Bogomilism: An Important Precursor of the Reformation

Bogomilism: An Important Precursor of the Reformation

By Georgi Vasilev

Toronto Slavic Quarterly, No.38 (2011)

Council against Bogomilism, organized by Stefan Nemanja. Fresco from 1290

Introduction: Is there a connection between Bogomilism and the Reforma­tion? This is not an unusual question, it has already been asked. American Methodist historian Linus Broket, remembered for his voluminous research, published in 1879 a small book with the provocative title “The Bogomils of Bulgaria and Bosnia ( The Early Protestants of the East: An Atempt to Restore Some Lost Leaves of Protestant History).” It should be noted that besides allowing for the connection between Bogomilism and Protestantism the book presented interesting and suggestive facts in its support. In the frst third of the 20th century Leo Seifert observed that Wycliffe drew very close to the views of dualism. A similar opinion on a larger scale is also expressed by the famous Bulgarian literary scholar Ivan Shishmanov: “Our Bogomils are, so to speak, the first Protestants in Europe — not because the priest Bogomil preceded Wycliffe, Hus and Luther by several centuries, but also because his teaching spread quickly westwards and found favourable conditions to develop in Italy (especially in Lombardy), France (in Provence), Belgium, the Netherlands, the Rhine Valley, Met, Strasbourg, Cologne, Bonn, Trier, etc., and even in England.” In the limited space of this paper we are going to look at this infuence through the Reformation triad John Wycliffe (c. 1328—1384), Jan Hus (1369—1415) and Martin Luther (1483—1546). There are also some associations that have already been voiced. First, John Wycliffe became known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. Anne Hudson, an eminent English researcher, defined his work and that of his followers — the Lollards — as premature Reformation.

Moreover, John Wyclife and Jan Hus have been called protestants before Protestantism emerged as a movement. It is also known that Martin Luther (1483—1546) took special interest in the work of Jan Hus. There is even medieval woodcut that we append to our report, it shows how Wycliffe with flint and steel starts the fire of the Reformation and Hus takes the fame with kindle wood, while Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchton use torches to turn it into a strong and sustained fire. We will now add facts to this image. There are studies of John Wycliffe’s influence on Jan Hus, but the organic continuity between the three figures, Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, so far has not been thoroughly studied.

And a great cultural work it is. The 14th century in England saw the flourishing of the literature and iconography of the Lollards, the followers of John Wycliffe, which was paralleled by the academic achievements of the Oxford Lollards. All this was crowned by the courageous reformist and civil thought of John Wycliffe, who translated the New Testament into Middle English (1381). From there dualist ideas included in the reformation theology of John Wycliffe were conveyed to the Kingdom of Bohemia and Jan Hus, who protected and adopted them as the basis of his reformation activity including his own translation of the Bible into Czech. Jan Hus was called a champion of Wycliffe’s views. Later, Martin Luther expressed his admiration for the sacrifice of the Bohemian reformer and declared himself successor of Jan Hus, a continuing his reform by translating the Bible into German. Thus, reformist activities across Europe became the medium for personal development, development of the vernacular, as well as national and cultural progress.

Our particular task here is to give proof of the presence of Bogomil and Cathar ideas and motivations in the works of the brightest reformation triad: John Wycliffe — Jan Hus — Martin Luther, by means of facts, documented links and associations.

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