Bojana Radovanović on the Bogomils
In this episode, with Dr Bojana Radovanović as our guide, we explore the fascinating and deeply-esoteric Christian movement known as ‘Bogomilism’. The Bogomils were, in the eyes of the heresiological authorities who attempted to censure them, a tenth-century recrudescence of the old ‘Manichæan heresy’ – dualists, positing the creation of the cosmos not through the agency of the Logos, Christ, but through that of his elder brother, Satan – but we approach them as far as possible as an exquisite flowering of the dualist side of Christianity in a new way in the high middle ages.
Topics discussed include:
- The political background in eastern Europe of the tenth century and beyond,
- The state of the sources on the Bogomils, nearly all of which are accounts from hostile observers who view the movement as a heresy,
- The geographical and temporal extent of Bogomilism (larger than you might think in both cases),
- The fascinating ‘mitigated dualist’ theology of the Bogomils, in which God has two sons, the elder Satan (creator of the kosmos), and the younger Christ (you can guess which one represents the good side of the equation, and which the evil); their rejection of the sacraments, of the orthodox church hierarchy, and the cross; their docetism, leading to this rejection of the cross, but also of Mariolatry; their widespread and notable use of allegorical or esoteric hermeneutics of scripture (excluding the historical books of the Old Testament, but including the New and an extended canon of works such as the Ascension of Isaiah and other spicy para-canonical writings);
- The division into two ‘grades’ of Bogomils – those still in darkness and the ‘Illuminated Ones’ (illuminati, for it is they!) or ‘Perfected Ones’ (perfecti) – based on initiatic rituals and ascetic achievements, and their innovative church-hierarchy, which may have allowed major roles for women of the faith,
- Bogomil practices, including their itinerant preaching-practices, spreading the logos far and wide and in the process becoming theotokoi, ‘god-birthers’, the extreme asceticism of the Illuminati (they were straight-edge), and a daily-and-nightly round of prayer,
- The question of Manichæan and other influence on the development of Bogomilism, and
- The suggestive evidence for the Bogomils’ use of the Ascension of Isaiah as a manual for cosmic ascent practices among the faithful.
Bojana Radovanović is a Serbian classicist and medieval historian working on heresy and heretical movements within Christianity. She is currently finishing a phase of an Erwin Schroedinger Postdoctoral project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) at Radboud University in Nijmegen, and returning to the Institut für Mittelalterforschung in Vienna for the next phase; the project is entitled “Sicut oves in medio luporum: religious landscapes, dualist dissent, and the ‘language of heresy’ (11th –13th centuries)”. She is a co-organizer of the monthly online Bogomil Seminar. She is currently developing a monograph to be entitled Along the Less-traveled Road: Tracing the Less-explored, Heterodox, Extra-canonical and Mystical Filaments in Bogomil Doctrine and Practice. Her other research interests include the late antiquity and polytheist heritage of medieval philosophical and theological concepts, dualist heresies in the Middle Ages, dualist legends, Slavonic apocrypha, and inter-cultural transmission between East Rome and the Latin West.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Our episode introducing the Ascension of Isaiah can be found here.
Ibn Fadlan’s journeys among the Khazars can be found in this handy Penguin translation: Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, trans. Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North. Penguin, 2012.
The ethnological survey in Macedonia (now North Macedonia) was done in October 2014, part of a joint project called “Bogomil movement and Bogomil Literacy” (Богомилското движење и богомилската книжевност), undertaken by the Macedonian and Bulgarian Academies of Sciences.
To access the primary sources on the Bogomils, the following will be helpful:
- Cosmas the Priest: Le Traité contre les Bogomiles de Cosmas le prêtre, eds. Henri-Charles Puech, and André Vaillant (Paris: Institut d’études slaves, 1945); Козма Пресвитер в славянских литературах, ed. Юрий Бегунов (София: БАН, 1973); The Discourse of the Priest Cosmas against the Bogomils. Trans. Yuri Stoyanov. In Bernard and Janet Hamilton, eds. Christian Dualist Heresies in the Byzantine World, c. 650–c.1405 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 114–134.
- Euthymius Zegabenos: Orthodoxae fidei dogmatica panoplia. XXVII, 11, in Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, ed. Jacques-Paul Migne (Paris, 1857–1866) 130:1200A 1–14, 1289D–1331D; The Panoplia Dogmatike by Euthymios Zigabenos. Ed. Nadia Miladinova (Leiden: Brill, 2014); John Sanidopoulos, ed. The Rise of Bogomilism and Its Penetration into Constantinople. With a Complete Translation of Euthymios Zygabenos’ ‘Concerning Bogomilism’ (Rollinsford, NH, 2011).
- Euthymius of the Periblepton: Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, ed. Jacques-Paul Migne 131, 47-58; Ficker, Gerhard. Die Phundagiagiten: ein Beitrag zur Ketzergeschichte des Byzantinischen Mittelalters (Leipzig: Barth, 1908), pp. 3-86.