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Bogomilism (Bulgarian: Богомилство) is the Gnostic dualistic sect, the synthesis of Armenian Paulicianism and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church reform movement, which emerged in Bulgaria between 927 and 970 and spread into Byzantine Empire, Kievan Rus', Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Italy and France.


The now defunct Gnostic social-religious movement and doctrine originated in the time of Peter I of Bulgaria (927 – 969) as a reaction against state and clerical oppression of Byzantine church. In spite of all measures of repression, it remained strong and popular until the fall of Bulgaria in the end of the 14th century.

Bogomilism is the first significant Bulgarian heresy that came about in the first quarter of the 10th century. The term "Bogomil" means "Dear to God" in Bulgarian. Bogomilism was a natural outcome of many factors that had arisen till the beginning of 10th century. The forced Christianization of the Slavs and proto-Bulgarians by Tsar Boris I in 863 and the fact that the religion was initially practised in Greek, which only the elite knew, resulted in a very superficial level of understanding of the religion, if any understanding at all. Another very important factor was the social discontent of the peasantry. Due to the constant wars during the time of the father of Tsar Peter I of Bulgaria, Simeon I, the lands near the Greek border (Thrace) were devastated, and the people living there were left without occupation. Moreover, the change of authority over these lands resulted in the unstable status of the peasantry. In short, the ones that struggled the most because of the strife for land were the peasants of Thrace. At the time of Tsar Peter I of Bulgaria, they were also subject to higher taxes, which was devastating for them. All these factors contributed to the general discontent of the peasantry at the beginning of the 10th century. Moreover, the church was very corrupt, and the ones trying to find comfort in it were very disappointed and failed to find consolation. Another factor was the existence of older Christian heresies in the Bulgarian lands. The most influential among those were Manichaeism and Paulicianism, which were considered very dualistic. Manichaeism’s origin is related to Zoroastrianism; that is why Bogomilism is sometimes indirectly connected to Zoroastrianism in the sense of its duality. The social discontent of the peasantry and the presence of the old Christian heresies created a new Christian heresy under the name of Bogomilism.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the name was taken from the reputed founder of that movement, priest Bogumil or Bogomil, (Bulgarian поп Богомил where 'поп' [pop] means priest – father – and his name Богомил translates as "dear to god") or whether he assumed that name after it had been given to the whole sect. The word is a direct translation into Slavonic of Massaliani, the Syriac name of the sect corresponding to the Greek Euchites. The Bogomils are identified with the Massaliani in Slavonic documents of the 13th century.

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 comes from their opponents. Much of the heretical literature has either perished or been completely changed, but some has survived in a modified written form or through oral tradition. Concerning the Bogomils, something can be gathered from the information collected by Euthymius Zygadenus in the 12th century, and from the polemic Against the Newly-Appeared Heresy of the Bogomils written in Slavonic by Presbyter Cosmas, a 10th century Bulgarian official. The old Slavonic lists of forbidden books of the 15th and 16th century also give us a clue to the discovery of this heretical literature and of the means the Bogomils employed to carry on their propaganda. Much may also be learned from the doctrines of the numerous heretical sects which arose in Medieval Kievan Rus' after the 11th century.

The Bogomils were undoubtedly the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East and those of the West. They were, moreover, the most active agents in disseminating such teachings in Rus and among all the nations of Europe. In the 12th and 13th century, the Bogomils were already known in the West as "Bulgari", i.e. Bulgarians (българи). In 1207 the Bulgarorum heresis is mentioned. In 1223 the Albigenses are declared to be the local Bougres, and in the same period mention is made of the "Pope of the Albigenses who resided within the confines of Bulgaria" (see also Nicetas, Bogomil bishop). The Cathars and Patarenes, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and in Russia the Strigolniki, Molokani and Doukhobors, have all at different times been either identified with the Bogomils or closely connected with them.


From the imperfect and conflicting data which is available, one positive result can be gathered: that the Bogomils were both Adoptionists and Manichaeans. They had accepted the teaching of Paul of Samosata, though at a later period the name of Paul was believed to be that of the Apostle; and they were not quite free from the Dualistic principle of the Gnostics, at a later period too much identified with the teaching of Mani, by Photius, Petrus Siculus, and other authors. They rejected the Christianity of the orthodox churches and did not accept the docetic teaching of some of the other sects.

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

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

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

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

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

The essence of Bogomilism is the duality in the creation of the world. This is exactly why it is considered a heresy. Bogomils explained the earthly sinful corporeal life as a creation of Satan, an angel that was sent to the Earth. Due to this duality, their doctrine rejects everything that is socially created and that does not come from the soul, the only divine possession of the human. Therefore, the established Church, the state, and the hierarchy is totally undermined by Bogomilism. Its followers refuse to pay taxes, to work in serfdom, or to fight for their state. The whole social system is overthrown, which on its part were understood as suggesting disorder and propels destructivity for the state, the church by its progenitors, that ultimately eradicated the bogomils.


Our best source for the Bogomils is the Panoply of Euthymius Zigabenus, who conducted trials of Bogomils for Alexius I Comnenus.

According to Slavonic documents, the founder of this sect was a certain priest Bogumil, who "imbibed the Manichaean teaching and flourished at the time of the Bulgarian emperor Peter" (927-968). According to another source, the founder was called Jeremiah (or there was another priest associated with him by the name of Jeremiah). This was the beginning of a revival of the sect, which proved loyal to the empire.

The Slavonic sources are unanimous on the point that his teaching was Manichaean. A Synodikon from the year 1210 adds the names of his pupils or "apostles," Mihail, Todur, Dobri, Stefan, Vasilie and Peter. Zealous missionaries carried their doctrines far and wide. In 1004, scarcely 25 years after the introduction of Christianity into Kievan Rus, we hear of a priest Adrian teaching the same doctrines as the Bogomils. He was imprisoned by Leontius, Bishop of Kiev. In 1125, the Church in the south of Rus had to combat another heresiarch named Dmitri. The Church in Bulgaria also tried to extirpate Bogomilism. Several thousand went in the army of Alexios I Komnenos against the Norman, Robert Guiscard; but, deserting the emperor, many of them (1085) were thrown into prison. Efforts were again put forth for their conversion; and for the converts the new city of Alexiopolis was built, opposite Philippopolis. When the Crusaders took Constantinople (1204), they found some Paulicians, whom the historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin calls Popelicans. The popes in Rome whilst leading the Crusade against the Albigenses did not forget their counterpart in the Balkans and recommended the annihilation of the heretics.

The Legend of Saint Gerard discloses that followers of Bulgarian Bogomilism were present during the early 11th century in Ahtum's realm, which comprised present day Banat. They invoked Archangel Uriel, whose name is common in amulets and magic rituals.

The Bogomils spread westwards and settled first in Serbia; but at the end of the 12th century Stefan Nemanja, king of Serbia, burned them, persecuted them and expelled them from the country. Large numbers took refuge in Bosnia, where they were known under the name of Patarenes or Patareni. There, they were also brought into connection with the indigenous Bosnian Church, which was also considered heretical by the Pope and Byzantines, but was not actually Bogomil in nature. From Bosnia, their influence extended into Italy (Piedmont). The Hungarians undertook many crusades against the heretics in Bosnia, but towards the close of the 15th century, the conquest of that country by the Turks put an end to their persecution. It is alleged that a large number of the Bosnian Paterenes, and especially the nobles, embraced Islam. Few or no remnants of Bogomilism have survived in Bosnia. The Ritual in Slavonic written by the Bosnian Radoslav, and published in vol. xv. of the Starine of the South Slavonic Academy at Agram, shows great resemblance to the Cathar ritual published by Cunitz, 1853. See F Rački, "Bogomili i Paternai" in Rad, vols. vii., viii. and x. (Agram, 1870); Dollinger, Beiträge zur Ketzergeschichte des Mittelalters, 2 vols. (Munich, 1890).

In 970 the emperor John I Tzimiskes transplanted no less than 200,000 Armenian Paulicians to Europe and settled them in the neighbourhood of Philippopolis (today's Plovdiv in Thrace). Under Turkish rule, the Armenian Paulicians lived in relative safety in their ancient stronghold near Philippopolis, and further northward. Linguistically, they were assimilated into the Bulgarians, by whom they were called pavlikiani. In 1650, the Roman Catholic Church gathered them into its fold. No less than fourteen villages near Nicopolis, in Moesia, embraced Catholicism, as well as the villages around Philippopolis. A colony of Paulicians in the Wallachian village of Cioplea near Bucharest also followed the example of their brethren across the Danube.

In the 18th century, the Paulician people from around Nicopolis were persecuted by the Turks, presumably on religious grounds, and a good part of them fled across the Danube and settled in the Banat region that was part of the Austrian Empire at the time, and became known as Banat Bulgarians. There are still over ten thousand Banat Bulgarians in Banat today in the villages of Dudeştii Vechi, Vinga, Breştea and also in the city of Timişoara, with a few in Arad; however, they no longer practice their religion, having converted to Roman Catholicism. There are also a few villages of Paulicians in the Serbian part of Banat, especially the villages of Ivanovo and Belo Blato, near Pančevo.

In modern and popular culture

In Foucault's Pendulum, a novel by the Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco, the plot concerning a widespread secret and mystic conspiracy has its ground in the disappearance of the Bogomils after the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

The Secret Book is a Macedonian feature film combining the detective, thriller and conspiracy fiction genres, based on fictional story of the quest for the original Slavic language "Secret Book", written by the Bogomils in Bulgaria and carried to Western Europe during the Middle Ages.

An English profanity and the name of a crime emerged from reports of the Bogomils by the Catholic Church. The words "bugger" and "buggery" emerged, by way of the word "bougre" in French, from "Bulgar" (Bulgarian), which was understood to mean the Bogomils, who were believed to be devoted to the practice of sodomy.[1] "Buggery" first appears in English in 1330, though "bugger" in a sexual sense is not recorded until 1555.[2]


  1. Erin McKean, ed (2005). New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517077-6. 
  2. OED 1st edn


  • J. C. Wolf, Historia Bogomilorum (Wittenberg, 1712)
  • Euthymius Zygabenus, Narratio de Bogomilis, ed. Gieseler (Göttingen, 1842)
  • C. J. Jirecek, Geschichte d. Bulgaren (Prague, 1876), S. 155, 174-175
  • L. P. Brockett, The Bogomils of Bulgaria and Bosnia: The Early Protestants of the East (s.l., 1879) [1]
  • V. Sharenkoff, A Study of Manicheism in Bulgaria (New York, 1927).
  • D. Obolensky, The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Neo-Manichaeism (Cambridge, 1948), reprint New York, 1978
  • S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy (Cambridge, 1947)
  • K. Papasov, Christen oder Ketzer - die Bogomilen (Stuttgart, 1983)
  • D. Angelov, Bogomilstvoto (Stara Zagora, 1995)
  • J. Meiers, Archbishop Ancient Order of Bogomil, of Americas'.
  • J. Ivanov, Bogomilski knigi i legendi (Sofija, 1925). French translation by M. Ribeyrol, Livres et Légendes bogomiles (Paris, 1976).

See also

External links

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public bs:Bogumili bg:Богомили ca:Bogomils cs:Bogomilstvífa:بوغومیلیهhu:Bogumilizmus mk:Богомилствоja:ボゴミル派 no:Bogomilenept:Bogomilos ro:Bogomilism ru:Богомилы sk:Bogomilstvo sr:Богумили sh:Bogumili fi:Bogomiilit sv:Bogomiler uk:Богомильство

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