"БЪЛГАРСКИ БОГОМИЛСКИ И АПОКРИФНИ
ПРЕДСТАВИ В АНГЛИЙСКАТА СРЕДНОВЕКОВНА КУЛТУРА (Образът на Христос Орач в
поемата Уилям Лангланд "Видението на Петър Орача"). Издателство "Корени", София, 2001
BULGARIAN BOGOMIL AND APOCRYPHAL IDEAS IN MEDIEVAL ENGLISH CULTURE (THE IMAGE OF CHRIST AS PIERS PLOWMAN IN WILLIAM LANGLAND’S THE VISION OF PIERS PLOWMAN)
This book will offer its readers an unusual trip in the medieval culture of Europe, following and proving as it does the conveyance of a large number of apocrypha and Bogomil literature to England. It is a well-known fact that Bogomilism, or haeresia Bulgarorum, spread all over Europe by branches like the Cathars, the Patarenes, the Poblicans (same Popelicani), the Begins, the Spirituals and even later offshoots. Until now, however, it was assumed - particularly by 20th century medieval studies - that the heresy reached England only occasionally, appearing in Oxford in 1162. The heretics were stigmatised and banished then and there is no other record of Cathar presence.
This incorrect assumption is due to the fact that the British medievalists have overlooked three very impressive scholars from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. Moses Gaster (1887), Alexander Vesselovsky (1872) and Ivan Franko (1899). (Chapter One: The History of Christ as Piers Plowman). All three,
particularly Gaster and Franko, published reliable information about the transfer of apocrypha and Bogomil ideas to medieval England. The main titles one could mention include pieces like De arbore crucis (The Legend of the Cross, or the Legend of the Tree) of Father Jeremiah, the Oration on the Holy Cross and the Two Outlaws, ascribed to St. Gregory, The Secret Book of the Bogomils, On Adam and Eve and the End of the World, the Gospel of Nicodemus, The Vision of Isaiah and The Book of Enoch, to mention but a few.
So, believing that their observations were true, this author spent the last ten years in research and amassed empirical material allowing the following systematisation. There are three more noticeable instances of transfer of apocryphal writings and dualistic plots in England.
First, one discovers them in several famous manuscripts dating from the Early Middle Ages, including Beowulf MS (MS Cotton Vitellius), MS Junius, the Vercelli Book, the Exeter Book (Chapter One: The History of Christ As Piers Plowman). They were usually dated in the 9th, and sometimes even in the 8th century, or as
belonging to the Old English period. A gradual revision of this dating, however, began after the Second World War. For example, one could mention the following familiar Bogomil-Cathar themes: Christ and Satan, The Harrowing of Hell and The Lament of the Fallen Angels in MS Junius. The Lament of the Fallen Angels retells a fragment of The Secret Book of the Bogomils, the English text probably being the result of median versions.
We shall agree with Ivan Franko and assume that the second occasion was the period after the 11th century, i.e. after the Norman invasion, with a proven transfer of apocryphal literature. This was when the beginnings of English literature were laid and this was also the time when versions of apocryphal gospels were written.
The third stage covered the end of the 13th and the entire 14th century, including William Langland’s poem, The Vision of Piers Plowman (14th c.) and John Wycliff’s philosophy and social activity, Ivan Franko also adding a considerable number of medieval dramas teeming with dualistic plots. This poem is the subject of the second chapter in our book, The Image of Christ Plowman in Medieval English Culture. The Vision of Piers Plowman is full of Bogomil-Cathar imagery and theology. Suffice it to mention the Fall of Lucifer, the Descent of Christ into Hell or the liberation of all sinful souls ('and al that man hath mysdo, I, man wole amende' - says Christ). In Chapter XIX, Christ teaches Piers Plowman how to plough the spiritual field of the world, actually an English version of the scene in De arbore crucis in which Christ teaches the ploughman to plough. Then again, we have the covenant whereby the land is given to Adam - in Langland’s poem it is given to Piers Plowman, or the use of Bogomil vocabulary like “good people”, “the Perfect” and Spiritus Paraclitus, among others. According to the famous art historians T. Borenius and E. W. Tristram (1927), the protagonist Pierce Plowman gave birth to a specific Lollard iconography, including the appearance of Christ of the Trades in poor Lollard churches in
the period from the 14th to the 15th century, particularly the St. Mary Church in Ampney, Gloucestershire; the churches in Stedham and West Chiltington in Sussex; Breage Church in Cornwall; the churches in Poundstok, Penwith and Lanivet, and St. Just in Penwith.
According to T. Borenius and E. W. Tristram, the image of Piers Plowman from The Vision of Piers Plowman is the main source of iconography in the cases quoted so far. In other words, this is an indirect transfer of the figure of Christ as Ploughman teaching the ploughman to plough correctly in De arbore crucis (The Legend of the Tree, or The Legend of the Cross - 11th c.).
Yet, we find also a direct transfer. This is scene 27 of the famous series of 14th century ceramic tiles from no longer existing church in Tring, Herdfordshire, with scenes from the apocryphal Evangelium Thomae Infantiae (Infancy Gospel).
This is the place to make a direct comparison of scene 27 of the tile series from Tring and the scene of Christ as Ploughman in De arbore crucis (The Legend of the Tree).
Fig. A: Episode 27: Christ raises the plough beam - a scene from a variant of the apocryphal Evangelium Thomae Infantiae (Infancy Gospel, Les enfaunces de Jesu Christ).
Fig. B: Episode 28 in the same series. Christ teaches the ploughman the right way to plough while the latter regards Him in amazement and gratitude. The scene reproduces a fundamental episode from Father Jeremiah’s De arbore crucis (The Legend of the Tree) (11th century, or even the last quarter of the 10th century). The text goes: “One day Jesus went to Bethlehem and saw a man who was ploughing and throwing the earth on one side, going round and round the field. And the Lord saw that the day was passing [fruitlessly] and took the plough in His hands, plough three furrows, then turned the plough, gave it to the man and said: “Fare thee well, brother, plough!” (Old Bulgarian literature1. Apocrypha, Sofia, 1982, p. 282 -in Bulgarian). The British medievalist M. R. James (1923) failed to understand the contents of this scene. “In D.2 is a scene of ploughing,” he wrote. “A ploughman guides the plough, which is drawn by a yoke of oxen. A man with a goad, probably the master, seems surprised.”M. R. James added that he also failed to find such an episode in K. Tischendorf (Evangelia apocrypha, 1852), and that 'the scene was either altered or not understood'. In this way, however, without knowing it himself, the British scholar has indicated the Bulgarian alteration in this version of Evangelium Thomae Infantiae, which consists of the following:
- “in Latin is a grabatum that has to be made: here is a plough,” M. R. James commented (Fig. A, Episode 27). It is true, that in the traditional version of Evangelium Thomae Infantiae Christ extends a plank for a simple, low-lying bed (grabatum), while in the Tring tile series Christ extends a plough beam;
- the introduction of an entire new scene, “Christ teaches the ploughman to plough”, taken from Father Jeremiah’s 'De arbore crucis'.
One should add here, that the ploughman really does hold a goad. The very same goad, which made Father Jeremiah exclaim: “Oh, blessed tree, that the Lord took in His hands! Oh, blessed plough and blessed goad!”. (Old Bulgarian literature1. Apocrypha, Sofia, 1982, p. 282 -in Bulgarian). Of course, this literature and iconography enjoyed a number of mass consumers, the stable heretical centres of the Lollards (Chapter Four: Social Structures of the Heresy). British historiography abounds in books on the Lollards and their literary activity. Suffice it to mention the names of M. Deanesly, Anne Hudson, Norman Tanner, Margaret Aston, or J. Thomson. The new element in this work is that it proves that the beliefs of the Lollards were identical to those of the Bogomil-Cathar tradition on the basis of data taken from the British scholars and on this author’s own observations. A series of detailed comparisons are made, which prove a coincidence in common myths (the fall of Lucifer and his angels, Satan as creator and ruler of the visible world), ritual practices (direct confession to God, preference for the prayer Pater Noster, denial of hell and purgatory), anti-clericalism (the official Church is seen as a community of Herod or of Antichrist, church buildings are considered synagogues, cross-roads or wastelands), rejection of official Church ritual (negation of the Holy Cross and the icons, refusal to worship the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints) and social ideas (negation of legal authority and oath-taking, condemnation of bloodshed and war).
One cannot but notice the same likeness between the Bogomil theology and John Wycliffe’s reformational and literary activity (Chapter Three: John Wycliffe’s Mellowed Bulgarian Dualism). Once again, the author undertakes a detailed comparative analysis,
which indicates that: with the phrase Deus debet obedite diabolo Wycliffe repeats the well-known Bogomil assertion that “the Devil is master of the world” (Synodicon of Tsar Boril of 1211); Wycliffe repeatedly quotes the dualistic myth of the pride and fall of Lucifer and his angels; he also attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation, adopting the Bogomil-Cathar thesis that God's word is “our supersubstantial bread” (supersubstantialem); like the Cathars, he insisted on sermons in the native language etc.
The book also deals with a barely studied aspect of the Bogomil-Cathar heresy, i.e. the fact that in many respects it is a synthesis of influences of old civilisations and cultures (Chapter Five: The Pre-Renaissance Potential of the Dualists). The author develops already voiced assumptions of a connection between the Bogomil movement and Orphysm, and proves that the scene of Christ descending in hell, so beloved of the Dualists, is a Christian version of Orpheus’ descent in the kingdom of Hades. Readers will also find research of the influence of Zoroastrism on the Bogomil movement, more particularly the borrowing of the well-known triad “good thoughts - good words - good deeds”. In a similar way, Father Jeremiah borrowed plot elements like “the magian material of Tobit” (J. Moulton, 1913) from the Zoroastrian tradition. One can also find an outline of usage of Bogomil apocryphal material by Dante, as well as other cases of pre-Renaissance influence of dualistic culture.
Since the idea of transfer of Bogomil ideas and apocryphal imagery in medieval England seems unusual to many British medievalists, the author has appended the following table with some established cases of such a transfer:
Illustrations, charts, maps: