In the fifth century, the Church appeared in remote areas of eastern Asia Minor near the Euphrates River and in the mountains of Armenia. These people were labeled by their contemporaries as "Paulicians." Who were they?
According to Armenian scholar Nina Garsoian in The Paulician Heresy: "It would, then, appear that the Paulicians are to be taken as the survival of the earlier form of Christianity in Armenia" (p. 227). The author also states that the Paulicians were "accused of being worse than other sects because of adding Judaism" (p. 213).
Christ's message to this third stage of God's Church (Paulicians) is characterized by the Church at Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17). The word Pergamos means "fortified," and the Church members of this era were noted for dwelling in remote, mountainous areas. In Revelation 2:13, Christ said of the Pergamos Church that they dwell where Satan's seat is. Pergamum was a center of the ancient Babylonian mystery religion. In 133BC, Attalus III, the last "god-king" of Pergamum, died and in his will bequeathed his kingdom and his title, Pontifex Maximus ("Supreme Bridge-builder" between man and God), to the Romans. The Roman rulers took the title and held it until Emperor Gratian bestowed it on Pope Damascus in 378ad. The Catholic popes continue to use that title to this day. Also, historically, the term "Satan's seat" alludes back to Nimrod's ancient kingdom, which in distant antiquity included Armenia and the upper Euphrates (Genesis 10). The Pergamos Church—the Paulicians—geographically relocated to that same area after Constantine enforced Sunday keeping on the Roman Empire.
As far back as the fifth century, we find the Paulicians condemned as heretics in Catholic documents. However, the first prominent leader among them with whose name we are familiar is Constantine of Mananali (ca. 620-681ad). About 654ad he began to preach, helping to revitalize the Church. Prior to his ministry, most of the Church membership consisted of descendants of Christians who had fled Greece and Asia Minor more than two centuries earlier. They preserved the names of their original congregations and continued to refer to themselves as the "church of Ephesus" or the "church of Macedonia" though they were located hundreds of miles from the original sites.
Constantine of Mananali was executed by Byzantine (Eastern Roman) soldiers commanded by an officer named Simeon in 681ad. Simeon was so overwhelmed by the example and teachings of Constantine that, in 684ad, he returned, not as a Roman sol dier, but as a convert. Simeon became a zealous Paulician preacher and he, in turn, was martyred three years later in 687ad.
In 1828, the manuscript of an ancient book entitled The Key of Truth was discovered in Armenia. Portions of the book date to 800ad and it provides us with the greatest detail of the teachings of the Paulicians. Translated into English by Fred Coneybeare around 1900, we learn from it that the Paulicians shunned the use of the cross in worship and religious art, calling it a "cursed implement." They condemned warfare, and observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month of the sacred calendar. The Paulicians rejected the Roman Catholic Church's claim to be the "Church of God," and disputed papal claims of "apostolic succession" and other pretensions. They regarded the Trinity, purgatory and intercession of the saints as unscriptural.
In the introduction to his English translation of The Key of Truth, Coneybeare provides invaluable historical background on the practices of the early Paulicians. "We also know from a notice preserved in Ananias of Shirak that the Pauliani, who were the same people at an earlier date, were Quartodecimans, and kept Easter in the primitive manner at the Jewish date. John of Otzun's language perhaps implies that the old believers in Armenia during the seventh century were Quartodecimans, as we should expect them to be" (Coneybeare, intro., clii). Dr. Coneybeare further states: "The Sabbath was perhaps kept and there were no special Sunday observances" (p., cxiii). He goes on to say of the Paulicians that "they were probably the remnant of an old Judeo-Christian Church, which had spread up through Edessa into Siuniq and Albania" (p., clxii).
At some point in their history, however, many Paulicians succumbed to a fatal error. They reasoned that they could outwardly conform with many of the practices of the Catholic Church in order to avoid persecution as long as in their heart they knew better. This road of compromise led many to have their children christened and others to attend mass. Christ prophesied of this, admonishing the Church at Pergamos about those who held to pagan, immoral doctrines (Revelation 2:14-15). The result of their compromising was that Christ allowed severe persecution to come upon them. When persecution came, some of the belea guered Paulicians decided that the solution to their trouble lay in entering into an alliance with the Moslem Arabs who were then making serious incursions into the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. Controversies among the Paulicians during these years created various splits in the group.
Prior to 800ad, a leading Church personality, a man named Baanes, came to the leadership of the Paulicians in Armenia and promulgated a doctrine of military retaliation. Shortly thereafter, another church minister named Sergius became prominent within the Paulicians. Because Sergius condemned warfare, disagreeing with the position taken by Baanes, he was accused of causing a schism within the group. But, in spite of difficulties, Sergius' ministry lasted more than 30 years. After his death, however, most of his followers began to take part in warfare as well.
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