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Manichaeism

MANICHAEISM.

Manichaeism is a now-extinct religious system characterized by dualism, asceticism, and an acute sense of worldwide mission. It originated in the teaching of Mani (216277 c.e.), a Parthian raised in Mesopotamia in an Aramaic-speaking Jewish-Christian community known as the Elchasaites. He experienced visions in his youth that made him aware of a pantheistic presence in the world that he felt called upon to help liberate from its suffering. He broke with the Elchasaites (c. 240 c.e.), visited India, and upon his return to Mesopotamia formed his own religious community. He proselytized throughout the Persian Empire, and sent his disciples further afield to India, central Asia, and the Roman Empire. By the time of his death as a prisoner of the Persian king, Mani had succeeded in establishing a well-organized institutional structure that spread and preserved his teachings for a thousand years, despite nearly constant persecution.

Manichaeism arose in a highly cosmopolitan culture, in full awareness of antecedent west Asian religions such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and various pagan and Gnostic sects, as well as the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist traditions of South Asia. According to Manichaean teaching, Mani was the last of a series of divinely inspired prophets that included Zoroaster, the Buddha, and Jesus Christ. These divine messengers were sent periodically to particular regions of the earth to reform the true message from the corruption of time, an idea found also in Islam and the Baha'i faith. Mani brought the latest restatement of truth, and took the novel precaution of committing it to writing himself, rather than trusting his disciples to hand it down correctly. The rich Manichaean literary and artistic tradition is now reduced to fragments discovered in the twentieth century in China and Egypt, precariously supplemented for the modern researcher by polemical accounts from the religion's enemies.

Doctrine

Manichaean doctrine is premised on a material and ethical dualism. The known cosmos is a mixture of two antithetical realms of being, originally separate and eternally incompatible. The realm of light is a wholly good, harmonious universe in which God, the father of greatness, dwells with innumerable light beings, which are one with him in substance and character. The realm of darkness is a wholly evil, chaotic universe dominated by a king of darkness and his female counterpart. At the beginning of time, the realm of darkness perceives and covets the realm of light and attacks it, unaware of the harm that contact with it will bring to itself. The prescient father of greatness fends off this aggression by putting forth a series of emanations to act out a strategy of containment and ultimate reseparation of light and darkness. In the primordial battle, one of these emanations enters into mixture with darkness, constraining it and forestalling a breach of the boundaries of the realm of light. This mythological background explains the evident condition of the known cosmos, in which everything is a mixture of conflicted substances and forces, engaged in a perpetual struggle for mastery. The point of Manichaean instruction is learning to identify oneself with the forces of light and goodness and striving for their ultimate reseparation from entanglement with darkness and evil.

Manichaeism is closer to Zoroastrian dualism than to Gnostic or Platonic varieties in that it avoids a spirit-matter dichotomy. Both light and darkness have material as well as spiritual properties, and even the most subtle forces are usually treated in materialistic terms. Manichaeism also shares with Zoroastrianism an activist mythology and ethic, rejecting the notion of a sinful "fall" of the soul in favor of the idea of a voluntaristic "leap" of the soul in the service of God's purposes. In other details, Manichaeism has greater affinity to Indian thinking, for example in seeing souls not only in human beings, but in all living things, even in rocks and dirt. For the Manichaeans, the soul is a collective entity, a consubstantial emanation of the deity, broken up into individuals only temporarily through mixture with evil. Humans are only one small part of a universal process of struggle and liberation of the world soul. This world soul carries with it all positive properties, such as life, growth, beauty, and brightness, whereas evil contributes to the mixture only death, decay, ugliness, and gloom. Whereas for Zoroastrians the goal is to expel evil from this world, the Manichaeans see this world as unperfectable, a temporary scene of conflict and suffering from which ultimate escape is envisioned. In this respect, Manichaeism has a common outlook with Buddhism and Jainism, as well as the more eschatological and ascetic strains of Christianity.

Based on these ideas, Manichaean practice entailed a rigorous behavioral code, designed to avoid harming the world soul in all things as much as possible, as well as ritual practices intended to aid the process of its liberation. Outbursts of anger, impatience, stupidity, greed, hatred, and violence attest to the mixture of evil with good in the human body. The evil elements must be identified for what they are, repented, resisted, and ultimately overcome by the Manichaean. Due to a number of adventitious factors, individuals have different capacities for this task, and consequently the community is divided into two grades. The first, that of the elect, was made up of those men and women willing and able to take on the most vigorous form of self-discipline, involving celibacy, poverty, and a wandering life preaching the faith. These had the ability to transmute material elements within their bodies, freeing soul fragments from the food brought to them, as well as the potential to achieve liberation at death. Those unable to adopt this life were called auditors, who remained engaged in hearth and home, but supported the elect while striving for advancement in the faith through moral growth and a better rebirth.

Later History

In the seventh century c.e., both the rise of Islam and the arrival of Manichaeism in China brought the religion into contact with new spiritual ideologies. Islam and Manichaeism had little in common doctrinally apart from minor elements of their shared west Asian heritage, which also contributed their common ritual patterns of prayer and fasting. Yet more speculative forms of Sufism and Shiism within Islam certainly drew on Manichaeism for ideas about the soul's affinity to God and transmigration. In China, Manichaean missionaries were able to draw upon, and perhaps help foster, developments within popular religion akin to Manichaean concepts. In Taoism, these included dualistic categorization of the cosmos and physiological alchemy, while in Buddhism they involved the ideas of a Pure Land (a realm of light and harmony as a goal of liberation from this world) and of Buddha Nature (an inherently pure nature in all things).

Manichaeism enjoyed a renaissance in west Asia under the tolerant Umayyad regime (661750 c.e.), while the conversion and sponsorship of the Uygur Empire and its successor states in central Asia (c. 7601100 c.e.) afforded secure conditions there, as well as within China, over which the Uygurs exerted strong political influence for a time. Such respites were short-lived. When public existence became untenable, Manichaeans found it convenient to take on the guise of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Taoists, while maintaining their distinct doctrines and practices in secret. The suspicion of secret Manichaeans within these other religions probably far exceeded their actual number, duration, or influence. But it is possible that lingering traces of Manichaean ideas and practices in popular religion contributed to sectarian developments within Christianity, such as the Cathars of Italy and France and the Bogomils of the Balkans, as well as within Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism. Nevertheless, the institutional structures and distinct identity of Manichaeism gradually eroded under relentless persecution, until the last remnant communities dissolved in southern China sometime in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries.

See also Asceticism ; Christianity ; Dualism ; Evil ; Good ; Heresy and Apostasy ; Jainism .

bibliography

BeDuhn, Jason David. The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Gardner, Iain, ed. The Kephalaia of the Teacher: The Edited Coptic Manichaean Texts in Translation with Commentary. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1995.

Koenen, Ludwig, and Cornelia Römer. Der Kölner Mani-Kodex: Über das Werden seines Leibes. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher, 1988.

Lieu, Samuel N. C. Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China. 2nd ed. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1992.

Ries, Julien. Les études manichéennes: Des controverses de la Réforme aux découvertes du XXième siècle. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Centre d'histoire des religions, 1988.

Sundermann, Werner. Der Sermon von der Seele (Berliner Turfantexte XIX). Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1997.

Jason David BeDuhn

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Manichaeism

Manichaeism (măn´ĬkēĬzəm) or Manichaeanism (mănĬkē´ənĬzəm), religion founded by Mani (c.216–c.276).

Mani's Life

Mani (called Manes by the Greeks and Romans) was born near Baghdad, probably of Persian parents; his father may have been a member of the Mandaeans. After wandering for several years as a meditative ascetic he came forward (c.240) as the inspired prophet of a new religion. He went to Bactria in NW India, where he came in contact with Buddhism.

He returned to Persia after the coronation (241) of Shapur I, who was tolerant of new religious movements; at the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon he began preaching (c.242) the doctrine that was to become Manichaeism, a great synthesis of elements from Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, other Persian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as from the teachings of Marcion. Rejecting all of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament, Mani claimed Buddha, Zoroaster, Hermes, and Plato as his predecessors. He always called himself "Mani, Apostle of Jesus Christ" and held that he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus.

During the long reign of Shapur I (d. 272), Mani was free to travel about the realm making converts. However, the accession of Bahram I brought a reaction against the Manichaeans (or Manichees) from orthodox Zoroastrian religious circles, and, after 272, Mani and his followers met with increasing persecution. He died while imprisoned (c.276) in SW Persia.

The Religion

Due to Mani's organizational abilities, the simplicity of his dualistic theology, and his incorporation of elements from other religions, Manichaeism spread rapidly, and it was soon disseminated throughout the Roman Empire and into China.

Beliefs

Basic to the religion's doctrine was the conflicting dualism between the realm of God, represented by light and by spiritual enlightenment, and the realm of Satan, symbolized by darkness and by the world of material things. To account for the existence of evil in a world created by God, Mani posited a primal struggle in which the forces of Satan separated from God; humanity, composed of matter, that which belongs to Satan, but infused with a modicum of godly light, was a product of this struggle, and was a paradigm of the eternal war between the forces of light and those of darkness. Christ, the ideal, light-clad soul, could redeem for each person that portion of light God had allotted. Light and dark were seen to be commingled in our present age as good and evil, but in the last days each would return to its proper, separate realm, as they were in the beginning. The Christian notion of the Fall and of personal sin was repugnant to the Manichees; they felt that the soul suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter. Evil was a physical, not a moral, thing; a person's misfortunes were miseries, not sins.

Classes of Followers

Mani's followers were divided into two classes: the elect, or perfect, were assured of immediate felicity after death because of the resource of light they had acquired through strict celibacy, austerity, teaching, and preaching; and the auditors, or hearers, the laity who administered to the elect, and who could marry. Believing in metempsychosis (see transmigration of souls), the auditors hoped to be reborn as elect. All other were sinners, doomed to hell.

Decline

Several Christian emperors, including Justinian, published edicts against the Manichees. St. Augustine, in his youth a Manichee, describes in his Confessions his conversion to Christianity. Little is heard of the Manichees in the West after the 6th cent., but their doctrines reappear in the medieval heresies of the Cathari, Albigenses, and Bogomils. It was the practice in the Middle Ages to call by the name of Manichaeism any dualist Christian heresy. The young religion of Islam was also challenged by the Manichean sect in Africa and Asia. The sect survived in the East, notably in Chinese Turkistan (Xinjiang), until about the 13th cent.

Bibliography

The prime sources for the study of Manichaeism are the so-called Turfan (Turpan) texts, named after the Dunhuang region where they were found in 1904–5. These include fragments of Mani's long-lost bible and portions of Manichaean literature written in Pahlavi, Saghdian, Old Turkish, and Chinese. Other sources are a collection of documents found in Egypt in 1933 and refutations of Manichaeism by Christian, Islamic, and Zoroastrian polemicists. See also F. C. Burkitt, The Religion of the Manichees (1925); A. V. W. Jackson, Researches in Manichaeism (1932, repr. 1965); S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichees (1947, repr. 1961); S. N. C. Lien, The Religion of Light (1979) and Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China (1985).

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Manichaeism

Manichaeism. Religion founded by Mani in 3rd-cent. Iran and later very widely established.

Mani was born in 216 near Seleucia-Ktesiphon, the Iranian capital. At the age of 12 he had his first vision of his heavenly twin (identified later with the Paraclete), who instructed him. Thereafter he disputed with the community, and after a second vision, calling him to be an ‘apostle’, he separated from them, with his father and two disciples, sometime after the age of 25. Mani's later life is not well known. After preaching in India he returned to Iran c.242 where his patron was the new Sassanid ruler Shapur I. His religion prospered until the accession of Bahram I (274–7), who at the instigation of Kartir imprisoned and executed him in 276.

Although suppressed in Persia, Manichaeism spread west and east. In central Asia it had more lasting success, even being made the state religion of the Turkish Uigur Empire in 762. It also reached China in 694 where, known as the ‘religion of light’, it seems to have persisted, in spite of official opposition at various periods, almost down to modern times.

Mani's teaching was fundamentally gnostic and dualistic, positing an opposition between God and matter. There was an elaborate cosmological myth: this included the defeat of a primal man by the powers of darkness, who devoured and thus imprisoned particles of light. The cosmic process of salvation goes on as the light is delivered back to its original state. Saving knowledge of this process comes through ‘apostles of light’, among whom Mani, a self-conscious syncretist, included various biblical figures, Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus. He himself was the final one.

The Manichaean ‘church’ was divided into the ‘elect’ (or ‘righteous’) and ‘auditors’ (‘hearers’). The burden of Manichaean ethics, to do nothing to impede the reassembly of particles of light, was on the elect. Obviously the elect, not even able to harvest their own vegetables, could only survive with the support of the auditors. These could apparently lead quite unrestricted lives. The calendar contained one major festival, the Bema feast on the anniversary of Mani's ‘passion’. Fasting was enjoined on two days each week, plus a whole month before the Bema feast.

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Manichaeism

Manichaeism Religious teaching of the Persian prophet Mani (c.216–c.276) based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. The Manichaean sect, influenced by Zoroastrianism and Christianity, spread rapidly to Egypt and Rome, where it was considered a Christian heresy, and eastward to Chinese Turkestan, where it survived probably until the 13th century.

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Manichaeism

Manichaeism a dualistic religious system with Christian, Gnostic, and pagan elements, founded in Persia in the 3rd century by Manes (c.216–c.276). The system was based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It spread widely in the Roman Empire and in Asia, and survived in Chinese Turkestan until the 13th century.

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