THE PRESBYTER COSMAS'S SERMON REGARDING THE NEWLY-APPEARED BOGOMIL HERESY

 

The Bulgarian Presbyter1 Cosmas's "Sermon" on Bogomilism (ca. 970 A.D.) is a priceless document for the history of medieval dualism, not only with respect to Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire, but for Western Europe as well. What makes it especially valuable is that it was written by a contemporary, who encountered the heretics and heard their preaching first-hand. Cosmas's "Sermon" also offers a sweeping description of tenth-century Bulgarian life, by one who loves his country and is agitated by the social disintegration which has been accelerated by war2 and religious controversy. Cosmas is grieved not only by the Bogomils, whom he sees as tearing the very fabric of society apart, but also by the Bulgarian ruling classes and the clergy. A true Jeremiah, he castigates men who leave their wives and children and flee to the safety of monasteries. He also criticizes monks who travel abroad — to Rome and Jerusalem — returning home to boast of their travels. As for the rich, he asks them to make their libraries available to the less fortunate, so that knowledge may be disseminated, and the perils of heresy and ignorance diminished.

In a brief Prologue, Cosmas sets forth his motive for writing about the new heresy of a man named "Bogumil" (literally "dear to God"). Cosmas says he is rather "Bogu-ne-mil," i.e. "not dear to God." He states that of all sins heresy is the unforgivable one, since it is a sin against the Holy Spirit. He admits that he is concerned that in discussing the heresy he will further it, but write he must, in order to save other Christloving people "from falling into their net."

Cosmas accuses the Bogomils of the sin of pride — of pretending to be meek and humble, while attacking the human frailties of other Christians, including the clergy. He castigates them for opposing the veneration of the cross and of icons, as well as of the relics of the saints. The Bogomils scoff at miracles,

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he says, claiming they are the works of Satan. According to Cosmas, they believe that Christ and Satan are brothers, and that Satan created the material world, including the earth and mankind. In this way they explain the presence of evil in the world.

Cosmas finds their teachings on Mary so despicable that he can't   bring himself to recite them. (We know from other sources that the heretics denied that Mary was the Mother of God, some even claiming that Christ's birth was only an illusion.) The Presbyter tells us that the Bogomils also oppose the sacraments, except for baptism, which must be spiritual — i.e. by the laying on of hands — and not by immersion in water. Baptism with water, a material substance, is of the Devil, and thus John the Baptist was Satan's emissary. And while the Bogomils accept the necessity for Confession, it is of the non-auricular kind, i.e. they believe it enough to confess one's sins to another "Christian" (their name for each other). Cosmas is particularly outraged that women are included among those to whom one may confess. The Bogomils also oppose the priesthood and the hierarchy, as well as the liturgy and Holy Communion, claiming that the latter are the innovations of John Chrysostom.

This sect relied almost exclusively on the New Testament and the Epistles and Acts of the Apostles as their authorities, while rejecting most of the Old Testament and particularly the Prophets. In effect, they sought the return to a more primitive form of Christianity — to a renewal of Christ's message as they interpreted it — minus the accretions of the Church. They recognized only two groups of worshipers: the "perfect," who have received spiritual baptism (the consolamentum) at a mature age, and the "believers," who have yet to receive baptism. Kiselkov (1921) believes that in Cosmas's time their teachings were transmitted exclusively orally, since the Presbyter makes no mention of any writings, continually stating "they say."

All the Bogomil "errors" were looked upon very seriously by the medieval Church, as leading to the perdition of the individual soul, as well as threatening the foundations of the Church. In addition, their opposition to the tsar and his govern­ment, and to the boyars and local chiefs, posed a serious threat

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Cosmas Presbyter is well-versed in the scriptures: scholars have counted more than two hundred citations from the Bible in the "Sermon." He is also familiar with the works of the Church Fathers, including John Chrysostom and Basil the Great. But unlike some religious writers, the author of the Beseda comes before us as a human being with a full range of emotions. His greatest skill is in evoking images from daily life, and it is precisely this quality which makes his words alive today, more than one thousand years after they were written. His main weakness is his lack of organization, but this is not a great problem in a work as brief as this.

Our text is taken from M. Popruzenko's publication (1936) of the Volokolamsk MS.; it shows some Russian Slavonic features, but otherwise should be close to the Old Bulgarian original. What is noteworthy about Cosmas's language, particularly his syntax, is the palpable presence of a non-Slavic substratum, namely, Greek.

We are fortunate to have two excellent and complementary works relating to Cosmas's "Sermon": J. Begunov's Kozma Presviter v slavjanskih literaturah (1973) and M. Loos's "Dualist Heresy in the Middle Ages" (1974). A third, supplementary work is N. Garsoian's "The Paulician Heresy" (1967), which treats the Armenian origins of Paulicianism, the heresy that probably spawned Bogomilism. Other works of interest are H. Puech and A. Vaillant's Le traite contre les Bogomiles de Cosmas Ie Pretre (1945) and D. Obolensky's "The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Neomanicheism" (1948). Also useful is J. Ivanov's Bogomilski knigi i legendi and V. Topentcharov's Bougres et cathares: deux brasiers une memo flame. ]. Gagov has written a Latin dis­sertation: Theologia antibogomilistica Cosmae Presbyteri, Bulgari saec. X. (1942). M. Popruzenko's Kozma Presviter: Bolgarskij pisater X veka (1936), is a thoroughly grounded work, even though he makes occasional deductions which are not supported by his examples. This is typical, to some extent, of all the above works, which are necessarily speculative at times. Of them all, Loos is the most careful and exhaustive in his research. V. S. Kiselkov offers a modern Bulgarian translation of the Beseda (1921).

T. Butler

 

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PRESBYTER COSMAS'S SERMON

 (Pages follow in this specific order, because for the moment we skip the original Bulgarian text).

...Now it so happened in the Bulgarian land that in the time of the Orthodox Tsar Peter there was a priest by the name of "Bogomil" /beloved of God/. But to tell the truth he was "not beloved of God." He was the first to teach heresy in the Bulgarian land, which error I shall describe further on.... Externally these heretics are like sheep: meek, humble and quiet;

they appear pale from their hypocritical fasting. They don't utter excessive words, they don't laugh loudly and are not inquisitive;

they avoid the glance /of others/, and on the outside they do everything so as not to be distinguished from orthodox Christians. But internally they are wolves and predators, as the Lord said. When people see such humility, thinking that they are Orthodox and capable of showing the way to salvation, they approach them and question them regarding salvation of the soul. And they, like the wolf that wants to seize the sheep, pretend to sigh at first and answer humbly, and when they preach they act as if they were in heaven. And when they see a person who is simple and ignorant, it's there they sow the weeds of their teaching, reviling the rules passed down to the holy churches, about which I shall talk further on....

/After comparing the Bogomils to the antichrist, Cosmas warns against associating with them, quoting Christ: "By their fruits ye shall know them/" and threatening: "Every tree that doesn't bear fruit is cut down and cast into the fire."/

But they are worse than devils. Devils fear Christ's cross, but the heretics cut them up and make tools from them. Devils fear the image of Christ painted on a wooden panel, but the heretics do not bow to icons, calling them idols. Devils fear the relics of God's righteous /saints/, not daring to approach the caskets in which lie the priceless treasure, given to Christians for their deliverance from all sorts of misfortune. But the heretics jeer at them, and they make fun of us when they see us bowing to them

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and asking for their help, because they have forgotten the Lord's words: "Believe in me, and the deeds I do you will do, and even greater." And not wishing to give praise to the saints, they revile the divine miracles which the relics of the saints accomplish through the power of the Holy Spirit, and they say: "Miracles are not accomplished through the Divine Will, but rather the Devil does them to deceive people." And they babble lots more about them, shaking their heads like the Jews, who crucified Christ....

In error they say about the cross: "Why should we bow to it? Because the Jews crucified God's Son on it, the cross is more hateful to God." Thus they teach their people to hate it and not bow to it, saying: "If someone killed the tsar's son with the tree, can it be dear to the tsar? It's the same with the cross and God."

...What do they say about Holy Communion? That Communion was not created by God's command, nor is it — as you say — Christ's body, but it is like any simple flour. Nor (they say) did Christ create the liturgy: "Therefore we do not honor it." 0 what blindness and thickheadedness! Tell me, godless heretic, why did the Lord say to the apostles, when he was giving them bread: "Take ye and eat, for this is my body, which will be broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins;" and in like manner, when he was holding the chalice in his most pure hand, and giving it to his disciples he was saying: "Drink from this all of you, for this is my blood, which will be shed for many."

...You say that it wasn't the apostles who gave us the liturgy and communion, but John Chrysostom. But from Christ's incarnation to John more than 300 years passed. Can God's churches have been without the liturgy and communion for so many years? Didn't the Apostle Peter create a liturgy which the Romans preserved until now, as did James, the Lord's brother? What apostle or righteous one taught you heretics to reject the law given to Moses by God? What untruth did you find in the prophets, so that you defame them and don't accept the books written by them? How can you pretend to love Christ, and yet reject the prophecies about Him by his holy prophets? For the prophets said nothing on their own, but as the Holy Spirit commanded them, so did they prophesy for us. If you don't believe these words — that God once spoke through the

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mouths of prophets — listen to what the holy apostles say about the prophets. And if you don't believe the apostles, you are the most unbelieving of pagans.... They don't accept Abraham, God's friend, and Daniel and the sons of Hagar, and the other prophets, whom even the ferocious wild animals fear, and the fire turns dark. They dishonor John the Forerunner, Dawn of the Great Sun, calling him Forerunner of Antichrist — him whom the Lord called greater than all the saints.... And besides all that evil, the cursed ones don't honor the most glorious and pure Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, but they say much drivel about her. It's impossible to write their words and abominations in this book....

And the heretics, hearing what the Apostle Paul had to say about idols — that it is not proper to subject oneself to gold or silver /idols/ created by human skill -- the cursed ones think this refers to icons. So from that saying they found reason — when alone — not to bow to icons, but out of fear of other men they go to church and kiss the cross and icons. But we have been told by others who have turned from them to our true faith, that they say: "We do all this for the sake of other men, but not with our hearts, while secretly we conceal our faith."

...Many do not know what their heresy is and think of them as people suffering for the truth, who will receive some reward from God for their chains and prison. But they should hear what Paul has to say, that those who suffer but do not suffer lawfully will not be crowned. For even if they have suffered greatly, how can anyone cherish people who call the Devil the creator of man and all divine creation, while in their great ignorance some make him a fallen angel, and others the dishonest steward.5 And these words are cause for laughter in those who have intelligence....

And what word of the scriptures have they not perverted? What have they not defamed in this God-created world? They direct their blasphemies not only toward the earth, but toward the heavens, saying that everything is according to the will of the Devil: the sky, the sun, stars, air, earth, man, churches, crosses, and every divine thing they attribute to the Devil, and simply everything that moves on the earth -- with and without a soul — they call the Devil's. Having heard the parable in the gospels about the two sons, they consider Christ the older son, and the

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younger one who deceived his father they consider the Devil, and they call him "Mamon," and they call him the creator and builder of the things of the earth. And he commanded men to marry, to eat meat, and to drink wine. And while simply defaming everything of ours, they consider themselves heavenly dwellers, and people who marry and live in this world they call the "servants of Mamon."

See, brothers, how much the Devil has defeated them! They reject holy baptism, being disgusted by baptized children. If they happen to see young children, they are repulsed as if by some foul stink. They turn away and spit. But they themselves are a stink to angels and to men. And if they should lie, calling themselves "Christians" — as is their wont — don't believe them, for they are liars like their father the Devil! And how can they call themselves "Christians," when they don't have priests to baptize them, when they don't make the sign of the cross, when they don't sing priestly hymns and don't respect priests? But if there is somewhere a priest who has fallen into their faith, then he has totally rejected ours. If some one of them keeps it, it is from fear of our earthly rulers, /for/ his mind and love are far from the law passed down to the holy churches.

They teach their people not to submit to their rulers; they malign the rich; they hate the tsar; they mock their local chiefs;

they blame the nobility; they consider those who work for the tsar hateful to God; and they command every servant not to serve his master. But on this account, in order to shame these shameless heretics, let us recall for Christlovers the words and teachings of the apostles and prophets that the tsars and boyars are appointed by God.

Notes

1 There is no accepted definition of "presbyter;" he was not a simple priest, and more likely was the equivalent of a bishop.

2 The "war" Cosmas refers to is probably that with Svjatoslav of Rus' (968-969 A.D.), who defeated the Bulgarians and took their capital of Preslav.

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3 Byzantine authorities charged at various times that the Bogomils were supported by the governments of Tsar Samuil and Ivan Asen II.

4. The Kormchaja kniga or "Pilot Book" included canon law as well as civil law. It is discussed in the introduction to "The Law Code of the Common People."

5 A Bogomil interpretation of the parable of the dishonest steward appears in the "Secret Book of the Bogomils," excerpted later in this book.

 

 

 

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