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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 1 — Progress From the First to the Fourteenth Century

Chapter 8 — The Paulicians

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The Paulicians the Protesters against the Eastern, as the Waldenses against the Western Apostasy — Their Rise in A.D. 653 — Constantine of Samosata-Their Tenets Scriptural — Constantine Stoned to Death — Simeon Succeeds — Is put to Death — Sergius — His Missionary Travels — Terrible Persecutions-The Paulicians Rise in Arms — Civil War — The Government Triumphs — Dispersion of the Paulicians over the West — They Blend with the Waldenses — Movement in the South of Europe — The Troubadour, the Barbe, and the Bible, the Three Missionaries — Innocent III. — The Crusades.

BESIDES this central and main body of oppositionists to Rome — Protestants before Protestantism — placed here as in an impregnable fortress, upreared on purpose, in the very center of Roman Christendom, other communities and individuals arose, and maintained a continuous line of Protestant testimony all along to the sixteenth century. These we shall compendiously group and rapidly describe. First, there are the Paulicians. They occupy an analogous place in the East to that which the Waldenses held in the West. Some obscurity rests upon their origin, and additional mystery has on purpose been cast over it, but a fair and impartial examination of the matter leaves no doubt that the Paulicians are the remnant that escaped the apostasy of the Eastern Church, just as the Waldenses are the remnant saved from the apostasy of the Western Church. Doubt, too, has been thrown upon their religious opinions; they have been painted as a confederacy of Manicheans, just as the Waldenses were branded as a synagogue of heretics; but in the former case, as in the latter, an examination of the matter satisfies us that these imputations had no sufficient foundation, that the Paulicians repudiated the errors imputed to them, and that as a body their opinions were in substantial agreement with the doctrine of Holy Writ. Nearly all the information we have of them is that which Petrus Siculus, their bitter enemy, has communicated. He visited them when they were in their most flourishing condition, and the account he has given of their distinguishing doctrines sufficiently proves that the Paulicians had rejected the leading errors of the Greek and Roman Churches; but it fails to show that they had embraced the doctrine of Manes, [1] or were justly liable to be styled Manicheans.

In A.D. 653, a deacon returning from captivity in Syria rested a night in the house of an Armenian named Constantine, who lived in the neighborhood of Samosata. On the morrow, before taking his departure, he presented his host with a copy of the New Testament. Constantine studied the sacred volume. A new light broke upon his mind: the errors of the Greek Church stood clearly revealed, and he instantly resolved to separate himself from so corrupt a communion. He drew others to the study of the Scriptures, and the same light shone into their minds which had irradiated his. Sharing his views, they shared with him his secession from the established Church of the Empire. It was the boast of this new party, now grown to considerable numbers, that they adhered to the Scriptures, and especially to the writings of Paul. "I am Sylvanus," said Constantine, "and ye are Macedonians," intimating thereby that the Gospel which he would teach, and they should learn, was that of Paul; hence the name of Paulicians, a designation they would not have been ambitious to wear had their doctrine been Manichean. [2]

These disciples multiplied. A congenial soil favored their increase, for in these same mountains, where are placed the sources of the Euphrates, the Nestorian remnant had found a refuge. The attention of the Government at Constantinople was at length turned to them, and persecution followed. Constantine, whose zeal, constancy, and piety had been amply tested by the labors of twenty-seven years, was stoned to death. From his ashes arose a leader still more powerful. Simeon, an officer of the palace who had been sent with a body of troops to superintend his execution, was converted by his martyrdom; and, like Paul after the stoning of Stephen, forthwith began to preach the faith which he had once persecuted. Simeon ended his career, as Constantine had done, by sealing his testimony with his blood; the stake being planted beside the heap of stones piled above the ashes of Constantine.

Still the Paulicians multiplied; other leaders arose to fill the place of those who had fallen, and neither the anathemas of the hierarchy nor the sword of the State could check their growth. All through the eighth century they continued to flourish. The worship of images was now the fashionable superstition in the Eastern Church, and the Paulicians rendered themselves still more obnoxious to the Greek authorities, lay and clerical, by the strenuous opposition which they offered to that idolatry of which the Greeks were the great advocates and patrons. This drew upon them yet sorer persecution. It was now, in the end of the eighth century, that the most remarkable perhaps of all their leaders, Sergius, rose to head them, a man of truly missionary spirit and of indomitable energy. Petrus Siculus has given us an account of the conversion of Sergius. We should take it for a satire, were it not for the manifest earnestness and simplicity of the writer. Siculus tells us that Satan appeared to Sergius in the shape of an old woman, and asked him why he did not read the New Testament? The tempter proceeded further to recite portions of Holy Writ, whereby Sergius was seduced to read the Scripture, and so perverted to heresy; and "from sheep," says Siculus, "turned numbers into wolves, and by their means ravaged the sheepfolds of Christ." [3]

During thirty-four years, and in the course of innumerable journeys, he preached the Gospel from East to West, and converted great numbers of his countrymen. The result was more terrible persecutions, which were continued through successive reigns. Foremost in this

work we find the Emperor Leo, the Patriarch Nicephorus, and notably the Empress Theodora. Under the latter it was affirmed, says Gibbon, "that one hundred thousand Paulicians were extirpated by the sword, the gibbet, or the flames." It is admitted by the same historian that the chief guilt of many of those who were thus destroyed lay in their being Iconoclasts. [4] The sanguinary zeal of Theodora kindled a flame which had well-nigh consumed the Empire of the East. The Paulicians, stung by these cruel injuries, now prolonged for two centuries, at last took up arms, as the Waldenses of Piedmont, the Hussites of Bohemia, and the Huguenots of France did in similar circumstances. They placed their camp in the mountains between Sewas and Trebizond, and for thirty-five years (A.D. 845 — 880) the Empire of Constantinople was afflicted with the calamities of civil war. Repeated victories, won over the troops of the emperor, crowned the arms of the Paulicians, and at length the insurgents were joined by the Saracens, who hung on the frontier of the Empire. The flames of battle extended into the heart of Asia; and as it is impossible to restrain the ravages of the sword when once unsheathed, the Paulicians passed from a righteous defense to an inexcusable revenge. Entire provinces were wasted, opulent cities were sacked, ancient and famous churches were turned into stables, and troops of captives were held to ransom or delivered to the executioner. But it must not be forgotten that the original cause of these manifold miseries was the bigotry of the government and the zeal of the clergy for image-worship. The fortune of war at last declared in favor of the troops of the emperor, and the insurgents were driven back into their mountains, where for a century afterwards they enjoyed a partial independence, and maintained the profession of their religious faith.

After this, the Paulicians were transported across the Bosphorus, and settled in Thrace. [5] This removal was begun by the Emperor Constantine Copronymus in the middle of the eighth century, was continued in successive colonies in the ninth, and completed about the end of the tenth. The shadow of the Saracenic woe was already blackening over the Eastern Empire, and God removed His witnesses betimes from the destined scene of judgment. The arrival of the Paulicians in Europe was regarded with favor rather than disapproval. Rome was becoming by her tyranny the terror and by her profligacy the scandal of the West, and men were disposed to welcome whatever promised to throw additional weight into the opposing scale. The Paulicians soon spread themselves over Europe, and though no chronicle records their dispersion, the fact is attested by the sudden and simultaneous outbreak of their opinions in many of the Western countries. [6] They mingled with the hosts of the Crusaders returning from the Holy Land through Hungary and Germany; they joined themselves to the caravans of merchants who entered the harbor of Venice and the gates of Lombardy; or they followed the Byzantine standard into Southern Italy, and by these various routes settled themselves in the West. [7] They incorporated with the preexisting bodies of oppositionists, and from this time a new life is seen to animate the efforts of the Waldenses of Piedmont, the Albigenses of Southern France, and of others who, in other parts of Europe, revolted by the growing superstitions, had begun to retrace their steps towards the primeval fountains of truth. "Their opinions," says Gibbon, "were silently propagated in Rome, Milan, and the kingdoms beyond the Alps. It was soon discovered that many thousand Catholics of every rank, and of either sex, had embraced the Manichean heresy." [8] From this point the Paulician stream becomes blended with that of the other early confessors of the Truth. To these we now return.

When we cast our eyes over Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, our attention is irresistibly riveted on the south of France. There a great movement is on the eve of breaking out. Cities and provinces are seen rising in revolt against the Church of Rome. Judging from the aspect of things on the surface, one would have inferred that all opposition to Rome had died out. Every succeeding century was deepening the foundations and widening the limits of the Romish Church, and it seemed now as if there awaited her ages of quiet and unchallenged dominion. It is at this moment that her power begins to totter; and though she will rise higher ere terminating her career, her decadence has already begun, and her fall may be postponed, but cannot be averted. But how do we account for the powerful movement that begins to show itself at the foot of the Alps, at a moment when, as it seems, every enemy has been vanquished, and Rome has won the battle? To attack her now, seated as we behold her amid vassal kings, obedient nations, and entrenched behind a triple rampart of darkness, is surely to invite destruction.

The causes of this movement had been long in silent operation. In fact, this was the very quarter of Christendom where opposition to the growing tyranny and superstitions of Rome might be expected first to show itself. Here it was that Polycarp and Irenaeus had labored. Over all those goodly plains which the Rhone waters, and in those numerous cities and villages over which the Alps stretch their shadows, these apostolic men had planted Christianity. Hundreds of thousands of martyrs had here watered it with their blood, and though a thousand years well-nigh had passed since that day, the story of their terrible torments and heroic deaths had not been altogether forgotten. In the Cottian Alps and the province of Languedoc, Vigilantius had raised his powerful protest against the errors of his times. This region was included, as we have seen, in the diocese of Milan, and, as a consequence, it enjoyed the light which shone on the

south of the Alps long after Churches not a few on the north of these mountains were plunged in darkness. In the ninth century Claude of Turin had found in the Archbishop of Lyons, Agobardus, a man willing to entertain his views and to share his conflicts. Since that time the night had deepened here as everywhere else. But still, as may be conceived, there were memories of the past, there were seeds in the soil, which new forces might quicken and make to spring up. Such a force did now begin to act. It was, moreover, on this spot, and among these peoples — the best prepared of all the nations of the West — that the Word of God was first published in the vernacular. When the Romance version of the New Testament was issued, the people that sat in darkness saw a great light. This was in fact a second giving of Divine Revelation to the nations of Europe; for the early Saxon renderings of portions of Holy Writ had fallen aside and gone utterly into disuse; and though Jerome's translation, the Vulgate, was still known, it was in Latin, now a dead language, and its use was confined to the priests, who though they possessed it cannot be said to have known it; for the reverence paid it lay in the rich illuminations of its writing, in the gold and gems of its binding, and the curiously-carved and costly cabinets in which it was locked up, and not in the earnestness with which its pages were studied. Now the nations of Southern Europe could read, each in "the tongue wherein he was born," the wonderful works of God.

This inestimable boon they owed to Peter Valdes or Waldo, a rich merchant in Lyons, who had been awakened to serious thought by the sudden death of a companion, according to some, by the chance lay of a traveling troubadour, according to others. We can imagine the wonder and joy of these people when this light broke upon them through the clouds that environed them. But we must not picture to ourselves a diffusion of the Bible, in those ages, at all so wide and rapid as would take place in our day when copies can be so easily multiplied by the printing press. Each copy was laboriously produced by the pen; its price corresponded to the time and labor expended in its production; it had to be carried long distances, often by slow and uncertain conveyances; and, last of all, it had to encounter the frowns and ultimately the prohibitory edicts of a hostile hierarchy. But there were compensatory advantages. Difficulties but tended to whet the desire of the people to obtain the Book, and when once their eyes lighted on its page, its truths made the deeper an impression on their minds. It stood out in its sublimity from the fables on which they had been fed. The conscience felt that a greater than man was speaking from its page. Each copy served scores and hundreds of readers.

Besides, if the mechanical appliances were lacking to those ages, which the progress of invention has conferred on ours, there existed a living machinery which worked indefatigably. The Bible was sung in the lays of troubadours and minnesingers. It was recited in the sermons of barbes. And these efforts reacted on the Book from which they had sprung, by leading men to the yet more earnest perusal and the yet wider diffusion of it. The Troubadour, the Barbe, and, mightiest of all, the Bible, were the three missionaries that traversed the south of Europe. Disciples were multiplied: congregations were formed: barons, cities, provinces, joined the movement. It seemed as if the Reformation was come. Not yet. Rome had not filled up her cup; nor had the nations of Europe that full and woeful demonstration they have since received, how crushing to liberty, to knowledge, to order, is her yoke, to induce them to join universally in the struggle to break it.

Besides, it happened, as has often been seen at historic crises of the Papacy, that a Pope equal to the occasion filled the Papal throne. Of remarkable vigor, of dauntless spirit, and of sanguinary temper, Innocent III. but too truly guessed the character and divined the issue of the movement. He sounded the tocsin of persecution. Mail-clad abbots, lordly prelates, "who wielded by turns the crosier, the scepter, and the sword;" [9] barons and counts ambitious of enlarging their domains, and mobs eager to wreak their savage fanaticism on their neighbors, whose persons they hated and whose goods they coveted, assembled at the Pontiff's summons. Fire and sword speedily did the work of extermination. Where before had been seen smiling provinces, flourishing cities, and a numerous, virtuous, and orderly population, there was now a blackened and silent desert. That nothing might be lacking to carry on this terrible work, Innocent III. set up the tribunal of the Inquisition. Behind the soldiers of the Cross marched the monks of St. Dominic, and what escaped the sword of the one perished by the racks of the other. In one of those dismal tragedies not fewer than a hundred thousand persons are said to have been destroyed. [10] Over wide areas not a living thing was left: all were given to the sword. Mounds of ruins and ashes alone marked the spot where cities and villages had formerly stood. But this violence recoiled in the end on the power which had employed it. It did not extinguish the movement: it but made the roots strike deeper, to spring up again and again, and each time with greater vigor and over a wider area, till at last it was seen that Rome by these deeds was only preparing for Protestantism a more glorious triumph, and for herself a more signal overthrow.

But these events are too intimately connected with the early history of Protestantism, and they too truly depict

the genius and policy of that power against which Protestantism found it so hard a matter to struggle into existence, to be passed over in silence, or dismissed with a mere general description. We must go a little into detail.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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