The Search for Perfection

Copyright © 1993, 2011 William Mego

When a 24-year-old man receives a special revelation from God, it sometimes strikes a chord that will resonate for centuries. I'm referring to a young Iranian nobleman named Mani, who in the middle of the third century AD. proclaimed himself the "Messenger of Truth," and left Babylonia to synthesize a new religion from the combined prophecies of Zoroaster, Christ, and the Buddha.

His religion, Manichaeism was an attempt to blend many often contradictory tenets into perfect knowledge, through which the spirit could attain salvation. Mani was an ascetic, who believed that the soul could be liberated from an endless cycle of rebirth into the evil darkness of the material world only by achieving a state of divine perfection. This required "sealing" one's mouth against the speaking of lies and the eating of meat, one's hands against the killing of anything, and one's heart against the evil that was represented by women and physical love.

One of Manichaeism's most famous practitioners, Saint Augustine, later condemned it as heresy. In fact, it was Augustine's endorsement of force to rid the world of this religion and its offshoots that was used to justify the medieval church courts of the Inquisition. These sought out and prosecuted Manichaeans, and the religions derived from them, such as the Messalians, Paulicans, Waldenses, Albigenses, and especially the Bogomils.

In the same year that Mani began his journeys, Caius Diocletianus (Diocletian) was born in the Dalmatian port town of Split. Rising through the military ranks, he was chosen to succeed Numarian as Emperor. Diocletian decided to divide the troubled Roman Empire among himself, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantus. The dividing line ran through a town that is now called Sarajevo, in Bosnia. Before he retired, Diocletian tried unsuccessfully to fight inflation with the world's first wage and price controls, and began a great persecution of the Bosnian Christians that were unlucky enough to live on his side of the line.

Ten years after Diocletian died, Constantine converted to Christianity, and renamed Byzantium, his capital, as Constantinople. The Byzantine empire encountered pressures from Persians in the Eastern Provinces, and Germans in the West. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian, while trying to buy peace and solidify alliances, issued an edict against the Bogomils, whose major center of activity had now come to lie in Bosnia.

But all was not smooth within the realm of the Christians. Although missionaries from Constantinople were rapidly converting the Slavic peoples to Eastern Christianity, deep divisions were developing within the Church. After the Roman Pope refused to recognize the election of Photius as Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius denounced the filioque doctrine (that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father AND the Son) as a Western innovation. In 1054, Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius excommunicated each other, and established a line just north of Bosnia that divided the Southern Slavs between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Politically, Bosnia was at this time a client state of Hungary, having achieved a sort of independence from its provincial ruler Ban Boris, the illegitimate son of Koloman, King of Hungary. Later, before the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, Ban Kulin extended the boundaries of the province, as well as the influence of Bogomilism religion, which he endorsed. His son Stefan continued the practice, much to the dismay of the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croatians and the Church in Rome.

In fact Popes Honorius VI and Gregory VII, in alliance with the Hungarian Princes, later devastated Bosnia with a number of crusades against the Bogomils, who were driven into the hills. Bosnia and Herzegovina were subsequently incorporated into the Serbian Empire by Dusan the Mighty, but eventually Ban Stefan Tvrtko conquered Bosnia and Dalmatia, and declared himself king.

Meanwhile, the refounded Byzantine Empire finally succumbed to the Ottoman Turks. In 1463, Sultan Mohammed II conquered Bosnia with a 150,000 man army. In both Bosnia and Serbia, the Christian princes were forced to return to the land as feudal servants. It was during this period that most Bogomils converted to Islam, and many became nobles to rule the Christian peasantry.

It would take three columns to describe the continuous wars fought by Austria and Turkey during the next two centuries over control of Bosnia. The situation in Serbia became unbearable for the enslaved Christians, and freedom fighters like Karadjordje began to organize a resistance.

In 1875, a revolution, which was encouraged by Catholic Austria, began in Herzegovina. The Turks were forced .to relinquish their administrative authority when the Russian Tsar declared war on Turkey. Austria moved in to introduce order, and eventually to annex Bosnia­Herzegovinia.

Following the Balkan Wars, in which Serbia expanded its territory, Austria sent Franz Ferdinand, their emperor's heir apparent, to Sarajevo to convince the Slavs to join the empire. He was shot by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, an action that started the cascade of alliances that began the First World War.

During WWII, Nazis and their sympathizers in Croatia slaughtered many thousands of Muslims and Orthodox Christians. They were opposed by the Partisans of Josip Broz, a soldier who, after being imprisoned in Russia, had joined the Communist Revolution and taken the code name "Tito." Tito became head of the Communist Yugoslavia, which enjoyed a quiet existence until the recent succession of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia began the killing again. The Southern Slavs are a single race, related by a common genetic heritage and a com­mon language, but united only by sixteen centuries of common religious hatred.

This weekend, Bill Clinton, a 44­year-old Baptist just finishing the first 100 days of his Presidency, will sit down and decide whether sanctions and a brief show of force will ensure a safe and speedy resolution to the conflict, and a lasting peace in Bosnia-Herzegovinia. And somewhere, a 10-year-old Yugoslavian boy will listen to the legends, clean his weapon, and prepare to continue the search for perfection.