committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

SECTION X

THE EMPEROR ALEXIUS COMNENUS AND THE BOGOMIL ELDER BASIL.—THE "ALEXIAD"
OF THE PRINCESS ANNA COMNENA.

IN A.D. 1081, Alexius Comnenus I.—not the first of the Comnenus dynasty, but the first who tool that name as a part of his title—ascended the throne, and during his reign of thirty-seven years persecution of all those whom he regarded as heretics was carried on without any scruples of conscience, or any regard to honor or decency. Alexius had a daughter, the princess Anna Comnena, who. with a most inordinate share of vanity, possessed much of her father's cruel and malignant nature. After her father's death and the defeat of her conspiracy to secure the throne for herself and her husband she turned her attention to literature, and wrote the Alexiad, a history of her father's reign, which has been preserved, like the fly in amber, for its very worthlessness, and gives us some idea of the events of that time. In this book she has left an account of the persecutions of the Bogomils.

The leader of the sect at this time was a venerable physician, Basil by name, whose pure life and eloquence in the eposition of his doctrines had given him great influence in Bulgaria. An ascetic in his life, and, like all the elders, a celibate and without worldly possessions, he had supplied his few and simple needs by the practice of the medical profession. The princess Anna unblushingly narrates how her father set a trap to decoy this venerable man into the toils already laid for him, inviting him to the imperial table and luring him on to an exposition of the doctrines of the Bogomils by pretending a deep interest in them and a willingness to embrace their views; holy he brought him into the imperial cabinet and had a long interview with him—of which she professes to have been a witness—in which he artfully drew from him a still more full statement of their views on all controverted points, as well as the secrets of the sect, if there were any, and then, suddenly throwing aside the arras on the wall, revealed the scribe who had taken down the confession of what he termed his heresy, and beckoned to the aparitors—officers of the court—to come forward and put his guest in irons.

Here this delicate princess drops into coarseness and scurrility. She can find no fault in the character, the life, or the conduct of this apostle of the Bogomils, who seems, even from her own account, to have borne himself with a dignity and lofty courage which should have made his imperial betrayer and persecutor utterly despise himself. But, in default of this, she ridicules his personal appearance and that of his followers—though she is obliged to acknowledge that they included members of many of the families of the highest rank—and pours out her venom on his doctrines and declarations, of which, however, she seems to have no very clear comprehension. "Basil himself," she tells us, "was a lanky man with a sparse beard, tall and thin." " His followers," she says, " were a mixture of Manichees and Massalians." This was a slander, so far as the Manichaeism was concerned, which their enemies never tired of uttering, though very few of them seem to have known what the doctrines taught by Manes really were. She prates of "their uncombed hair, of their low origin, and their long faces, which they hide to the nose, and walk bowed, attired like monks, muttering something between their lips." She denounces their doctrines, as explained by Basil, as being most heretical and blasphemous, though she does not seem to have understood them, but, "what was more shocking still, he called the sacred churches—woe is me!—the sacred churches, fanes of demons." When he saw himself betrayed by the emperor he declared "that he would be rescued from death by angels and demons." This is perhaps a perversion of the passage (Acts xxvii. 23, 24) where Paul in circumstances of great peril said, "For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar;" or of that blessed passage in the Psalms, quoted by our Lord: "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone;" or possibly of that parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which our Lord tells us that Lazarus was carried by the angels unto Abraham's bosom.

 
 
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