THE BOGOMILIAN Doctrines AND
PRACTICES.THE CREDENTES AND
PERFECTI.WERE THE CREDENTES BAPTIZED?
WHAT was the daily life of these people, and what their relations to each other and to the communities in which they lived? The question can only be answered by the testimony of their adversariestestimony which we may be certain will not be too favorable to them.
They had taken upon them the name of Christiansfollowers of Christ. Did they honor that name more than the so-called orthodox members of the Greek and Latin churches? Let us scan the evidence.
It is agreed by all the writers who speak of them that their membership was divided into two classes, the Perfecti, or pure ones, and the Credentes, or believers. The Perfecti were never very numerous. In 1240, when the Bogomilian doctrines had spread over all Europe and the number of believers, or Credentes, could not have been less than two millions and a half, and may have exceeded three millions, Reinero Sacconi, or, as Hallam and other English writers call him, Regnier, the inquisitor, the best informed of their enemies, who had himself been at one time a member of the sect, estimates the number of the Perfecti as not exceeding four thousand. These were their leaders, or elders, and their devout women. They went forth to teach by twos, like the seventy sent out by Christ. They were required to remain in a state of celibacy and could not hold any property, these requirements being probably intended to make their journeyings and itinerant labors less trying and to secure their undivided consecration to their work. The presence that they regarded marriage and the possession of property as mortal sins is a fiction of their enemies, as their whole history proves. This relinquishment of property on the part of the Perfecti they regarded as the fulfilment of Christ's injunction to the young ruler (Matt. xix. 21): "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." They were also to lead ascetic lives, to eat only vegetables and fish, and to fast rigidly at certain seasons of the year. They had peculiar signals for recognizing each other, and their support was contributed by the Credentes, or believers. They received the title of elders, and, in addition to their duties as preachers and pastors of the congregations, and missionaries to other lands, they alone had power to administer the consolamentum, or rite of initiation into the ranks of the Perfecti. This was done by the laying on of hands of the elders, by means of which they believed that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, descended upon those on whom hands were laid, and thenceforth they too were elders and missionaries. The rites by which believers were received into the ranks of the Credentes are not specified by their adversaries; it is certain, however, that baptismsi. e., immersion, for the Oriental churches had no other conception of baptism than immersionwas the principal, and perhaps the only, one. We give below our reasons for coming to this conclusion.* There was a covenant often entered into by the believers to receive the consolamentum at the approach of death, and there is abundant evidence that they celebrated the Lord's Supperthough without giving it any mystic significationwhenever it was possible, every Lord's Day. Women were admitted to the ranks of the Perfecti, but they too were required to lead celibate lives and to practice abstinence from meats; they seldom preached, though they often took a part in public worship. More than six hundred years before the organization of any sisterhood analogous to the Sisters of Charity in the Roman Church these holy women, the deaconesses of the Bogomil churches, devoted their whole time to ministering to the sick, to visiting and aiding the poor, to teaching the young the rudiments of their faithestablishing thus in their Lord's Day instruction the first Sunday-schools in the Christian churchto administering in extreme cases the consolamentum to the dying, and to teaching the ignorant, and especially young girls, the rudiments of learning and the way of salvation. Like the brethren of the Perfecti, they went forth to their work in couples. The Credentes, or believers, were for a period of nearly four centuries the merchants, the traders, the agriculturists, and, to a considerable extent, the nobles and officials of Bulgaria and Bosnia.
* This question of the baptism of the members of the Bogomil, or Paulician, Church as the initiatory rite to membership among the Credentes has been very fiercely discussed by ecclesiastical writers, and not always in the best temper. our reasons for believing that it was always administered are the following:
1. Their well-known and universally-admitted repudiation of infant baptism, and their often quoted declarations that the Credentes should only comprise those who professed personal faith in Christ as their Saviour. The profession was made in some public way, and was evidently not made by the imposition of hands, as that was confined to the Perfecti, or celibate disciples, and was a personal consecration to a specific ministry. This profession of faith was also a prerequisite to participation in the Lord's Supper.
2. The omission of any mention of this by the presbyter Cosmas, Zygabenus, and others is not an argument against it, for they, as ecclesiastics of the Greek Church, recognized nothing as baptism except the trine immersion of infants, with its accompaniments of unction, naming after one of the saints, and invocation to the saints and the Virgin Mary; and, as all these were repudiated by these humble Christians, they would naturally declare that they did not practice baptism. But, per contra, Harmenopoulos, a Greek priest of the twelfth century, expressly declares that they did practice single immersion, but without unction, etc., and only upon adults, on the profession of their faith. He adds that they did not attribute to it any saving or perfecting virtue, which is in accordance with their other teachings.
3. Reinero, the inquisitor, who had originally been one of them, says: "They say that a man is shell first baptized when he is received into their community and has been baptized by them, and they hold that baptism is of no advantage to infants, since they cannot actually believe."
4. We find in the histories of Jirecek and Hilferding numerous incidental allusions to the baptism of persons of high rank, such as the ban Culin Tvartko III, King Stephen Thomas, the Duke of St. Sava, etc., who never advanced beyond the grade of Credentes, but who are said to have been "baptized into the Bogomil faith." That during the period of their greatest persecutions the ordinance was administered secretly, and perhaps at night, is very probable, but there is no evidence that it was ever omitted, much less that any other mode was substituted for it. That would have been impossible in an Oriental church.
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