1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Manichaeism
MANICHAEISM. Towards the close of the 3rd century two great religions stood opposed to one another in western Europe, one wholly Iranian, namely Mithraism, the other of Jewish origin, but not without Iranian elements, part and parcel probably of the Judaism which gave it birth, namely Christianity. Professor Franz Cumont has traced the progress of Mithraism all over the Balkan Peninsula, Italy, the Rhine-lands, Britain, Spain and Latin Africa. It was peculiarly the religion of the Roman garrisons, and was carried by the legionaries wherever they went. It was an austere religion, inculcating self-restraint, courage and honesty; it secured peace of conscience through forgiveness of sins, and abated for those who were initiated in its mysteries the superstitious terrors of death and the world to come. In these respects it resembled Christianity. Soldiers may have espoused it rather than the rival faith, because in the primitive age Christian discipline denied them the sacraments, on the ground that they were professional shedders of blood. The cumbrous mythology and cosmogony of Mithraism at last weakened its hold upon men’s minds, and it disappeared during the 4th century before a victorious Catholicism, yet not until another faith, equally Iranian in its mythology and cosmological beliefs, had taken its place. This new faith was that of Mani, which spread with a rapidity only to be explained by supposing that Mithraism had prepared men’s minds for its reception.
Mani professed to blend the teachings of Christ with the old Persian Magism. Kessler, the latest historian of Manichaeism, opines that Mani’s own declaration on this point is not to be relied upon, and has tried to prove that it was rather of Semitic or Chaldaic origin. He certainly shows that the old Assyrian mythology influenced Mani, but not that this element did not reach him through Persian channels. In genuine Manichaean documents we only find the name Mani, but Manes, Μάνης, Manichaeus, meet us in 4th-century Greek and Latin documents. In the Acta Archelai his first name is said to have been Cubricus, which Kessler explains as a corruption of Shuravik, a name common among the Arabs of the Syrian desert.
Life of Mani.—According to the Mahommedan tradition, which is more trustworthy than the account contained in these Acta, Mani was a high-born Persian of Ecbatana. The year of his birth is uncertain, but Kessler accepts as reliable the statement made by Biruni, that Mani was born in the year 527 of the astronomers of Babylon (A.D. 215–216). He received a careful education at Ctesiphon from his father Fatak, Babak or Patak (Πατέκιος). As the father connected himself at a later period with the confession of the Moghtasilah, or “Baptists,” in southern Babylonia, the son also was brought up in the religious doctrines and exercises of this sect. These Baptists (see the Fihrist) were apparently connected with the Elkesaites and the Hemerobaptists, and certainly with the Mandaeans. It is probable that this Babylonian sect had absorbed Christian elements. Thus the boy early became acquainted with very different forms of religion. If even a small part of the stories about his father is founded on fact, it was he who first introduced Mani to that medley of religions out of which his system arose. Manichaean tradition relates that Mani received revelations while yet a boy, and assumed a critical attitude towards the religious instruction that was being imparted to him. This is the more incredible since the same tradition informs us that the boy was as yet prohibited from making public use of his new religious views. It was only when Mani had reached the age of twenty-five or thirty years that he began to proclaim his new religion. This he did at the court of the Persian king, Shāpūr I., and, according to the story, on the coronation day of that monarch (241/2). A Persian tradition says that he had previously been a Christian presbyter, but this is certainly incorrect. Mani did not remain long in Persia, but undertook long journeys for the purpose of spreading his religion, and also sent forth disciples. According to the Acta Archelai, his missionary activity extended westwards into the territory of the Christian church; but from Oriental sources it is certain that Mani rather went into Transoxiana, western China, and southwards as far as India. His labours there as well as in Persia were not without result. Like Mahomet after him and the founder of the Elkesaites before him, he gave himself out for the last and highest prophet, who was to surpass all previous divine revelation, which only possessed a relative value, and to set up the perfect religion. In the closing years of the reign of Shāpūr I. (c. 270) Mani returned to the Persian capital, and gained adherents even at court. But the dominant priestly caste of the Magians, on whose support the king was dependent, were naturally hostile to him, and after some successes Mani was made a prisoner, and had then to flee. The successor of Shāpūr, Hōrmizd (272–273), appears to have been favourably disposed towards him, but Bahrām I. abandoned him to the fanaticism of the Magians, and caused him to be crucified in the capital in the year 276/7. The corpse was flayed, and Mani’s adherents were cruelly persecuted by the king.
Mani’s Writings.—Mani himself composed a large number of works and epistles, which were in great part still known to the Mahommedan historians, but are now mostly lost. The later heads of the Manichaean churches also wrote religious treatises, so that the ancient Manichaean literature must have been very extensive. According to the Fihrist, Mani made use of the Persian and Syriac languages; but, like the Oriental Marcionites before him, he invented an alphabet of his own, which the Fihrist has handed down to us. In this alphabet the sacred books of the Manichaeans were written, even at a later period. The Fihrist reckons seven principal works of Mani, six being in the Syriac and one in the Persian language; regarding some of these we also have information in Epiphanius, Augustine, Titus of Bostra, and Photius, as well as in the formula of abjuration (Cotelerius, PP. Apost. Opp. i. 543) and in the Acta Archelai. They are (1) The Book of Secrets (see Acta Archel.), containing discussions bearing on the Christian sects spread throughout the East, especially the Marcionites and Bardesanites, and dealing also with their conception of the Old and New Testaments; (2) The Book of the Giants (Demons?); (3) The Book of Precepts for Hearers (probably identical with the Epistola Fundamenti of Augustine and with the Book of Chapters of Epiphanius and the Acta Archelai; this was the most widely spread and most popular Manichaean work, having been translated into Greek and Latin; it contained a short summary of all the doctrines of fundamental authority); (4) The Book Shāhpūrakān (Flügel was unable to explain this name; according to Kessler it signifies “epistle to King Shāpūr”; the treatise was of an eschatological character); (5) The Book of Quickening (Kessler identifies this work with the “Thesaurus [vitae]” of the Acta Archelai, Epiphanius, Photius and Augustine, and if this be correct it also must have been in use among the Latin Manichaeans); (6) The Book πραγματεία (of unknown contents); (7) a book in the Persian language, the title of which is not given in our present text of the Fihrist, but which is in all probability identical with the “holy gospel” of the Manichaeans (mentioned in the Acta Archel. and many other authorities). It was this work which the Manichaeans set up in opposition to the Gospels. Besides these principal works, Mani also wrote a large number of smaller treatises and epistles. The practice of writing epistles was continued by his successors. These Manichaean dissertations also became known in the Graeco-Roman Empire, and existed in collections. There also existed a Manichaean book of memorabilia, and of prayers, in Greek, as well as many others, all of which were destroyed by the Christian bishops acting in conjunction with the authorities. A Manichaean epistle, addressed to one Marcellus, has, however, been preserved for us in the Acta Archelai.
Manichaean System.—Though the leading features of Manichaean doctrine can be exhibited clearly even at the present day, and though it is undoubted that Mani himself drew up a complete system, many details are nevertheless uncertain, since they are differently described in different sources, and it often remains doubtful which of the accounts that have been transmitted to us represents the original teaching of the founder.
The Manichaean system is one of consistent, uncompromising dualism, in the form of a fantastic philosophy of nature. The physical and the ethical are not distinguished, and in this respect the character of the system is thoroughly materialistic; for when Mani co-ordinates good with light, and evil with darkness, this is no mere figure of speech, but light is actually good and darkness evil. From this it follows that religious knowledge involves the knowledge of nature and her elements, and that redemption consists in a physical process of freeing the element of light from the darkness. Under such circumstances ethics becomes a doctrine of abstinence in regard to all elements which have their source within the sphere of darkness.
The self-contradictory character of the present world forms the point of departure for Mani’s speculations. This contradiction presents itself to his mind primarily as elemental, and only in the second instance as ethical, inasmuch as he considers the sensual nature of man to be the outflow of the evil elements in nature. From the contradictory character of the world he concludes the existence of two beings, originally quite separate from each other—light and darkness. Each is to be thought of according to the analogy of a kingdom. Light presents itself to us as the good primal spirit (God, radiant with the ten [twelve] virtues of love, faith, fidelity, high-mindedness, wisdom, meekness, knowledge, understanding, mystery and insight), and then further as the heavens of light and the earth of light, with their guardians the glorious aeons. Darkness is likewise a spiritual kingdom (more correctly, it also is conceived of as a spiritual and feminine personification), but it has no “God” at its head. It embraces an “earth of darkness.” As the earth of light has five tokens (the mild zephyr, cooling wind, bright light, quickening fire, and clear water), so has the earth of darkness also five (mist, heat, the sirocco, darkness and vapour). Satan with his demons was born from the kingdom of darkness. These two kingdoms stood opposed to each other from all eternity, touching each other on one side, but remaining unmingled. Then Satan began to rage, and made an incursion into the kingdom of light, into the earth of light. The God of light, with his syzygy, “the spirit of his right hand,” now begot the primal man, and sent him, equipped with the five pure elements, to fight against Satan. But the latter proved himself the stronger, and the primal man was for a moment vanquished. And although the God of light himself now took to the field, and with the help of new aeons (the spirit of life, &c.) inflicted total defeat upon Satan, and set the primal man free; the latter had already been robbed of part of his light by the darkness, and the five dark elements had already mingled themselves with the generations of light. It only remained now for the primal man to descend into the abyss and prevent the further increase of the generations of darkness by cutting off their roots; but he could not immediately separate again the elements that had once mingled. These mixed elements are the elements of the present visible world, which was formed from them at the command of the God of light. The forming of the world is in itself the beginning of the deliverance of the imprisoned elements of light. The world is represented as an orderly structure of various heavens and various earths, which is borne and supported by the aeons, the angels of light. It possesses in the sun and moon, which are in their nature almost quite pure, large reservoirs, in which the portions of light that have been rescued are stored up. In the sun dwells the primal man himself, as well as the glorious spirits which carry on the work of redemption; in the moon the mother of life is enthroned. The twelve constellations of the zodiac form an ingenious machine, a great wheel with buckets, which pour into the sun and moon, those shining ships that sail continually through space, the portions of light set free from the world. Here they are purified anew, and attain finally to the kingdom of pure light and to God Himself. The later Western Manichaeans termed those portions of light which are scattered throughout the world—in its elements and organisms—awaiting their deliverance, the Jesus patibilis.
It is significant of the materialistic and pessimistic character of the system that, while the formation of the world is considered as a work of the good spirits, the creation of man is referred to the princes of darkness. The first man, Adam, was engendered by Satan in conjunction with “sin,” “cupidity,” “desire.” But the spirit of darkness drove into him all the portions of light he had stolen, in order to be able to dominate them the more securely. Hence Adam is a discordant being, created in the image of Satan, but carrying within him the stronger spark of light. Eve is given him by Satan as his companion. She is seductive sensuousness, though also having in her a small spark of light. But if the first human beings thus stood entirely under the dominion of the devil, the glorious spirits took them under their care from the very outset, sending aeons down to them (including Jesus), who instructed them regarding their nature, and in particular warned Adam against sensuality. But this first man fell under the temptation of sexual desire. Cain and Abel indeed are not sons of Adam, but of Satan and Eve; Seth, however, who is full of light, is the offspring of Adam by Eve. Thus did mankind come into existence, its various members possessing very different shares of light, but the men having uniformly a larger measure of it than the women. In the course of history the demons sought to bind men to themselves by means of sensuality, error and false religions (among which is to be reckoned above all the religion of Moses and the prophets), while the spirits of light carried on their process of distillation with the view of gaining the pure light which exists in the world. But these good spirits can only save men by imparting to them the true gnosis concerning nature and her forces, and by calling them away from the service of darkness and sensuality. To this end prophets, preachers of true knowledge, have been sent into the world. Mani, following the example of the gnostic Jewish Christians, appears to have held Adam, Noah, Abraham (perhaps Zoroaster and Buddha) to be such prophets. Probably Jesus was also accounted a prophet who had descended from the world of light—not, however, the historical Jesus, the devilish Messiah of the Jews, but a contemporaneous phantom Jesus, who neither suffered nor died (Jesus impatibilis). According to the teaching of some Manichaeans, it was the primal man who disseminated the true gnosis in the character of Christ. But at all events Mani himself, on his own claim, is to be reckoned the last and greatest prophet, who took up the work of Jesus impatibilis and of Paul (for he too finds recognition), and first brought full knowledge. He is the “leader,” the “ambassador of the light,” the “Paraclete.” It is only through his agency and that of his imitators, “the elect,” that the separation of the light from the darkness can be completed. The system contains very fantastic descriptions of the processes by which the portions of light when once set free finally ascend even to the God of light. He who during his lifetime did not become one of the elect, who did not completely redeem himself, has to go through a severe process of purification on the other side of the grave, till he too is gathered to the blessedness of the light. It is erroneous, however, to ascribe, as has been done, a doctrine of transmigration to the Manichaeans. Of course men’s bodies as well as the souls of the unsaved, who according to the oldest conception have in them no light whatever, fall under the sway of the powers of darkness. A later view, adapted to the Christian one, represents the portions of light in the unsaved as actually becoming lost. When the elements of light have at last been completely, or as far as possible, delivered from the world, the end of all things comes. All glorious spirits assemble, the God of light himself appears, accompanied by the aeons and the perfected just ones. The angels supporting the world withdraw themselves from their burden, and everything falls in ruins. A tremendous conflagration consumes the world; the perfect separation of the two powers takes place once more; high above is the kingdom of light, again brought into a condition of completeness, and deep below is the (? now powerless) darkness.
Ethics, Social Polity and Worship of the Manichaeans.—On the basis of such a cosmical philosophy, ethics can only have a dualistic ascetic character. Manichaean ethics is not merely negative, however, since it is necessary to cherish, strengthen and purify the elements of light, as well as free oneself from the elements of darkness. The aim is not self-destruction, but self-preservation; and yet the ethics of Manichaeism appears in point of fact as thoroughly ascetic. The Manichaean had, above all, to refrain from sensual enjoyment, shutting himself up against it by three seals—the signaculum oris, manus and sinus. The signaculum oris forbids all eating of unclean food (which included all bodies of animals, wine, &c.—vegetable diet being allowed because plants contained more light, though the killing of plants, or even plucking their fruit and breaking their twigs, was not permitted), as well as all impure speech. The signaculum manus prohibits all traffic with things generally, in so far as they carry in them elements of darkness. Finally, by the signaculum sinus every gratification of sexual desire, and hence also marriage, are forbidden. Besides all this, life was further regulated by an exceedingly rigorous system of fasts. Certain astronomical conjunctions determined the selection of the fast-days, which in their total number amounted to nearly a quarter of the year. Sunday was regularly solemnized as one, and the practice was also generally observed on Monday. Hours of prayer were determined with equal exactness. The Manichaean had to pray four times a day, each prayer being preceded by ablutions. The worshipper turned towards the sun, or the moon, or the north, as the seat of light; but it is erroneous to conclude from this, as has been done, that in Manichaeism the sun and moon were themselves objects of worship. Forms of prayer used by the Manichaeans have been preserved to us in the Fihrist. The prayers are addressed to the God of light, to the whole kingdom of light, to the glorious angels, and to Mani himself, who is apostrophized in them as “the great tree, which is all salvation.” According to Kessler, these prayers are closely related to the Mandaean and the ancient Babylonian hymns. An asceticism so strict and painful as that demanded by Manichaeism could only be practised by few; hence the religion must have abandoned all attempts at an extensive propaganda had it not conceded the principle of a twofold morality. A distinction was made in the community between the electi (perfecti), the perfect Manichaeans, and the catechumeni (auditores), the secular Manichaeans. Only the former submitted themselves to all the demands made by their religion; for the latter the stringency of the precepts was relaxed. They had to avoid idolatry, sorcery, avarice, falsehood, fornication, &c.; above all, they were not allowed to kill any living being (the ten commandments of Mani). They had also to free themselves as much as possible from the world; but in truth they lived very much as their non-Manichaean fellow-citizens. We have here essentially the same condition of things as in the Catholic Church, where a twofold morality was also in force, that of the religious orders and that of secular Christians—only that the position of the electi in Manichaeism was a more distinguished one than that of the monks in Catholicism. For, after all, the Christian monks never quite forgot that salvation is given by God through Christ, whereas the Manichaean electi were actually themselves redeemers. Hence it was the duty of the auditores to pay the greatest respect and most assiduous attention to the electi. These “perfect ones,” wasting away under their asceticism, were objects of admiration and of the most elaborate solicitude. Food was presented to them in abundance, and by their eating it the electi set free the portions of light from the vegetables. They prayed for the auditores, they blessed them and interceded for them, thereby shortening the process of purification the latter had to pass through after death. It was only the electi, too, who possessed full knowledge of religious truths, a point of distinction from Catholicism.
The distinction between electi and auditores, however, does not exhaust the conception of the Manichaean Church; on the contrary, the latter possessed a hierarchy of three ranks, so that there were altogether five gradations in the community. These were regarded as a copy of the ranks of the kingdom of light. At the head stood the teachers (“the sons of meekness,” Mani himself and his successors); then follow the administrators (“the sons of knowledge,” the bishops); then the elders (“the sons of understanding,” the presbyters); the electi (“the sons of mystery”); and finally the auditores (“the sons of insight”). The number of the electi must always have been small. According to Augustine the teachers were twelve and the bishops seventy-two in number. One of the teachers appears to have occupied the position of superior at the head of the whole Manichaean Church. At least Augustine speaks of such a personage, and the Fihrist also has knowledge of a chief of all Manichaeans. The constitution, therefore, had a monarchic head.
The worship of the Manichaeans must have been very simple, and must have essentially consisted of prayers, hymns and ceremonies of adoration. This simple service promoted the secret dissemination of their doctrines. The Manichaeans too, at least in the West, appear to have adapted themselves to the Church’s system of festivals. The electi celebrated special feasts; but the principal festival with all classes was the Bema (βῆμα), the feast of the “teacher’s chair,” held in commemoration of the death of Mani in the month of March. The faithful prostrated themselves before an adorned but empty chair, which was raised upon a podium of five steps. Long fasts accompanied the feasts. The Christian and Mahommedan historians could learn little of the Manichaean mysteries and “sacraments,” and hence the former charged them with obscene rites and abominable usages. It may be held as undoubted that the later Manichaeans celebrated mysteries analogous to Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which may have rested upon ancient consecration rites and other ceremonies instituted by Mani himself and having their origin in nature worship.
Recent Discoveries.—F. Cumont (Revue d’histoire et de littérature religieuse, t. xii., 1907, No. 2) showed that one at least of the fundamental myths of Mani was borrowed from the Avesta, namely, that which recounts how through the manifestation of the virgin of light and of the messenger of salvation to the libidinous princes of darkness the vital substance or light held captive in their limbs was liberated and recovered for the realm of light. The legend of the Omophorus and Splenditeneus, rival giants who sustain earth and luminous heavens on their respective shoulders, even if it already figures in the cuneiform texts of Assyria, is yet to be traced in Mithraic bas-reliefs. It also may therefore have come to Mani through Magian channels.
When, however, we turn to the numerous fragments of authentic Manichaean liturgies and hymns lately discovered in Turfan in East Turkestan, Mani’s direct indebtedness to the cycle of Magian legends rather than to Chaldaic sources (as Kessler argued) is clearly exhibited.
In fr. 472, taken from the Shāpūrakān, as part of a description of the sun-god in his ship or reservoir the sun, we have a mention of Āz and Ahriman and the devas (demons), the Pairikas. Āz in the Avestan mythology was the demon serpent who murders Gayomert in the old Persian legend, and an ally of Ahriman, as also are the Pairikas or Peris. In the same fragment we read of the ruin of Ažidahāka Māzainya, which name Darmesteter interprets in the Persian sources as the demon serpent, the sorcerer (Ormazd et Ahriman, Paris, 1877, p. 157). In fr. 470, descriptive of the conflagration of the world, we read of how, after Āz and the demons have been struck down, the pious man is purified and led up to sun and moon and to the being of Ahura Mazda, the Divine.
In another fragment (388) of a hymn Mani describes himself as “the first stranger” (cf. Matt. xxv. 43), the son of the god Zarvān, the Ruler-Child. In the orthodox literature of fire-worship Zarvān was Time or Destiny. Later on Zarvān was elevated to the position of supreme principle, creator of Ormazd and Ahriman, and, long before Mani, Zarvān accompanied Mithras in all his westward migrations.
In fr. 20, in an enumeration of angels, we hear of Narsus, who may be the Nēryōsang (Armenian Nerses or Narsai) of the Avesta. The other angels are Jacob, the mighty angel and leader of angels, the Lord Bar Simūs, Qaftinus the mighty, Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, Sarael and Nastikus—a truly Catholic list.
In fr. 4 a rubric enjoins the recital of the hymn of the Frašēgērd. Here we recognize a technical term of the Avesta—namely, the “Frashō-kereti,” that is the reanimation of the world or resurrection of the dead (Darmesteter, op. cit., p. 239). In this hymn we read how the gods shall release us from this sinful time, from the oppression of this world. In fr. 4, under the rubric Bar Simūs, we find the god Mihir (Mīḥryazd), the liberator, the compassionate, invoked along with Frēdōn, the good; and later on we read as follows: “with his mighty glance may the god of pure name, Prēdōn, the king and Jacob Narēman, protect religion and us the sons.” Mihr or Mithras and Fēridoun or Thraētaona, the slayer of Ajis (or Azi) Dahāka, also Narīmān, spelled Nairimanau, are familiar figures in the old Persian pantheon. In the same prayer the votary begs that “new blessing may come, new victory from the god Zarvān over the glories and angels, the spirits of this world, to the end that he accept our holy religion, become a watcher within and without, helper and protector,” and the prayer ends thus: “I invoke the angels, the strong ones, the mighty, Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, Sarael, who shall protect us from all adversity, and free us from the wicked Ahriman.”
In fr. 176 Jesus is invoked: “Jesus, of the gods first new moon, thou art God. . . . Jesus, O Lord, of waxing fame full moon, O Jesus. Lord . . . light, our hearts’ prayer. Jesus, God and Vahman. Sheen God! We will praise the God Narēsaf. Mār Mānī will we bless. O new moon and spring. Lord, we will bless. The angels, the gods ... New sun, Mihr.”
In the above Vahman is Vohu Manō, the good thought or inspiration of the Zoroastrian religion. Mihr is Mithras. The god Narēsaf is also invoked in other fragments.
In fr. 74 is invoked, together with Jesus and Mani, the “strong mighty Zrōsch, the redeemer of souls.” In the Avesta Sraosha is the angel that guards the world at night from demons, and is styled “the righteous” or “the strong.”
Fr. 38 is as follows: “Mithras (MS. Mītrā) great . . . messenger of the gods, mediator (or interpreter) of religion, of the elect one Jesus—virgin of light. Mār Mānī, Jesus—virgin of light, Mār Mānī. Do thou in me make peace, O light-bringer, mayest thou redeem my soul from this born-dead (existence).”
Fr. 543 runs thus: “. . . and ladder of the Mazdean faith. Thou, new teacher of Chorasan (of the East), and promoter of those that have the good faith. For thou wast born under a glittering star in the family of the rulers. Elect are these—Jesus and Vahman.”
The above examples bear out Mani’s own declaration, as reported by the Fihrist, that his faith was a blend of the old Magian cult with Christianity. Whether the Hebrew names of angels came to him direct from the Jews or not we cannot tell, but they were, as the Greek magical papyri prove, widely diffused among the Gentiles long before his age. The Armenian writer Eznik (c. 425) also attests that Mani’s teaching was merely that of the Magi, plus an ascetic morality, for which they hated and slew him.
Just as the background of Christianity was formed by the Hebrew scriptures, and just as the Hebrew legends of the creation became the basis of its scheme of human redemption from evil, so the Avesta, with its quaint cosmogony and myths, formed the background of Mani’s new faith. He seems to have quarrelled with the later Magism because it was not dualistic enough, for in fr. 28 we have such a passage as the following: “They also that adore the fire, the burning, by this they themselves recognize that their end shall be in fire. And they say that Ormuzd and Ahriman are brothers, and in consequence of this saying they shall come to annihilation.” In the same fragment the Christians are condemned as worshippers of idols, unless indeed the writer has genuine pagans in view. There is a mention of Marcion in the same context, but it is unintelligible. There can be no doubt that in the form in which Mani became acquainted with it Christianity had been disengaged and liberated from the womb of Judaism which gave it birth. This presentation of it as an ethical system of universal import was the joint work of Paul and Marcion.
It remains to add that in these newly found fragments Mani styles himself “the apostle (lit. the sent forth) of Jesus the friend in the love of the Father, of God.” He uses the formula: “Praise and laud to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” In fr. 4 he attests that he was sprung from the land Babel; in fr. 566 that he was a physician from the land Babel. Fr. 3 recounts his interview with King Shāpūr I. The Gospel of Peter seems to have been in use, for one lengthy citation is taken from it in fr. 18. The Manichaeans of Chinese Turkestan also used a version of the Shepherd of Hermas. Several of the hymns (e.g. in fr. 7 and 32) reproduce the ideas and almost the phases of the Syriac “Hymn of the Soul,” so confirming the hypothesis that Mani was influenced by Bardesanes.
With the exception of a few fragments written in a Pehlevi dialect, all this recovered Manichaean literature is in the Ouigour or Vigur dialect of Tatar. The alphabet used is the one adapted by Mani himself from the Syriac estrangelo. The fragments are 800 in number, both on paper and vellum, written and adorned with the pious care and good taste which the Manichaeans are known to have bestowed on their manuscripts. They were brought back by Professor Grünwedel and Dr Huth from Turfan in East Turkestan, and were partly translated by Dr F. W. K. Müller in the Abhandtungen der k. preuss. Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1904). Much of this literature is still left in Turfan, where the natives use the sheets of Vigur and Chinese vellum MSS. as window-panes in their huts. The Russian and German governments have sent out fresh expeditions to rescue what is left before it is too late. We may thus hope to recover some priceless monuments of early Christianity, hymns and treatises perhaps of Marcion and Bardesanes, the Gospel of Peter, and even the Diatessaron. Müller’s translations includes a long extract of Mani’s book called Schāpūrakān, parts of his Evangelium, and epistles, with liturgies, hymns and prayers, for Tatar Khāns who espoused the faith in Khorasan.
Manichaeism and Christianity.—It is very difficult to determine what was the extent of Mani’s knowledge of Christianity, how much he himself borrowed from it, and through what channels it reached him. It is certain that Manichaeism, in those districts where it was brought much into contact with Christianity, became additionally influenced by the latter at a very early period. The Western Manichaeans of the 4th and 5th centuries are much more like Christians than their Eastern brethren. In this respect Manichaeism experienced the same kind of development as Neo-Platonism. As regards Mani himself, it is safest to assume that he held both Judaism and Catholic Christianity to be entirely false religions. It is indeed true that he not only described himself as the promised Paraclete—for this designation probably originated with himself—but also conceded a high place in his system to “Jesus”; we can only conclude from this, however, that he distinguished between Christianity and Christianity. The religion which had proceeded from the historical Jesus he repudiated together with its founder, and Catholicism as well as Judaism he looked upon as a religion of the devil. But he distinguished between the Jesus of darkness and the Jesus of light who had lived and acted contemporaneously with the former. This distinction agrees with that made by the gnostic Basilides no less strikingly than the Manichaean criticism of the Old Testament does with that propounded by the Marcionites (see the Acta Archelai, in which Mani is made to utter the antitheses of Marcion). Finally, the Manichaean doctrines exhibit points of similarity to those of the Christian Elkesaites. The historical relation of Mani to Christianity is then as follows. From Catholicism, which he very probably had no detailed knowledge of, he borrowed nothing, rejecting it as devilish error. On the other hand, he looked upon what he considered to be Christianity proper—that is, Christianity as it had been developed among the sects of Basilidians, Marcionites, and perhaps Bardesanites, as a comparatively valuable and sound religion. He took from it the moral teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, and a criticism of the Old Testament and of Judaism so far as he required it. Indications of the influence of Marcionitism are found in the high estimation in which Mani held the apostle Paul, and in the fact that he explicitly rejects the Book of Acts. Mani appears to have given recognition to a portion of the historical matter of the Gospels, and to have interpreted it in accordance with his own doctrine.
Manichaeism and Buddhism.—It remains to be asked whether Buddhistic elements can also be detected in Manichaeism. Most modern scholars since F. C. Baur have answered this question in the affirmative. According to Kessler, Mani made use of the teaching of Buddha, at least as far as ethics was concerned. It cannot be doubted that Mani, who undertook long journeys as far as India, knew of Buddhism. The name Buddha (Buddas) which occurs in the legendary account of Mani, and perhaps in the latter’s own writings, indicates further that he had occupied his attention with Buddhism when engaged in the work of founding his new religion. But his borrowings from this source must have been quite insignificant. A detailed comparison shows the difference between Buddhism and Manichaeism in all their principal doctrines to be very great, while it becomes evident that the points of resemblance are almost everywhere accidental. This is also true of the ethics and the asceticism of the two systems. There is not a single point in Manichaeism which demands for its explanation an appeal to Buddhism. Such being the case, the relationship between the two religions remains a mere possibility, a possibility which the inquiry of Geyler (Das System des Manichaeismus und sein Verhältniss zum Buddhismus, Jena, 1875) has not been able to elevate into a probability.
The Secret of Manichaeism.—How are we to explain the rapid spread of Manichaeism, and the fact that it really became one of the great religions? What gave it strength was that it united an ancient mythology and a thorough-going materialistic dualism with an exceedingly simple spiritual worship and a strict morality. On comparing it with the Semitic religions of nature we perceive that it was free from their sensuous cultus, substituting instead a spiritual worship as well as a strict morality. Manichaeism was thus able to satisfy the new wants of an old world. It offered revelation, redemption, moral virtue and immortality, spiritual benefits on the basis of the religion of nature. A further source of strength lay in the simple yet firm social organization which was given by Mani himself to his new institution. The wise man and the ignorant, the enthusiast and the man of the world, could all find acceptance here, and there was laid on no one more than he was able and willing to bear. Each one, however, was attached and led onward by the prospect of a higher rank to be attained, while the intellectually gifted had an additional inducement in the assurance that they did not require to submit themselves to any authority, but would be led to God by pure reason. Thus adapted from the first to individual requirements, this religion also showed itself able to appropriate from time to time foreign elements. Originally furnished from fragments of various religions, it could increase or diminish this possession without rupturing its own elastic framework. And, after all, great adaptability is just as necessary for a universal religion as a divine founder in whom the highest revelation of God may be seen and reverenced. Manichaeism indeed, though it applies the title “redeemer” to Mani, has really no knowledge of a redeemer, but only of a physical and gnostic process of redemption; on the other hand, it possesses in Mani the supreme prophet of God. If we consider in conclusion that Manichaeism gave a simple, apparently profound, and yet convenient solution of the problem of good and evil, a problem that had become peculiarly oppressive to the human race in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, we shall have named the most important factors which account for the rapid spread of the system.
Sketch of the History of Manichaeism.—Manichaeism first gained a firm footing in the East, i.e. in Persia, Mesopotamia and Transoxiana. The persecutions it had to endure did not hinder its extension. The seat of the Manichaean pope was for centuries in Babylon, at a later period in Samarkand. Even after the conquests of Islam the Manichaean Church continued to maintain itself, indeed it seems to have become still more widely diffused by the victorious campaigns of the Mahommedans, and it frequently gained secret adherents among the latter themselves. Its doctrine and discipline underwent little change in the East; in particular, it drew no nearer to the Christian religion. More than once, however, Manichaeism experienced attempts at reformation; for of course the auditores very easily became worldly in character, and movements of reformation led temporarily to divisions and the formation of sects. Towards the close of the 10th century, at the time the Fihirst was written, the Manichaeans in Mesopotamia and Persia had already been in large measure ousted from the towns, and had withdrawn to the villages. But in Turkestan, and as far as the Chinese frontier, there existed numerous Manichaean communities and even whole tribes that had adopted the name of Mani. Probably it was the great migrations of the Mongolian race that first put an end to Manichaeism in Central Asia. But even in the 15th century there were Manichaeans living beside the Thomas-Christians on the coast of Malabar in India (see Germann, Die Thomas-Christen, 1875). Manichaeism first penetrated the Greek-Roman Empire about the year 280, in the time of the emperor Probus (see the Chronicon of Eusebius). If we may take the edict of Diocletian against the Manichaeans as genuine, the system must have gained a firm footing in the West by the beginning of the 4th century, but we know that as late as about the year 325 Eusebius had not any accurate knowledge of the sect. It was only subsequent to about 330 that Manichaeism spread rapidly in the Roman Empire. Its adherents were recruited on the one hand from the old gnostic sects (especially from the Marcionites—Manichaeism exerted besides this a strong influence on the development of the Marcionite churches of the 4th century), on the other hand from the large number of the “cultured,” who were striving after a “rational” and yet in some manner Christian religion. Its polemics and its criticism of the Catholic Church now became the strong side of Manichaeism, especially in the West. It admitted the stumbling-blocks which the Old Testament offers to every intelligent reader, and gave itself out as a Christianity without the Old Testament. Instead of the subtle Catholic theories concerning divine predestination and human freedom, and instead of a difficult theodicaea, it offered an exceedingly simple conception of sin and goodness. The doctrine of the incarnation of God, which was especially objectionable to those who were going over to the new universal religion from the old cults, was not proclaimed by Manichaeism. In its rejection of this doctrine Manichaeism agreed with Neo-Platonism; but, while the latter, notwithstanding all its attempts to conform itself to Christianity, could find no formula by which to inaugurate within its own limits the special veneration of Christ, the Western Manichaeans succeeded in giving their teaching a Christian tinge. The only part of the Manichaean mythology that became popular was the crude, physical dualism. The barbaric elements were judiciously screened from view as a “mystery”; they were, indeed, here and there explicitly disavowed even by the initiated. The farther Manichaeism advanced into the West the more Christian and philosophic did it become. In Syria it maintained itself in comparative purity. In North Africa it found its most numerous adherents, gaining secret support even among the clergy. Augustine was an auditor for nine years, while Faustus was at that time the most esteemed Manichaean teacher in the West. Augustine in his later writings against the Manichaeans deals chiefly with the following problems: (1) the relation between knowledge and faith, and between reason and authority; (2) the nature of good and evil, and the origin of the latter; (3) the existence of free will, and its relation to the divine omnipotence; (4) the relation of the evil in the world to the divine government.
The Christian Byzantine and Roman emperors, from Valens onwards, enacted strict laws against the Manichaeans. But at first these bore little fruit. The auditores were difficult to trace out, and besides they really gave little occasion for persecution. In Rome itself between 370 and 440 Manichaeism gained a large amount of support, especially among the scholars and public teachers. It also made its way into the life of the people by means of a popular literature in which the apostles were made to play a prominent part (Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles). Manichaeism in the West had also some experience of attempts at reformation from the ascetic side, but of these we know little. In Rome Leo the Great was the first who took energetic measures, along with the state authorities, against the system. Valentinian III. decreed banishment against its adherents, Justinian the punishment of death. In North Africa Manichaeism appears to have been extinguished by the persecution of the Vandals. But it still continued to exist elsewhere, both in the Byzantine Empire and in the West, and in the earlier part of the middle ages it gave an impulse to the formation of new sects, which remained related to it. And if it has not been quite proved that so early as the 4th century the Priscillianists of Spain were influenced by Manichaeism, it is at least undoubted that the Paulicians and Bogomiles, as well as the Catharists and the Albigenses, are to be traced back to Manichaeism (and Marcionitism). Thus the system, not indeed of Mani the Persian, but of Manichaeism as modified by Christian influences, accompanied the Catholic Church until the 13th century.
Sources.—(a) Oriental. Among the sources for a history of Manichaeism the most important are the Oriental. Of these the Mahommedan, though of comparatively late date, are distinguished by the excellent manner in which they have been transmitted to us, as well as by their impartiality. They must be named first, because ancient Manichaean writings have been used in their construction. At the head of all stands En-Nedīm, Fihrist (c. 980), ed. by Flügel (1871–1872); cf. the latter’s work Mani, seine Lehre u. seine Schriften (1862). See also Shahrastānī, Kitab al-milal wan-nuḥal (12th cent.), ed. by Cureton (1846) and translated into German by Haarbrücker (1851), and individual notes and excerpts by Tabarī (10th cent.), Al-Bīrūnī (11th cent.), and other Arabian and Persian historians. Next come the Turfan fragments described in the body of this article. See also W. Brandt, Schriften aus der Genza oder Sidvā Rabba (Göttingen, 1893).
Of the Christian Orientals those that afford most information are Ephraem Syrus (d. 373), in various writings; the Armenian Esnik (German translation by J. M. Schmid, Vienna, 1900, see also Zeitsch. f. hist. Theol., 1840, ii.; Langlois, Collection, ii. 375 seq.), who wrote in the 5th century against Marcion and Mani; and the Alexandrian patriarch Eutychius (d. 916), Annales, ed. Pococke (1628). There are, besides, scattered pieces of information in Aphraates (4th cent.), Barhebraeus (13th cent.) and others. The newly found Syriac Book of Scholia of Theodor bar Khouni (see Pognon, Les Coupes de Kouabir, Paris, 1898) gives many details about Mani’s teaching (also ed. without translation by Dr M. Lewin, Berlin, 1905).
(b) Greek and Latin. The earliest mention of the Manichaeans in the Graeco-Roman Empire is to be found in an edict of Diocletian (see Hänel, Cod. Gregor., tit. xv.), which is held by some to be spurious, while others assign it to one or other of the years 287, 290, 296, 308 (so Mason, The Persec. of Diocl., pp. 275 seq.). Eusebius gives a short account of the sect (H. E., vii. 31). It was the Acta Archelai, however, that became the principal source on the subject of Manichaeism for Greek and Roman writers. These Acta are not indeed what they give themselves out for, viz. an account of a disputation held between Mani and the bishop Archelaus of Cascar, in Mesopotamia; but they nevertheless contain much that is trustworthy, especially regarding the doctrine of Mani, and they also include Manichaean documents. They consist of various distinct pieces, and originated in the beginning of the 4th century, probably at Edessa. They were translated as early as the first half of the same century from the Syriac (as is maintained by Jerome, De vir. illust., 72; though this is doubted by modern scholars) into Greek, and soon afterwards into Latin. It is only this secondary Latin version that we possess (ed. by C. H. Beeson; Leipzig, 1906, under title Hegemonius acta Archelai); earlier editions, Zacagni (1698); Routh, Reliquiae sac., vol. v. (1848); translated in Clark’s Ante-Nicene Library, vol. xx.; small fragments of the Greek version have been preserved. Regarding the Acta Archelai, see Zittwitz in Zeitschr. f. d. histor. Theol. (1873) and Oblasinski, Acta disp. Arch. el Manetis (1874). In the form in which we now possess them, they are a compilation after the pattern of the Clementine Homilies, and have been subjected to manifold redactions. These Acta were used by Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. 6), Epiphanius (Haer. 66), and a great number of other writers. All the Greek and Latin heresiologists have included the Manichaeans in their catalogues; but they seldom adduce any independent information regarding them (see Theodoret, Haer. fab. i. 26). Important matter is to be found in the resolutions of the councils from the 4th century onwards (see Mansi, Acta concil., and Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vols. i.-iii.), and also in the controversial writings of Titus of Bostra (6th century), Πρὸς Μανιχαίους (ed. Lagarde, 1859), and of Alexander of Lycopolis Λόγος πρὸς τὰς Μανιχαίου δόξας (ed. Combefis; transl. in Ante-Nic. Lib., vol. xiv.). Of the Byzantines, the most worthy of mention are John of Damascus (De haeres. and Dialog.) and Photius (cod. 179 Biblioth.). The struggle with the Paulicians and the Bogomiles, who were often simply identified with the Manichaeans, again directed attention to the latter. In the West the works of Augustine are the great repertory for information on the subject of Manichaeism (Contra epistolam Manichaei, quam vocant fundamenti; Contra Faustum Manichaeum; Contra Fortunatum; Contra Adimantum; Contra Secundinum; De actis cum Felice Manichaeo; De genesi c. Manichaeos; De natura boni; De duabus animabus; De utilitate credendi; De moribus eccl. cathol. et de moribus Manichaeorum; De haeres.). The more complete the picture, however, which may here be obtained of Manichaeism, the more cautious must we be in making generalizations from it, for it is beyond doubt that Western Manichaeism adopted Christian elements which are wanting in the original and in the Oriental Manichaeism. The “Dispute of Paul the Persian with a Manichaean” in Migne P.G., 88, col. 529–578 (first ed. by A. Mai) is shown by G. Mercati, Studi e testi (Rome, 1901) to be the procès verbal of an actual discussion held under Justinian at Constantinople in 527.
Literature.—The most important works on Manichaeism are Beausobre, Hist. critique de Manichée et du Manichéisme (2 vols., 1734 seq.; the Christian elements in Manichaeism are here strongly, indeed too strongly, emphasized); Baur, Das manich. Religionssystem (1831; in this work Manichaean speculation is exhibited from a speculative standpoint); Flügel, Mani (1862; a very careful investigation on the basis of the Fihrist); Kessler, Untersuchung zur Genesis des manich. Religionssystems (1876); and the article “Mani, Manichäer,” by the same writer in Herzog-Hauck’s R.E., xii. 193–228; Kessler, Mani (2 vols., Berlin, 1889, 1903); Ernest Rochat, Essai sur Mani et sa doctrine (Geneva, 1897); Recherches sur le manichéisme: I. La cosmogonie manichéisme d’après Théodore Bar Khôui, by Franz Cumont (Brussels, 1908); II. Fragments syriaques d’ouvrages manichéens, by Kugener and F. Cumont. III. Les Formules grecques d’abjuration imposées aux manichéens, by F. Cumont. The accounts of Mosheim, Lardner, Walch and Schröckh, as well as the monograph by Trechsel, Ueber Kanon, Kritik und Exegese der Manichäer (1832), may also be mentioned as still useful. The various researches which have been made regarding Parsism, the ancient Semitic religions, Gnosticism, &c., are of the greatest importance for the investigation of Manichaeism. (A. Ha.; F. C. C.)
- A βιβλίον ἐπιστολῶν is spoken of in the formula of abjuration, and an Epistola ad virginem Menoch by Augustine. Fabricius has collected the “Greek Fragments of Manichaean Epistles” in his Bibliotheca Graeca (vii. 311 seq.).
- The Canticum amatorium is cited by Augustine.
- Zittwitz assumes that this epistle was in its original form of much larger extent, and that the author of the Acts took out of it the matter for the speeches which he makes Mani deliver during his disputation with Bishop Archelaus. The same scholar traces back the account by Turbo in the Acts, and the historical data given in the fourth section, to the writings of Turbo, a Mesopotamian, who is assumed to have been a Manichaean renegade and a Christian. But as to this difference of opinion is at least allowable.
- Analogous to this is the veneration in which the Catholic monks and the Neoplatonic “philosophers” were held; but the prestige of the Manichaean electi was greater than that of the monks and the philosophers.