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Feature | Entry of Slavs into Christendom | serbianna.com The Balkan Slavs: Bosnia & the Bogomil Heresy

Ignoring as we may diverse heresies which flourished here and there, a general survey of early Balkan Slav Christianity would yet be incomplete without some account of the Bogomils. A full exposition of their beliefs and customs must be sought elsewhere.

Briefly, Bogomilism was both dualist and 'puritan'. It was dualist in that it believed that Satan or Satanael, God's rebel elder son, was the creator of the universe. All matter therefore derives from an autonomous evil principle at war with God. Our bodies and their functions are unsanctified and cannot be sanctified. Satan made the body of man; the soul only was from God. It was puritan in that it rejected most of the dogmas and rites of the church as a human superstructure without the authority of Christ - an illusion which Satan has foisted on us. Thus typical Bogomil doctrine rejected all the Old Testament except the Psalms and retained of the New only Jesus's teachings in the Spirit. His whole human life, as partaking of matter, was necessarily mere appearance. Atonement and Redemption become meaningless if man, created not by God but by Satan, never fell. The Mother of God and the Cross are hateful debasements; the sacraments, including marriage, valueless; the Doctors of the church - false teachers. The doctrine of the Trinity was interpreted in various unorthodox ways. Their practice therefore was deceptively simple: prayer to God and to his true emanation, Jesus - especially the Lord's Prayer; non-involvement as far as possible in all the toils of matter, including sexual abstinence; the avoidance of wine and all food of living origin.

There will necessarily be an order of more 'perfect' Bogomils able, unlike the majority of men, to follow the most strict interpretation of these abnegatory principles. Further, since the church goes hand in hand with government, there was a strong element of social protest in  Bogomilism, a refusal to obey civil and military authority in any way which conflicted with this conception of 'primitive Christianity'. Naturally over a long period of time doctrine and custom varied from place to place. Some consider this social disobedience the mainspring of the movement's success.

The main ingredient in Bogomil belief was the Paulician heresy indigenous to the Byzantine Empire's troubled eastern frontier over against the Monophysite churches and Islam. Both the Byzantine authorities and the Armenians took repressive measures against the Paulicians in the eighth and ninth centuries.
(a) The Paulicians themselves were no doubt of many races, but a considerable proportion must have been Armenians.
On several occasions Constantine V  Copronymos (regnabat 741-75) took the unwise step of forcibly transferring large bodies of Paulicians to Thrace, since, partly by virtue of their strict religious principles, they were a well-disciplined and martial  people (a): the defence of the western approaches to the Imperial City was a more and more insistent need against Bulgars and others. This Iconoclast Emperor considered Paulicians less dangerous in the religious sense than some of his more Orthodox subjects. For about a century the heresy continued quietly spreading in Thrace.

The expansion of the Bulgarian state southwards at the expense of the Empire and its entry into Christendom in the 860s marked a new phase. From the earliest years of their Christianity the Bulgarians were faced not only with rival Christian missions but also with the presence among them of this self-styled pure and primitive form of Christianity. Monophysite Armenians, Jews and even Moslems, resident in the country added to the confusion. It is very likely that the Slav peasantry in parts of Bulgaria was from the first in closer contact with Bogomil beliefs than with the Orthodoxy which was then being laboriously imposed on it from above. Dualist doctrine had the same advantage of theological simplicity that Arianism had had for the semi-civilised Germanic peoples.

The young Bulgarian church was immediately made aware of the danger. The last of Pope Nicholas I's Responsa to Boris warns of the danger of false teachings without being specific about heresy as such. A few years later (about 872) the newly appointed Archbishop of Bulgaria received from Peter of Sicily a tract on the dualist heresy which he had been commissioned to investigate by the Emperor Basil I. John the Exarch attacks heretics, presumably of this persuasion, in his Shestodnev, written c.915: he argues at length that there is no evil principle (zula sila) in the Creation.

The Paulicians and similar sects could not be stamped out either in Thrace or in Asia Minor; in Bulgarian territory it was far beyond the means of scattered missions to oppose their spread.
(a) Originally, as in some early texts, Bogumil, a calque of Greek  meanning dear to God, but the later and more normal form for a Slav binomial name is generally adopted. It is curious, however, that his followers are always referred to as 'Bogomils' and not, as would be expected, by a derivative from the heresiarch's name. This has led a few scholars to doubt his existence and put the name 'Bogomils' on a par with 'Cathars' - that is, pure ones - a name known from the early eleventh century in Languedoc and North Italy.

The peculiarly Bulgarian form of the heresy, however, does not seem to have arisen before the reign of Peter (927-69); for it was in his time that the eponymous founder of it, Bogomil,(a)  lived and propagated a personal variant, or selection, of these diverse doctrines. The region in which he worked is not known for certain but is likely to have been Macedonia. Theophylakt of Ohrid alludes to 'a beastly heresy', which can scarcely be other than Bogomilism, as developing thereabouts in the years following St Clement's death (916). Whether SS Clement and Naum themselves had to contend with it does not appear from the available sources.

Bogomil's preaching met with marked success. From the middle of the tenth century the sect as a native heresy began to flourish. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Theophylakt (fungebatur 933-56), sent an official warning to Tsar Peter against this new heresy. The Bulgarian church   itself, after a century of development, was not above reproach and needed in some respects to set its own house in order. This is clear from Cosmas the Priest's Tract Against the Bogomils, written about 972. He points to many shortcomings in the Bulgarian church which helped to account for the vigour of this popular movement - in particular, worldliness and ignorance of the clergy. Cosmas's strictures certainly appear to indicate an element of social protest in the Bogomil movement; its adherents were still largely drawn from the lower classes. His account is also one of the best sources for its beliefs at that stage, though in the nature of things it cannot be taken as a complete and unbiassed account.

The havoc wrought by the laborious Byzantine reconquest of Bulgaria during the next half-century was largely responsible for the further dispersion of the Bogomil doctrines. The Paulician sect had even been strengthened about Philippopolis (Plovdiv) by another large transference of its adherents from Asia Minor by John Tzimiskes about 975; they were left undisturbed in their beliefs provided that they kept the Bulgarians at bay. There is nothing to suggest that Tsar Samuel was not himself Orthodox but some members of his family are suspect of Bogomil leanings and he may have found himself, under pressure of political and military needs, obliged to be more or less tolerant to the sect in his dominions. It was at this time that Bogomilism spread into Serbia and Bosnia, both for a time under his rule, and probably beyond.

The Byzantine authorities fared no better in dealing with the heresy in conquered Bulgaria. There is by this time more reason to associate it with a movement of national resistance to Greek domination and the hellenization of the country, including the official Church. On top of this Bulgaria was devastated by nomad incursions, especially by the Pechenegs in 1048, and soon Constantinople was too occupied with new difficulties on her eastern frontier to give more than scant attention to Bulgaria. Bogomil religious leaders had no doubt always been recruited if lapsed Orthodox, from the lower, parish clergy, of Slav race. Now the Greeks increasingly filled the higher ranks of the Bulgarian church, this dichotomy was rendered more acute and obvious. At the same time insofar as the movement became anti-Greek, it tended also to invade the higher levels of Bulgarian society. It was, in short, becoming more respectable.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries show the heresy at its most vigorous. From the Balkans it had spread westwards, by the agency of merchants and perhaps Crusaders, via North Italy to Southern France where the so-called Albigensian Crusade had to be organised for its suppression. By about 1100 Bulgarian Bogomilism had already penetrated into educated Byzantine circles. Alexios Komnenos (1081-1118) took the drastic step just before his death of having a prominent Bogomil leader, Basil, burnt as a heretic. Evidently the movement had come out into the open even within the Byzantine Empire. Several bishops and even one Patriarch - Kosmas Attikos (I1146-7) - were suspect of contamination by these doctrines. A synod held at Constantinople in 1140 called for the destruction of various pernicious Greek works whicch contained doctrines similar to those of the Massalians, 'otherwise called Bogomils'.
(a) Bulgaria=Macedonia; Dragovitia=Thrace, with centre at Plovdiv, the former territories of the Slav tribe Dragovitai or Druguvitai. The latter may also have remained more strictly Paulician than Bogomil.
Notices of more or less solidly Bogomil districts within the Byzantine Empire reach to the end of the twelfth century. In the East the movement was strong enough to require organisation on a territorial principle. The main 'churches' were called Bulgaria and Dragovitia.(a)

Further west Bosnia, centred on the valley of the River Bosna, had become the most infected area. For long disputed between its ring of more powerful neighbours, Bosnia was not yet firmly integrated into any ecclesiastical body. A Bosnian see is assumed by Pope Alexander III in 1066/7, perhaps a Latin see recently founded by the Croat Peter-Kreshimir IV in the archdiocese of Split. If it survived it must have been transferred to Ragusa about 1100. That Bar's writ ever ran in Bosnia is dubious; Ragusa was always Bosnia's most important link with the outside world, as is clear from Ban Kulin's commercial treaty of 1189. Bosnia became under its bans a refuge for persecuted heretics, supporting its resistance to political extinction. Kulin (c.1180-1204) and his successors all appear to have been favourable to, or at least tolerant of, this popular movement.

A more stern persecution of heretics in general and Cathars in particular was set in motion by the Edict of Verona in 1184. About 1199 Vukan of Zeta denounced Kulin to the Pope as a heretic and the Pope encouraged Hungary, which then dominated most of the North Balkans, to take repressive measures in Bosnia. Kulin hastened to submit to Papal enquiry. He made formal abjuration to the Papal Legate John de Casamaris in April 1203 but the condemnation of the heresy by the Bosnian synod remained a dead letter. The Pope's plans for strengthening Bosnian Catholicism by three or four new bishoprics did not succeed.
(d) This name dates from 1448 when Stephen Vukchich was created by Frederick III 'Duke (Herzog) of St Sava'.

The Bogomils were also strong in the province of Hum (modern Hercegovina) (d) where a Papal Legate reported the heresy as rife in 1180. Some Bogomil influence has been claimed in the miniatures of Miroslav's Gospel Book. Bogomils were also numerous in the cities of Split and Trogir; they took refuge in Bosnia when the Dalmatian coast became too dangerous for them under the purifying measures of Bernard of Split (1199-1200). Stephen Nemanja and his son attempted to stamp the heresy out in their dominions, with what success is difficult to estimate. These persecutions no doubt helped further to concentrate the sectarians in Bosnia.
(a) Hungary claimed Bosnia again under the Pacta Convenia of 1202, as formerly Croatian territory which Bela III had given to his son Ladislas in 1137, but it could not formally be brought under the Hungarian crown.
Constant Hungarian pressure on Bosnia had only limited success.(a)

The heresy was difficult to pin down. When in danger its adherents had always assumed the outward mask of Orthodox or Latin Christians. 
(b) Potarene is often supposed to be from pater, a mode of address between them, or from paternoster, in allusion to the one Christian prayer constantly on Bogomil lips. But the consistent spelling is against this. The name appears to have originated in the eleventh century for a Milanese sect practising poverty: the Pataria was the quarter of Milan where the rag-merchants congregated. The name was therefore only tranaferred to the Bogomils and certainly spread to Bosnia via Ragusa. Another name, Balun, is even more obscure (Sadnik and Aitzetmuller, Handworterbuch, no. 145): it is apparently perpetuated in the Croat surname Babunid.
They claimed after all to be the purest Christians of all. They now passed under various local names, of which the most usual was Patarenes.(b) Ban Kulin's son Stephen was nominally a Catholic but could do little to influence what may by now have been the predominant religion of his land. He was deposed by the convinced Bogomil Ninoslav (1232-c1250). But Ninoslav (Matthew) also found it politic to be outwardly accommodating to a Papal Legate despatched in 1232. Pope Gregory IX, who harried the heresy in all the affected areas, succeeded in having a German Dominican appointed Bishop of Bosnia (1234), pahaps now directly subject to Rome.

In August 1247 the Bosnian see was transferred to the Hungarian archbishopric of Kalocsa. But the Hungarian arm hardly reached so far. Until Ninoslav's death Bosnia was regarded by all as an heretical state of which Bogomilism was the official religion. The head of the 'church' (Did) and twelve elders acted as the supreme council, chancellery and court of the land. But owing to the secretiveness of the convinced Bogomils and the bias of all outside observers it is well-nigh impossible to arrive at the truth. The strength of the Bogomil church and the complaisance of Ninoslav are held by some scholars to have been greatly exaggerated. Catholic bishops of Bosnia, subject to a distant metropolis in Dalmatia or Hungary, admittedly failed to get to grips with the scattered and mobile heretics; but anything in the nature of a formal Bogomil church has been denied. Even the 'elect' - the Krshchani - have been considered not so much heretics as an archaic, perhaps gnostic, monastic sect. It is true that the Bogomils did not generally go as far as the Cathars in their rejection of the church. Thirteenth-century Bosnia may represent their most successful attempt to be treated as an 'elect' order within it. But Orthodoxy does not accept such esoteric orders.

Bogomilism must be considered as much the cause of the spread of the Glagolitic alphabet to Bosnia as the province's links with Croatian Dalmatia. 
(b) The Latin alphabet, normal in Hungary and most of Croatia, had limited currency there before the eighteenth century, though the coinage minted from the abundant native silver from the middle of the fourteenth century usually had Latin inscriptions.
The Greek conquerors of Macedonia were apt to assume the heretical nature of the unreadable and now 'unofficial' Glagolitic writings and destroyed many. Refugees took them to Bosnia, where the Cyrillic script was normal.(b) Thus local orthographic habits arose from a Glagolitic veneer over a Serbian Cyrillic cursive style.

Meanwhile the movement was losing its impetus in Bulgaria and Serbia. Under the Second Bulgarian Empire (from 1186) the heresy was sometimes persecuted, sometimes tolerated. It was formally condemned by Tsar Boril at the Synod of Turnovo (1211) but later rulers appear to have still shown some tolerance whenever it was politically expedient. A similar condemnation was promulgated at the Serbian Synod of Zicha in 1221. From these and other sources we learn that the heresy was still strong about Plovdiv and Ohrid.

The Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 contributed to this decline. There was more persecution within the Latin-ruled lands. Indeed the excuse for the capture of the Dalmatian town of Zadar (Zara) in 1202 by the Crusaders at the instigation of Venice was that it was a stronghold of the heresy, no doubt the chief focus of its continued radiation to North Italy. Venice had long wished to reduce this inconvenient fortress, now in Hungarian hands, and acquire permanent control of it. 
(c) The main 'Albigensian Crusade' was over by 1215 but the Pyrenean fortress o Montsegur was only destroyed in the 1240s. The movement declined rapidly in the south of France from the middle of the thirteenth century.
These persecutions led to some further emigration to the West and to greater concentration in the less accessible parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Concurrently persecution in the West may have brought refugee back to the Balkans.(c) As the Serbian state expanded in the fourteenth century it again absorbed Bogomil subjects, not only in Bosnia itself. The heresy was thus a running sore which Tsar Dushan found it necessary to condemn explicitly in his Law Code (Zakonik) of 1346.

Throughout the fourteenth century Bosnia continued to harbour the heresy, while Catholic and Orthodox now competed more openly for its ecclesiastical allegiance. Bosnia was at its most powerful under Stephen Tvrtko I (1353-91), half Croat and half Serb, who assumed the title of King of Bosnia and Serbia in 1377 and had himself crowned at St Sava's tomb at Mileshevo. His predecessor Stephen II Kotromanich (13I4-53) who had conquered Hercegovina, had passed from Orthodoxy to Catholicism and received on two occasions Franciscan inquisitors and missionaries. Tvrtko also veered between the two. Bosnia's independence was for a short time less precarious; any national sentiment which may have centred on Bogomilism was now satisfied.

With the Turkish conquest of the Balkans the heresy finally lost its raison d'etre. Bosnia and Hercegovina were occupied in 1463 and 1483 respectively. Orthodoxy or Catholicism was strengthened as the life-line of the conquered Slav peoples. The Bosnians, who had never firmly opted for the one or the other, and as Bogomils considered both equally erroneous, went over in large numbers to Islam. As Moslems the nobility were able to preserve their estates and position. Bosnia to this day remains the most obviously Moslem area of the Slav Balkans.

(a) The virtual absence of twelfth-century Serbian icons is sometimes ascribed Bogomil influence. Cosmas felt the need in his Tract to defend the use icons once again against Bogomil disapproval.
(b) Dragutin inhtrited North Bosnia in 1282 through his wife, a daughter of the Hungarian King Stephen V. Stephen Kotroman of Bosnia (1272-98) married Dragutin's daughter. Dragutin himself was converted in 1291 to Catholicism. But the church essentially Byzantine in style.
There are few material traces of the heresy left. By its nature it was iconoclast and did not encourage the building of religious edifices.(a) It may suffice to note two things. At Arilje, south of Uzice toward Bosnia, Stephen Dragutin, King of Serbia from 1276 to 1282, built St Achilles as a new episcopal church about 1295.(b) A well preserved  contemporary fresco shows Dragutin and his brother Milutin (a great ecclesiastical builder) enthroned on either side of their grandfather Stephen the First-crowned. Below them a disputation is in progress between Orthodox bishops and Bogomil 'priests'. The latter are of course on the left side of Stephen, the side of the goats. Secondly, the so-called Bogomil sepulchral monuments (siechak, pl.stechci), numerous in certain parts of Hercegovina, have in all probability no close connection with the Bogomil heresy. There are no specifically Bogomil symbols by which they could be definitely identified as monuments of these heretics. Some are clearly Orthodox or Catholic. The best suggestion is that the majority, which belong to the late period of the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries, were erected by the local tribes of Vlach, highland pastoralists speaking dialects akin to Romanian. They were then still a prominent element in the population and provided the animal transport for the trade caravans which plied between the Dalmatian ports, especially Ragusa, and the interior. What the religious beliefs of these Vlachs were cannot be ascertained.

The chief remaining record of the Bogomil movement is therefore in written form - its service-books and scriptures together with the polemics of those who sought to eradicate it. Dualist texts spread as far as the Pyrenees and Novgorod in North Russia. The manuscripts that survive date mostly from the declining days of the heresy, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Various copies of New Testament compilations - Tetrevangels and Apostols - have been held to be Bogomil copies, though this is often difficult to substantiate. The thirteenth century Provencal Cathar Missal is unambiguously dualist and may well go back to a now lost Bulgarian original. Above all there are the numerous apocrypha which, as is the general habit of sects and heresies, tend to take the place of the Orthodox canon. Some of these were already well- known works, grafted onto material of the Old Testament (for example, the Book of Enoch) or the New (the Gospel of Nicodcmus and the Gospel of St Thomas, otherwise known as the Childhood of JesUs). Others appear to have been original Bogomil compositions, more directly promulgating dualist doctrine. Among these we may note: the so-called Interrogatio sancti Iohannis, whose date and original language are however uncertain, Latin versions alone being known; the vision of Isaiah, the Story of Adam and Eve and the Razumnik (passing under many different titles). They were the esoteric core of the heresy, concealed as far as possible from the light of day.

END

 
 

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Entry of Slavs into Christendom
The Slavs in the Byzantine Empire

The Balkan Slavs

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  • Bosnia and the Bogomil Heresy

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