Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXI.—The Perversive Heresy of the Manicheans which began at this Time.
1. At this time, the madman, 2433 named from his demoniacal heresy, armed himself in the perversion of his reason, as the devil, Satan, p. 317 who himself fights against God, put him forward to the destruction of many. He was a barbarian in life, both in word and deed; and in his nature demoniacal and insane. In consequence of this he sought to pose as Christ, and being puffed up in his madness, he proclaimed himself the Paraclete and the very Holy Spirit; 2434 and afterwards, like Christ, he chose twelve disciples as partners of his new doctrine.
2. And he patched together false and godless doctrines collected from a multitude of long-extinct impieties, and swept them, like a deadly poison, from Persia to our part of the world. From him the impious name of the Manicheans is still prevalent among many. Such was the foundation of this “knowledge falsely so-called,” 2435 which sprang up in those times.
The name Manes, or Mani, is not of Greek, but of Persian or Semitic origin. It has not yet been satisfactorily explained. The Greek form is Μ€νης or Μανιχαῖος; the Latin form, Manes or Manichæus. In this place Eusebius instead of giving him his true name makes a play upon it, calling him ὁ μανεὶς τὰς φρένας, “the madman.” This does not imply that Eusebius supposed his name was originally Greek. He perhaps—as others of the Fathers did—regarded it as a sign of divine providence that the Persian name chosen by himself (Mani was not his original name) should when reproduced in Greek bear such a significant meaning. See Stroths note on this passage.
Eusebius brief account is the first authentic description we have of Manes and Manichæism. It is difficult to get at the exact truth in regard to the life of Manes himself. We have it reported in two conflicting forms, an Oriental and an Occidental. The former, however,—though our sources for it are much later than for the latter—is undoubtedly the more reliable of the two. The differences between the two accounts cannot be discussed here. We know that Mani was a well-educated Persian philosopher of the third century (according to Kessler, 205–276 a.d.; according to the Oriental source used by Beausobre, about 240–276), who attempted to supersede Zoroastrianism, the old religion of Persia, by a syncretistic system made up of elements taken from Parsism, Buddhism, and Christianity. He was at first well received by the Persian king, Sapor I., but aroused the hatred of the Magian priests, and was compelled to flee from the country. Returning after some time, he gained a large following, but was put to death by King Varanes I, about 276 a.d. His sect spread rapidly throughout Christendom, and in spite of repeated persecutions flourished for many centuries. The mysteriousness of its doctrine, its compact organization, its apparent solution of the terrible problem of evil, and its show of ascetic holiness combined to make it very attractive to thoughtful minds, as, e.g. to Augustine. The fundamental principle of the system is a radical dualism between good and evil, light and darkness. This dualism runs through its morals as well as through its theology, and the result is a rigid asceticism. Christianity furnished some ideas, but its influence is chiefly seen in the organization of the sect, which had apostles, bishops, presbyters, deacons, and traveling missionaries. Manichæism cannot be called a heresy,—it was rather an independent religion as Mohammedanism was. The system cannot be further discussed here. The chief works upon the subject are Beausobres Hist. Crit. de Manichée et du Manichéisme, Amst. 1734 and 1739, 2 vols.; Baurs Das Manichäische Religionssystem, Tüb. 1831; Flügels Mani, Seine Lehre und seine Schriften, aus den Fihrist des Abî Jakub an-Nadûn, Leipzig, 1882; and two works by Kessler (Leipzig, 1876 and 1882). See also the discussions of the system in the various Church histories, and especially the respective articles by Stokes and Kessler in Smith and Waces Dict. of Christ. Biog. and in Herzog.317:2434
Beausobre maintains that Mani did not pretend to be the Paraclete, but merely a man, the messenger of the Paraclete. The Fathers generally, however agree with Eusebius in asserting that his claims were of the very highest sort. The point cannot be satisfactorily settled.317:2435
See 1 Tim. vi. 20.
Next: Chapter XXXII
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