Paulicians is the name of a powerful Eastern sect, which originated probably in or before the 6th century. According to Peter of Sicily and Photius, the sect was originated in Armenia by two brothers, one named Paul (from whom they are alleged to have received their name) and the other named John, who flourished as far back as the 4th century. Others trace them to an Armenian named Paul who lived under Justinian II (A.D. 670-711). Still others trace them back to even an earlier period than the 4th century, and hold that their name was probably derived from the high esteem which they cherished as a body for the apostle Paul. According to Gieseler and Neander they had their origin from one Constantine of Mananalis (near Samosata), an Armenian, who had received a present of two volumes — one containing the four Gospels, and the other the Epistles of Paul — and who afterwards assumed the name of Paul, in testimony of his great veneration for that apostle. They were undoubtedly believers in the two original principles of good and evil; but they combined with this dualism a high value for the universal use of the Scripture, a rejection of all external forms in religion, and a special abhorrence of the use of images. Their opinions are known, like so many other sects, only through the representations of their adversaries, by whom they have been designated as Manichaeans. It seems, indeed, most probable that they were descended from some one of the ancient Gnostic sects; but they differed widely from the Manichaeans, at least in Church government; for they rejected the government by bishops, priests, and deacons, to which the Manichaeans adhered; and admitted no order or individuals set apart by exclusive consecration for spiritual offices. They were charged by their enemies with gross immorality, and at one time there seems to have been good ground for the accusation. Baanes, their leader at the end of the 8th century, was notorious for his immorality; but about the year 800 a reformer arose among them named Sergius, whose opposition to this immorality, together with his exertions to extend the sect, gained him the reputation of a second founder. Both before and after this reform they were subject to much suspicion and bitter persecution, and were repressed with great severity by the Eastern emperors: Constans, Justinian II, and especially Leo the Isaurian opposed them. Indeed, with the exception of Nicephorus Logotheta (802-811), it may be said that all the emperors persecuted them with more or less rigor. Their greatest enemy, however; was Theodora (841-855), who, having ordered that they should be compelled to return to the Greek Church, had all the recusants cruelly put to the sword or driven into exile. A bloody resistance, and finally an emigration into the Saracen territory, was the consequence. About A.D. 844 some of the Paulicians, especially the adherents of Baanes, entered into a league with the Sergists, under the leadership of Carbeus, an officer of the greatest valor and resolution, and, supported by the Saracens, declared war against the Greeks, and for fifty years the conflict was waged with the greatest vehemence and fury. The Paulicians were more or less successful in the combat, made inroads upon the Byzantine territory, and in 867 reached as far as Ephesus, but they were ultimately overpowered and forced to submission. In 970 the greater part of them were removed into the neighborhood of Philippopolis, in Thrace, where they were granted religious freedom. Thence the Paulicians became settlers also of Bulgaria, and there made many converts to their sect. The renewal of persecutions against them in the the century forced them into Western Europe. Their first migration was into Italy (comp. Baird, Sketches of Protestantism in Italy, p. 14), whence, in process of time, they sent colonies into almost all the other provinces of Europe, and gradually formed a considerable number of religious assemblies who adhered to their doctrine, and who were afterwards persecuted with the utmost vehemence by the Roman pontiffs. In Italy they were called Patarini (q.v.), from a certain place called Pataria, being a part of the city of Milan, where they held their assemblies; and Gathari, or Gazari, from Gazaria, or the Lesser Tartary. In France they were called Albigenses (q.v.). The first religious assembly which the Paulicians formed in Europe is said to have been discovered at Orleans in 1017, under the reign of Robert, when many of them were condemned to be burned alive. A few Paulicians, of course, remained in the East for some time after the migration of the general body. As late as the 17th century there was a remnant of them existing in Bulgaria (Mosheim, 2:238). Whether any Paulicians exist at present it is difficult to tell. There are so-called Paulicians in the Danubian provinces, but these heretics practice bloody sacrifices, and by their barbarism would seem to have more kinship with the Bogomiles (q.v.). At present an accurate account of the religion and opinions of the Paulicians is really a desideratum.
The Paulicians, as we have said above, have been accused of Manichaeism; but there is reason to believe this was only a slanderous report raised against them by their enemies, and that they were, for the most part, men who were disgusted with the doctrines and ceremonies of human invention, and desirous of returning to the apostolic doctrine and practice. They refused to worship the Virgin Mary, the saints, and the cross, which was sufficient in those ages to procure for them the name of atheists; and they also refused to partake of the sacraments of the Greek and Roman churches, which will account for the allegation that they rejected them altogether, though it is asserted by Neander and Gieseler that they simply denied the material presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is, however, barely possible that some may, like the Quakers and some other sects, actually have discarded them as outward ordinances. See Mosheim, Church Hist. 2:363; Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (student's edition, p. 506 sq.; large edition, ch. liv); Jones, Hist. of the Christian Church; Neander, Church Hist. vol. iii; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. vol. i; and Theol. Studien und Kritiken, 1829, vol. ii, No. 1; Journal der theol. Lit. by Winer u. Engelhart, vol. vii, No. 1 and 2; Hardwick, Church Hist. of the Middle Ages, p. 84, 91, 201, 302, 305 sq.; Marsden, Dict. of Church Hist. (see Index).