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In the autumn of the year 1891, 1 went to Armenia for a second
time, in the hope of finding an ancient version of the Book of
Enoch, and of recovering documents illustrative of the ancient
heretics of that land, particularly of the Paulicians. For Gibbon's
picture of their puritanism, fresh and vigorous in an age when
Greek Christianity had degenerated into the court superstition of
Constantinople, had fascinated my imagination; and I could not
believe that some fuller records of their inner teaching did not
survive in the Armenian tongue. In this quest, though my other
failed, I was rewarded. I learned during my stay at Edjmiatzin,
that in the library of the Holy Synod there was preserved a manu-
script of The Key of Truth, the book of the Thonraketzi or Paulicians
of Thbnrak, with whom I was familiar from reading the letters of
Gregory Magistros, Duke of Mesopotamia in the eleventh century.

I was permitted to see the book, of which a perfunctory exami-
nation convinced me that it was a genuine monument, though, as I
then thought it, a late one of the Paulicians. For I found in it the
same rejection of image-worship, of mariolatry, and of the cult of
saints and holy crosses, which was characteristic of the Paulicians.
I could not copy it then without leaving unfinished a mass of
other work which I had begun in the conventual library ; and I
was anxious to get to Dathev, or at least back to Tifiis, before the
snow fell on the passes of the anti-Caucasus. However, I arranged
that a copy of the book should be made and sent to me ; and this
I received late in the year 1893 from the deacon Galoust Ter

My first impression on looking into it afresh was one of
disappointment. I had expected to find in it a Marcionite, or at


least a Manichean book; but, beyond the extremely sparse use
made in it of the Old Testament, I found nothing that savoured
of these ancient heresies. Accordingly I laid it aside, in the press of
other work which I had undertaken. It was not until the summer
of 1896 that, at the urgent request of Mr. Darwin Swift, who had
come to me for information about the history of Manicheism in
Armenia, I returned to it, and translated it into English in the hope
that it might advance his researches.

And now I at last understood who the Paulicians really were.
All who had written about them had been misled by the calumnies
of Photius, Petrus Siculus, and the other Greek writers, who
describe them as Manicheans. I now realized that I had stumbled
on the monument of a phase of the Christian Church so old and
so outworn, that the very memory of it was well-nigh lost. For
The Key of Truth contains the baptismal service and ordinal of
the Adoptionist Church, almost in the form in which Theodotus
of Rome may have celebrated those rites. These form the oldest
part of the book, which, however, also contains much controversial
matter of a later date, directed against what the compiler regarded
as the abuses of the Latin and Greek Churches. The date at
which the book was written in its present form cannot be put later
than the ninth century, nor earlier than the seventh. But we can
no more argue thence that the prayers and teaching and rites
preserved in it are not older, than we could contend, because our
present English Prayer Book was only compiled in the sixteenth
century, that its contents do not go back beyond that date. The
problem therefore of determining the age of the doctrine and rites
detailed in The Key of Truth is like any other problem of Christian
palaeontology. It resembles the questions which arise in con-
nexion with the Didache or The Shepherd of Hernias ; and can
only be resolved by a careful consideration of the stage which it
represents in the development of the opinions and rites of the
church. In my prolegomena I have attempted to solve this problem.
I may here briefly indicate the results arrived at.

The characteristic note of the Adoptionist phase of Christian
opinion was the absence of the recognized doctrine of the Incarna-
tion. Jesus was mere man until he reached his thirtieth year,
when he came to John on the bank of the Jordan to receive
baptism. Then his sinless nature received the guerdon. The
heavens opened and the Spirit of God came down and abode with


him. The voice from above proclaimed him the chosen Son of
God ; a glory rested on him, and thenceforth he was the New-
Adam, the Messiah ; was the power and wisdom of God, Lord of
all creation, the first-born in the kingdom of grace. Of divine
Incarnation other than this possession of the man Jesus by the
divine Spirit, other than this acquiescence of it in him, who had as
no other man kept the commands of God, the Adoptionists knew
nothing. And as he was chosen out to be the elect Son of God
in baptism, so it is the end and vocation of all men, by gradual
self-conquest, to prepare themselves for the fruition of God's grace.
They must believe and repent, and then at a mature age ask for
the baptism, which alone admits them into the Church or invisible
union of the faithful ; the spirit electing and adopting them to be
sons of the living God, filled like Jesus, though not in the same
degree, with the Holy Spirit. 'Et ille Christus, et nos Christi 1 .'

For those who held this faith, the Baptism of Jesus was neces-
sarily the chief of all Christian feasts ; and the Fish the favourite
symbol of Jesus Christ, because he, like it, was born in the waters.
Hence it is that when we first, about the end of the third century,
obtain a clear knowledge of the feasts of the church, we find that
the Baptism stands at the head of them. It is not until the close
of the fourth century that the modern Christmas, the Birth of Jesus
from the Virgin, emerges among the orthodox festivals, and displaces
in the minds of the faithful his spiritual birth in the Jordan. First
in Rome, and soon in Antioch and the nearer East, this new festival
was kept on Dec. 25. In the farther East, however, in Egypt,

1 The phrase is that of the Spanish Adoptionists. But the thought was fully
expressed five centuries earlier by Methodius, Conviv. viii. 8 : y\ eiacXTjaia
rnrapya Kal cbSivet, pi\pmip o Xpiarbs iv fjp.iv pop<pw9rj yewrjdeis, ottojs (/cclotos
tuiv ayiaiv tw p.eTex eiV Xpiarov Xpiarus yevvr)9rj. 'The Church is big with
child, and is in travail, until the Christ in us is fully formed into birth, in order
that each of the saints by sharing in Christ may be born a Christ,' that is,
through baptism. And just below he continues thus: ' This is why in a certain
scripture we read, " Touch not my Christs. . ." ; which means that those who have
been baptized by participation of the Spirit into Christ, have become Christs.'
Harnack well sums up the teaching of Methodius as follows {Dogmengesch.
bd. i. 746 (701): 'For Methodius the history of the Logos-Christ, as Faith
holds it, is but the general background for an inner history, which must repeat
itself in every believer : the Logos must in his behalf once more come down
from heaven, must suffer and die and rise again in the faithful.' So Augustine,
in Ioh. tr. 21, n. 8 : - Gratias agamus non solum nos Christianos factos esse, sed
Christum.' Such then was also the Paulician conviction.


in Armenia, and in Mesopotamia, the new date for the chief festival
was not accepted, and the commemoration of the earthly or human
birth of Jesus was merely added alongside of the older feast of his
Baptism, both being kept on the old day, Jan. 6.

We are only acquainted with the early Christianity of the Jewish
Church through the reports of those who were hostile to it, and
who gave to it the name of Ebionite, signifying probably such
an outward poverty in its adherents, and such a rigid simplicity
in its liturgy and rites, as characterized the Paulician Church, and
provoked the ridicule of the orthodox Armenian writers.

It is certain, however, that the christology of this church was
Adoptionist. Through Antioch and Palmyra this faith must have
spread into Mesopotamia and Persia ; and in those regions became
the basis of that Nestorian Christianity which spread over Turkestan,
invaded China, and still has a foothold in Urmiah and in Southern
India. From centres like Edessa, Nisibis, and Amida it was
diffused along the entire range of the Taurus, from Cilicia as far
as Ararat, and beyond the Araxes into Albania, on the southern
slopes of the Eastern Caucasus. Its proximate centre of diffusion
in the latter region seems to have been the upper valley of the
great Zab, where was the traditional site of the martyrdom of
St. Bartholomew, to whom the Armenians traced back the succes-
sion of the bishops of the canton of Siuniq, north of the Araxes.
In Albania, Atropatene, and Vaspurakan to the east of Lake Van.
and in Moxoene, Arzanene, and Taraunitis to its south and west,
as most of the early Armenian historians admit, Christianity was
not planted by the efforts of Gregory the Illuminator, but was long
anterior to him and had an apostolic origin. That it was a faith of
strictly Adoptionist or Ebionite type we know from the Disputation
of Archelaus with Mani. For Archelaus, though he wrote and
spoke in Syriac, was the bishop of an Armenian see which lay
not far from Lake Van '.

1 The identification (see pp. cii, ciii) of the See of Archelaus is somewhat
confirmed by the fact (communicated to me by Father Basil Sarkisean) that
Karkhar is the name of a hilly region (not of a town) in the vilayet of Bitlis,
about one hour south of Van. But De Morgan's map {Mission Scientifique en
Perse, 1896; of the country east of Lake Urmiah inclines one to identify the
Karkhar of Archelaus with that of Wardan, which certainly lay in the canton
of Golthn, on the Araxes. For this map marks a town called Arablou
^i.e. Arabion castellum) on the north bank of the river Karanghou (which


The Taurus range thus formed a huge recess or circular dam
into which flowed the early current of the Adoptionist faith, to be
therein caught and detained for centuries, as it were a backwater
from the main stream of Christian development. Here in the
eighth and ninth centuries, even after the destruction of the Mon-
tanist Church, it still lingered in glen and on mountain crest, in
secular opposition to the Nicene faith, which, backed by the armies
of Byzantium, pressed eastward and southward from Caesarea of
Cappadocia. The historical Church of Armenia was a compromise
between these opposed forces ; and on the whole, especially in the
monasteries, the Nicene or grecizing party won the upper hand ;
dictating the creed and rites, and creating the surviving literature of
that Church. But the older Adoptionist Christianity of south-east
Armenia was not extinct. In the eighth century there was that
great revival of it, known in history as the Paulician movement.
A Paulician emperor sat on the throne of Byzantium ; and away
in Taron, about 800 a.d., the old believers seem to have organized
themselves outwardly as a separate church; and a great leader
stereotyped their chief rites by committing them to writing in
an authoritative book. That book survives, and is The Key of

In the West the Adoptionist faith was anathematized at Rome in
the person of Theodotus as early as 190 a.d., but not before it had
left a lasting monument of itself, namely, The Shepherd of Hermas.
It still survived in Moorish Spain, and was there vigorous as late as
the ninth century; and it lived on in other parts of Europe, in
Burgundy, in Bavaria, and in the Balkan Peninsula, where it was
probably the basis of Bogomilism. It is even not improbable that

may be the modern form of Stranga), halfway from its source in the Sahend
hills (due south of Tabreez) towards Send, near Resht, where it flows into the
Caspian. This Arablou is about 100 miles, or three days' ride, south of
Urdubad on the Araxes, the traditional site of the evangelizing activity of
St. Bartholomew. Cedrenus (xi. 575) indicates that the Stranga was the
boundary between Persia and Roman Vaspurakan in the eleventh century just
as it had been in the third. This view would still locate the See of Archelaus
in Pers-Armenia, on the borders of Albania and Siu»iq, and in the very region
where King Arshak (see p. cxiii), the enemy of St. Basil, found heretically
minded bishops ready to consecrate as catholicos his own nominee. In the
absence of surveys and better maps it is difficult to decide between these
alternative views ; but one or other of them must be correct, and they both
prove that Archelaus was an Armenian bishop.


it was the heresy of the early British Church. But it has left few
landmarks, for the rival christology which figured Jesus Christ not
as a man, who by the descent of the Spirit on him was filled with
the Godhead, but as God incarnate from his virgin mother's womb,
advanced steadily, and, like a rising tide, soon swept over the whole
face of Christendom ; everywhere effacing literary and other traces
of the Adoptionist faith, which seems thenceforward to have only
lived on in Languedoc and along the Rhine as the submerged
Christianity of the Cathars, and perhaps also among the Waldenses.
In the Reformation this Catharism comes once more to the surface,
particularly among the so-called Anabaptist and Unitarian Chris-
tians, between whom and the most primitive church The Key of
Truth and the Cathar Ritual of Lyon supply us with two great
connecting links.

How, it may be asked, could such a revolution of religious
opinion as the above sketch implies take place and leave so little
trace behind ? But it has left some traces. The Liber Sententiarum
is the record of the Inquisition of Toulouse from 1307-1323, and
for that short period its 400 closely printed folio pages 1 barely
suffice to chronicle the cruelties perpetrated in the name of the
God of mercy by the clergy of the orthodox or persecuting Church
of Rome. A hundred such volumes would be needed to record
the whole tale of the suppression of the European Cathars. And
if we ask what has become of the literature of these old believers of
Europe, an examination of the lately found eleventh-century IMS.
of the Peregrinalio of St. Sylvia suggests an answer. This precious
codex contained a description of the Feast of the Baptism, the old
Christmas day, as it was celebrated on Jan. 6 in Jerusalem towards
the close of the fourth century. It was the one tell-tale feast, the
one relic of the Adoptionist phase of Christianity which the book
contained ; and the details of its celebration would have had an
exceptional interest for the Christian archaeologist of to-day. But
the particular folio which contained this information, at some
remote period, and probably in the monastery of Monte Casino
where it was written, has been carefully cut out. If such precau-
tions were necessary as late as the twelfth century, what must not
have been destroyed in the fourth and fifth centuries, when the
struggle between the rival christologies raged all over the East

1 I refer to Limborch's edition.


and West ? Then it was that the bulk of the Christian literature
of the second and early third centuries perished, and was irrevo-
cably lost.

Because I have sometimes referred to the Adoptionists as heretics,
I trust I may not be supposed to have prejudged the case against
them. In doing so I have merely availed myself of a conventional
phrase, because it was convenient and clear. For it has been no
part of my task to appraise the truth or falsehood of various forms
of Christian opinion, but merely to exhibit them in their mutual
relations; and, treating my subject as a scientific botanist treats
his, flora, to show how an original genus is evolved, in the process of
adaptation to different circumstances, into various species. It rests
with the authoritative teacher of any sect to determine, like a good
gardener, which species he will sow in his particular plot. The
aim of the scientific historian of opinion is only to be accurate and
impartial; and this I have tried to be, moving among warring
opinions, ' sine ira et studio, quorum causas procul habeo.' If I
have occasionally waxed warm, it has been before the spectacle of
the cruel persecution of innocent people. And of a truth a pathetic
interest attaches to such a book as this Key of Truth, in which, in
tardy fulfilment of Gibbon's hope, the Paulicians are at last able to
plead for themselves. It was no empty vow of their elect ones,
' to be baptized with the baptism of Christ, to take on themselves
scourgings, imprisonments, tortures, reproaches, crosses, blows,
tribulation, and all temptations of the world.' Theirs the tears,
theirs the blood shed during more than ten centuries of fierce
persecution in the East ; and if we reckon of their number, as well
we may, the early puritans of Europe, then the tale of wicked deeds
wrought by the persecuting churches reaches dimensions which
appal the mind. And as it was all done, nominally out of reve-
rence for, but really in mockery of, the Prince of Peace, it is hard
to say of the Inquisitors that they knew not what they did.

Even while we reprobate the tone of certain chapters of The
Key, in which the orthodox churches are represented as merely
Satanic agencies, we must not forget the extenuating fact that for
over five centuries the Adoptionists had in Rome and elsewhere
been under the heel of the dominant faction. If we hunt down
innocent men like wild animals, they are more than mortal, if they
do not requite many evil deeds with some few bitter words. And
one point in their favour must be noticed, and it is this. Their


system was, like that of the European Cathars, in its basal idea and
conception alien to persecution ; for membership in it depended
upon baptism, voluntarily sought for, even with tears and supplica-
tions, by the faithful and penitent adult. Into such a church there
could be no dragooning of the unwilling. On the contrary, the
whole purpose of the scrutiny, to which the candidate for baptism
was subjected, was to ensure that his heart and intelligence were
won, and to guard against that merely outward conformity, which
is all that a persecutor can hope to impose. It was one of the
worst results of infant baptism, that by making membership in the
Christian Church mechanical and outward, it made it cheap ; and
so paved the way for the persecutor. Under this aspect, as under
some others, the Adoptionist believers, and the Montanists, and
certain other sects, passed with the triumph and secularization of
Christianity under Theodosius into the same relative position
which the early Christians had themselves occupied under the
persecuting Roman government; whose place in turn the dominant
or orthodox church now took in all respects save one, — namely,
that it was better able to hunt down dissenters, because the In-
quisitors knew just enough of the Christian religion to detect
with ease the comings in and goings forth of their victims.

Built into the walls and foundations of a modern church we
can often trace the fragments of an earlier and ruined edifice, but
are seldom privileged to come upon a complete specimen of the
older structure. Now into the fabric of many of our beliefs to-day
are built not a few stones taken from the Adoptionists ; often
retrimmed to suit their new environment. In The Key of Truth
we for the first time recover a long-past phase of Christian life, and
that, not in the garbled account of an Epiphanius, or in the jejune
pages of an Irenaeus or Hippolytus ; but in the very words of those
who lived it. A lost church rises before our eyes ; not a dead
anatomy, but a living organism. We can, as it were, enter the
humble congregation, be present at the simple rites, and find our-
selves at home among the worshippers. And it is remarkable how
this long-lost church recalls to us the Teaching of the Apostles.
There is the same Pauline conception of the Eucharist indicated
by the stress laid on the use of a single loaf, the same baptism in
living water, the same absence of a hierarchy, the same description
of the President as an Apostle, the same implied Christhood of the
elect who teach the word, the same claim to possess the Apostolical


tradition. It is no far-fetched hypothesis that the Didache is itself
the handbook of an Adoptionist Church.

My Introduction contains many hints towards a history of the
feast of Christmas ; but I have mostly confined myself to Armenian
sources inaccessible to many scholars. The Greek evidence is well
gathered together in Prof. Hermann Usener's suggestive study on
the subject; and I have hardly noticed it, lest my book should
assume unwieldy dimensions. Another work to the author of
which I am under obligations is the Dogmengeschichte of Prof.
Harnack. In my discussion of the origins of the Armenian
Church I have been largely guided by the luminous tract of
Prof. Gelzer on the subject. Of other works consulted by me
I have added a list at the end of my book.

I feel that many of the views advanced in my Introduction will
be sharply criticized, but I do not think that my main conclusions
in regard to the character of the Paulician Church can be touched.
The intimate connexion between adult baptism and the school of
Christian thought represented by Paul of Samosata is evidenced
in a passage of Cyril of Alexandria's commentary on Luke, first
published by Mai 1 . In it Cyril assails Paul of Samosata's inter-
pretation of the word apxopevos in Luke iii. 23, namely, that the
man Jesus then began to be the Son of God, though he was, in
the eye of the law («$• eVo/ii'£o-o), only son of Joseph. There
follows a lacuna 2 in which Cyril coupled with this interpretation
a form of teaching which he equally censured, namely, that all
persons should be baptized on the model of Jesus at thirty years
of age. This teaching was plainly that of the Pauliani, and we
find it again among the Paulicians.

1 Noua Biblioth. Patrum, torn, ix ; reprinted in Migne, Pair. Gr. vol. 72,
col. 524. The Syriac version (edited by R. Payne Smith) has not this passage,
which however seems to me to be Cyril's.

2 Cyril continues : ' Thus much harm and unexpected results from such
a delaying of the grace through baptism to a late and over-ripe age. For
firstly, one's hope is not secure (i. e. a man may die prematurely), that one will
attain one's own particular wishes ; and even if in the end one does so gain
them, one is indeed made holy ; but gains no more than remission of sins,
having hidden away the talent, so that it is infructuous for the Lord, because
one has added no works thereunto.' Mai's note on the above is just : ' Uidetur
in praecedentibus (nunc deperditis) Cyrillus uerba eorum retulisse, qui ut
baptismum differrent, Christi exemplum obiiciebant anno aetatis trigesimo


Where my conclusions are at best inferential, I have qualified
them as such. To this class belongs the view that Gregory the
Illuminator was himself an Adoptionist. I agree with Gelzer that
his Teaching as preserved in the Armenian Agathangelus or in
the independent volume of his Stromata cannot be regarded as
altogether authentic. It would be interesting to know in what
relation the fragments of his Teaching preserved in Ethiopic stand
to the Armenian documents. An Anaphora ascribed to him is also
found in the Ethiopic tongue, but is so common in collections
of Ethiopic liturgies that it is probably worthless. It is, however,
remarkable that no trace of it remains in Armenian.

My suggestion that the European Cathars were of Adoptionist
origin also rests on mere inference. But they had so much in
common with the Paulicians, that it is highly probable. My
kindred surmise that the early British Church was Adoptionist
seems to be confirmed by two inscriptions recently communicated
to me by Prof. J. Rhys. These were found in North Wales and
belong to the sixth to eighth centuries. They both begin with the

Online LibraryPauliciansThe key of truth, a manual of the Paulician church of Armenia → online text (page 1 of 42)