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:
- 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.