Minority movements branded as heretical by the Orthodox

Not all the religious life of the Byzantine Empire inspired by the Christian faith was contained within the official church. Before the decline in vigour which marked these centuries had reached a nadir, there emerged awakenings which from the beginning were quite outside the Catholic Church. At least one of them flourished for centuries. Since they were often persecuted and eventually died out, only fragmentary information about them has survived and about some we know very little.

The most prominent and persistent of these separate groups was the Paulicians. Possibly a primitive form of Christianity cut off from later developments by geographic isolation, they are first heard of early in the second half of the seventh century on the eastern borders of the Empire, south of Armenia. They called themselves simply Christians and the designation Paulician was given them by their enemies. The first leader of whom we know was Constantine-Silvanus who, set on fire by reading the Gospels and the letters of Paul, became an itinerant preacher and eventually was stoned to death.

The Paulicians developed many leaders and divisions. Like the Marcionites, they were dualists, holding that matter, including this world and the flesh, is the creation of an evil power, the imperfect God of the Old Testament, while spirit and souls are the work of the good God. The "perfect" among them abstained from sexual intercourse and from some kinds of meats. They rejected infant baptism and, taking Jesus as their model, were baptized at the age of thirty, in a river. The "hearers," or adherents, were not required to follow this hard road, but hoped to be baptized and undertake it sometime before their death. The Paulicians rejected the honours paid by the Catholics to the Virgin Mary, the invocation of the saints, icons, incense, candies, and all material symbols. Maintaining the Eucharist and the Agape, they observed the former at night and used in it water, not wine. They would have none of the Catholic hierarchy and had only one grade of ministry. They accepted most of the New Testament. Christ was regarded as born of the good God, but as passing through his mother's body like water through a pipe and deriving nothing from her flesh. To them both his birth and his death were unreal, and his work was that of a teacher.

The Paulicians were severely persecuted, but, in resisting, they became excellent soldiers and won respect for their fighting abilities. The iconoclastic Emperors were generally tolerant of them and one of them moved Paulician colonies to the Balkan peninsula to fend off the Bulgars. They experienced a revival at the beginning of the ninth century through Sergius who, like Constantine-Silvanus, had been won by reading the Gospels and Paul's epistles. Sergius became a travelling preacher, supporting himself by working at his trade as a carpenter. In the ninth century, persecuted, some of the Paulicians took refuge in Moslem territory and from there harassed the borders of the Empire.

Still more of the Paulicians moved into the Balkans in the tenth century, especially into Bulgaria. Here they seem to have contributed to a dissident movement, Bo-gomilism, which continued for many centuries.

Early in the ninth century we hear of another heresy, that of the Athingani. The Athingani were in Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and may have been a branch of the Paulicians. They, too, were persecuted by the state at the instance of the official church.

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