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The last great rival religion to Christianity was Manichaeanism, the last
of the important syncretistic religions which drew from Persian and allied
sources. Its connection with Christianity was at first slight and its
affinities were with Eastern Gnosticism. After 280 it began to spread
within the Empire, and was soon opposed by the Roman authorities. Yet it
flourished, and, like other Gnostic religions, with which it is to be
classed, it assimilated more and more of Christianity, until in the time
of Augustine it seemed to many as merely a form of Christianity. On
account of its general character, it absorbed for the most part what
remained of the earlier Gnostic systems and schools.

Additional source material: The most important accessible works
are the so-called Acta Archelai (ANF, V, 175-235), the
anti-Manichaean writings of Augustine (PNF, ser. I, vol. IV), and
Alexander of Lycopolis, On the Manichaeans (ANF, VI, 239). On
Alexander of Lycopolis, see DCB. In the opinion of Bardenhewer,
Alexander was probably neither a bishop nor a Christian at all,
but a heathen and a Platonist. Roman edict against Manichaeanism in
Kirch, n. 294.

An Nadim, Fihrist. (Translation after Kessler, Mani, 1889.)

The Fihrist, i.e., Catalogue, is a sort of history of
literature made in the eleventh century by the Moslem historian An
Nadim. In spite of its late date, it is the most important
authority for the original doctrines of Mani and the facts of his
life, as it is largely made up from citations from ancient authors
and writings of Mani and his original disciples.

(a) The Life of Mani.

Mohammed ibn Isak says: Mani was the son of Fatak,(84) of the family of
the Chaskanier. Ecbatana is said to have been the original home of his
father, from which he emigrated to the province of Babylon. He took up his
residence in Al Madain, in a portion of the city known as Ctesiphon. In
that place was an idol's temple, and Fatak was accustomed to go into it,
as did also the other people of the place. It happened one day that a
voice sounded forth from the sacred interior of the temple, saying to him:
"Fatak, eat no flesh, drink no wine and refrain from carnal intercourse."
This was repeated to him several times on three days. When Fatak perceived
this, he joined a society of people in the neighborhood of Dastumaisan
which were known under the name of Al-Mogtasilah, i.e., those who wash
themselves, baptists, and of whom remnants are to be found in these parts
and in the marshy districts at the present time. These belonged to that
mode of life which Fatak had been commanded to follow. His wife was at
that time pregnant with Mani, and when she had given him birth she had, as
they say, glorious visions regarding him, and even when she was awake she
saw him taken by some one unseen, who bore him aloft into the air, and
then brought him down again; sometimes he remained even a day or two
before he came down again. Thereupon his father sent for him and had him
brought to the place where he was, and so he was brought up with him in
his religion. Mani, in spite of his youthful age, spake words of wisdom.
After he had completed his twelfth year there came to him, according to
his statement, a revelation from the King of the Paradise of Light, who is
God the Exalted, as he said. The angel which brought him the revelation
was called Eltawan; this name means "the Companion." He spoke to Mani, and
said: "Separate thyself from this sort of faith, for thou belongest not
among its adherents, and it is obligatory upon you to practise continence
and to forsake the fleshly desires, yet on account of thy youth the time
has not come for thee to take up thy public work." But when he was
twenty-four years old, Eltawan appeared to him and said: "Hail, Mani, from
me and from the Lord who has sent me to thee and has chosen thee to be his
prophet. He commands thee now to proclaim thy truth and on my announcement
to proclaim the truth which is from him and to throw thyself into this
calling with all thy zeal."

The Manichaeans say: He first openly entered upon his work on the day when
Sapor, the son of Ardaschir, entered upon his reign, and placed the crown
upon his head; and this was Sunday, the first day of Nisan (March 20,
241), when the sun stood in the sign Aries. He was accompanied by two men,
who had already attached themselves to his religion; one was called
Simeon, the other Zakwa; besides these, his father accompanied him, to see
how his affairs would turn out.

Mani said he was the Paraclete, whom Jesus, of blessed memory,(85) had
previously announced. Mani took the elements of his doctrine from the
religion of the Magi and Christianity. Before he met Sapor Mani had spent
about forty years in foreign lands.(86) Afterward he converted Peroz, the
brother of Sapor, and Peroz procured him an audience with his brother
Sapor. The Manichaeans relate: He thereupon entered where he was and on his
shoulders were shining, as it were, two candles. When Sapor perceived him,
he was filled with reverence for him, and he appeared great in his eyes;
although he previously had determined to seize him and put him to death.
After he had met him, therefore, the fear of him filled him, he rejoiced
over him and asked him why he had come and promised to become his
disciple. Mani requested of him a number of things, among them that his
followers might be unmolested in the capital and in the other territories
of the Persian Empire, and that they might extend themselves whither they
wished in the provinces. Sapor granted him all he asked.

Mani had already preached in India, China, and among the inhabitants of
Turkestan, and in every land he left behind him disciples.(87)

(b) The Teaching of Mani.

The following extract from the same work gives but the beginning
of an extended statement of Mani's teaching. But it is hoped that
enough is given to show the mythological character of his
speculation. The bulk of his doctrine was Persian and late
Babylonian, and the Christian element was very slight. It is clear
from the writings of St. Augustine that the doctrine changed much
in later years in the West.

The doctrine of Mani, especially his dogmas of the Eternal, to whom be
praise and glory, of the creation of the world and the contest between
Light and Darkness: Mani put at the beginning of the world two eternal
principles. Of these one is Light, the other Darkness. They are separated
from each other. As to the Light, this is the First, the Mighty One, and
the Infinite. He is the Deity, the King of the Paradise of Light. He has
five members or attributes, namely, gentleness, wisdom, understanding,
discretion, and insight; and further five members or attributes, namely,
love, faith, truth, bravery, and wisdom. He asserts that God was from all
eternity with these attributes. Together with the Light-God there are two
other things from eternity, the air and the earth.

Mani teaches further: The members of the air, or the Light-Ether, are
five: gentleness, wisdom, understanding, discretion, and insight. The
members of the Light-Earth are the soft gentle breath, the wind, the
light, the water, and the fire. As to the other Original Being, the
Darkness, its members are also five: the vapor, the burning heat, the
fiery wind, the poison, and the darkness.

This bright shining Primal Being was in immediate proximity with the dark
Primal Being, so that no wall of partition was between them and the Light
touched the Darkness on its broad side. The Light is unlimited in its
height, and also to the right hand and to the left; the Darkness, however,
is unlimited in its depth, and also to the right hand and to the left.

From this Dark-Earth rose Satan, not so that he himself was without
beginning, although his parts were in their elements without beginning.
These parts joined themselves together from the elements and formed
themselves into Satan. His head was like that of a lion, his trunk like
that of a dragon, his wings as those of a bird, his tail like that of a
great fish, and his four feet like the feet of creeping things. When this
Satan had been formed from the Darkness--his name is the First Devil--then
he began to devour and to swallow up and to ruin, to move about to the
right and to the left, and to get down into the deep, so that he
continually brought ruin and destruction to every one who attempted to
overmaster him. Next he hastened up on high and perceived the rays of
light, but felt an aversion to them. Then when he saw how these rays by
reciprocal influence and contact were increased in brilliancy, he became
afraid and crept together into himself, member by member, and withdrew for
union and strengthening back to his original constituent parts. Now once
more he hastened back into the height, and the Light-Earth noticed the
action of Satan and his purpose to seize and to attack and to destroy. But
when she perceived this thereupon the world aeon of Insight perceived it,
then the aeon of Wisdom, the aeon of Discretion, the aeon of the
Understanding, and then the aeon of Gentleness. Thereupon the King of the
Paradise of Light perceived it and reflected on means to gain the mastery
over him. His armies were indeed mighty enough to overcome him; he had the
wish, however, to accomplish this himself. Therefore he begat with the
spirit of his right hand, with the five aeons, and with his twelve elements
a creature, and that was the Primal Man, and him he sent to the conquest
of Darkness.(88)

Next: The Last Great Persecution

Previous: The Beginnings Of Monasticism

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