July 27, 2022
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.
Ascension of Isaiah, Ascesis, Bogomils, Cathars, Docetism, Dualism, Esoteric Christianity, Heresiology, Hesychasm, Manichæism, Orthodoxy, Paulicians
July 28, 2022
A fascinating interview—thank you!
Three quick questions, I hope that’s okay. 1) Could you briefly explain how Islam is docetist? 2) How were ‘heretics’ like the Bogomils dealt with in the East Roman/Byzantine Empire? 3) Is this the first recorded appearance in the historical record of an ‘elite’ called the Illuminati?
Thank you both for your time.
July 31, 2022
As for Islamic docetism, you need look no further than Sūrah al-Nisā’ (4:157-158):
Some translation off the web: ‘And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.’
As for the dreaded Illuminati, I doubt this is the first appearance of ‘illuminati‘ as a secret group or elite level within a group, but who knows? But keep in mind that these are Latin terms coined by Latinate observers to translate Greek and Slavic terms, so ‘illuminati‘ isn’t really a title the Bogomils were using in their day-to-day Slavic or Slavonic dealings. It’s a translation of their term(s). Latin, generally, was little-used in the Balkans except in clerical circles in the few places dominated by Rome rather than Constantinople (Bojana, correct me if I’m wrong here!)
I’ll leave the East Roman heresy question to Bojana, who knows way more about it than I!
August 1, 2022
Thank you for the reply! Islam’s “Christian theology”, for lack of a better term, is more and more fascinating. (As a wide aside, and maybe relatedly, the Fortean Gordon Creighton held roughly that Islam offered a key to solving/understanding the UFO problem.)
August 1, 2022
Dude, the mind boggles at what that even means. Provide context immediately, or face the wrath of the angelic Muslim UFO’s!
August 1, 2022
Gordon Creighton thought UFOs were connected to djinn, or in fact WERE djinn. Here’s an excerpt by Nick Redfern (“When the UFO Subject Gets Dangerous: Demons, Djinn and Deadly Tricksters”, 02/05/2022, from the internet):
‘My previous article was on the subject of how Albert Bender – the guy who began the Men in Black phenomenon in the early 1950s – descended into states of paranoia, bad health, and fear, and all after he got into the worlds of the occult, the paranormal and the supernatural. It’s important to note that Bender was not the only one. Let’s have a look at some other very similar examples. We’ll begin with Gordon Creighton, a man who ran the longstanding Flying Saucer Review magazine. Like so many people in the UFO field, Creighton believed that the UFO phenomenon had extraterrestrial origins. The time came, though, when that changed – and to a significant degree. By the 1970s Creighton had concluded the UFO phenomenon was driven not by extraterrestrials, but by supernatural Middle Eastern Djinn…. It should be noted that, after the late 1970s, Creighton never again believed that ETs were visiting us. It was always those aforementioned Djinn. Not only that, privately, he admitted to living in absolute fear of the Djinn. Just like Bender, Creighton found himself in a world of terror.”
I think his first public ‘declaration’ of the djinn interpretation of the UFO problem is in Flying Suacer Review (vol. 29. no. 1, 10/1983), “A brief account of the true nature of the ‘UFO Entities'”.
August 1, 2022
thank you very much for your interesting questions and positive comments! As Earl has explained so well, one must be cautious not to fall into the trap of over-simplified attribution of the words from ancient texts to more modern phenomena; however, the conceptual demarcation line between the illuminated ones and those (still) living in obscurity has been a common denominator in religious currents which promoted doctrinal secrecy.
The Latin language was not widely used in the Balkan Europe and Byzantium – as Earl so justly observed; however, the high officials, dignitaries and persons of power, of letters, or influence – were supposed to have at least a basic command of it.
As for the treatment of the Bogomils by the Byzantines, it was pretty much similar to that of the heretics in the European West. Generally speaking, the heretics were often treated analogously to the pagans, magicians, Jews, in the eyes of the law. This included punishments in terms of sequestration, exile, confiscation of property, burning books…You could find more information about this in the following article:
I hope this helps!)
August 2, 2022
Thank you so much for your reply, and for the link. All of this is very informative (and interesting!). Best of luck with your research!
August 3, 2022
Thank you, Thomas, for your encouraging words! I am very glad that we have reached you with our podcast, all the very best!