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MANICHAEISM

“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