Century IX, Chapter II

CHAP. II.

The Paulicians.

ABOUT the year 660, a new sect arose in the east, the accounts of which are far more scanty than a writer of real church history would wish.* Constantine, a person who dwelt in Mananalis, an obscure town in the neighbourhood of Samosata, entertained a deacon, who, having been a prisoner among the mahometans, had returned from captivity, and received, from the same deacon the gift of the new testament in the original language. Even then the laity had begun to think themselves excluded from the reading of the sacred

* Photius, b. 1. Contra. Manichseos et Petrus Siculus Hist. Manichzor. These are the two original sources, from which Mosheim and Gibbon have drawn their information concerning the paulicians. Photius and Peter have not fallen into my hands; and their prejudice and passion w ere so great, that my reader will very probably be no great loser by the circumstance- By the assistance of the two modern authors, I shall state the few facts which are known, and give as impartial a judgment concerning the sect in question as I can. The candor of Gibbon is remarkable in this part of his history. O si sic omnia! Mosheim Ecclc. Hist. ix. cewt. Gibbon- vol. v. c. 54.

volume; and the clergy, both in the east and the west, encouraged this apprehension. The growing ignorance, rendered by far the greatest part of the laity incapable of reading the scriptures. I do not find any ecclesiastical prohibitory decree in these times, nor was there much occasion for it. But Constantine made the best Use of the deacon's present. He studied the sacred oracles, and exercised his own understanding upon them. He formed to himself a plan of divinity from the new testament; and, as St. Paul is the most systematical of all the apostles, Constantine very properly attached himself to his writings with peculiar attention, as indeed every serious theologian mustdo. He will find, nodoubt, the same truths interspersed through the rest of the sacred volume, and an amazing unity of design and spirit breathing through the whole; but, as it pleased God to employ one person more learned than the rest, it is highly proper, that the student should avail himself of this advantage. That Constantine was in possession of the genuine text, was acknowledged universally. A remarkable circumstance! which shows the watchful providence of God over the scriptures! Amidst the thousand frauds and sophisms of the times, no adulteration of them was ever permitted to take place.

The enemies of the paulicians give them the name from some unknown teacher; but there seems scarce a doubt, that they took the name from St. Paul himself. For Constantine gave himself the name of Sylvanus; and his disciples were called Titus, Timothy, Tychicus, the names of the apostle's fellow labourers; and the names of the apostolic churches were given to the congregations formed by their labours in Armenia and Cappadocia. Their enemies called them gnostics or manichees; and confounded them with those ancient sectaries, of whom it is probable that, there were then scarce any remains. It has been too customary to connect different and independent sects into one; and to suppose, that every new phenomenon in religion is nothing more than the revival of some former party. This is frequently the case, but not always. In the present instance, I see reason to suppose the paulicians to have been perfect originals, in regard to any other denomination of christians. The little, that has already been mentioned concerning them, carries intirely this appearance; and, I hope, it may shortly be evident, that they originated from an heavenly influence, teaching and converting them; and that, in them, we have one of those extraordinary effusions of the divine Spirit, by which the knowledge of Christ and the practice of godliness is kept alive in the world. The paulicians are said to have rejected the two epistles of St. Peter. We know nothing of these men, but from the pens of their enemies. Their writings, and the lives of their eminent teachers are totally lost. In this case, common justice requires us to suspend our belief; and, if internal evidence militate in their favour, a strong presumption is formed against the credibility of a report, raised to their disadvantage. This is the case in the present instance: for, there is nothing in St. Peter's writings, that could naturally prejudice, against those writings, persons, who cordially received the epistles of St. Paul. There is, on the other hand, the most perfect coincidence of sentiment and spirit between the two apostles; and, in the latter epistle of St. Peter, toward the end, there is a very remarkable testimony to the inspired character and divine wisdom of St. Paul. That this sect also despised the whole of the old testament, is asserted, but on grounds, which seem utterly unwarrantable. For, they are said to have done this as gnostics and manichees, though they steadily condemned the manichees, and complained of the injustice, which branded them with that odious name. They are also charged with holding the eternity of matter, and the existence of two independent principles; and with denying the real sufferings and real flesh of Christ. It seems no way was found so convenient to disgrace them, as by the charge of manicheism. But I cannot believe that they held these tenets; not only because they themselves denied the charge, but also because they unquestionably held things perfectly incon

sistcnt with such notions. Is it possible, that rational creatures, men indued with common understanding, could agree to revere the writings of St. Paul, and to consider them as divinely inspired, and at the same time to condemn those of the old testament?

The reader, who is moderately versed in scripture, need not be told, that the apostle is continually quoting the old testament, expounding and illustrating, and building his doctrines upon it: in short, that the new testament is so indissolubly connected with the old, that he, who despises the latter, cannot really, whatever he may pretend, respect the former as divine; and that this observation holds good in regard to all the writers of the new testament, and to St. Paul still more particularly. It is allowed also, that the paulicians held the common orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, with the confession and use of which the whole apparatus of the manichean fable seems incompatible. Let the reader reflect only on the light in which manicheism appeared to Augustine of Hippo, after he became acquainted with St. Paul, and he will probably form a just estimate of this whole subject.

This people also were perfectly free from the image worship, which more and more pervaded the east. They were simply scriptural in the use of the sacraments: they disregarded relics, and all the fashionable equipage of superstition; and they knew no other mediator, but the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sylvanus preached with great success. Pontus and Cappadocia, regions once renowned for christian piety, were again enlightened through his labours. He and his associates were distinguished from the clergy of that day, by their scriptural names, modest titles, zeal, knowledge, activity, and holiness. Their congregations were diffused over the provinces of Asia Minor to the west of the Euphrates: six of the principal churches were called by the names of those, to whom St. Paul addressed his epistles: and Sylvanus resided in the neighbourhood of Colonia in Pontus. Roused by the growing importance of the sect, the Greek emperors began to persecute the paulicians with the most sanguinary severity; and, under christian forms and names, they reacted the scenes of Galerius and Maximin. " To their other excellent deeds," says the bigoted Peter, the Sicilian, " the divine and orthodox emperors added this virtue, that they ordered the montanists and manicheans* to be capitally punished; and their books, wherever found, to be committed to the flames: also, that if any person was found to have secreted them, he was to be put to death, and his goods to be confiscated. False religion, in all ages, hates the light, and supports herself by persecution, not by instruction; while the real truth, as it is in Jesus, always Comes To The Light of scripture, and exhibits that light plainly to the world by reading and expounding the sacred volume, whence alone she derives her authority.

A Greek officer, named Simeon, armed with imperial authority, came to Colonia, and apprehended Sylvanus and a number of his disciples. Stones were put into the hands of these last, and they were required I to kill their pastor, as the price of their forgiveness. A person, named Justus, was the only one of the number who obeyed; and he stoned to death the father of the paulicians, who had laboured twenty-seven years. Justus signaziled himself still more by betray- | ing his brethren; while Simeon, struck, no doubt, with the evidences of divine grace apparent in the sufferers, embraced, at length, the faith which he came f to destroy, gave up the world, preached the gospel, and died a martyr. For an hundred and fifty years I these servants of Christ underwent the horrors of persecution, with christian patience and meekness; and if the acts of their martyrdom, their preaching, and their lives were distinctly recorded, there seems no

• Such, I suppose, were the opprobrious names given to the paulicians. The real montanists had originated in the second century, and had pro. bably now no existence. We see here a farther proof of the vague anti delusory modes of criminating the paulicians.

doubt, but this people would appear to have resembled those, whom the church justly reveres as having suffered in the behalf of Christ during the three first centuries. During all this time the power of the spirit of God was with them; and they practised the precepts of the 1.1th chapter to the Romans, as well as believed and felt the precious truths contained in the doctrinal chapters of the same epistle. The blood of the murtyrs was, in this case, as formerly, the seed of the church: a succession of teachers and congregations arose, and a person named Sergius, who laboured among them thirty three years, is confessed by the bigoted historians to have been a man of extraordinary virtue. The persecution had, however, some intermissions, till at length Theodora, the same empress, who fully established image worship, exerted herself beyond any of her predecessors against the paulicians. Her inquisitors ransacked the Lesser Asia, in search of these sectaries; and she is computed to have killed by the gibbet, by fire, and by sword, a hundred thousand persons.

We have brought down the scanty history of this people to about the year 845. To undergo a constant scene of persecution with christian meekness, and to render both to God and to Cesar their dues all the time, at once require and evidence the strength of real grace. Of this the paulicians seem to have been possessed till the period just mentioned. They remembered the injunction of Rev. xiii. 10. He that killeth with the sword, must be killed with the sword: here is the faith and patience of the saints. Let christians believe, rejoice in God, patiently suffer, return good for evil, and still obey those, whom God hath set over them. These weapons have ever been found too hard for Satan: the church has grown exceedingly, wherever they were faithfully handled; and the power of the gospel has prevailed. This was the case very eminently with the church, in the era of Dioclesian's persecution. She not only outlived the storm, but ajso, under the conduct of providence, became externally, as well as internally superior to her enemies, ll the paulicians had continued to act thus, similar consequences might have been rationally expected. But faith and patience failed at length. We are ignorant of the steps by which they were gradually betrayed into a secular spirit. About the year 845, they murdered two persecutors, a governor and a bishop: and a soldier called Carbeas, who commanded the guards in the imperial armies, that he might revenge his father's death, who had been slain by the inquisitors, formed a band of paulicians, who renounced their allegiance , to the emperor, negotiated with the mahometan powers, and, by their assistance, endeavoured to establish the independency of the sect.

Theodora was succeeded by her son Michael: her cruelties and superstitions deserved the applause of Nicolas, who became pope of Rome in 858. In a letter he highly approved her conduct, and admired her for following the documents of the holy see.* So truly was antichristian tyranny now established at Rome! Michael, the son of Theodora, fled before the arms of Carbeas; and Chrysocheir, the successor of the latter, in conjunction with the mahometans, penetrated into the heart of Asia, and desolated the fairest provinces of the Greeks. In the issue, however, Chrysocheir was slain, the paulician fortress Tephricc was reduced, and the power of the rebels was broken, though a number of them in the mountains, by the assistance of the Arabs, preserved' an uncomfortable independence. The ferocious actions of the later paulicians show, that they had lost the spirit of true religion: their schemes of worldly ambition were likewise frustrated. And similar consequences, in more recent ages, may be found to have resulted from political methods of supporting the gospel.

A number of this sect, about the middle of the eighth century, had been transplanted into Thrace, who subsisted there for ages, sometimes tolerated, at

• Bower's Hist. of Popes.

Vol. III. 27

other times persecuted by the reigning powers. Even to the end of the seventeenth century they still existed about the valleys of Mount Haemus. Of their religious history, during this period I can find nothing: and, in our days, they seem to have nothing more of the paulician sect than the name. I cannot follow the author, to whom I owe much for this account,* in his conjectures concerning this people's dispersion through the European provinces. Nor does there seem any good evidence of the waldenses owing their origin to the paulicians. Such speculations are too doubtful to satisfy the minds of those, who prefer solid evidence of facts to the conjectural ebullitions of a warm imagination.

On the whole, we have seen, in general, satisfactory proof of the work of divine grace in Asia Minor, commencing in the latter end of the seventh century, and extended to the former part of the ninth century. But, where secular politics begin, there the life and simplicity of vital godliness end. When the paulicians began to rebel against the established government; to return evil for evil; to f Mingle Among The Heathen, the mahometans; and to defend their own religion by arms, negotiations, and alliances, they ceased to become the Light Of The World, and the salt of the earth. Such they had been for more than a hundred and eighty years, adorning and exemplifying the real gospel, by a life of faith, hope, and charity, and by the preservation of the truth in a patient course of suffering. They looked for true riches and honour in the world to come; and, no doubt, they are not frustrated of their hope. But, when secular maxims began to prevail among them, they shone, for a time, as herocs, and patriots in the false glare of human praise; but they lost the solidity of true honour, as all have done in all ages, who have descended from the grandeur of the passive spirit of conformity to Christ,

and have preferred to that spirit the low ambition erf earthly greatness.*