House Church Talk - Bogomils, buggers or heretics?

R.L. Johnson rjohnson at
Fri Mar 5 09:56:33 EST 2004

Notes from History - Bogomils, buggers or heretics?

Velina Nacheva
MEDIEVAL Bulgaria was the origin of the Bogomils, who greatly influenced
both medieval political and religious life and whose impact continued to be
felt in Europe for centuries. [NL]The movement was intensely nationalistic
and political, as well as religious, and reflected resentment of Byzantine
culture, Slavic serfdom, and imperial authority. [PARA][NL]The Bogomils got
their name from an ancient gnostic religious community which had its origin
in Bulgaria and spread as far as France and Russia.[NL][PARA]The Bogomils
manifested themselves both as a social movement, and as heretics, as they
were branded by the mainstream church.[NL][PARA]They were the members of
Europe's first great dualist church, which flourished in Bulgaria and the
Balkans from the 10th to the 15th century. This occurred at almost at the
same time as the hermit movements, and its origins may be traced back to
Thrace. [NL]Its founder, according to historians, was the priest Bogomil,
the first leader of the movement in Bulgaria. He was one of the most vivid
and passionate preachers within the official church. [NL][PARA]Members of
the movement sought to find the truths of faith and to discern the right
responses to the many questions raised by the teachings of the church. It
was some of the answers that these strivings produced that led to their
being labelled as heretics.[NL][PARA]What did Bogomils believe in?
[NL][PARA]The imperfection of the visible world and its origin from the evil
powers were at the core of Bogomil belief. They rejected the church, its
preaching and the secular institutions represented by the king and the
boyars. These conclusions flowed from an underlying social protest, and
widespread resentment of the conduct of priests and the
state.[NL]Nevertheless, the condemnation they attracted had more to do with
church politics than with morality. Most such heretical groups, the
Albigensians, Paulicians, Patarenes, Bogomiles, Cathars, and so on, were
rather puritanical in nature, and appealed not only to the common people,
but to wealthy burghers and the nobility. [NL][PARA]There are two polar
considerations of the Bogomils in the world. [NL][PARA]The first presents
them as the most progressive movement in Bulgarian society in medieval
times, declaring their opposition to the official dogmas of the church.
Their appearance is also linked to the social circumstance of the time. It
was a consequence and not a reason for the traumas within Bulgarian society.
[NL][PARA]As a social movement, the simplicity of its essence had a wide
appeal. It offered answers to the difficult questions set by life.
[NL][PARA]One of the major features that made the movement so popular was
the rationalism and sobriety of its preaching. The Bogomils assisted in the
education of Bulgarian society, by providing more than one response to
questions. [NL][PARA]There is a false pride arising from the work of some
historians that Bulgaria was made known to the West as the country of heresy
because of the Bogomils. Hardly a reason for patriotic self-esteem.
[NL][PARA]The Middle Ages, when Manichaeism entered France through Bulgarian
immigrants in the eleventh century, the word bougre, meaning "Bulgarian",
became synonymous with both "heretic" and survives in the English language
today in corrupted form as the word "bugger". The Bogomils were identified
with the Massaliani in Slavonic documents of the 13th century and later were
also known as Pavlikeni (Paulicians). [NL][PARA]The Bogomils were without
doubt the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East
and those of the West. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Bogomils were
already known in the West as "Bulgari". In 1223 the Albigenses are declared
to be the local Bougres. [NL][PARA]The Bogomils spread westwards, and
settled first in Serbia; but at the end of the 12th century the king of
Serbia persecuted them and expelled them from the country. Large numbers
took refuge in Bosnia, where they became known as Patareni. From there they
moved to Italy and Hungary. In the 15th century the conquest of Hungary by
the Turks ended the persecution of the Bogomils. It is claimed that a large
number of the Bosnians accepted Islam. Few or no remnants of Bogomilism have
survived in Bosnia. [NL][PARA]The Bogomils disappeared because of
persecution and the expansion of Islam, but elements of their ideas and
folklore persisted for centuries in Slavic lands, and it is still an open
question whether the reference Bulgari in Europe has associations of heresy.

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