A Brief Overview of the Paulicans

The Paulicans were a sect developing in the 6-7th Century which was vigorously opposed by the Greek Orthodox Church. They claimed Constantine of Mananali (who took the name Sylvanus) as their leader, and when Sylvanus died, his successor was an imperial official named Symeon who once had persecuted them; he changed his name to Titus and the group began to expand throughout the areas of Bulgaria. (Garsoian, Paulican Heresy, 117)

Unlike other heretical groups, the Paulicans had a military force which had its share of brutalities, as Gibbons writes:
"and the neighbouring hills were covered with the Paulician fugitives, who now reconciled the use of the Bible and the sword. During more than thirty years, Asia was afflicted by the calamities of foreign and domestic war; in their hostile inroads, the disciples of St. Paul were joined with those of Mahomet; and the peaceful Christians, the aged parent and tender virgin, who were delivered into barbarous servitude, might justly accuse the intolerant spirit of their sovereign. So urgent was the mischief, so intolerable the shame, that even the dissolute Michael, the son of Theodora, was compelled to march in person against the Paulicians: he was defeated under the walls of Samosata; and the Roman emperor fled before the heretics whom his mother had condemned to the flames. The Saracens fought under the same banners, but the victory was ascribed to Carbeas; and the captive generals, with more than a hundred tribunes, were either released by his avarice, or tortured by his fanaticism. The valour and ambition of Chrysocheir, (19) his successor, embraced a wider circle of rapine and revenge. In alliance with his faithful Moslems, he boldly penetrated into the heart of Asia; the troops of the frontier and the palace were repeatedly overthrown; and pillage Asia Minor. the edicts of persecution were answered by the pillage of Nice and Nicomedia, of Ancyra and Ephesus; nor could the apostle St. John protect from violation his city and sepulchre (The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, chap liv)
A lot of the information available comes from a primary Paulican source, called The Key of Truth, a statement of doctrinal beliefs discovered in a Russian Armenian colony in 1828. They had once been thought to be Manichean in theology, but the Key suggests otherwise. They believed that Christ became the Son of God when he was adopted by the Father through his baptism; because Jesus demonstrated sinless obedience to God's will, the Holy Spirit "admitted him into the mystery of the holy Godship" (Key of Truth 80). Contrary to John 1:1-18, the Paulicans believed that Jesus Christ was a created being, someone who "is faithful to his creator, as was Moses in all his house" (Key 94). Accordingly, they viewed Jesus primarily as a teacher, acknowledging that His death was a sacrifice, but not as an atonement for sin. In fact, Karapet Mkrttchean, a member of the Paulicans, confessed on his deathbed in 1837 that their group had been taught that Jesus was not God at all (Frederick Conybeare "Paulicans" Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., xxiv-xxvi) The Paulican view of Christ is summed up this way:
"It was in the season of his [Jesus'] maturity that he received baptism; then it was that he received authority, received the high-priesthood, received the kingdom and the office of chief shepherd. Moreover, he was then chosen; then he won lordship... Then he became Savior of us sinners; then he was filled with the Godhead." (Key 75).
Their heretical views extended to the Holy Spirit, whom they viewed also as a creature, as a prayer in the Key states, "Blessed art thou, Spirit of the Heavenly Father, forasmuch as thou wast made by the Father." (Key 14).

The Paulicans rejected infant baptism, preferring to baptize at age 30 to conform with the example of Christ (Conybeare, xiii). Before baptism, initiates underwent exorcism by one of the "elect" leaders of the church; then baptism was performed in the nude, both by immersion and pouring. It apparently was also common procedure to believe that sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven.(Conybeare, xxxv, xxxviii & 123)

In other ways, the Paulicans retained many Catholic distinctives, such as belief in the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ (Key 117 and 123) and prayers for the dead (Key 120).

Such doctrines lead Baptist scholar McGoldrick to conclude:
"When, by means of the Key, the Paulicans are permitted to speak for themselves, it becomes crystal clear that they were not Baptists. In fact, when judged by a traditional creed or standard of orthodoxy, they cannot be regarded as Christians at all" (Baptist Successionism 34)


© Copyright Clay Randall, 2002