One of the first treatise against the Bogomils was written around 970 by a Bulgarian priest Cosmas who prefaced it with observations concerning another Bulgarian priest spread heretical teachings in the territory around the reign of Czar Peter (927-963).
The priest’s name was Bogomil, some say it literally meant “God-lover,” while Cosmas interpreted it as “God-hater,” while others claim the priest took the name because in Greek Bogomil is interpreted as Theophilos. According to Cosmas mainly the peasants were flocking to hear this priest criticize the clergy, when, in fact, the popularity laid more in a historical context.
It was a time of transition; the territory included large sections between the Black Sea and the Adriatic, known as the Bulgarian Empire that extended south almost to the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople. Within this Bulgarian Empire over centuries a Slav feudal system was established where the peasants became more dependent on the nobility.
Finally wars waged between the empires, which resulted in territories constantly changing hands, meaning those residing in these areas experienced new conditions and customs. Even with all the changes that occurred the Byzantine Empire was still deemed more sophisticated with its bourgeois culture than the Bulgarian Empire with its agrarian communities. Between the conquering of the land by the different countries the peasantry was caught in the middle, especially when the Byzantines were victorious.
While they did not relinquish their hold upon the lands they build large churches which extracted huge sums of money from peasants struggling to feed themselves. The situation became so critical that once even the Roman papacy bowed to Constantinople.
According to legend, probably a mixture of mostly folk belief, Bogomil first started preaching in a territory recently won back by the Byzantines. The preaching of the itinerant priest soon won the hearts of the peasantry as well as the emergent intelligentsia. He probably attached himself to the poor monks, having few clerical ties, who spoke directly to the people.
Their teaching was a moderate dualism. It was believe God created the universe from four elements-fire, air, water, and earth-and established His own kingdom in its seven heavens, peopled by bodiless angels who were equal with God, served Him, and fought on His behalf. The earth, below the first heaven, had been completely emerged under water. When one of the angels, Satanael, rebelled against God, he was banished to earth by God. This fall of Satanael was the basis for the creation of the earthly world. He divided water from the dry land, created all the forces of nature such as lightening and hail, rain, snow, moon and stars-but not sunlight, which was of divine origin-and then began creating plants and living creatures. Man was created for the purpose of serving the creator of the material world. Thus, the creation was entirely the work of the evil god. When creating the living creatures, particularly man, Satanael managed to imprison angels in earthly bodies so that the dualist conflict between “good” and “evil” is perpetuated in man himself. God sent messenger to tell man of his fate. Jesus Christ was one of them. To prevent Christ from accomplishing his mission Satanael caused him to be crucified; but Christ did not suffer on the cross and after three days reappeared and chained Satanael in hell. But in hell, Satan, as he is now called, managed to free himself and enlisted the support of earthly rulers–kings, nobles, the rich, and educated church theologians-to torment the world until the Last Judgment when Satan and his followers will be banished into hell, and the just will enter the kingdom of heaven where neither hunger nor thirst will exist.
When reading the thesis of Bogomillism one cannot help but be struck by its Gnostic quality and overtones. The major features are purely Gnostic: material is ad or evil, the evil god (the demiurge) created the material world where he imprisoned the angels, spiritual beings, in bodies-in matter; man was to serve the evil god; Christ the special messenger of God was sent to tell man of his fate; Christ and the demiurge become enemies, forces of good and evil-the dualism; the earthly forces, namely the rich and educated theologians are principally the forces which Bogomil was fighting against; and eventually the demiurge, Satan, and his followers are forever cast into hell, and the just triumph in heaven. This final feature is the optimistic aspect of Bogomillism which distinguishes it from other dualistic systems.
Accompanying their preaching these men led a very austere life: they rejected sex, marriage, has no possessions, and ate no meat. They believed the soul must be free from ever evil, and thus, the body. Bogomillism is later discerned in Catharism of Western Europe. Some authors claim influences of Manichaenism are found in Bogomillism, this is suspect because there is a general tendency to condemn Manichaeism for everything among orthodox writers; but the discovery of Paulicianism amid Bogomillism is legitimate because the Paulicians had missionaries in Bulgaria. A.G.H.
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 157-158
Erbstosser, Martin, Heretics in the Middle Ages, Edition Leipzig, 1984, pp 43-47