Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Writings in Connection with the Manichæan Controversy.: Chapter III
Chapter III.—The Manichæan System.
Earlier writers on Manichæism have, for the most part, made the Acta Disp. Archelai et Manetis and the anti-Manichæan writings of Augustin the basis of their representations. For later Manichæism in the West, Augustin is beyond question the highest authority, and the various polemical treatises which he put forth exhibit the system under almost every imaginable aspect. The "Acts of the Disputation of Archelaus and Manes," while it certainly rests upon a somewhat extensive and accurative knowledge of early Manichæism, is partially discredited by its generally admitted spuriousness—spuriousness in the sense that it is not a genuine record of a real debate. It is highly probable that debates of this kind occurred between Mani and various Christian leaders in the East, and so Mani may at one time or other have given utterance to most of the statements that are attributed to him in this writing; or these statements may have been derived, for substance, from his numerous treatises, and have been artfully adapted to the purposes of the writer of the "Acts." It is certain that most of the representations are correct. But we can no longer rely upon it as an authentic first-hand authority. Since Flügel published the treatise from the Fihrist entitled "The Doctrines of the Manichæans, by Muhammad ben Ishâk," with a German translation and learned annotations, it has been admitted that this treatise must be made the basis for all future representations of Manichæism. Kessler, while he has had access to many other Oriental documents bearing upon the subject, agrees with Flügel in giving the first place to this writing. On this exposition of the doctrines of the Manichæans, therefore, as expounded by Flügel and Kessler, we must chiefly rely. The highly poetical mythological form which Mani gave to his speculations renders it exceedingly difficult to p. 10 arrive at assured results with reference to fundamental principles. If we attempt to state in a plain matter-of-fact way just what Mani taught we are in constant danger of misrepresenting him. In fact one of the favorite methods employed against Manis doctrines by the writer of the "Acts of the Disputation," etc., as well as by Augustin and others, was to reduce Manis poetical fancies to plain language and thus to show their absurdity. The considerations which have led experts like Flügel and Kessler to put so high an estimate upon this document, and the discussions as to the original language in which the sources of the document were written, are beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say, that so far as we are able to form a judgment on the matter, the reasons for ascribing antiquity and authenticity to the representation of Manichæism contained in the document are decisive.
1. Manis Life. According to the Fihrist, Manis father, a Persian by race, resided at Coche on the Tigris, about forty miles north of Babylon. Afterwards he removed into Babylonia and settled at Modein, where he frequented an idol-temple like the rest of the people. He next became associated with a party named Mugtasila (Baptizers), probably identical with or closely related to the Mandæans and Sabeans, both of which parties made much of ceremonial bathings. Mani, who was born after the removal to Babylonia, is related to have been the recipient of angelic visitations at the age of twelve. Even at this time he was forewarned that he must leave the religion of his father at the age of twenty-four. At the appointed time the angel At-Taum appeared again and announced to him his mission. "Hail, Mani, from me and the Lord, who has sent me to thee and chosen thee for his mission. But he commands thee to invite men to thy doctrine and to proclaim the glad tidings of truth that comes from him, and to bestow thereon all thy zeal." Mani entered upon his work, according to Flügels careful computation, April 1, 238, or, according to calculations based on another statement, in 252. Mani maintained that he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus. He is said, in this document, to have derived his teaching from the Magi and the Christians, and the characters in which he wrote his books, from the Syriac and the Persian. After travelling in many lands for forty years and disseminating his doctrines in India, China, and Turkestan, he succeeded in impressing his views upon Fîrûz, brother of King Sapor, who had intended to put him to death. Sapor became warmly attached to Mani and granted toleration to his followers. Afterwards, according to some accounts, Mani was imprisoned by Sapor and liberated by his successor Hormizd. He is said to have been crucified by order of King Bahraîm I. (276-7), and his skin stuffed with straw is said to have been suspended at the city gate. Eusebius (H. E. VII. 31) describes Mani as "a barbarian in life, both in speech and conduct, who attempted to form himself into a Christ, and then also proclaimed himself to be the very Paraclete and the Holy Spirit. Then, as if he had been Christ, he selected twelve disciples, the partners of his new religion, and after patching together false and ungodly doctrines collected from a thousand heresies long since extinct, he swept them off like a deadly poison from Persia, upon this part of the world." The account given in the Acta Archel (written probably about 330-40), is far more detailed than that of the Fihrist and differs widely therefrom. It contains much that is highly improbable. Mani is represented as having for his predecessors one Scythianus, an Egyptian heretic of Apostolic times, and Terebinthus, who went with him to Palestine and after the death of Scythianus removed to Babylonia. The writings of Terebinthus or Scythianus came into the possession of a certain widow, who purchased Mani when seven years of age (then named Cubricus) and made him heir of her property and books. He changed his name to Mani (Manes), and, having become imbued with the teachings of the books, began at about sixty years of age to promulgate their teachings, choosing three disciples, Thomas, Addas and Hermas, to whom he entrusted the writings mentioned above, along with some of his own. Up to this time he knew little of Christianity, but having been imprisoned by the king p. 11 for failure in a promised cure of the kings son, he studied the Christian Scriptures and derived therefrom the idea of the Paraclete, which he henceforth applied to himself. After his escape the famous dialogue with Archelaus and that with Diodorus occurred. Returning to Arabion he was arrested, carried to Persia, flayed alive, and his skin stuffed and suspended as above. Some additional facts from an Oriental source used by Beausobre have more or less verisimilitude. According to this, Mani was born of Magian parents about 240 A.D. He became skilled in music, mathematics, geography, astronomy, painting, medicine, and in the Scriptures. The account of his ascendancy over Sapor and his subsequent martyrdom is substantially the same as that of the Fihrist. Albîrunîs work (see bibliography preceding) confirms the account given by the Fihrist. The conversion of Sapor to Manichæism (in A.D. 261) is said to be confirmed by Sassanian inscriptions (see Journal of Asiat. Soc. 1868 p. 310-41, and ibid. p. 376, and 1871 p. 416).
The Fihrists account contains a long list of the works of Mani, which is supplemented by other Oriental and Western notices. The list is interesting as showing the wide range of Manis literary activity, or at least of the literature that was afterwards connected with his name.
2. Manis System. As the life of Mani has been the subject of diversified and contradictory representations, so also have his doctrines. Here, too, we must make the account given by the Fihrist fundamental. It will be convenient to treat the subject under the following heads: Theology, Cosmogony, Anthropology, Soteriology, Cultus, Eschatology, and Ethics.
(1.) Theology. Mani taught dualism in the most unqualified sense. Zoroastrianism is commonly characterized as dualistic, yet it is so in no such sense as is Manichæism. According to the Fihrist, "Mani teaches: Two subsistences form the beginning of the world, the one light the other darkness; the two are separated from each other. The light is the first most glorious being, limited by no number, God himself, the King of the Paradise of Light. He has five members: meekness, knowledge, understanding, mystery, insight; and five other spiritual members: love, faith, truth, nobleness, and wisdom. He maintained furthermore that the God of light, with these his attributes, is without beginning, but with him two equally eternal things likewise exist, the one the atmosphere, the other the earth. Mani adds: and the members of the atmosphere are five [the first series of divine attributes mentioned above are enumerated]; and the members of the earth are five [the second series]. The other being is the darkness, and his members are five: cloud, burning, hot wind, poison, and darkness. Mani teaches: that the light subsistence borders immediately on the dark subsistence, without a dividing wall between them; the light touches with its (lowest) side the darkness, while upwards to the right and left it is unbounded. Even so the darkness is endless downwards and to the right and left."
This represents Manis view of the eternally existent status quo, before the conflict began, and the endless state after the conflict ceases. What does Mani mean, when he enumerates two series of five attributes each as members of God, and straightway postulates the co-eternity of atmosphere and earth and divides these self-same attributes between the latter? Doubtless Manis theology was fundamentally pantheistic, i.e., pantheistic within the limits of each member of the dualism. The God of Light himself is apparently conceived of as transcending thought. Atmosphere and Earth (not the atmosphere and earth that we know, but ideal atmosphere and earth) are the æons derived immediately from the Ineffable One and coëternal with him. The ten attributes are æons which all belong primarily to the Supreme Being and secondarily to the two great æons, half to each. The question may arise, and has been often discussed, whether Mani meant to identify God (the Prince of Light) with the Kingdom of Light? His language, in this treatise, is wavering. He seems to struggle against such a representation, yet without complete success.p. 12
What do the other sources teach with reference to the absoluteness of the dualism and with reference to the identification of the Prince of Light with the Kingdom of Light? According to the Acts of the Disputation of Archelaus and Manes, 6 Manes "worships two deities, unoriginated, self-existent, eternal, opposed the one to the other. Of them he represents the one as good, and the other as evil, and assigned the name of Light to the former, and that of Darkness to the latter." Again, Manes is represented as saying: "I hold that there are two natures, one good and another evil; and that the one which is good dwells in a certain part proper to it, but that the evil one is this world as well as all things in it, which are placed there like objects imprisoned in the portion of the wicked one" (1 John 5.19). According to Alexander of Lycopolis, 7 "Mani laid down two principles, God and matter (Hyle). God he called good, and matter he affirmed to be evil. But God excelled more in good than matter in evil." Alexander goes on to show how Mani used the word Hyle, comparing the Manichæan with the Platonic teaching. Statements of substantially the same purport might be multiplied. As regards the identification of God (the King of Light) with the Kingdom of Light, and of Satan (the King of Darkness) with the Kingdom of Darkness, the sensuous poetical way in which Mani expressed his doctrines may leave us in doubt. The probability is, however, that he did pantheistically identify each element of the dualism with his Kingdom. He personifies the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness, and peoples these Kingdoms with fanciful beings, which are to be regarded as personified attributes of the principles of darkness and light.
A word on the Manichæan conception of matter or Hyle may not be out of place in this connection. It would seem that the Manichæans practically identified Hyle or matter with the Kingdom of Darkness. At any rate Hyle is unoriginated and belongs wholly to this Kingdom.
(2.) Cosmogony. So much for the Manichæan idea of the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness before the great conflict that resulted in the present order of things. Why did not they remain separate? Let us learn from the Fihrists narrative: "Mani teaches further: Out of this dark earth [the Kingdom of Darkness] arose Satan, not that he was in himself eternal from the beginning, yet were his substances in his elements unoriginated. These substances now united themselves out of his elements and went forth as Satan, his head as the head of a lion, his body as the body of a dragon, his wings as the wings of a bird, his tail as the tail of a great fish, and his four feet as the feet of creeping animals. When this Satan under the name Iblis, the (temporally considered) eternal (primeval), had arisen out of the darkness, he devoured and consumed everything, spread destruction right and left, and plunged into the deep, in all these movements bringing down from above desolation and annihilation. Then he strove for the height, and descried the beams of light; but they were opposed to him. When he saw later how exalted these were, he was terrified, shrivelled up, and merged himself in his elements. Hereupon he strove anew with such violence after the height, that the land of light descried the doings of Satan and how he was bent upon murder and destruction. After they had been apprised thereof, the world of Insight learned of it, then the world of Knowledge, then the world of Mystery, then the world of Understanding, then the world of Meekness. When at last, he further teaches, the King of the Paradise of Light had also learned of it, he thought how he might suppress Satan, and, Mani adds, those hosts of his would have been mighty enough to overpower Satan. Yet he desired to do this by means of his own might. Accordingly, he produced by means of the spirit of his right hand [i.e., the Gentle Breeze], his five worlds, and his twelve elements, a creature, and this is the (temporally considered) Eternal Man p. 13 [Primordial Man], and summoned him to do battle with the Darkness. But Primordial Man, Mani adds, armed himself with the five races [natures], and these are the five gods, the Gentle Breeze, the Wind, the Light, the Water and the Fire. Of them he made his armor, and the first that he put on was the Gentle Breeze. He then covered the Gentle Breeze with the burning Light as with a mantle. He drew over the Light Water filled with atoms, and covered himself with the blowing Wind. Hereupon he took the Fire as a shield and as a lance in his hand, and precipitated himself suddenly out of Paradise until he reached the border of the region that is contiguous to the battle-field. The Primordial Devil also took his five races [natures]: Smoke, Burning, Darkness, Hot Wind and Cloud; armed himself with them; made of them a shield for himself; and went to meet Primordial Man. After they had fought for a long time the Primordial Devil vanquished the Primordial Man, devoured some of his light, and surrounded him at the same time with his races and elements. Then the King of the Paradise of Light sent other gods, freed him, and vanquished the Darkness. But he who was sent by the King of Light to rescue Primordial Man is called the Friend of the Light. This one made a precipitate descent, and Primordial Man was freed from the hellish substances, along with that which he had snatched from the spirit of Darkness and which had adhered to him. When, therefore, Mani proceeds, Joyfulness and the Spirit of Life drew near to the border, they looked down into the abyss of this deep hell and saw Primordial Man and the angels [i.e., the races or natures with which he was armed], how Iblis, the Proud Oppressors, and the Dark Life surrounded them. And the Spirit of Life, says Mani, called Primordial Man with a loud voice as quick as lightning and Primordial Man became another god. When the Primordial Devil had ensnared Primordial Man in the battle, Mani further teaches, the five parts of the Light were mingled with the five parts of the Darkness."
Let us see if we can get at the meaning of this great cosmological poem as far as we have gone. The thing to be accounted for is the mixture of good and evil. The complete separation of the eternally existent Kingdoms of Light and Darkness has been posited. How now are we to account for the mixture of light and darkness, of good and evil, in the present order of things? Mani would account for it by supposing that a conflict had occurred between an insufficiently equipped representative of the King of Light and the fully equipped ruler of the Kingdom of Darkness. His view of the vastly superior power of the King of Light would not allow him to suppose that the King of Light fully equipped had personally contended with the King of Darkness, and suffered the loss and contamination of his elements. Yet he only clumsily obviates this difficulty; for Primordial Man is produced and equipped by the King of Light for the very purpose of combating the King of Darkness, and Mani saves the King of Light from personal contamination only by impugning his judgment.
We have now reached the point where, as a result of the conflict, good and evil are blended. We must beware of supposing that Mani meant to ascribe any kind of materiality to the members of the Kingdom of Light. The Kingdom of Light, on the contrary, he regarded as purely spiritual; the Kingdom of Darkness as material. We have now the conditions for the creation of the present order of things, including man. How does Mani picture the process and the results of this mixing of the elements?
"The smoke (or vapor) was mingled with the gentle breeze (zephyr), and the present atmosphere resulted. So that whatever of agreeableness and power to quicken the soul and animal life is found in it [resultant air], is from the zephyr, and whatever of destructiveness and noisomeness is found in it, proceeds from the smoke. The burning was mingled with the fire; therefore whatever of conflagration, destruction and ruin is found, is from the burning, but whatever of brightness and illumination is in it [the resultant fire], springs p. 14 from the fire. The light mingled itself with the darkness; therefore in dense bodies as gold, silver and the like, whatever of brightness, beauty, purity and other useful qualities occurs, is from the light, and whatever of tarnish, impurity, density and hardness occurs, springs from the darkness. The hot wind was mingled with the wind; whatever now is useful and agreeable in this [resultant wind] springs from the wind, and whatever of uneasiness, hurtfulness and deleterious property is found in it [resultant wind] is from the hot wind. Finally, the mist was mingled with the water, so that what is found in this [resultant water] of clearness, sweetness, and soul-satisfying property, is from the water; whatever, on the contrary, of overwhelming, suffocating, and destroying power, of heaviness, and corruption, is found in it, springs from the mist."
But we must from this point abbreviate the somewhat prolix account. Primordial Man, after the blending of the elements, ascended on high accompanied by "one of the angels of this intermingling;" in other words, snatching away a part of the imprisoned elements of the Kingdom of Light.
The next step is the creation of the present world, which Mani ascribes to the King of the World of Light, the object being to provide for the escape of the imprisoned elements of Light. Through an angel he constructed ten heavens and eight earths, an angel being appointed to hold heavens and earths in their places. A description of the stairways, doors, and halls of the heavens is given in the Fihrists narrative. The stairways lead to the "height of heaven." The air was used as a medium for connecting heaven and earth. A pit was formed to be the receptacle of darkness from which the light should be liberated. The sun and the moon were created to be the receptacles of the light that should be liberated from the darkness, the sun for light that has been mingled with "hot devils," the moon for that which had been mingled with "cold devils." The moon is represented as collecting light during the first half-month, and during the second pouring it into the sun. When the sun and moon have liberated all the light they are able, there will be a fire kindled on the earth which will burn for 1468 years, when there will be no light left. The King of Darkness and his hosts will thereupon withdraw into the pit prepared for them.
(3.) Anthropology. So much for the liberation of the imprisoned light, which, according to Mani, was the sole object of creation. As yet we have heard nothing of the creation of living creatures. What place do man, the lower animals, and plants sustain in the Manichæan economy? We are to keep constantly in mind that Primordial Man was not Adam, but a divine æon, and that he ascended into the heights immediately after the blending of parts of his armor with darkness. The creation of earthly man was an altogether different affair. We must give the account of mans creation in Manis own words, as preserved by the Fihrist: "Hereupon one of those Arch-fiends and [one] of the Stars, and Overmastering Violence, Avarice, Lust, and Sin, copulated, and from their copulation sprang the first man, who is Adam, two Arch-fiends, a male and a female, directing the process. A second copulation followed and from this sprang the beautiful woman who is Eve."
Man, therefore, unlike the world, is the creature of demons, the aim of the demons being to imprison in man, through the propagation of the race, as much as possible of the light, and so to hinder the separating process by the sun and the moon. Avarice is represented as having secretly seized some of the divine light and imprisoned it in man. The part played by the Star in the production of man is somewhat obscure in the narrative, yet the Star could hardly have been regarded as wholly evil. Probably the Star was thought of as a detached portion of the light that had not entered into the sun or the moon. "When, therefore, the five Angels saw what had taken place, they besought the Messenger of Joyful Knowledge, the Mother of Life, Primordial Man and the Spirit of Life, to send some one to liberate and save man, to reveal to him knowledge and righteousness, and to free p. 15 him from the power of the devils. They sent, accordingly, Jesus, whom a god accompanied. These seized the two Arch-fiends, imprisoned them and freed the two creatures (Adam and Eve.)"
Jesus warned Adam of Eves violent importunity, and Adam obeyed his injunction not to go near her. One of the Arch-fiends, however, begat with her a son named Cain, who in turn begat Abel of his mother, and afterwards two maidens Worldly wise and Daughter-of-Avarice. Cain took the first to wife and gave the other to Abel. An angel having begotten of Worldly-wise two beautiful daughters (Raufarjâd and Barfarjâd), Abel accused Cain of the act. Cain enraged by the false accusation slew Abel and took Worldly-wise to wife. So far Adam had kept himself pure, but Eve was instructed by a demon in the art of enchanting, and she was enabled to excite his lust and to entrap him. By Adam she bore a beautiful son, whom the demon urged Eve to destroy. Adam stole the child away and brought it up on cows milk and fruit. This son was named Seth (Schatil). Adam once more yielded to Eves fascinations, but through Seths exhortations was induced to flee "eastward to the light and the wisdom of God." Adam, Seth, Raufarjâd, Barfarjâd, and Worldly-wise died and went to Paradise; while Eve, Cain, and Daughter-of-Avarice went into Hell. This fantastic perversion of the Biblical narrative of the creation and fall of man has many parallels in Rabbinic literature, and doubtless Mani first became acquainted with the narrative in a corrupted form. The teaching, however, of this mythologizing evidently is that the indulgence of the flesh and the begetting of children furnish the chief obstacle to the separation of light from darkness. Adam is represented as striving to escape from the allurements of Eve, but Eve is aided by demonic craft in overcoming him. Yet Adam does not become enslaved to lust, and so at last is saved. Eve, lustful from the beginning, is lost along with those of like disposition.
(4.) Soteriology. Such was, apparently, Manis conception of the creation of man, and of the attempts to liberate the light that was in him. What were his practical teachings to men of his time as to the means of escape from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light? What view did Mani take of the historical Jesus? The Jesus who warned Adam against the seductions of Eve was evidently not the Jesus of the New Testament. According to the narrative of the Fihrist, Mani "maintained that Jesus is a devil." Such a statement occurs nowhere else, so far as we are aware, in the literature of Manichæism. The sources, however, are unanimous in ascribing to Mani a completely docetical view of the person of Christ. In using this blasphemous language, he probably referred to the representations of Jesus as God manifest in the flesh, which he regarded as Jewish and abominable. The New Testament narratives Mani [or at least his followers] regarded as interpolated in the interest of Judaism. Later Manichæans, under the influence of Marcionism (and orthodoxy) gave to Jesus a far more prominent place in the economy of mans salvation than did Mani himself.
How then is man to be saved according to Mani? It is by rigorous asceticism, and by the practice of certain ceremonial observances. Mani does not rise above the plane of ordinary heathenism in his plan of salvation. "It is incumbent upon him who will enter into the religion that he prove himself, and that if he sees that he is able to subdue lust and avarice, to leave off the eating of all kinds of flesh, the drinking of wine, and connubial intercourse, and to withhold himself from what is injurious in water, fire, magic and hypocrisy, he may enter into the religion; but if not let him abstain from entering. But if he loves religion, yet is not able to repress sensuality and avarice, yet he may make himself serviceable for the maintenance of religion and of the Truthful [i.e. the Elect], and may meet (offset) his corrupt deeds through the use of opportunities where he wholly gives himself up to activity, righteousness, zealous watchfulness, prayer and pious humiliation; for this sufp. 16 fices him in this transitory world and in the future eternal world, and his form in the last day will be the second form, of which, God willing, we shall treat further below."
The doctrine of indulgences of which the germs appeared in the Catholic church even before the time of Mani, is here seen fully developed. What the Greek and Latin sources call the Elect or Perfect and the Hearers, are undoubtedly indicated here by those who are able to devote themselves to rigidly ascetical living, and those who, without such qualifications, are willing to exert themselves fully on behalf of the cause. These latter evidently become partakers of the merits of those who carry out the ascetical regulations. That this is primitive Manichæan doctrine is abundantly proved by the general agreement of ancient writers of all classes. It is noteworthy that nothing Christian appears among the conditions of Manichæan discipleship. It is not faith in Christ, but the ability to follow a particular kind of outward life that confers standing in the Manichæan society.
(5.) Cultus. Let us next look at the precepts of Mani to the initiated: "Mani imposed upon his disciples commandments, namely, ten commandments, and to these are attached three seals, and fasts of seven days in each month. The commandments are: Faith in the four most glorious essences: God, his Light, his Power, and his Wisdom. But God, whose name is glorious, is the King of the Paradise of Light; his Light is the sun and the moon, his Power the five angels: Gentle Breeze, Wind, Light, Water and Fire; and his Wisdom the Sacred Religion. This embraces five ideas: that of teachers, the sons of Meekness; that of those enlightened by the Sun, sons of Knowledge; that of the presbyters, sons of Reason; that of the Truthful, sons of Mystery; that of Hearers, sons of Insight. The ten commandments are: Abandoning of prayer to idols, of lies, avarice, murder, adultery, theft, of the teaching of jugglery and magic, of duplicity of mind, which betrays doubt on religion, of drowsiness and inertness in business; and the commandment of four or seven prayers. In prayer one is to stand upright, rub himself with flowing water or with something else, and turn while standing to the great light (the Sun), then prostrate himself and in this position pray: Blessed be our Leader, the Paraclete, the Ambassador of the Light, blessed be his angels, the Guardians, and highly praised be his resplendent hosts.… In the second prostration let him say: Thou highly praised, O thou enlightening one, Mani, our Leader, thou root of enlightenment, stem of honorableness, thou great tree who art altogether the means of salvation. In the third prostration let him say: I fall down and praise with pure heart and upright tongue the great God, the Father of Light, and their element, highly praised, Blessed One, thou and thy whole glory and thy blessed world, which thou hast called into being. For he praises thee who praises thy Host, thy Righteous Ones, thy Word, thy Glory, and thy Good Pleasure, because thou art the God who is wholly truth, life and righteousness. In the fourth prostration let him say: I praise and fall down before all the gods, all the enlightening angels, before all Light and all Hosts, who are from the great God. In the fifth prostration let him say: I fall down and praise the great Host and the enlightening Gods, who with their wisdom assail the Darkness, drive it out and triumph over it. In the sixth prostration let him say: I fall down and praise the Father of Glory, the Exalted One, the Enlightening One, who has come forth from the two sciences (see note in Flügel p. 310), and so on to the twelfth prostration. * * The first prayer is accomplished at mid-day, the second between this hour and sunset; then follows the prayer at eventide, after sunset, and hereupon the prayer in the first quarter of the night, three hours after sunset.
"As regards fasting, when the sun is in Sagittarius, and the moon has its full light, fasting is to take place for two days without interruption, also when the new moon begins to appear; likewise when the moon first becomes visible again after the sun has entered into the sign of Capricorn; then when the new moon begins to appear, the sun stands in Aquarius p. 17 and from the moon eight days have flowed, a fast of thirty days occurs, broken, however, daily at sunset. The common Manichæans celebrate Sunday, the consecrated ones (the Elect) Monday."
Here we have a somewhat detailed account of the cultus of the early Manichæans. The forms of invocation do not differ materially from those of the Zoroastrians, of the early Indians, of the Babylonians, and of the Egyptians. There is not the slightest evidence of Christian influence. The times of worship and of fasting are determined by the sun and the moon, and practically these are the principal objects of worship. It is certain that Mani himself was regarded by his followers as the most perfect revealer of God that had ever appeared among men, and, according to this account, he taught his followers to worship him. We cannot fail to see in this Manichæan cult the old Oriental pantheism modified by a dualism, of which the most fully developed form was the Persian, but which, as we have seen, was by no means confined to Zoroastrianism.
(6.) Eschatology. We must conclude our exposition of the doctrines of the Manichæans by quoting from the Fihrist Manis teachings on eschatology.
"When death approaches a Truthful One (Elect), teaches Mani, Primordial Man sends a Light-God in the form of a guiding Wise One, and with him three gods, and along with these the water-vessel, clothing, head-gear, crown, and garland of light. With them comes the maiden, like the soul of this Truthful One. There appears to him also the devil of avarice and lust, along with other devils. As soon as the Truthful Man sees these he calls the goddess who has assumed the form of the Wise One and the three other gods to his help, and they draw near him. As soon as the devils are aware of their presence they turn and flee. The former, however, take this Truthful One, clothe him with the crown, the garland and the robe, put the water-vessel in his hand and mount with him upon the pillars of promise to the sphere of the moon, to Primordial Man, and to Nahnaha, the Mother of the Living, to the position in which he was at first in the Paradise of Light. But his body remains lying as before in order that the sun, the moon, and the gods of Light may withdraw from it the powers, i.e., the water, the fire and the gentle breeze, and he rises to the sun and becomes a god. But the rest of his body, which is wholly darkness, is cast into hell."
In the case of Manichæans of the lower order, described above, the same divine personages appear at his summons. "They free him also from devils, but he ceases not to be like a man in the world, who in his dreams sees frightful forms and sinks into filth and mire. In this condition he remains, until his light and his spirit are liberated and he has attained to the place of union with the Truthful, and after a long period of wandering to and fro puts on their garments."
To the sinful man, on the other hand, the divine personages appear, not to free him from the devils that are tormenting him, but rather to "overwhelm him with reproaches, to remind him of his deeds, and strikingly to convince him that he has renounced help for himself, from the side of the Truthful. Then wanders he round about in the world, unceasingly chased by torments, until this order of things ceases, and along with the world he is cast into hell."
There is nothing original about the eschatology of Mani, and scarcely anything Christian. We see in it a fully developed doctrine of purgatory, somewhat like the Platonic, and still more like that of the later Catholic church. Salvation consists simply in the liberation of the light from the darkness. In the case of the Elect this takes place immediately after death; in the case of adherents who have not practiced the prescribed forms of asceticism, it takes place only after considerable torment. In the case of the ordinary sensual man, there is no deliverance. Doubtless Mani would have held that in his case, too, p. 18 whatever particles of light may have been involved in his animal structure are liberated from the dead body.
(7.) Ethics. As regards ceremonies we find little that enlightens us in the Fihrists account. Water (that is, water apart from the deleterious elements that have become blended with it) was regarded by Mani as one of the divine elements. The ablutions in running water mentioned above in connection with the prayers may have sustained some relation to baptism, but can hardly be ascribed to Christian influence. The connection of the Manichæans with the Mandæans, who made much of ceremonial bathing, will be considered below. It is certain that Manis father was connected with a baptizing party, viz., the Mugtasilah. According to the Fihrist Mani was the author of an Epistle on Baptism. The question whether Mani and his followers practised water-baptism or not is by no means an easy one to solve. The passage cited by Giesseler from Augustin to prove that the "Elect" were initiated by baptism is inconclusive. Augustin acknowledges that God and the Manichæans themselves alone know what takes place in the secret meetings of the "Elect." Whatever ceremonies they performed, whether baptism or the Lords supper, or some other, were matters of profound secrecy, and so we need not wonder at the lack of definite information. From a passage quoted by Augustin in his report of a discussion with Felix the Manichæan, we should certainly infer that both ordinances were practised in some form by the Manichæans of the West. But Augustin himself says that Manichæans deny the saving efficacy of baptism, maintain that it is superfluous, do not require it of those whom they win to their views, etc. It is certain, therefore, that if they practised baptism and the Lords supper at all, they attached to it a meaning radically different from that of Augustin. It is possible that a ceremonial anointing with oil took the place of baptism. (Baur, p. 277 sq.). Augustin mentions a disgusting ceremony in which human semen was partaken of by the Elect in order to deliver the imprisoned light contained therein (De Haeres. 46), and he calls this ceremony a sort of Eucharist. But his confessed ignorance of the doings of the "Elect" discredits in some measure this accusation.
The Fihrist gives us no definite information about the three signacula. The seals (not signs) of the mouth, the hand (or hands), and of the bosom. In these are contained symbolically the Manichæan moral system. In the book Sadder (Hyde, p. 492) we read: "It is taught [by the Manichæans] to abstain from every sin, to eliminate every sin from hand, and tongue and thought." Augustin explains the signacula more fully and represents the Manichæans as attaching great importance to them: "When I name the mouth, I mean all the senses that are in the head; when I name the hand I mean every operation; when I name the bosom I mean every seminal lust."
It is confidently believed that the foregoing account of the Manichæan system, based upon the Arabic narratives preserved by the Fihrist, supplemented by the principal Eastern and Western sources, contains the essential facts with reference to this strange system of religious thought. Our next task will to be to ascertain, as precisely as possible, the relations that Manichæism sustained to the various religious systems with which it has commonly been associated.
Ante-Nicene Library, Am. ed. vol. vi. pp. 182 and 188.12:7
Ibid. p. 241.
Next: Chapter IV
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at