day of the sun (called by many Christians the first day) should be kept as a weekly day of rest.
Now, the Council of Nicea would determine the course of action for the future of the Church. In a letter to the churches after the council, Constantine announced the outcome: that all churches were to observe Easter Sunday. So the Church centered at Rome could exercise great power. Christians in the East were at a crossroads.
Interestingly enough, more than 200 years before the council of Nicea, Christ had revealed an amazing prophecy to the apostle John. Here is that prophecy from Revelation 12:6: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.”
In Bible prophecy, a day can symbolize a year in fulfillment. Applying that interpretation to these verses, God’s Church, symbolized as a woman, would flee persecution and hide in the wilderness for 1,260 years. If that flight to the wilderness begins in about A.D. 325, we would expect to see significant events some 1,260 years later in the late 16th century.
And that’s exactly what happened. The 16th century, or the 1500s, also proved to be a vital turning point in world history. By then the work of Johannes Gutenberg made printing practical. His first great printed works were Bibles.
Then, in early 16th century, Martin Luther swept the world into a different age, as the Protestant Reformation began on the European continent. In the same century, Henry VIII broke England away from the Roman Catholic Church. By the time of Elizabeth I the Church of England was firmly established.
After the Nicean council, faithful followers of the apostolic Church and doctrine had to flee the major cities and territories. Their place in the wilderness was at first in what we now called Armenia. These faithful Christians came to be known as Paulicians. Scholars differ on the origin of that name. Some feel it was because of their devotion to the apostle Paul of the early New Testament Church. Others think the name is derived from a third-century bishop.
Perhaps the origin of the name is not so important, but who they were and what they believed is of great import.
Although these Christians existed in hiding from the early 4th century, they would not become known to the world till the 7th century. Historian A.H. Newman described the Paulician hiding place in Armenia: “It was the huge recess or circular dam formed by the Taurus mountain range that furnished a comparatively secure abiding place for this ancient form of Christianity” (A Manual of Church History, vol. 1, p. 381).
Perhaps the biggest handicap in studying Church history is the lack of original writings from those about whom we desire to know the most. In fact, a majority of the material available about any nonmainstream Christians is from those who persecuted them. Such sources can hardly be considered the most reliable.
But in the case of the Paulicians a remarkable literary discovery was made in the late 19th century. British scholar and theologian Fred C. Conybeare discovered 7th or 8th century Paulician manuscripts that had been stored in an Armenian monastery. This amazing find was called The Key of Truth. In that collection we can read about many Paulician customs and beliefs.
George Fisher says of this discovery: “In the manuscript called The Key of Truth we find many of their (the Paulicians’) beliefs. Conybeare says he had at last ‘Understood who these Paulicians really are. All who had written about them had been misled by their Calumnies (slander). I now realized (he said) that I had stumbled on the monument of a phase of the Christian Church so old and so outworn, that the very memory of it was lost’.
One of the most colorful personalities of the Paulician period was a man called Constantine of Mananeli. The time was probably in the early to mid-600s. You can read his story in chapter 54 of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. For the sake of space, we’ll paraphrase that exciting story.
In the town of Mananeli, Constantine received a returning resident who had been held captive in Syria. This man had obtained a manuscript of the New Testament. Together they studied the Scriptures. Constantine took a particular affinity to the writing of the apostle Paul (leading some scholars to conclude the origin of the name, Paulicians).
As more and more people in the area studied and became believers, they took biblical names, Timothy, Sylvanus, Titus, etc. They strove to live by the teachings of the New Testament as they came to understand it. Their members grew rapidly.
To stamp out the movement, the Byzantine emperor dispatched a man named Simeon. He gathered some of Constantine’s followers and, under penalty of death if they did not cooperate, ordered them to stone Constantine to death.
Unfortunately, in a group of believers, some may weaken. In this case at least one did and he stoned his former leader. But then developed a story stranger than fiction. Simeon was so moved by the faith of Constantine and his Paulician followers that after the death of this brave man, Simeon himself became a believer.
Much like the apostle Paul of the New Testament, Simeon embraced the doctrine he was sent to stamp out. Simeon renounced his former life, his honors and his wealth. He soon became a leader and minister among the persecuted Paulicians. Simeon also gave his life as a martyr for the Christian cause he embraced.
As Edward Gibbon wrote of these times: “From the blood and ashes of the first victims a succession of teachers and congregations repeatedly arose” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire). What an impact these Paulicians made!
Huddled in the wilderness of Armenia for several centuries, God’s people had more than occasional impact on the world. By the mid-9th century, the Empress Theodora severely persecuted Paulician Christians. By some estimates as many as 100,000 were martyred between A.D. 840 and 860.
Yet the Church’s years in the wilderness were not over. The Church would have to move. Many had already migrated toward southeastern Europe. Times would again change.
Below is a summary of the doctrines and beliefs of the Paulicians from a variety of sources including Conybeare’s Key of Truth and the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition.
1) They baptized only adults, citing Christ’s example that he was 30 years old when he was baptized.
2) They did not baptize in a font, but by immersion.
3) They believed Christ, although he was crucified for man, did not command adoration of the cross.
4) They did not believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus, nor did they consider that she was a mediatrix.
5) They rejected the Catholic mass, communion and confession.
6) They believed that true repentance was a prerequisite for baptism.
7) They believed the Church as not a building, but a body of people.
8) They were characterized by their obedience to the Ten Commandments and believed a Christian was one who knows Christ and keeps his commandments.
In summary, Fred Conybeare says of the Paulicians: “The Sabbath was perhaps kept, and there were no special Sunday observances. Wednesday and Friday were not kept as fast-days. Of the modern Christmas and of the Annunciation, and of the other feasts connected with the life of Jesus prior to his 30th year, this phase of the Church knew nothing. The general impression which the study of it leaves on us is that in it we have before us a form of Church not very remote from the primitive Jewish Christianity of Palestine”.
Christianity, by far the world’s largest religion, has more than 2.1 billion followers. But Christianity is not one harmonious group of believers. What happened? How did Christianity become divided? Even more important, where is the Church that Jesus Christ founded? After all, Christ prophesied, “I will build my church.”
As we probe more than 19 centuries of history, can we find where Jesus’ true disciples were? Can we know what they believed? And who they are today?
Large gaps often appear in the story. Information can be sketchy, even spurious. Jesus’ followers were often persecuted. During some periods, what we know about them comes only from the slanders of their adversaries.
Strange to say, almost everyone for these past 21 centuries has been looking in the wrong place for the Church that Jesus built. A great gap lies between the practices of the apostolic Church Jesus founded and those of today’s mainstream Christianity.
To his followers, wherever they are today, Jesus says, “Do no fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) A small Church often persecuted, but a Church that would obey God and faithfully await the coming of his kingdom.
By the time Jesus was born, the Roman Empire extended from Germania in the north to the Sahara in the south. Roman banners flew over cities from the Atlantic to the Euphrates. In this great empire the New Testament Church began.
One important preparation for the Church’s establishment was the Jewish dispersion throughout the Western world. From the Persian period and through the Greek empire, Jews settled in almost every major city.
Though they didn’t realize it, the Romans prepared the way for the gospel to be taken to the world. The great roads the Romans first built to move troops swiftly to battle also enabled Christian ministers to travel to far-flung corners of the empire.
After peace was established throughout the Roman Empire, a few years before the birth of Jesus Christ, open trade routes and sea lanes promoted commerce. Christ’s apostles could travel by land or sea throughout the empire. An effective mail system also played a role. Another step preparing the way for the New Testament Church was the Hellenization of the pre-Christian world. Greek, the language of education more than three centuries before Christ, was the language to preserve the New Testament.
The New Testament tells us only a little about the work of Jesus’ original apostles. We have the biographies of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Later, John wrote three letters that became part of the Scriptures. He also penned the New Testament’s final book, the book of Revelation.
There are also two letters of Peter, and single letters of James and Jude. But much of what we know about the beginning of the Church we owe to Luke. In addition to writing the biography of Jesus, Luke recorded early Church history in the Acts of the Apostles.
Luke traveled and worked with another Christian convert who was to have tremendous effect on the Church. His name was Paul.
Paul, in his extensive contributions to the New Testament Scriptures, told of his travels and defined Church doctrines as he preached the gospel of the kingdom of God throughout the Roman world from Syria westward.
The Church’s early growth went largely unnoticed in the Roman Empire. The Church appeared to be just a Jewish sect. Only 30 years after Christ’s ministry, Christian congregations existed in most major cities. A growing Christian community could be found even in the capital, Rome. In A.D. 64 a disastrous fire burned 10 of Rome’s 14 precincts. Thousands died. Public and private buildings were ruined.
Who was to blame? Unfounded rumors spread that Emperor Nero himself caused the tragedy. Politicians had to fault someone else. Christians, the scapegoats, were persecuted and put to death. The horrors of A.D. 64 made up one of the great tragedies of Church history. It was the first of 10 Roman persecutions to afflict all Christians, believers and heretics alike for some 250 years.
We pick up the story of the people of God in Armenia in Asia Minor. By the 9th century persecuted commandment-keeping Christians and other sectarians called in history Paulicians-- could no longer safely remain in the remote regions of Armenia. The rise to power of Islam in the Middle East and the power of the Byzantine church in Asia Minor virtually formed a pincer.
Faithful believers were forced to seek shelter in another region far to the west, in the Balkans, more specifically, Bulgaria.
Before we pick up their trial in Bulgaria, where they became known as Bogomils, we need to look at some of the important religious and political events that shaped the world during much of the first millennium after the time of Jesus Christ.
As the 5th century of the modern era began, all was not well in the Roman Empire. Years of decline led to the ultimate collapse of the greatest political empire in the history of the world to that time. Outside forces Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Heruli and Vandals and other barbarians overpowered the Romans. The western capital of the great empire fell in A.D. 476.
However, the power of the Christian church remained strong. Earlier that century the bishop at Rome, Leo I, met the conquering Attila and convinced him not to sack the city. Rome was spared. The bishop’s strength did not go unnoticed.
The church at Rome was poised to become one of the most important forces in world affairs. In A.D. 554, with the official recognition of the church at Rome, the eastern Roman emperor, Justinian, completed the formal restoration of the empire in the West. The church and the state would work hand in hand.
Many would speak out against the system. About 1,000 years later real and alleged abuses would cause a great split in the official Christian world in the West. Martin Luther would begin a protest, or reform movement, that would reshape the religious scene.
Another important incident in the latter half of the 4th century was the conversion to Christianity of a brilliant young orator named Augustine. The Encyclopedia Britannica emphasizes his historic importance to the Church:
“No single name has ever exercised such power over the Christian Church, and no one mind ever made so deep an impression upon Christian thought. The judgment of Catholics still proclaim the ideas of Augustine as the only sound basis of philosophy” (11th edition, vol. II p. 910). Augustine was born in North Africa, the son of a pagan father and a Christian mother. Young Augustine was educated at the University of Carthage.
His first impression of the Bible was that it was full of contradictions. While at Carthage a woman he took as his mistress bore him a son. He began to struggle against the sexual temptations surrounding him. Life and its meaning became confusing.
As Augustine struggled to find the meaning of life, he came upon two passages of Scriptures that were to change his direction. The first recorded Christ’s words to the rich ruler: ”Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me” (Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22).
The second scripture encouraged Christians to be found “not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:13-14). Augustine’s discoveries led to his conversion to Christianity. He thereafter formulated his dominant theological positions to live in austerity and celibacy. These philosophies would become an important part of Catholic theology, leading to the establishment of monastic orders and priestly celibacy. Augustine was not the first to expound these principles, but he was a dominant force in establishing them.
Augustine came to believe that sex, other than for procreation, was sin. This teaching is still controversial in religious circles.
The masterpiece of Augustine’s written works was The City of God in which he combated the belief of the pagans that Rome was destroyed because the people gave up paganism for Christianity. Augustine’s thesis was that the church on earth is both the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of heaven.
An application of this concept has been at least partly responsible for the Crusades waged on behalf of the church. Later it would have a major effect on Christianity in Europe.
Now let us return to those small groups of scattered Christians who fled from Armenia to southeastern Europe to teach what they know of God’s truth. In history these (and other) people are often called Bogomils. Different theories exist as to the origin of this name.
James Hastings, in his Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, says of the Bogomils: “The origin of the name has been usually found in the frequent use by them of the two Slavic words Bog milui, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ A more likely explanation derives it from Bogumil, ‘Beloved of God,’ in which case it may be taken to denote the idea of a pious community analogous to the (later) ‘Friends of God’ in Germany.
“But not less probable is its derivation from a personal name. Two early Bulgarian MSS (manuscripts) have been discovered which are confirmatory of each other in the common point that a ‘pope’ (leader) Bogumil was the first to promulgate the “heresy” in the vulgar (common) tongue under Bulgarian Tsar Peter, who ruled from 927 to 968. This would seem to afford a surer clue to the name, and (if correct) puts back the active emergence of the movement to the middle of the 10th century” (vol. 2, p 784).
It is difficult to accurately trace the history of these small and often persecuted groups, as explained in an Encyclopedia Britannica article on the Bogomils: “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 have come from the opponents” (vol. IV, p. 119).
To further emphasize that point, historian V. Raymond Edman writes in The Light in Dark Ages: “
The history of the Bogomils, the ‘Friends of God,’ in Thrace, Bulgaria and Bosnia, and elsewhere in Europe, is even more difficult to trace than is that of their antecedents, the Paulicians. They kept few records, and these were almost entirely obliterated by their inveterate foes (the Orthodox Church). They later wrote their own interpretation of these simple and devout disciples of the Paulicians in the Balkans whose manner of life was a rebuke to their contemporaries’ (p. 296).
With that in mind, the Britannica says of these fascinating people: “The Bogomils were without doubt the connecting link between the so-called heretical (in the eyes of their persecutors) sects of the East and those of the West. They were, moreover, the most active agents in disseminating such teaching in Russia and among all the nations of Europe.
When the Bogomils arrived in various regions, they may have found later generations of peoples taught by the original apostles of Jesus. The biblical record does not preserve the works of most of the apostles. But we do know they were commissioned to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world beyond the Greco-Roman cultural area.
These little-known Christians in Europe before the time of the Bogomils could have been remnants of faithful believers who were converted during and after the ministry of Paul. Prophecy shows Christians who kept God’s commandments and believed in the gospel of the kingdom of God would be found in the wilderness for 1,260 years (Rev. 12:6).
The Bogomils developed various forms of beliefs: 1) They were the direct successors of the apostles and rejected contact with mainstream Christianity. 2) No baptism of infants. 3) Denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that in the communion, the bread and wine literally become, by divine miracle, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. (This doctrine has been a source of difference for centuries.) They contended (as do many sectarian Christians) that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are symbolized by the bread and wine. 4) No need existed for having church buildings in which to worship. 5) No prayers to and adoration of Mary and other saints.
In his Handbook of Church History, Samuel G. Green states these were “praying people, who had in various ways attempted to solve the mystery of evil, and to counteract the temptations of the flesh by ascetic methods, without the aid of recognized religious methods and institutions. The Bogomils worshipped in private houses and in the open air.”
Additional doctrinal beliefs were these: That Satan, the firstborn son of God in the angelic realm, went astray, and that Satan created the nature of Adam and Eve. Later, God made Jesus, who overcame Satan and qualified to rule.
Bogomils used primarily the Psalm, the Prophets and the New Testament. What we know of the Bogomils’ teachings come from what their enemies wrote about them not from their own works. Isolated as they were, it is certain they did not understand some points of biblical truth we are privileged to understand today. The world was in a period when learning was suppressed and books like the Bible were rare. Even more surprising is that they could understand as much as they did. Faithful in spite of the odds against them, their zeal remains an inspiration to this day.
One of the most inspiring examples of zeal and dedication from this period is the story of a Bogomil minister named Basil. He was so active that the emperor, Alexius Commenus, decided to handle matters personally regarding him. Apparently the growing work of Basil and his co-workers troubled the Eastern emperor.
Following the example of the early Church, Basil had 12 fellow ministers with him. The emperor contrived to entrap Basil. First he arrested one of the Bogomil leaders, who confessed Basil was the head of the movement. Pretending he wanted to learn more of Basil’s teachings, the emperor brought the Bogomil leader to his palace with great flattery. A fine meal was prepared and Basil was asked to discuss his many beliefs.
For a long time the emperor listened attentively while Basil expounded the mysteries of God’s word. It was all a plot. The emperor flung open a curtain to reveal a scribe who had recorded every word. Basil had told nothing but the truth as he perceived it, though it was in various ways contrary to official beliefs. By his own words he was condemned.
Alexius then ordered all Bogomils who would not recant be burned alive. Among those was Basil one of many faithful believers willing to give their lives for the way of life they professed. Persecution could not stamp out the people of God not in that or any other age. Still hiding in the wilderness, they moved steadily westward, where they found various groups labeled as heretics in history books.
The name changes. Sometimes called by the name of a leading personality, other times by a doctrine and at other times by a region where they lived, the small and persecuted Church that kept the commandments struggled to survive.
In the westward expansion, various groups of Christians and sectarians were called Albigenses (after the name of the French town of Albi), Cathars, Bulgarians, Paterenes, Passagi, Publicani and various other names.
It would be incorrect to conclude that all these isolated and differing groups represented faithful descendants of the original Church. But among these persecuted groups, true beliefs survived.
Of the Bogomils, the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica says: “The popes in Rome whilst leading the Crusade against the Albigensians (about A.D. 1100) did not forget their counterpart in the Balkans and recommended the annihilation of the heretics. The Bogomils spread westward, and settled first in Serbia; but at the end of the 12th century, Stephen Nemanys, king of Serbia, persecuted them and expelled them from the country. Large numbers took refuge in Bosnia, where they were known under the name of Paterenes or Patarenia” (vol. IV, p. 120).
V. Raymond Edman describes these times: “Because of persecution and also because of missionary zeal to propagate their faith the Bogomils began to settle elsewhere in Europe, or to travel as merchants or artisans in Italy, France and Germany. Some remained in the mountains of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Bosnia, and during the centuries of Turkish rule received more consideration than had been their lot under Byzantium.
“Over the long centuries of medieval darkness and bloodshed they had some light from the Word, albeit with much error. They were Bogomil candles in the spiritual blackness of the Balkans much as the earlier Paulicians in Armenia and Syria had been bearers of the lamp of Life” (The Light in Dark Ages, pp. 296-297).
The times the Bogomils struggled in to preserve the word of God were the darkest of the Middle Ages. However, an even greater light was about to shine in the wilderness.
As the first millennium of the Christian era drew to a close, many people speculated whether they were living in the prophesied “time of the end.” While the word millennium does not appear in the Bible, the book of Revelation mentions a future period of 1,000 years during which the resurrected saints will rule with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:4-6). Had you been alive just before A.D. 1000, it would only have been normal to wonder if something significant was about to happen.
But judgment was not at hand. Jesus Christ did not return. And the kingdom of God was not established. But the Church Jesus founded continued to hide in “the wilderness” (Rev. 12:6). These were dark days of human history.
During these difficult times, scattered and often persecuted believers preserved remnants of truth from the early Church founded by Jesus Christ. First, these faithful followers of Jesus Christ were called Nazarenes. Then, in the region of Armenia, they were numbered among the Paulicians. As they moved westward into Europe, they were to be found among those known as Bogomils. Numerous other names were applied to non-orthodox Christians.
As religious discontentment grew, numerous dissenting groups arose in Western Europe. Because so little accurate information is known about these groups, it is difficult to discern fact from accusation. As several historical sources note, the primary information we have about them is from those who persecuted them.
The better known of the separate groups sprang up in Europe just after A.D. 1000. They made possible a measure of political and religious freedom in which the people of God could live. First were those known as Cathars. As they spread from region to region, different names were ascribed to them. Writing in Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France 1100-1250, Walter L. Wakefield observed:
“Between about 1140 and 1160 the ‘new’ dualist heresy spread from northern Europe where it appeared in cities such as Koln and Liege southward. (It) was probably about 1150 that it penetrated Languedoc. The name ‘Cathars’ was first applied to the heretics in the north about 1160. As they spread they acquired others. Paulicans was often used in the north; in Italy they were called Patarines. The connections with Balkan sects gave rise to the name Bulgars (or Bogomils). Opponents also revived ancient sect names Arimans, Manichaeans, and Marcionites - to apply to them. All Europe soon knew those who congregated in southern France as the Albigenses” (p. 30).
The Albigensians were so called after the name of the French town of Albi where large numbers of them lived.
Religious leaders undertook many measures to counteract the movement. One such measure can still be seen in the town of Albi today.
To deter the masses from joining what was called by the priests “the Albigensian heresy,” the community constructed a beautiful cathedral in Albi. Its massive size, beautiful stained-glass windows and inspiring organ and acoustics are as impressive today as they must have been hundreds of years ago.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says of the Albigensians: “In the East they were called Bogomils and Paulicians; in the West, Patarenes, Tixerands . . . . Bulgars, Concorricii, Albanenses, Albigeoia, and both, Cathars and Manicheans: (vol. V, p. 515, article “Cathars”).
“The heresy, which had penetrated into these regions probably by trade routes, came originally from eastern Europe. The name of “Bulgarians (Bougres) was often applied to the Albigenses, and they always kept up intercourse with the Bogomil sectaries of Trace.
“It is exceedingly difficult, however, to form any very precise idea of the Albigensian doctrines, as our knowledge of them is derived from their opponents, and the very rare texts emanating from the Albigensians which have come down to us contain very inadequate information concerning their metaphysical principles and moral practice.
“What is certain is that, above all, they formed an anti-sacerdotal party in permanent opposition to the Roman Church, and raised a continued protest against the corruption of the clergy of their time” (vol. 1, p. 505, article “Albigenses”).
“By the beginning of the 13th century, the Albigenses had become a threat to the very existence of the Church in Southern France. Innocent III at first attempted to convert the heretics by sending Cistercian and later Dominican preachers into the infected area, but sermons and disputations proved generally ineffective. When the Papal Legate, Peter of Castelnau, was murdered in 1208, the Pope decided that the use of force was justified and launched a crusade against the recalcitrant Albigenses.
Once deprived of baronial protection, the Albigenses found it necessary to flee or go underground. Their final extirpation was accomplished by the Inquisition established by Gregory IX in 1233. By the end of the 14th century their power was completely broken” (p. 96).
Heretic though they were, when viewed through the eyes of contemporary religious leaders, the Albigenses or Cathari provided the religious ferment in which the people of God could begin to flourish.
As we’ve noted, these sectarians appear under many different names. Because of their association with the heirs of the original Jewish Christians of the first century, some individuals and groups came to better understand the doctrines and traditions of the early Church.
One such group were the Pasagini. The Church historian Mosheim says that they seem to have been a remnant of the Nazarenes. They had distinguishing tenets: 1) that the observance of the Law of Moses in everything except the offering of sacrifices was obligatory upon Christians; 2) that Christ was the first and purest creature of God, which appears to be doctrine of the Arians.
Of course, the latter doctrine, if indeed that is what they taught, was in error. But the point is that so-called “Jewish Christians” or Nazarenes perpetuated the Sabbath, the laws of clean and unclean meats, the Holy Days and other doctrines, just as the Church recorded in the biblical book of Acts practiced.
Another group located around Milan in northern Italy was the Patarines. The Encyclopedia Dictionary of Religion says they were “members of a movement at Milan (c. 1050) against the simony and concubinage of the clergy. The quarter of the city where they met, Pataria, is probably the origin of the name.
“Their leaders, Ariadldus and Erlembaldus, were martyred by agents of the archbishops. The spirit of the movement spread to other parts of Italy and contributed to the Gregorian Reform. By the end of the 11th century the Patarines ceased to be active. For uncertain reasons the same name was applied in the 12th century to the Bogomils; Lateran Council IV used it as practically synonymous with Cathari; and in the 13th and 14th centuries it often designated any sort of heretic” (p. 2691).
We read further of them in John Henry Blunt’s Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought: “They observed the law of Moses except as to sacrifices; circumcision, the Sabbath, and distinctions of clean and unclean food, all forming part of their system, and hence they were called, ‘Circumcisi’ . . . . . the Pasagians appealed to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in support of their doctrine” (“Pasagians,” pp. 408-409).
Thus we find the north of Italy and the south of France in a certain religious turmoil. Some among the groups we study in a history of the Church were faithful to the Sabbath, the New Testament Passover and other customs of the early apostles.
These sectarian Christians as they are viewed in history grew in number. Countermeasures taken by both church and state varied in their effectiveness, but none could stamp out the adherents who were deeply committed to their beliefs. Out of these movements came many leaders and sometimes martyrs for their causes.
One such man, in the south of France, was Peter de Brueys. His story is told in numerous reference works. Out of this most unusual man’s work grew a movement called after his name the Petrobusians.
His career began in about A.D. 1104 in the town of Bruy or Bruey. He was apparently a member of the secular clergy, but came to oppose the clerical abuses and doctrinal errors. Much of what we know about Peter de Brueys comes from the writings of another man named Peter Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Clugny, who rebutted Peter de Brueys’ doctrinal position.
The Abbot of Clugny wrote that the heresy of Peter de Brueys had been flourishing for 20 years when the Abbot wrote in A.D. 1125. Charges of heresy filed against Peter de Brueys included these points:
1) He rejected infant baptism. 2) He denied that anything special resulted from consecrating church buildings, and in fact advocated pulling down such pretentious buildings. 3) He objected to adoration and honor given to the cross feeling the cross should be a symbol of horror to all Christians. 4) He denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. 5) He rejected the use of prayers and other deeds done on behalf of the dead.
Peter de Brueys was not ascetic in his beliefs. He thought of marriage as having the highest value and believed priests ought to marry.
In condemning him, Peter the Venerable called him that “wretched little man,” and wrote: “The people are re-baptized, churches profaned, altars overturned, crosses are burnt, meat eaten openly on the day of the Lord’s Passion, priests scourged, monks cast into dungeons, and by terror or torture constrained to marry” (Dictionary of Sects, and Heresies p. 423).
One day, as Peter de Brueys preached, an angry mob seized him and committed him to the flames in the French town of St. Gilles. It was about A.D. 1125. In only two decades one man stirred a whole region of Europe and laid the foundation for what was to follow.
A second personality of the 12th century was Arnold of Brescia. From the south of France all the way to Rome, he preached against the evils and corruptions he found in the established church. As with Peter de Brueys, numerous reference materials are available to read about Arnold of Brescia. He was willing to stand against all opposition for the truth he could understand.
Arnold and those who followed him, called Arnoldists, developed an opposition to the wealth and resultant abuses of the clergy in his area. Arnold believed the civil government should be separated from the church. Arnold, in his day, paved the way for later civil and religious liberties.
In History of the Christian Church, Professor Schaff writes of Arnold: “It was the political complication which caused his ruin. Arnold sought the welfare of the Church in her complete separation from the State and of the clerical office from secular entanglements” (p. 98).
A third powerful personality of the 12th century was a former Benedictine monk Henry from the city of Lausanne.
The Dictionary of Sects, and Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought describes Henry or Henri: “He was of imposing stature, wore a cropped beard and flowing hair, went barefooted in winter, with a frame so robust as to endure with ease the utmost rigours of the climate, and a voice so powerful that his adversaries compared it to the roar of legions of devils” (p. 183).
He was monk by education, but his studies led him to conclude marriage was honorable for priests. Gradually his opposition to established teachings grew till he was numbered among the heretics. He continually denounced the vices of the clergy in his area. He was banished from Lausanne by the bishop, and his journeys led him to the south of France where he followed in the way opened by Peter de Brueys. He, as Peter before, came to see that the Church of God was not buildings made from stone but was, rather, the congregation of believers. He preached that God may be worshiped in a marketplace or stable as well as in a consecrated church building.
Henry and his followers (called Henricians by others) preached in the streets and town squares. Along with the Petrobusians, they rejected the cross and the sacred music that had become an important function of religious worship. As a result of his preaching, Henry was seized and imprisoned. The probable date of his death was A.D. 1149.
We can only strive to imagine how difficult it must have been to live in opposition to established beliefs, customs and practices during those grim times. Branded as heretics, banished, arrested, sometimes tortured and in the end put to violent death, these remarkable individuals endured to the end.
The first crusade (organized before A.D. 1100) was organized to suppress the heretical Albigenses and for other political purposes before the Crusaders were dispatched to take Jerusalem from the Muslims. By 1184, so influential were these many nettlesome movements that Pope Lucius III issued his famous decree, excerpts from which show the impact of contrary views during this tumultuous period.
But the most serious method of suppression was yet to come the Inquisition. The word still makes one shudder to think of man’s inhumanity to his fellowman. And, all in the name of religion. In part three we’ll discuss the nightmare that was the Inquisition. But we’ll also see how the stage was set for later dramatic times. The light of the small group of apostolic believers that had barely flickered in the Middle Ages was about to burn more brightly.