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§ 136. The Manichaean System.


Manichaeism is a compound of dualistic, pantheistic, Gnostic, and ascetic elements, combined with a fantastic philosophy of nature, which gives the whole system a materialistic character, notwithstanding its ascetic abhorrence of matter. The metaphysical foundation is a radical dualism between good and evil, light and darkness, derived from the Persian Zoroastrism (as restored by the school of the Magasaeans under the reign of the second Sassanides towards the middle of the second century). The prominent ethical feature is a rigid asceticism which strongly resembles Buddhism.926926    Kessler (followed by Harnack) derives Manichaeism exclusively from Chaldaean sources, but must admit the strong affinity with Zoroastric and Buddhist ideas and customs. The Fihrist says that Mani derived his doctrine from Parsism and Christianity. On the Buddhistic element, see Baur, p. 433-44,).26 The Christian element is only a superficial varnish (as in Mohammedanism). The Jewish religion is excluded altogether (while in Mohammedanism it forms a very important feature), and the Old Testament is rejected, as inspired by the devil and his false prophets. The chief authorities were apocryphal Gospels and the writings of Mani.

1. The Manichaean theology begins with an irreconcilable antagonism between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. And this is identified with the ethical dualism between good and bad. These two kingdoms stood opposed to each other from eternity, remaining unmingled. Then Satan who with his demons was born from darkness, began to rage and made an assault upon the kingdom of light. From this incursion resulted the present world, which exhibits a mixture of the two elements detached portions of light imprisoned in darkness. Adam was created in the image of Satan, but with a strong spark of light, and was provided by Satan with Eve as his companion, who represents seductive sensuousness, but also with a spark of light, though smaller than that in Adam. Cain and Abel are sons of Satan and Eve, but Seth is the offspring of Adam by Eve, and full of light. Thus mankind came into existence with different shares of light, the men with more, the women with less. Every individual man is at once a son of light and of darkness, has a good soul, and a body substantially evil, with an evil soul corresponding to it. The redemption of the light from the bonds of the darkness is effected by Christ, who is identical with the sun spirit, and by the Holy Ghost, who has his seat in the ether. These two beings attract the lightforces out of the material world, while the prince of darkness, and the spirits imprisoned in the stars, seek to keep them back. The sun and moon are the two shining ships (lucidae naves) for conducting the imprisoned light into the eternal kingdom of light. The full moon represents the ship laden with light; the new moon, the vessel emptied of its cargo; and the twelve signs of the zodiac also serve as buckets in this pumping operation.

The Manichaean christology, like the Gnostic, is entirely docetic, and, by its perverted view of body and matter, wholly excludes the idea of an incarnation of God. The teachings of Christ were compiled and falsified by the apostles in the Spirit of Judaism. Mani, the promised Paraclete, has restored them. The goal of history is an entire separation of the light from the darkness; a tremendous conflagration consumes the world, and the kingdom of darkness sinks into impotence.

Thus Christianity is here resolved into a fantastic dualistic, and yet pantheistic philosophy of nature; moral regeneration is identified with a process of physical refinement; and the whole mystery of redemption is found in light, which was always worshipped in the East as the symbol of deity. Unquestionably there pervades the Manichaean system a kind of groaning of the creature for redemption, and a deep sympathy with nature, that hieroglyphic of spirit; but all is distorted and confused. The suffering Jesus on the cross (Jesus patibilis) is here a mere illusion, a symbol of the world-soul still enchained in matter, and is seen in every plant which works upwards from the dark bosom of the earth towards the light, towards bloom and fruit, yearning after freedom. Hence the class of the "perfect" would not kill nor wound a beast, pluck a flower, nor break a blade of grass. The system, instead of being, as it pretends, a liberation of light from darkness, is really a turning of light into darkness.

2. The morality of the Manichaeans was severely ascetic, based on the fundamental error of the intrinsic evil of matter and the body; the extreme opposite of the Pelagian view of the essential moral purity of human nature.927927    Schleiermacher correctly represents Manichaeism and Pelagianism as the two fundamental heresies in anthropology and soteriology the one makes man essentially evil (in body), and thus denies the possibility of redemption; the other makes man essentially good, and thus denies the necessity of redemption.27 The great moral aim is, to become entirely unworldly in the Buddhistic sense; to renounce and destroy corporeity; to set the good soul free from the fetters of matter. This is accomplished by the most rigid and gloomy abstinence from all those elements which have their source in the sphere of darkness. It was, however, only required of the elect, not of catechumens. A distinction was made between a higher and lower morality similar to that in the catholic church. The perfection of the elect consisted in a threefold seal or preservative (signaculum).928928    The meaning of signaculum is not criterion (as Baur explains, l. c. p. 248), but seal (as is clear from the corresponding Arabic hatâm in the Fihrist). See Kessler.28

(a) The signaculum oris, that is, purity in words and in diet, abstinence from all animal food and strong drink, even in the holy supper, and restriction to vegetable diet, which was furnished to the perfect by the "bearers," particularly olives, as their oil is the food of light.

(b) The signaculum manuum: renunciation of earthly property, and of material and industrial pursuits, even agriculture; with a sacred reverence for the divine light-life diffused through all nature.

(c) The signaculum sinus, or celibacy, and abstinence from any gratification of sensual desire. Marriage, or rather procreation, is a contamination with corporeity, which is essentially evil.

This unnatural holiness of the elect at the same time atoned for the unavoidable daily sins of the catechumens who paid them the greatest reverence. It was accompanied, however, as in the Gnostics, with an excessive pride of knowledge, and if we are to believe the catholic opponents, its fair show not rarely concealed refined forms of vice.

3. Organization. Manichaeism differed from all the Gnostic schools in having a fixed, and that a strictly hierarchical, organization. This accounts in large measure for its tenacity and endurance. At the head of the sect stood twelve apostles, or magistri, among whom Mani and his successors, like Peter and the pope, held the chief place. Under them were seventy-two bishops, answering to the seventy-two (strictly seventy) disciples of Jesus; and under these came presbyters, deacons and itinerant evangelists.929929    The organization of the Mormons is similar.29 In the congregation there were two distinct classes, designed to correspond to the catechumens and the faithful in the catholic church: the "hearers;"930930    Auditores, catechumeni, in Arabic sammaûn.30 and the "perfect," the esoteric, the priestly caste,931931    Electi, perfecti, catharistae, ἔκλεχτοι, τέλειοι, in the Fihrist siddîkûn. Faustus terms them the sacerdotale genus.31 which represents the last stage in the process of liberation of the spirit and its separation from the world, the transition from the kingdom of matter into the kingdom of light, or in Buddhistic terms, from the world of Sansara into Nirwana.

4. The worship of the Manichaeans was, on the whole, very simple. They had no sacrifices, but four daily prayers, preceded by ablations, and accompanied by prostrations, the worshipper turned towards the sun or moon as the seat of light. They observed Sunday, in honor of the sun, which was with them the same with the redeemer; but, contrary to the custom of the catholic Christians, they made it a day of fasting. They had weekly, monthly, and yearly fasts. They rejected the church festivals, but instead celebrated in March with great pomp the day of the martyrdom of their divinely appointed teacher, Mani.932932    The feast of "the chair,"βῆμα, cathedra. The Mormons likewise celebrate the martyrdom of their founder, Joseph Smith who was killed by the mob at Carthage, Illinois (June 27, 1844).32 The sacraments were mysteries of the elect, of which even Augustin could learn very little. Hence it has been disputed whether they used baptism or not, and whether they baptized by water, or oil. Probably they practised water baptism and anointing, and regarded the latter as a higher spiritual baptism, or distinguished both as baptism and confirmation in the catholic church.933933    Gieseler and Neander are disposed to deny the use of water-baptism by the Manichaeans, Beausobre, Thilo, Baur, and Kessler assert it. The passages in Augustin are obscure and conflicting. See Baur, l.c. p. 273-281. The older Gnostic sects (the Marcionites and the Valentinians), and the New Manichaeans practised a baptismal rite by water. Some new light is thrown on this disputed question by the complete Greek text of the Gnostic Acts of Thomas, recently published by Max Bonnet of Montpellier (Acta Thomae, Lips. 1883). Here both baptism and anointing are repeatedly mentioned, p. 19 (in a thanksgiving to Christ: καθαρίσας αὐτοὺς τῷ σῷ λουτρῷ καὶ ἀλείψας αὐτοὺς τῷ σῷ ἐλείῳ ἀπὸ τῆς περιεχούσης αυτοὺς πλάνης), 20, 35, 68, (where, however, the pouring of oil is mentioned before water-baptism), 73, 32 (ἀλείψας ... καὶ ἐβαπτισεν αὐτοὺς ... ἀνελθόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων λαβὼν ἄρτον καὶ ποτήριον εὐλόγησεν εἰπών...). Comp. The discussion of Lipsius in Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und Apostellegenden (Braunschweig, 1883), p. 331, where he asserts: "Die Wassertaufe stand bei den Manichaeern ebenso wie bei den meisten älteren gnostichen Secten un Uebung."33 They also celebrated a kind of holy supper, sometimes even under disguise in catholic churches, but without wine (because Christ had no blood), and regarding it perhaps, according to their pantheistic symbolism, as the commemoration of the light-soul crucified in all nature. Their sign of recognition was the extension of the right hand as symbol of common deliverance from the kingdom of darkness by the redeeming hand of the spirit of the sun.



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