Manichaeism, ancient religion named for its founder, the Persian sage Mani (circa 216-76?); for a period of several centuries, it presented a major challenge to Christianity.
|II||LIFE OF MANI|
Mani was born into an aristocratic Persian family in southern Babylonia (now in Iraq). His father, a pious man, brought him up in an austere baptist sect, possibly the Mandaeans. At the ages of 12 and 24, Mani experienced visions in which an angel designated him the prophet of a new and ultimate revelation. On his first missionary journey, Mani reached India, where he was influenced by Buddhism. With the protection of the new Persian emperor, Shapur I (reigned 241-72), Mani preached throughout the empire and sent missionaries to the Roman Empire. The rapid expansion of Manichaeism provoked the hostility of the leaders of orthodox Zoroastrianism, and when Bahram I (reigned 274-77) succeeded to the throne, they persuaded him to have Mani arrested as a heretic, after which he either died in confinement or was executed.
Mani proclaimed himself the last prophet in a succession that included Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus, whose partial revelations were, he taught, contained and consummated in his own doctrines. Besides Zoroastrianism and Christianity, Manichaeism reflects the strong influence of Gnosticism.
The fundamental doctrine of Manichaeism is its dualistic division of the universe into contending realms of good and evil: the realm of Light (spirit), ruled by God, and the realm of Darkness (matter), ruled by Satan. Originally, the two realms were entirely separate, but in a primal catastrophe the realm of Darkness invaded the realm of Light, and the two became mixed and engaged in a perpetual struggle. The human race is a result and a microcosm of this struggle. The human body is material, therefore evil; the human soul is spiritual, a fragment of the divine Light, and must be redeemed from its imprisonment in the body and the world. The path of redemption is through knowledge of the realm of Light imparted by the succession of divine messengers that includes Buddha and Jesus and ends in Mani. With this knowledge the human soul can conquer the carnal desires that perpetuate its imprisonment and so ascend to the divine realm.
The Manichaeans divided themselves into two classes according to their degree of spiritual perfection. Those who were called the elect practiced strict celibacy and vegetarianism, abstained from wine, did no labor, and preached. They were assured of ascent to the realm of Light after death. The auditors, much more numerous, were those of lower spiritual attainment. They were permitted marriage (although procreation was discouraged), observed weekly fasts, and served the elect. They hoped to be reborn as the elect (see Transmigration). Eventually all fragments of divine Light would be redeemed, the world would be destroyed, and Light and Darkness would be eternally separated.
|IV||EXTENT AND INFLUENCE|
During the century after Mani’s death, Manichaeism spread as far as China in the East and gained followers throughout the Roman Empire, especially in North Africa. The 4th-century theologian St. Augustine was a Manichaean for nine years before his conversion to Christianity. He subsequently wrote polemics against the movement, which was also condemned by several popes and Roman emperors. Although Manichaeism as a distinct religion had disappeared in the West by the early Middle Ages, its continuing influence can be traced in the medieval dualistic heresies of the Albigenses, Bogomils, and Paulicians, and much of the Gnostic-Manichaean world view survives in many modern religious movements and sects, including theosophy and the anthroposophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Mani, believing that the failure of previous prophets to record their teachings led to their dilution and distortion by disciples, wrote several books to serve as the scripture of his religion. Fragments of these, along with hymns, catechisms, and other texts, were found in Eastern Turkistan and Egypt during the early 20th century. Other sources for Manichaean doctrines include the writings of St. Augustine and other opponents.