We continue now with our series on Revelation 12, a chapter that is an Exodus narrative in which the Woman is shown fleeing from the error of that proceeds from the mouth of the devil and seeking her place of safety in the wilderness. As we have noted in this series, the Woman of Revelation 12 must have taken her leave sometime between the end of the Diocletianic persecution (313 A.D.) and the rise of Roman Catholicism to the seat of civil power among the fragments of the Roman Empire in the last decade of the 4th century.
In our previous installment, we noted that many saints took their leave at about the time Roman Catholicism was coming to power, and their objections were consistently raised against the oppressive hierarchy of Roman Catholicism, clerical celibacy, the continuation of the Passover sacrifice in the form of the Lord’s Supper, prayers for the dead, intercession of the saints, the inordinate magnification of Mary, the veneration of human remains in the form of relics, veneration of the wood of the cross, baptismal regeneration and Roman primacy. These objections were raised by Christians who protested against the new apostasy of Roman Catholicism, and even Roman Catholic scholars have acknowledged these men as the early Protestants that they clearly were.
The result of the late-4th century Roman Catholic apostasy and the concurrent Protest against the novelties was the continuation of the True Church in the wilderness, while Roman Catholicism rose to civil power as the Fifth Empire after Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Roman Catholicism itself was the “falling away” of which Paul had warned (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and took its place as the successor to the Roman Empire, as Daniel had foreseen. The people who protested against the new Roman State Church comprised the Woman of Revelation 12, wandering in the wilderness, safe from the doctrinal errors let loose in the flood that emerged from the Serpent’s mouth. The Catholic Encyclopedia briefly acknowledges the existence of this “non-Catholic” church that resisted the novelties and existed in parallel with Roman Catholicism. The Encyclopedia complains that its leaders “taught doctrines and made use of ceremonies at variance with the teaching and use of the Roman Church, especially in regard to the celebration of Easter [i.e., Passover], the conferring of baptism, celibacy, [and] the papal and episcopal authority” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Saint Boniface).
Yes, they certainly did.
We recall from our previous posts that Vigilantius, had objected to the introduction of relic veneration, criticizing to the introduction of a “heathen ceremony … under the cloak of religion” (Jerome, Against Vigilantius, paragraph 4). Sarmatio and Barbatianus had objected to Ambrose’s magnification of consecrated virginity and marital abstinence above conjugal union (Ambrose, Epistle 63, paragraph 7), and Jovinianus had insisted, against Jerome, that Jesus had been born in the usual way, and that Mary’s physical virginity was therefore not preserved in childbirth (Jerome, Letter 48, paragraph 21). Cyril of Jerusalem had encountered resistance to his novel teachings on praying for the dead (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, paragraphs 9-10), and his critics claimed that he was “inventing subtleties” regarding veneration of the pieces of the Cross (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 13, paragraph 19). Ærius, too, objected to prayers for the dead, and to the re-institution of the Jewish Passover sacrifice through the novelty of the sacrifice of the Mass, for “Christ was [already] sacrificed for our Passover” (Epiphanius, Panarion 3.1.75, 3.5)
We have on several occasions proposed that if we could identify the flood of Revelation 12, then we could find the Woman of Revelation 12 too, for the Woman, like “a wise man, which built his house upon a rock,” could not be shaken when the flood came (Matthew 7:24-25). The Woman, as John tells us, had built her house upon the Word of God, for in the Wilderness she is fed (Revelation 12:6) and “nourished” (Revelation 12:14) by her Lord, and her children “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
In the latter part of the 4th century, Satan let loose a flood of error. Almost the whole world fell for it, and the religion that rose up in the midst of the flood is what we now call Roman Catholicism. Very many fell away into the error. A few faithful Christians appealed to the Scriptures to raise a Protest and rejected the novelties. We are not surprised to find the Woman’s voice crying in wilderness—a simple people, nourished by the Word of God, who believed in Christ and were resistant to the idolatrous strains of Rome’s siren song of error and novelties—just as John had foreseen.
In our previous post we highlighted the spread of the Gospel in France in the mid-5th century, and Pope Celeste’s complaint that foreign priests disguised as “pilgrims and strangers” were teaching things “contrary to the custom of the Church” (Celeste, Epistle 2, Ad Episcopos provinciæ Viennensis & Narbonensis; see Poisson, cols. 181-184). We noted as well the surprise and chagrin of Archbishop Boniface in the mid-eighth century, arriving as a missionary in Germany only to find there a full-fledged church operating independently of Rome, wandering about in his diocese, its leaders “disguised under the name of bishops or priests,” meeting in “separate assemblies,” and “in strange places” (Pope Zachary, Epistle X to Boniface; for original, see Sacrosancta Concilia, Tomus Sextus (Lutetiæ Parisiorum, 1671) cols 1518-1522).
In this post we now turn our attention eastward to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) where we last saw Ærius in the late-4th century complaining about prayers for the dead, the mass sacrifice and the illegitimate civil power of the office of the bishop. Here in the mid-6th century, we find a thriving church, independent of Rome and in a state of perpetual Protest against her novelties. The Council of Dvin (550 A.D.), Photius I of Constantinople (c. 810 – c. 893), Petrus Siculus and John of Damascus are our witnesses to the faith and testimony of the Paulicians, and we are not surprised to find their detractors confounded by the existence of a separate church that was both well versed in Scripture and stubbornly resistant to Roman novelties.
Photius complained that these men dismiss Rome’s claim to primacy, “blaspheme” the virgin Mary, deny her perpetual virginity, reject the sacrifice of the Mass, oppose the idolatrous veneration of the Wood of the Cross, and deny baptismal regeneration. Peter Siculus complained that they rejected the Roman interpretation of John 6 and the Last Supper, and Chrysostom complained that their clergy “openly cohabit with women,” and paid no honor to the “venerable images of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “our Immaculate Lady.”
These faithful men, known to history as Paulicians, were identified as heretics at the 2nd Council of Dvin in 555 A.D. (Garsoïan, Nina G., The Paulician Heresy (Paris: Mouton & Col (1967) 51), and answered Rome’s novelties with the same informed Scriptural fortitude that had so enraged Jerome, Ambrose, Siricius, Cyril and Epiphanius against Jovinianus, Vigilantius, Sarmatio, Barbatianus, Ærius and the rest of the early Protestants.
Resistance to the Flood
Rejection of Roman Primacy
Among his first complaints regarding the Paulicians was that they claimed to be true Christians and that the “Romanists” were criminal interlopers:
“Και τους μεν αληθως οντας Χριστιανους Ρωμαιους, οι τρισαλιτηριοι ονομαζουσιν.” (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 6 (Migne, Patrologia Graeca (P.G.), vol 102, col. 24).
“These men believe that they are the true Christians, and Romanists the most wicked of men.”
Here the Paulicians appear to have grasped the significance of the new world empire, a successor to Rome but more wicked, as the prophets and apostles had foretold. They rejected the new Roman Catholic Empire, and all of its attendant novelties. In this, they bear the marks of the Early Church, as evidenced by 2nd century Mathetes, who rejected the core principle of Roman Primacy:
“For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God.” (The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, chapter 10)
As we observed in our series, The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church, the only chief metropolis of the new religion of Christianity was the Heavenly Jerusalem, and there was no need, or desire, for a Christian city or an earthly shepherd to govern Christ’s Church.
Rejection of Marian Devotion
Photius reports that the Paulicians acknowledged Mary as “Theotokon,” but only in the sense that Christ entered her and passed through her into the world. They granted to her no more honors than that:
“Πιστευομεν εις την παναγιαν Θεοτoκον εν η εισηλθεν και εξηλθεν ο Κυριο.” (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 7, P.G. v. 102, col 25)
“We believe in the Holy Theotokon, into whom, and out of whom, the Lord passed.”
Photius was offended that they would concede the title, Theotokon, to Mary but would not load it with the idolatrous connotations of the Latin rendering, Dei Genetrix, “Mother of God.” In the “Panagian Theotokon” the Paulicians could only see what must be true of every believer—that Christ must be born in each of us, just as Paul had written:
“Και τοις ρημασι τουτοις την ανω υποβαλλουσιν Ιερουσαλημ, και φασιν εν αυτη προδρομον υπερ ημων εισελθειν τον Χριστον, ως και ο θειος Αποστολος εφη.”
“And this is said of the Heavenly Jerusalem, and that which is said of her [Mary] is a precursor to Christ coming into us, as the Holy Apostle wrote.” (Photius, Contra Manichaeos book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 7, P.G. v. 102, col 25)
The Paulicians had simply invoked Galatians 4, Paul’s description of himself in childbirth pains “until Christ be formed in you” (v. 19) and his instruction that “Jerusalem which is above … is the mother of us all” (v. 26). Christ had entered Mary, but it was just as true that He must be born in any child of God, and it was to the Heavenly Jerusalem, not to Mary, that the children of God owed their allegiance.
Their detractors—ill-equipped to comprehend such conviction, and predisposed to interpret any statement from the Paulicians in the worst possible way—have taken this to mean that the Jesus had not really taken his body from Mary, and that the Heavenly Jerusalem was Jesus’ mother, not Mary. In their mind, the Paulician position was a denial of the incarnation (e.g., Garsoïan, 171).
In reality, the Paulician response was in conformity with the thinking of the Early Church, and importantly, with Christ Himself. It was Jesus, after all, Who said that His followers were blessed “rather” than the womb that bore Him, and the breasts that nursed Him (Luke 11:27-28), and that “whosoever shall do the will of God … is my … mother” (Mark 3:35). Jesus, whenever someone came to Him elevating His physical, genetic relationship to Mary, immediately elevated the believer to the same level, and downplayed the physical, as if the spiritual relationship to Him was more important. This view—that Christ had transferred the blessings of Mary to all believers—is found in Tertullian (On the Flesh of Christ, chapter 7, and Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter 19), as well as in John Chrysostom (Homilies in Matthew, Homily 44.2). The “heretical interpretation of the Gospels to mean that Christ had transferred the particular blessings of Mary, his mother, to all believers” is a charge leveled against the Paulicians, as if they had introduced a novelty (Garsoïan, 110), but it is clear that the Paulicians believed what Christ had taught them from the Scriptures. They can hardly be faulted for imitating their Master so well.
It is clear in any case that the Paulicians, in their careful appropriation of the title, Theotokon, approached Mary just as the early church had. They acknowledged the blessing she enjoyed, and that she had given birth to him, but rejected the deluge of late 4th century superstitious novelties about her. The word “theotokos” (bearer of God) is freely used of her, but not “theogonias” (generator of God).
Lactantius wrote (between 303 and 311 A.D.) of the distinction between Christ’s eternal generation by His Father—in which generation “He was ‘motherless'”—and his birth by Mary—in which birth He was “fatherless.” In Lactantius’ view, Mary was Christ’s mother only in the sense that Jesus was the son of Man, but not in His divine generation (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book IV, chapter 13).
We recall as well that Alexander of Alexandria (324 A.D.) had used the term “Theogonias” (θεογονιας) in reference to “His divine generation by the Father,” but then in the same paragraph referred to Mary as “Theotoko” (θεοτοκου) when explaining that Jesus took on a physical body (Alexander of Alexandria, Epistles on Ariansms, 1.12). In this manner, the early church drew a bright line between Christ’s birth from Mary and His eternal generation by the Father.
Augustine, too, had insisted as much—namely that Christ was “begotten of the Father without a mother” and that to the degree that Mary was His mother, it was only in the sense of Him taking on flesh (Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 8, paragraphs 8-9).
The similarity we notice—from Lactantius to the Paulicians—is that they all acknowledged Jesus’ divine generation from His Father, and His human flesh from Mary. In that sense, Mary was a conduit through Whom the eternally pre-existant Jesus came into the world, just as the Paulicians described. But insofar as He is God—they all agreed—He had no mother, and thus would never have entertain the title, “Mother of God.”
Denial of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
Photius also complained that the Paulicians would only grant that Mary was a Virgin at Christ’s birth, but would not agree that she remained perpetually so. Christ had come from the Virgin (εκ της Παρθενου), they agreed, but after His birth, Mary had born other sons to Joseph (τοκον ετερους υιους εκ του Ιοσηφ παιδοποιησαι) (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 7, P.G. v. 102, col 25).
In Roman Catholicism Mary is not only considered a virgin at Christ’s conception as the Scriptures plainly teach (Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:26-34), but her physical virginity is preserved in childbirth such that she had no pain or tearing, and her virginity is preserved thereafter in marriage, having neither sexual relations with, nor children by, Joseph. The Scriptures, however, make no mention of Mary’s painless parturition, and use language wholly incompatible with these Roman Catholic novelties. That Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth” Jesus (Matthew 1:25) is not the language of perpetual virginity, and the multiple references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:47, Mark 3:32, Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19) indicate plainly that Mary and Joseph enjoyed sustained and fruitful sexual relations after Christ was born. The Paulicians had simply recited what they understood from the Scriptures.
Photius, of course, stood aghast that the Paulicians had entertained of Mary notions about which the Scriptures are explicit, and could not grasp that it was the Paulicians who stood closer to apostolic truth and that it was he who had embraced the novel errors of Antichrist. As preeminent Roman Catholic Mariologist, Fr. Juniper Carol acknowledged, “even in the middle of the fourth century, [we still find] persons, sometimes of considerable authority and prestige, who attributed to Jesus a veritable cortege of brothers and sisters,” and the matter of Mary’s perpetual virginity was settled dogmatically “toward the year 400” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II). No, it was not the Paulicians who had subscribed to novelties. It was the Romanists.
Rejection of the Veneration of the Cross
Photius was puzzled by the Paulicians’ refusal to venerate what he called “the life-giving cross” (“ζωοποιον δε σταυρον”). They insisted instead (as Photius would have us believe) that Christ Himself was the cross, for He had taken that shape when His hands were spread forth at the crucifixion (“εις σταυρου σχημα τας χειρας εξηπλωσε”.) It was He, not the wood, that was to be adored (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 7, col 25).
That Christ should be worshiped, instead of the instrument by which He was killed, is hardly puzzling, for Christ taught us that it was He, not the Cross, that would be lifted up (John 3:14), and by being lifted up, He, not a cross of wood, that would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). When Paul refers to the cross in the New Testament, he does so in shorthand, as it were, using the cross to summarize the Gospel itself (1 Corinthians 1:18, Galatians 5:11, 6:12, 6:14, Ephesians 2:16, Philippians 2:8, 3:18, Colossians 1:20, 2:14). We are not instructed in the Scriptures to preach the literal cross of Christ, nor lift it up that men may kneel before it. The Paulicians, like the early Christians, apparently had simply reminded their persecutors that it was Jesus, not the cross, that was the object of our affection and worship. Their persecutors misunderstood the significance of their refusal to bow to the cross and interpreted that refusal in the most ridiculous way possible—as if the Paulicians had insisted that Jesus Himself was the Cross.
It is noteworthy that Minucius Felix (d. 250 A.D.), explaining that Christians have no images, insisted rather that the only occurrence of an actual cross in Christian worship is the shape that results “when a man adores God with a pure mind, with hands outstretched” (Minucius Felix, Octavius, chapter 29), a phrase and a sentiment remarkably similar to the alleged expression of the Paulicians. Felix willingly accepts the charge that Christians use “no altars, no temples, no acknowledged images” (chapter 10), and explains further that it is the Romans, not the Christians, who “adore wooden crosses” (chapter 29)—the very words the Paulicians could have used justifiably against their Roman Catholic accusers.
Rejection of the Sacrifice of the Mass
To the dismay of Photius, the Paulicians also understood that Jesus had instituted a memorial meal, not a sacrifice, and in the Lord’s Supper, they denied that we had been instructed to sacrifice the bread and wine:
“…μεταδιδοντα τοις αποστολοις ειπειν ‘Δαβετε, φαγετε και πιετε,’ αλλ ουκ αρτον ποθεν η οινον προσφεροντα.” (Photius, Contra Manichaeos book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 7, P.G. v. 102, col 25).
“…the command transmitted to the apostles was ‘Take, eat and drink,’ but not in any way that they were to offer bread or wine.”
Peter Siculus, a contemporary of Photius (c. 870), confirms the Paulician understanding of the Lord’s supper as a symbolic memorial, and that in the bread and wine the Lord had not given the disciples His flesh and blood to eat and drink:
“…λεγοντες oτι ουκ ην αρτος και οινος, ον ο Κυριος εδιδου τοις μαθηταις αυτου επι του δειπνου, αλλα συμβολικως τα ρηματα αυτου αυτοις εδιδου, ως αρτον και οινον.” (Petri Siculi, Historia Manichaeorum seu Paulicianorum, R. 18 (Gottingae: Prostat apud Vandenboedk et Ruprecht (1846) pp. 12-13)
“…saying that it is not bread and wine the Lord hath given to his disciples the supper, but symbolically His own words, as bread and wine.”
Steeped as they were in the novelties of Rome, neither Photius nor Peter Siculus could imagine that the Paulicians had simply appealed to Christ’s own words in John 6 to understand the concept of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood. And they had appealed to the accounts of the Lord’s Supper—”Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, 1 Corinthians 11:24)—to show that nothing is sacrificed in the Lord’s Supper. Thus, they concluded the obvious. Jesus’ words, not Roman consecrated bread and wine, are “spirit and life”:
“Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me … Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. …the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:45, 47-48, 63)
Roman Catholics see John 6 through the lens of their novel views on transubstantiation, so John 6 is taken as a narrative on the Lord’s Supper. The Paulician claim, therefore, that to “eat the flesh of the Son of man” (John 5:53) is actually to believe His words was misconstrued by Peter Siculus as a denial of the incarnation and a rejection of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Photius, baffled that the Paulicians would celebrate the Lord’s Supper at all, acknowledged that they did so “but this is only to deceive the simpler ones” (Αλλα τουτο προς εξαπατην των απλουστερων μεταλαμβανουσιν) (Photius, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 9, col 29). He could not imagine that it was the Paulicians, not the Romanists, who had correctly understood Christ’s words, and were holding to Christ’s original institution.
We find additional confirmation of their rejection of the Mass Sacrifice, and their devotion instead to offering their prayers as their sacrifice, in their refusal to call their meeting places temples. Rather, they called them prayer houses, or “oratories” (προσευχας, Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 9, P.G. v. 102, col 29). This is consistent with the Early Church’s view that the sacrifice of the new covenant is not consecrated bread and wine but rather “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15; see our series, Their Praise was their Sacrifice).
Additionally, they were accused of admitting neither “priests” nor “presbyters” since the priests and presbyters had taken council against Christ (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 9, P.G. v. 102, col 29). On the one hand, the Paulicians were exactly correct that “priests and presbyters” (“ιερεις και πρεσβυτεριοι”) had taken council against Christ, for that is precisely what Christ said they would do (e.g. Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22). On the other hand, in Photius’ report we see a rejection of the Mass Sacrifice rather than a rejection of the office of presbyter, because this particular accusation comes in the sentence immediately following Photius’ observation that they celebrate the Lord’s supper but only to deceive the simple (Photius, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch. 9, col 29). That is, they celebrated the Lord’s Supper but without a priest—thus Photius’ accusation of pretense.
In reality, the rejection was not of the presbyter—an office clearly established in the Scriptures the Paulicians cherished—but of the priestly connotations loaded onto the office by Rome. We note, for example, that John of Damascus, when reporting on the Aposchistae—a similar “heretical” sect—observed that they “will kiss neither a newly made figure of the venerable cross nor a holy image,” and (equally baffling to him) “will accept absolutely no priest” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 103).
The real objection was not that the Paulicians had no presbyters or equivalent clergy, but that they would accept neither the Roman sacrificial priesthood, nor its sacrificial garments. Peter the Higumen, for example, complained of them that their clergy were indistinguishable from the rest of the people (Garsoïan, 52n), and John of Damascus complained of one group that they were “neither bishops nor presidents of the common herd,” but they were nonetheless “organized under a clergy” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 100). No, it was not the office of presbyter the Paulicians had rejected but the late 4th century novelty of the sacrificial ministrations of a priestly caste that they were rejecting.
Notably, the Paulicians were as wary of the revival of Jewish sacrifices as the Early Church had been. For example, Barnabas (2nd century) warned of exactly this in the second chapter of his epistle, insisting that we must avoid the temptation to return to the sacrifices of the Jews, “[f]or He has revealed to us by all the prophets that He needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations…” (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 2). It was precisely for this reason that Ærius, in the late 4th century, warned against the introduction of the Mass sacrifice, which was a return to the sacrifices of the Jews:
“‘What is the Passover you celebrate? You are giving your allegiance to Jewish fables again. We have no business celebrating the Passover,’ he says; ‘Christ was sacrificed for our Passover.’” (Epiphanius, Panarion 3.1.75, 3.4)
Rejection of Baptismal Generation
Photius was also baffled by the Paulician rejection of baptismal regeneration. The Paulicians understood baptism only allude to the words of the Gospel (“τα του Ευαγγελιου ρηματα τη του Βαπτισματος φωνη υποβαλλοντες”), but it was the Lord Himself who was the Water of Life. (“Εγω ειμι το υδωρ το ζων.”) (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch 9, col 29). According to Photius, the Paulicians quoted the Lord as saying “I am the water of life” (i.e., “Ο Κυριος εφη, ‘Εγω ειμι το υδωρ το ζων'”) (Photius, Book I, Sermo Primus, ch 9, col 29). Although Jesus does not identify Himself as the water of life in the New Testament, He does refer to Himself as the fountain of living waters in the Old (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). The Paulicians clearly understood that partaking of the living water was by faith (see John 4:1-42), and that the water of baptism signified as much (as in 1 Peter 3:21), where the water of baptism is described as a “figure”.
Rejection of Images
Because the Paulicians are recognized as Iconoclasts, we include here John of Damascus’ description of the Christianocategori (lieterally, “accusers of Christians”) who accused Roman Catholics “of worshiping as gods … the venerable images of our Lord Jesus Christ, of our immaculate Lady, the holy Mother of God, of the holy angels, and of His saints” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 102). The Christianocategori are considered contemporaries of the Paulicians, and may have actually been Paulicians.
In any case, their criticism of Roman Catholics’ veneration of images is remarkably similar to the objections Hippolytus (early 3rd century) made against Simon Magus in his Refutation:
“‘And they have an image of Simon (fashioned) into the figure of Jupiter, and (an image) of Helen in the form of Minerva; and they pay adoration to these.’But they call the one Lord and the other Lady.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book VI, chapter 15)
Another group is identified by John of Damascus, the Aposchistae, who “will kiss neither a newly made figure of the venerable cross nor a holy image” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 103). Their objection to the veneration of images and the Cross echoes the objections faced by Cyril of Jerusalem when he attempted to introduce veneration of the cross to his catechumens, as noted above.
Whatever objections these Christianocategori or Aposchistae actually made against Roman Catholics for attempting to import paganism into the Church, they bear a striking similarity to the objections Hippolytus made against those attempting to introduce image veneration, and the objections made against Cyril of Jerusalem as he tried to introduce cross veneration.
Rejection of Celibate Clergy
John of Damascus also makes note of the Autoproscoptae, who are also of the same period as the Paulicians: “[T]hey are orthodox in every respect,” but “boldly cut themselves off from the communion of the Catholic Church.” This group apparently adhered to “canonical ordinances,” but only under pretense (so he says), and their clergy “openly cohabit with women and maintain them privately in their homes” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 100).
False Accusations Against the Paulicians
These Paulicians were accused of many errors that are easily dismissed when considered in their historical and theological context. The Paulicians were accused of being “dualists,” and yet no evidence exists from their own hands or mouths suggesting that they were any more “dualist” than the New Testament itself is “dualist”:
“…now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31)
“…the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not…” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
“…in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air…” (Ephesians 2:2)
“…greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
They were accused of teaching that Satan had created the world—an accusation, we hasten to add, that does not arise until 500 years after the Paulicians were first identified by name (Garsoïan, 166)—but when we see how the Early Church understood these “dualist” verses, we can see that the Paulicians were simply expressing what the Scriptures and the Early Church understood about the evil times in which they lived. Note the similarity of thought as expressed by Barnabas in the second century:
“Since, therefore, the days are evil, and Satan possesses the power of this world, we ought to give heed to ourselves, and diligently inquire into the ordinances of the Lord.” (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 2)
The Paulicians were classified as Manichæans and were accused of being disciples of the heretic Paul of Samosata, and yet “all the Byzantine sources concede[d]” that the Paulicians freely anathematized Manes and Paul of Samosata (Garsoïan, 116).
They were accused of rejecting Peter’s epistles, and yet they are also reported as teaching that the water of baptism was only figurative, as we noted above, a claim that would require knowledge and acceptance of Peter’s first epistle where baptism is explicitly described as a “like figure” with the flood of Noah (1 Peter 3:21).
They were accused of rejecting the Old Testament—on the basis that all who had come before Christ were “thieves and robbers” (ληστας aυτους και κλεπτας (Photius, VIII))—a plain reference to John 10:8. And yet it was Photius who reported that the Paulicians taught that the Lord identified Himself as “the living waters,” an identification that only occurs only in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). Further, these “Manichaeans,” by Photius’ testimony, spoke favorably of the “prophetic words” (προφητικους λογους) of the Old Testament that Christ fulfilled according to John 1:11 (Photius, Contra Manichaeos, Book IV, Sermo II, ch. 8) (Migne, P.G., vol 102, col 96)).
They were accused of being Nestorians, and yet, as noted above, we are told that they acknowledged Mary as “Theotokon” (albeit without the attendant Roman Catholic Mariolatry), a term that Nestorius had refused to adopt. As evidence of how they have confounded their critics, the Paulicians are simultaneously accused of refusing the term, and therefore being Nestorian, and of using the term, but only to delude “the ignorant and simple” (Parsons, Reuben, Studies in Church History, vol 1 (New York: Fr. Pustet & Co, 1906) 463).
They are categorized as Adoptionists (Conybeare, Fred C., The Key of Truth, Preface (Oxford: the Clarendon Press (1898) viii), but as noted above, they freely anathematized the Adoptionist Paul of Samosata, and further confessed that God had come into the world through Mary, a precept that is inimical to Adoptionism which holds that Christ was a mere man and did not become God’s Son until His baptism. Like so many other accusations against them, their alleged Adoptionism is imposed upon them from without, but does not come from their own mouths.
Even the title “Paulicians” is one assigned to them by accusers and their historians; in fact, they called themselves “Christians,” and recognizing the theological catastrophe of the great apostasy by referring to themselves as “the people who have not swerved in faith” (Garsoïan, 163).
The Eschatological Confirmation
As we proceed through the accusations leveled against them, we observe exactly what every student of the Paulician phenomenon can plainly see, here summarized by Garsoïan:
“1) Most of our knowledge on the subject must be derived from hostile Orthodox sources, which may be misinformed or which may deliberately distort the dogma of the sect. 2) The apparently irreconcilable disagreement between the Armenian and Greek sources permits no conclusive synthesis of Paulician doctrine.” (Garsoïan, 151),
This is part of the reason we must now turn to the eschatological argument.
Paul and Peter warned that false shepherds would from within the Church “to draw away disciples” (Acts 20:30) and “bring in damnable heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). Paul warned of a great apostasy that would come (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and John warned that Satan would let loose a flood of error in an attempt to ensnare the Woman (Revelation 12:15).
Toward the end of the 4th century, Satan let loose a flood of errors that swept the world—the errors of Roman Primacy, Marian devotion, Mary as “Mother of God,” Mary’s perpetual virginity, relic veneration, image veneration, veneration of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass, priestly celibacy, baptismal regeneration, and much more. If we can identify the flood, we can identify the Woman, and this we have certainly done. In both the east and the west from the latter part of the 4th century onward, we find the general apostasy manifesting as Roman Catholicism under the purview of the Harlot city of Rome, and in the same period we find in the wilderness the Woman of Revelation 12 persistently standing in Scriptural purity against the harlot’s novelties.
Of the “heretics,” the Catholic Encyclopedia provides these terse summaries of their theology, according to what can be discerned from the historical data: “[Jesus’] work consisted only in his teaching,” corresponding to what the Reformers would call sola scriptura, and “to believe in him saves men from judgment” corresponding to what the Reformers would call sola fide (Catholic Encyclopedia, Paulicians).
So invested are their accusers in their calumniations that they inadvertently praise the “heretics” in their upright lifestyles and their commendable work ethic:
“They are addicted to business and profit-making and other worldly affairs.” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 100)
“They have separated from the communion of the Church and pretend to a great severity of discipline, with each on vying to prove himself better than the next.” (John of Damascus, Compendium of Heresies, Heresy 103)
These hardworking Christians who were in fact orthodox in their teaching, disciplined in their work, evangelistic in their preaching, and productive in their toil, resisted the flood of error, flying above it with the wings of an eagle, nourished by the Word of God in the wilderness.
For their “crimes,” 100,000 of these early Protestants were murdered in cold blood by the Roman Catholic empire. In short, they were calumniated as heretics, murdered on false charges, and owned the legacy of Christ their Savior Who said,
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
In the coming installments, we will continue this series and press on toward the Reformation. As we proceed, we will find in every period a simple people, nourished by the Word of God, standing firmly against Roman novelties—both ancient and new—and when the Crusades are announced and Eucharistic adoration is introduced, these faithful people will stand against them, too. A remarkable Woman, flying continually above the flood, she carried the light of the Gospel to the world, and expended her blood and treasure to snatch men from the fire.
We conclude this installment with an elegy worthy of their high calling. Conybeare was wrong about their Adoptionism, but quite right about the part the Paulician’s would play in the twelve centuries between the flood of Revelation 12 and the Protestant Reformation:
“Nor was [the Paulician movement] without its martyrs, who were counted by hundreds of thousands, and whose slayers invariably took their orders from the persecuting clergy of old and new Rome. And when reasons of state or bigotry failed to exterminate this primitive Church among the ranges of the Taurus, its members were deported by hundreds of thousands to Thrace. There they throve for centuries, and the spread of their tenets into Bohemia, Poland, Germany, Italy, France, and even into our own England, must have helped not a little to prepare the ground for the Puritan Reformation.” (Conybeare, civ)