The period of time from the 6th Century until around 1500 A.D. is known as the Dark Ages to most historians. We have followed the Lord's churches from the time He began the church into the 6th Century. We have noted how the Truth was upheld by the apostles, their disciples, and then groups surfacing such as the Montanists (2nd Century), the Novatians (3rd Century), the Donatists (4th and 5th Century), and Patrick and the churches in Britain (5th Century).
By the 6th Century, the world scene was shifting. Pope Gregory I (540-604) envisioned the church reigning superior over over all of Rome. The Papacy grew in power and exercised extraordinary influence both over the spiritual and government. 'Christendom' was divided between a western and eastern church. With the crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day 800 A.D., and Charlemagne's promotion of the papacy, the foundation for a Holy Roman Empire was laid. This period of time was marked by persecutions, murders, witch craft, perversions, the rise of Islam, religious wars, and a great spiritual darkness over most of Europe. It was during these times that the papacy introduced such lies as Mass, Mary as the Mother of God, Extreme Unction, prayer to Mary, holy water, celibacy of priests, transubstantiation, and much more. Those of the faith were persecuted and forced to flee. Many such as the Dontatists emigrated to Spain and Italy and had to eventually flee to caves and mountains to worship-thus later assigned the name Montenses. The people were in darkness as their eyes were blinded from Truth in a very wicked world. Yet, there was still light shining in these beginning stages of darkness (500-1100 A.D.)
Where was that light? Armenia.
Armenia is a very isolated and mountainous region located mainly in modern Turkey, but also extending to Iran and Russia. It was here that first century Christians planted churches. Most church historians agree that these churches were planted by the apostle Thomas. This group would be assigned the name Paulicians during the beginnings of the Dark Ages. This name is mostly due to their emphasis upon the epistles of Paul in their church polity and practice.
It seems "God's spotlight" began to shift towards them around the 7th century as most of Europe was entering the Dark Ages. As if God had kept Truth nourished and protected for such a time as this. John T. Christians in His Book A History of Baptist says
Therefore, it is quite arguable that they should be regarded as representing the survival of a most primitive type of Christianity.A.H. Newman in his book A Manual of Church History says
The Paulician church was not the national church of a particular race, but an old form of the apostolic church, and included within itself Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, Africans, Latins, and other races. Finding refuge in Armenia, it there nursed its forces in comparative security under the protection of the Persians and Arabs, and prepared itself for a magnificent career of missionary enterprise in the Greek world.
The Paulician rise to prominence began around 660 A.D. It was then a man named Constantine was converted (not the emperor). Around 653 A.D., he sheltered a Christian deacon in his fleeing of Islam. As a way of saying 'thank you,' the deacon left Constantine with a copy of the four Gospels and the epistles of Paul after having witnessed to him repeatedly. After reading these Scriptures, Constantine was gloriously saved and soon joined with a Bible believing church in the region. Constantine decided to change his name to Silvanus after Paul's companion in 1 Thessalonians.
Constantine (Silvanus) began preaching the Gospel and seeing many saved as pastor of his church. Gibbons in his famous book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire went on to say that
the New Testament he received became the measure of his studies and the rule of his faith. He began to bring people with whom he associated under the notice of the Eastern Catholic church.
It was then that the Eastern Emperor ordered Constantine's death. The emperor sent a man named Simeon to carry out this sentencing in 684 A.D. When he arrived, he gave to each of his church a stone and offered them the forgiveness of the church should they stone their pastor to death. One by one, each member laid down his stone at their feet as they would have no part in doing such a heinous act. It was a man named Justus who betrayed his pastor (and the man who had adopted him as a son) and stoned Constantine to death.
Simeon decided to attempt to 're-convert' these souls to the Eastern church and debated with them the Scriptures. Problem was, Simeon found their knowledge of Scripture and arguments too powerful and he was converted to the faith! Simeon would return home, but soon had to return and join this church in Armenia. He would later become pastor of this church, replacing Constantine-the very man he had ordered to die for the faith! Around 690, this same Justus had Simeon (who had taken the name Titus) arrested and burned alive with his followers. Only a few escaped, one being Genesius who would take the true faith with him to Episparis.
Genesius would preach truth and see many converts. He would disciple the next pastor, Joseph, who would train and send missionaries into all of Armenia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Syria.
By the beginning of the 9th century, the Paulicians were shining the light of Truth amidst the Darkness of the age in many regions. The most significant pastor at this time seems to be Sergius. Sergius (who took the name Tychicus) had been won to the Lord by a Paulician woman who encouraged him to study the Scriptures himself. He did, and after converted, served 34 years as a great leader for the Paulicians. He traveled the world as a missionary. He would write in a letter towards the end of his life:
I have run from East to West, and from North to South, till my knees were weary, preaching the Gospel of Christ.The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent
It was then a wicked leader, Empress Theodora ordered his death by being cut in half (c. 840 A.D.)
The Paulicians truly were a light shining for Truth. They claimed to be able to trace their originating from the apostles of Christ. They accepted the Word of God as their Absolute authority for faith and practice. They only accepted believer's baptism, and rebaptized all who were not baptized with proper authority. They rejected the ceremonialism of the Catholics and Orthodox churches. They believed in holy living and church discipline. They held the Truth-Praise God!
They would send missionaries and the Truth throughout Macedonia, Turkey and Bulgaria. Later, around 1200 A.D., Pope Innocent III would try to eradicate them from Bosnia, accusing the "Cathari" (pure ones) of blasphemy, and launched an inquisition against them. They would flee and take the Truth throughout Europe and into France and Italy.
Persecution continued throughout the Dark Ages. Empress Theodora between 842 and 867 A.D. ordered over 100,000 Paulicians to perish through beheading, burnings, drownings, and worse. Orchard says:
Her decrees were severe...horrible beyond expression.Yet, the Truth went on.
Our Lord promised the perpetuity of His churches(Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 11:26). Though the Dark Ages were beginning and a great spiritual darkness covered the majority of humanity, God saw to it that a light of the Gospel still shone and preserved Truth. Though persecuted and 1,000s martyred, the end result was great faith. Great faith that at one time over 100,000 could be slain and the Truth go on! Great faith that the Eastern Orthodox church felt threatened and 'something had to be done.' Great faith that we 1,000 years later are still talking of them as torch bearers of the Truth we uphold today.
We too live in a spiritually dark day, but now is not the time to quit, hide,or conceal Truth-We have a duty to be keepers of the flame. We must pass the torch of Truth to the next generation. There are still souls to be won, churches to build and plant, and a world living in darkness that needs the glorious light of God's Word!
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
2 Cor. 4:4