committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs



The Manichaeans—Cautions to the Student—All Opponents of Infant
Baptism not Baptists—Account of the Paulicians—Their Views of Baptism.


Some may wonder that we have as yet said nothing about the Manich?ns, a sect which first came into notice about the latter part of the third century, and continued in existence, if historians are to be believed, a thousand years or more. They were charged with denying infant-baptism. But we wish it to be understood that we consider those only as Baptists, in the New Testament sense of that term, who hold baptism as an ordinance binding on all believers, and refuse it to all other persons. Now, Manich?sm was a compound of Oriental philosophy and Christianity. The fanciful and wild speculations in which Manes indulged were as ill-founded in reason as in Scripture, and justly entitled their author to the appellation “fanatic.” He incorporated sundry portions of Christianity into his incongruous system, and therefore the party has been ranked among the heretics, though, as we think, with little propriety. The heretics, as they are called, were seceders from the established or Catholic Church. Manes originated an independent body, on entirely original principles, and ought to be placed in the same list as Mohammed and other founders of systems. It is said that he admitted baptism and the Lord’s Supper among the services enjoined on his followers; but the Supper was celebrated with water instead of wine, and baptism was optional; those only who wished it were baptized; those who did not desire it were not debarred from membership on that account, and infants were excluded from participation in the rite. After these explanations it will not be deemed strange that we have refrained from classing the Manich?ns with the revivers of primitive religion.1

We are now entering on the period which we have denominated “obscure.” It is so called because the information is generally scanty, and sometimes of very doubtful character. We may begin by remarking that the student of ecclesiastical history must beware lest he be led astray by the misrepresentations of bigoted historians. Manich?sm was soon looked on as a concentration of all that was outrageous and bad in religious opinion, and it became the fashion to call all heretics “Manich?ns.” Hence many excellent men have been so stigmatized, whose views and practices accorded with the Word of God. It is necessary to repair to the original sources of history, and even then to scan very closely the statements handed down to us, that they may be disentangled, as far as possible, from mistake or misrepresentation.

Further: it is not safe or proper to report all opponents of infant-baptism as Baptists, in our sense of the word. Throughout the middle ages there were many dissenters from the Catholic faith, as it was called, who rejected baptism altogether, holding sentiments respecting that ordinance which much resemble those of the Quakers in these times. Possibly they were driven to those extreme views by contemplating the absurd ceremonies connected with baptism, and the superstitious notions entertained by the majority. It seemed to them better to have no baptism at all than to countenance such follies. Doubtless they were wrong, although much might be offered in excuse for them. But when these parties are adduced as witnesses for infant-baptism, an unfairness is sometimes committed. Their opposition was against all baptism, and not against infant baptism only. We are not disposed to regard any persons as Primitive Baptists unless they practiced the baptism of believers; their rejection of infant-baptism will not warrant the imposition of that worthy name on them. Mr. Orchard’s “History of Foreign Baptists,” and other works of a similar kind, have now and then fallen into this error.2

At the same time it must be confessed that there is often the utmost difficulty in forming a satisfactory judgment in regard to the opinions held by the reformers of the Middle Ages. We know nothing of them but by the reports of their adversaries, who were predisposed against them, and who, for want of religious sympathy, were unable to appreciate or even to understand their peculiar views. The same words were sometimes used by opposing parties in different senses, and truths were seen in different aspects. Hence the confusion and contradictoriness which are too often apparent.

These observations apply to the case of the Paulicians. They first appeared about the middle of the seventh century, in Armenia, and soon spread wonderfully, till they were numbered by hundreds of thousands. Their enemies accused them of Manich?sm, which accusation they indignantly repelled. The only ancient authorities whence we can derive a knowledge of their sentiments are Photius and Petrus Siculus, who wrote against them with great bitterness, and on that account can scarcely be considered as worthy of entire credence. Photius was Archbishop of Constantinople, and died A.D. 890; Petrus Siculus, a learned nobleman, died a few years later. He was sent by the Emperor Basil to Tibrica, a Paulician town, in the year 870, to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. He remained there seven months, and availed himself of the opportunity of learning the opinions and practices of the Paulicians, both by disputing with them and by instituting inquiries among the Catholics in the neighborhood. It is unfortunate that there is no better authority to consult, for Petrus Siculus was so bitterly prejudiced against the people that his statements cannot be received without doubt and distrust. The only safe course is to endeavour to disentangle facts from opinions, insinuations, and invectives, and thus to ascertain the truth. Yet even then it is impossible to furnish a complete picture. Petrus Siculus deals chiefly in negatives. He tells us what the Paulicians denied, and rails at them for presuming to differ from the Catholic party, but he leaves us to guess what they really believed, in many important particulars. We mention these things that the reader may perceive the difficulty which lies in the way of an impartial narrator.

About the year 653, during the reign of the Emperor Constans II., a young man named Constantine, resident at Mananalis, in Armenia, rendered hospitable attentions to a stranger whom misfortune had brought under his roof. The stranger proved to be a deacon of a Christian Church, and he had in his possession a precious treasure, which he gave to Constantine on his departure, in return for the kindness shown him. It was a copy of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. Constantine read, believed, and obeyed. Manich?sm, by which he had been deluded, was immediately renounced. His Manich?n books were thrown aside, and the sacred writings were exclusively studied. Shortly afterwards he removed to Cibossa, where he lived and laboured for twenty-seven years. He was a diligent and successful preacher. Great numbers received the truth. In what manner he proceeded to form them into societies or churches, and how they were governed, we have not the means of knowing. We may conjecture and infer, but inference is not history. If the report of Petrus Siculus be correct, they lay under considerable disadvantage in not having the Book of the Acts in their hands, from which they would have gathered the practices of the Apostolic churches, and perhaps this circumstance exerted an unfavorable influence on their arrangements. But we must not affirm positively on this subject.

Constantine died the death of a martyr. The Emperor Constantine Pogonatus sent Simeon, one of his officers, to Cibossa, with a military detachment. He apprehended Constantine, compelled the congregation to present themselves before him, and ordered them to stone their minister. They stood in silence for a while, no one lifting up his hand in obedience to so cruel a command. At length a man named Justus stepped forward, and the murderous deed was done. Simeon then undertook the work of conversion. He disputed with the followers of Constantine, and laboured hard to restore them to the Catholic Church. But he laboured in vain. Not only so, the arguments used on the other side were too powerful for him. He yielded to the force of truth, and returned to Constantinople a Paulician in heart. At first he did not avow the change that had taken place, but at length he found it impossible to conceal it, and consequently he left the Imperial service, retired to Cibossa, joined the persecuted sect, and became the successor of the very man whom he had murdered by the hand of Justus. After several years of usefulness, Justus, who had professed repentance and had been restored to the Church, quarreled with him and betrayed him to a neighboring bishop, by whose means all the members of the Church then resident in Cibossa were seized and burned alive in one vast pile. Paulus only escaped. He fled to Episparis. His two sons, Genesius and Theodotus, became Paulician ministers. Genesius was on one occasion apprehended as a heretic and taken to Constantinople, where he underwent an examination before the Patriarch. It is thus reported by Petrus Siculus:

Patriarch.“Why hast thou derided the orthodox faith?”

Genesius.“Anathema to him who denies the orthodox faith” (meaning thereby his own heresy, which he boasted of as the true “orthodox faith”).

Patriarch.“Wherefore dost thou not believe in and adore the venerable cross?”

Genesius.“Anathema to him who does not adore and worship the venerable and life-giving cross” (meaning Christ Himself, whose outstretched arms present the figure of the cross).

Patriarch.“Why dost thou not worship and adore the holy mother of God?”

Genesius.“Anathema to him who does not adore the most holy mother of God, the common mother of us all, into whom our Lord Jesus Christ entered” (meaning the heavenly Jerusalem, into which Christ has entered, as our Forerunner).

Patriarch.“Why dost thou not partake of the immaculate body and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but dost rather despise the same?”

Genesius.—“Anathema to him who despises the body and blood of Jesus Christ” (meaning thereby the words “ body and blood,” and nothing more).

“In like manner,” says Petrus Siculus, “he spake of baptism, saying that Jesus Christ Himself is baptism, and that there is no other, because He said, ‘I am the living water.’ And thus, perverting everything by his own false interpretations, he was acquitted and honorably dismissed.”

After this, Mananalis was again the headquarters of the Paulicians. Genesius lived there thirty years, and died in peace. Various troubles and disasters followed. Joseph, who seems to have succeeded Genesius, withdrew to Episparis, and afterwards to Antioch, in Pisidia, where he laboured thirty years. He was succeeded by Bahanes. But there must have been many more engaged in the work besides these, for the imperfect notices that are left indicate an extensive series of operations, embracing a large number of churches, and a powerful body of adherents.

About the year 810 the Paulicians were joined by Sergius, who became one of the most eminent men of their community. The account of his conversion is exceedingly interesting. He was an intelligent, well-educated young man, and much esteemed for his many excellent qualities; but he was profoundly ignorant of religion. One day a Christian woman (evidently a Paulician) met with him and entered into conversation. “Why,” said she, “do you not read the Holy Gospels?” “Because,” he replied, “it is not lawful for us laymen, but only for the priests.” “You are altogether mistaken,” she rejoined, “for there is no respect of persons with God; He will have all men to be saved.” She then proceeded to expose the priestly tyranny of the age, and the gross superstitions by which the people were deluded, urging the young man to examine the matter for himself. He did so. He read, and thought, and prayed, and became a Christian “in deed and in truth.” The genuineness of his conversion was proved by his eminently holy life and incessant zeal. He traversed a large part of Western Asia, preaching everywhere, and calling on the people to abandon the follies of a corrupted Christianity, and “worship God in the spirit.” Thirty-four years were thus spent, and marvelous results accompanied his efforts. Multitudes were converted. So general was the defection from the established Church, that the Greek emperor was greatly alarmed, and adopted the severest measures for the suppression of the Reformation. The Paulicians had endured persecution from the beginning, and had “increased and multiplied” under it. But the storm raged with such terrific fierceness during the first half of the ninth century, that utter extermination seemed inevitable. It is affirmed that under the auspices of the Empress Theodora, who held the regency during the minority of her son Michael, from A.D. 832 to A.D. 846, no fewer than one hundred thousand Paulicians were put to death, “by the sword, the gibbet, or the flames.” Sergius was one of the victims. He and his brethren went to join those of whom it is said that they constantly cry, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on those that dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10)

“Oppression maketh a wise man mad.”

There is a point at which resistance becomes venial, if not obligatory. Imperial cruelty provoked retaliation and revenge. The Paulicians took up arms in defense of their families and their homes. The transition from self-defense to active rebellion is easy, and the provinces of the East were convulsed with civil war, for all the miseries of which the persecutors were responsible. It continued many years. The co-operation of the Saracens was sought, and many provinces of the Empire were desolated. But we will not pursue the history further. It is difficult to trace the progress of religion when carnal weapons have been taken up. We will only observe that the Paulician revival had early extended to Thrace, now the Turkish province of Roumelia that in the tenth century a large number of Paulicians were removed to Philippoplis in that country, and also to Bulgaria, the adjoining province; and that in the following age they began to migrate into Italy, France, and other parts of Europe.3

When Petrus Siculus sat down to write his history, he was predetermined to blacken the Paulicians to the utmost. Consequently, he maintained that they were Manich?ns, notwithstanding the disclaimer of Constantine, their founder; and having taken that position, he was resolved to hold it. We shall not think it worth while to discuss the question. There may have been some among them who still retained a regard to the philosophic speculations with which they were familiar before conversion, and which had for many ages proved very injurious to spiritual Christianity; and that unworthy persons sometimes crept in among them may be readily admitted. That is the fate of all parties. But here was their distinction;they withdrew from the Greek Church because that Church had abandoned the high ground of Gospel truth and spiritual worship. They asserted the right and duty of searching the Scriptures, and would admit no other rule. They abhorred saint-worship. They would not adore the cross, nor bow down before images. They abjured the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In a word, they appear to have been Protestants before the Reformation, and even before those who have been commonly reckoned as its precursors. The meager accounts of them which remain, tinged as they are with obstinate prejudice, fail to give us satisfaction. Had we the letters of Sergius, which Petrus Siculus tells us his followers valued highly, we should be able to obtain full and accurate information. This, however, is certain, that a religious movement, springing from God’s word, and so firmly maintained against opposition, that two hundred years after its rise the astonishing number of one hundred thousand of its adherents were cut off without destroying the body, must have possessed a mighty influence. We agree with Joseph Milner, the ecclesiastical historian, who observes that in this case we have “one of those extraordinary effusions of the Divine Spirit by which the knowledge of Christ and the practice of godliness is kept alive in the world.”4

But we cannot agree with that writer in the statement, that the Paulicians “were simply scriptural in the use of the Sacraments.” Neander says, more truly, that “they combated the inclination to rely on the magical effects of external forms, particularly the Sacraments: indeed, they went so far on this side as wholly to reject the outward celebration of the Sacraments.”5

On the question of baptism, Photius writes to this effect that though the Paulicians despise “saving baptism,” they pretend that they have received it, inasmuch as they received the Gospel, wherein Christ declares that He is the “living water;”6

and he adds, that they are willing that the priests should baptize their children, notwithstanding their disbelief in any saving benefit accompanying the rite. Admitting the correctness of this account, the Paulicians rejected water-baptism, teaching that the knowledge of Christ, which is spiritual baptism, is sufficient. If they allowed the priests to baptize their children, as Photius states, it was probably to save themselves from annoyance, perhaps from persecution; and as, in their opinion, the baptism did the children neither good nor harm, it was looked on as a matter of indifference. We do not justify or commend them. Whatever their views were, the priests judged that they had saved the children by baptizing them, and there should not have been any opportunity given for cherishing that anti-Christian notion. Still it is to be remembered that we are by no means certain of the truth of the statement, as the writer was a virulent opposer of the Paulicians, and aimed to excite hatred against them. The same remark will apply to Petrus Siculus, who, as Gibbon very properly says, wrote “with much prejudice and passion.”

Some maintain that the Paulicians did not reject either baptism or the Lord’s Supper (which also they are said to have held in a spiritual sense only), but the unauthorized additions that had been made to the ordinances, and the current opinions respecting their design and efficacy. In other words, they rejected baptismal regeneration, and transubstantiation. The progress of perversion, it is truly affirmed, had brought men to this point, that baptism was no longer regarded as a profession of Christ, nor the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His love; the former was held to be the instrument of regeneration, and in the latter there was said to be an actual reception of the Savior’s body and blood. Whoever refused to acquiesce in these representations was reproached as a denier of the ordinances, whereas his opposition was confined to corruptions and abuses. This is not an improbable supposition, but we have not the means of verifying it, for want of historic materials.

It is, however, to be considered, that the Paulicians were not altogether agreed among themselves. There were divi?sions and parties. It may possibly be that Photius and Petrus Siculus designedly referred to those of them whose opinions were, in their judgment, the farthest removed from Catholic verity, and that while some wandered into errors and excesses, the remainder pursued a scriptural course. Photius himself states that some of them observed the Lord’s Supper, though, as he affects to believe, they did it “to deceive the simple.” This indicates the existence of two parties. Those who observed one ordinance were not likely to neglect the other. We are therefore not indisposed to believe that there were among the Paulicians many who preserved the truths and worship of Christianity, as derived from the New Testament.


[1] Manes was a Persian. He was put to death by order of Varanes I., King of Persia, in the year 278. Se Beausobre’s Histoire Cyitique de Manichee et du Manicheisme, and Mosheim’s De Rebus Christianis, &c., p. 728-903.

[2]  It is not pleasant to be compelled to make any statements calculated to throw discredit on other writers ; but the interests of truth are paramount to all other considerations, and Baptists ought to be especially careful in this matter

Gibbon writes thus: “In the practice, or at least in the theory, of the sacraments, the Paulicians were inclined to abolish all visible objects of worship, and the words of the Gospel were, in their judgment, the baptism and communion of the faithful.”—Decline and Fall, chap. 54.

The Rev. W. Jones, referring to Gibbon as his authority, says: “The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper they held to be peculiar to ‘the communion of the faithful,’ that is, ought to be restricted to believers.” —Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, ii. p. 181. It will be observed that this is not by any means a correct representation of Gibbon. It is quoted by Orchard as an independent testimony.

Mr. Orchard (History of the Baptists, p. 130) gives the following as a quotation from Mosheim: “It is evident they [the Paulicians] rejected the baptism of infants. They were not charged with any error concerning baptism.” We are sorry to say that the first part of this alleged quotation is not to be found in Mosheim. The second part is a mutilation. The words of the historian, which occur in a note, are here copied: “The Greeks do not charge the Paulicians with any error in respect to the doctrine of Baptism. Yet there is no doubt that they construed into allegory what the New Testament states concerning this ordinance. And Photius (Contra Manich. lib. i. p. 29) expressly says, that they held only to a fictitious baptism, and understood by baptism, i.e., by the water of baptism—the Gospel.”—Ecclesiastical History, cent. ix. part 2. chap. v. sect. 6.

Mr. Orchard gives also the following, as a quotation from Dr. Allix: “They, with the Manich?ns, were Anabaptists, and were consequently often reproached with that term.” We have looked in vain for this quotation. Dr. Allix, speaking of the Manichees, says: “In those barbarous and cruel ages, a small conformity of opinion with the Manichees was a sufficient ground to accuse them of Manicheism who opposed any doctrines received by the Church of Rome. Thus would they have taken the Anabaptists for downright Manichees, because they condemned the baptism of infants.”—Remarks upon the Ancient Church of Piedmont, chap. xv.

Mr. Orchard says (p. 300), Ecbertus Schonaugiensis, who wrote against this people, declares, “They say that baptism does no good to infants; therefore, such as come over to their sect they baptize in a private way, that is, without the pomp and public parade of the Catholics.”—Wall’s History, part 2, p. 228.

This seems to be clear and explicit testimony. According to the statement, as here presented, the Cathari not only rejected infant-baptism, but also baptized adults, “in a private way.” The reader will be astonished to learn that the very opposite was the fact. These people, according to Eckbert, as very fairly quoted by Wall, rejected baptism altogether. Here is the entire passage, copied from Wall. He is speaking of Eckbert, or, as be calls him, Ecbertus Schonaugiensis: He says, Sermon I. “They are also divided among themselves; for several things that are maintained by some of them, are denied by others.” And of baptism particularly, he says, “Of baptism they speak variously; that baptism does no good to infants, because they cannot of themselves desire it, and because they cannot profess any faith. But there is another thing which they more generally hold concerning that point, though more secretly, viz., that no water baptism at all does any good for salvation. And therefore such as come over to their sect, they re-baptize by a private way, which they call baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This was the “ consolamentum.” It is described in the next chapter.

Mr. Benedict copies Orchard, and thus unwittingly propagates the mistake.—History of the Baptists, p. 67, edit. 1848. The original passage, translated by Wall, is in Biblioth. Maxim. Lugdun. xxiii. p. 601.

[3] The “Historia” of Petrus Siculus is printed in the sixteenth volume of the Biblioth. Maxim. Lugdunens. Gieseler has given an abstract of the statements of Photius in his Ecclesiastical History, ii. pp. 209-212.

[4] History of the Church, cent. ix. chap. ii.

[5] History of the Church, iii. p. 263.

[6] Ibid, i. p. 9.

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