|« Prev||Appendix on Manichæism||Next »|
APPENDIX ON MANICHÆISM.
Three great religious systems confronted each other in Western Asia and Southern Europe from the close of the third century: Neoplatonism, Catholicism and Manichæism. All three may be characterised as the final results of a history, lasting for more than a thousand years, of the religious development of the civilised peoples from Persia to Italy. In all three the old national and particular character of religions was laid aside; they were world-religions of the most universal tendency, and making demands which in their consequences transformed the whole of human life, public and private. For the national cultus they substituted a system which aspired to be theology, theory of the universe and science of history, and at the same time embraced a definite ethics, and a ritual of divine service. Formally, therefore, the three religions were alike, and they were also similar in that each had appropriated the elements of different older religions. Further, they showed their similarity in bringing to the front the ideas of revelation, redemption, ascetic virtue, and immortality. But Neoplatonism was natural religion spiritualised, the polytheism of Greece transfigured by Oriental influences and developed into pantheism. Catholicism was the monotheistic world-religion based on the O. T. and the Gospel, but constructed by the aid of Hellenic speculation and ethics. Manichæism was the dualistic world-religion resting on Chaldæism,627627See Brandt, Die mandäische Religion, 1889 (further, Wellhausen in the deutsch. Litt.-Ztg., 1890, No. 41). but interspersed with Christian, Parsi, and perhaps Buddhist thoughts. To Manichæism the Hellenic element was wanting, to Catholicism the Chaldee and Persian. These three world-religions 317developed in the course of two centuries (c. A.D. 50-250), Catholicism coming first and Manichæism last. Catholicism and Manichæism were superior to Neoplatonism for the very reason that the latter possessed no founder; it, therefore, developed no elemental force, and never lost the character of being an artificial creation. Attempts which were made to invent a founder for it naturally failed. But, even apart from the contents of its religion, Catholicism was superior to Manichæism, because its founder was venerated not merely as the bearer of revelation, but as the Redeemer in person and the Son of God. The fight waged by Catholicism with Neoplatonism had been already decided about the middle of the fourth century, although the latter continued to hold its ground in the Greek Empire for almost two centuries longer. As against Manichæism the Catholic Church was certain of victory from the beginning; for at the moment when Manichæism disputed its supremacy, it became the privileged State Church. But its opponent did not suffer itself to be annihilated; it lasted till far into the Middle Ages in East and West, though in various modifications and forms.
1. Mohammedan.—Among our sources for the history of Manichæism the Oriental are the most important; of these the Mohammedan, though comparatively late, are distinguished by the excellence of the tradition and their impartiality, and must be given the first place, since in them old Manichæan writings are employed, and we possess no other originals of this sort belonging to the third century, except a few short and rather unimportant fragments. At the head stands Abulfaragius, Fihrist (c. 980), see the edition by Flügel and the work of the latter: “Mani, seine Lehre und seine Schriften,” 1862; further, Shahrastâni , Kitâb al-milal wan-nuhal (12th century), see edition by Cureton and German translation by Haarbrücker, 1851; some notes and extracts in Tabari (10th century), al-Birunî (11th century), Ibn al-Murtada (see Kessler, Mani, I., p. 346 ff.), and other Arabian and Persian historians.
2. Christian.—Of Eastern Christians we learn most from 318Ephraem Syrus (+373) in various writings, and in a tractate on the subject edited by Overbeck; from Esnîk, the Armenian (see Zeitschr. f. d. hist. Theol., 1840, II.; Langlois, Collection, etc., II., p. 395 sq.), who wrote in the fifth century against Marcion and Mani; and from the Alexandrian Patriarch Eutychius (+916) who composed a chronicle (ed. by Pococke, 1628). Besides this, separate pieces of information occur in Aphraates (4th century), Barhebraeus (Arab. and Syr. 13th century) and others.
(b) Greek and Latin.
The earliest mention of the Manichæans in the Roman or Greek empire occurs in an edict of Diocletian (see Hänel, Cod. Gregor. tit. XV.), which is held by some not to be genuine, and by others is dated A.D. 287, 290, 296, or 308 (so Mason, The Persec. of Dioclet., p. 275 sq.). Eusebius gives a brief account (H. E. VII. 31). The main authority, however, for Greek and Roman writers was the Acta Archelai, which though not what they pretended to be, namely, an account of a disputation between Mani and Bishop Archelaus of Cascar in Mesopotamia, yet contain much that is reliable, esp as to the doctrine of Mani, and also embrace Manichæan fragments. The Acts, which for the rest consist of various documents, originated at the beginning of the fourth century (in Edessa?). Jerome maintains (De vir. inl.72) that they were originally composed in Syria (so also Kessler); but Nöldeke (Ztschr. d. deutsch. morgenl. Gesellsch. vol. 43, p. 537 ff.) and Rahlfs have disproved Kessler’s arguments (Gött. Gel. Anz., 1889, No. 23). They have made it very probable that the Acts, while they may have been based on Syrian sources, were originally written in Greek. They were soon afterwards translated into Latin. We only possess this version (Edited by Zacagni, 1698; Routh, Reliq. S. Vol. V., 1848); of the Greek version small fragments have been preserved (see on the Acta Archelai the discussions by Zittwitz in the Zeitschr. f. die histor. Theol., 1873, and the Dissertation by Oblasinski. Acta disp. Arch. et Manetis, 1874. In the form in which we now have them, they are a compilation largely edited on the pattern of the Clementine Homilies). The 319Acta were made use of by Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. VI.), Epiphanius (Hær. 66) and very many others. All Greek and Latin students of heresy have put the Manichæans in their catalogues; but they only rarely give any original information about them (see Theodoret Haer. fab. I. 26).
Important matter occurs in the decrees of Councils from the fourth century (see Mansi, Acta Concil., and Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, Vols. I.—III.), and in the controversial writings of Titus of Bostra (4th century, in Syriac after a MS. of A.D. 411) πρὸς Μανιχαίους (edit. by de Lagarde, 1859), and Alexander of Lycopolis, Λόγος πρὸς τὰς Μανιχαίου δόξας (edit. by Combefis.). Of Byzantines, John of Damascus (De hæres and Dial.) and Photius (cod. 179 Biblioth.) deserve special mention; see also the Manichæan form of oath in Tollii insignia itiner. ital. p. 126 sq., and in Cotelier, P. P. App. Opp. I. p. 543; further, Rahlfs, 1.c. The controversy with the Paulicians and Bogomilians, who were frequently identified with the Manichæans, renewed the interest in the latter. In the West the works of Augustine are the great repository for our knowledge of the Manichæans:—“Contra epistolam Manichæi, quam vocant fundamenti”, “Contra Faustum Manichæum”, “Contra Fortunatum”, “Contra Adimantum”, “Contra Secundinum”, “De actis cum Felice Manichæo”, “De genesi c. Manichæos”, “De natura boni”, “De duabus animabus”, “De utilitate credendi”, “De moribus eccl. Cathol. et de moribus Manichæorum”, “De vera religione”, “De hæres.” But the more complete the view of Manichæism to be obtained from these writings, the more cautious we must be in our generalisations; for the Manichæism of the West undoubtedly received Christian elements which were wanting in its original and oriental form.
Mani (Μάνης; Manes, Μανιχαῖος, Manichæus—the name has not yet been explained; it is not even known whether it is of Persian or Semitic origin) is said, as the Acta Archelai inform us, to have been originally called “Cubricus”. Nothing reliable was ever known as to his life in the Romano-Greek 320empire; for the account in the Acta Archelai is wholly biassed and untrustworthy. Even if criticism succeeded in pointing out the sources from which it was derived, in discovering the tendencies that were at work, and in thus sifting out portions that were tenable, yet it could only do so by depending on the comparatively trustworthy Oriental Mohammedan tradition. We must therefore examine the latter alone. According to it, Mani was a Persian of distinguished birth belonging to Mardin. The date of his birth is uncertain; Kessler holds the statement in Bîrunî to be reliable, that he was born in anno 527 of the era of the Babylonian astronomers, i.e., A.D. 215-216. He received a careful education from his father Fâtàk (Πατέκιος) at Ctesiphon. Since the father afterwards adhered to the confession of the “Moghtasilah”, the Baptists, in southern Babylonia, the son was also brought up in their religious doctrines and practices. The Baptists (see the Fihrist) were probably not unconnected with the Elkesaites and Hemerobaptists, and were in any case allied to the Mandæans. It is not improbable that this Babylonian sect had adopted Christian elements. The boy accordingly became early acquainted with very different forms of religion. If even a small proportion of the narratives about his father rest on truth—the greater number being certainly only Manichæan legends—he had already introduced his son into the religious medley, out of which the Manichæan system arose. Manichæan tradition tells us that Mani received revelations, and took up a critical attitude towards religious instruction, even when a boy. But it is all the less trustworthy, as it also relates that he was forbidden to ventilate publicly his new religious knowledge. It was only when he was from 25 to 30 years of age that he began to preach his new religion at the court of the Persian king, Sapores I.—on the day, it is stated, of the king’s coronation, A.D. 241-242. A Persian tradition says that he was previously a Christian presbyter, but this, in any case, is wrong. Mani did not remain long in Persia, but undertook long journeys for the purpose of spreading his religion, and he also sent out disciples. According to the Acta Archelai, his missionary activity extended into the West, into the territory of the Christian Church; but it is certain from Oriental 321sources that his work was rather carried on in Transoxania, Western China, and southwards into India. His labours met with success there as well as in Persia. Like Mohammed after him, and the founder of the Elkesaites before him, he proclaimed himself the last and greatest of the prophets, whose revelation of God surpassed all that had been given till then, the latter being allowed only a relative value. He instituted the absolute religion. In the last years of the reign of Sapores I. (c. A.D. 270) Mani returned to the Persian capital, and gained adherents even at the court. Naturally, however, the ruling priestly caste of the Magi, on whom the king was compelled to lean, were hostile to him, and after a few successes Mani was taken prisoner and driven into exile. The successor of Sapores, Hormuz (272-273), seems to have been favourable to him, but Bahrâm I. abandoned him to the fanaticism of the Magi, and had him crucified at the capital, A.D. 276-277. His dead body was skinned; and his adherents were dreadfully persecuted by Bahrâm.
Mani himself composed very many writings and epistles, of which a large proportion were still known to the Mohammedan historians, but which are now all lost. The later heads of the Manichæan Churches also wrote religious tractates, so that the ancient Manichæan literature must have been very extensive. According to the Fihrist, Mani made use of the Persian and Syriac languages; he invented, however, like the Oriental Marcionites before him, an alphabet of his own which the Fihrist has transmitted to us. In this alphabet the sacred works of the Manichæans were afterwards written. The Fihrist enumerates seven principal works by Mani, six in Syriac and one in Persian; as to some of them we possess statements also in Titus of Bostra, Epiphanius, Augustine, and Photius, as well as in the oath-formula and the Acta Archelai. We have (1) The Book of mysteries: see Acta Archelai; it contained discussions with the Christian sects which were spreading in the East, especially the Marcionites and Bardesanians, as well as with 322their conception of the Old and New Testaments. (2) The Book of Giants (demons? probably in connection with Gen. VI.). (3) The Book of Regulations for the hearers,—apparently identical with the “epistula fundamenti” of Augustine and the “Book of the Chapters” of Epiphanius and the Acta Archelai. It was the most extensively circulated and popular of Manichæan works, and was also translated into Greek and Latin-being a brief summary of the whole fundamentally authoritative doctrine. (4) The Book Schâhpûrakân. Flügel was unable to explain this title; according to Kessler, it means “Epistle to King Sapores”. This tractate contained eschatological teaching. (5) The Book of quickening. It is identified by Kessler with the “Thesaurus (vitæ)” of the Acta Archelai, Epiphanius, Photius, and Augustine; in that case it was also in use among the Latin Manichæans. (6) The Book πραγματεία—contents unknown. (7)—In the Persian language; a book whose title is not stated in the Fihrist, as we have it, but which is probably identical with the “Holy Gospel” of the Manichæans; see the Acta Archelai and many witnesses. This was the work set up by the Manichæans in opposition to the Gospels of the Church. Besides these main works, Mani wrote a great number of shorter tractates and letters. The epistolography was then established by his successors. These Manichæan treatises were also familiar in the Græco-Roman empire and existed in collections—see the βιβλίον ἐπιστολῶν in the oath-formula; and an “epistula ad virginem Menoch” in Augustine. Fabricius has collected the Greek fragments of Manichæan epistles in the Bibliotheca Græca VII. 2, p. 311 sq. There also existed a Manichæan Book of “memoirs” and one of “prayers” in the Greek language, as well as many others (e.g., the “Canticum Amatorium” cited by Augustine), all of which, however, were destroyed by Christian Bishops in alliance with the magistracy. A Manichæan Epistle to one Marcellus has been preserved to us in the Acta Archelai. Zittwitz supposes that this letter was much fuller in its original form, and that the author of the Acts has borrowed from it the material for the speeches which he makes Mani deliver in the discussion. The same scholar refers the account of Turbo in the Acts and their historical statements (in section 4) to the 323writing of a Turbo of Mesopotamia, a Manichæan renegade and Christian. But on this point it is at least possible to hold a different opinion.
Mani’s Doctrine. The Manichæan System.
Clearly as the main features of the Manichæan doctrine can be presented even at the present day, and certain as it is that Mani himself published a complete system, yet many details are uncertain, being differently described in different places, and it often remains doubtful what the original doctrinal view of the founder was.
The Manichæan system of religion was a consistent and uncompromising dualism, in the form of a fanciful view of nature. No distinction was drawn between the physical and ethical: in this respect the character of the system was thoroughly materialistic; for Mani’s identification of the good with light, and the bad with darkness, was not merely figurative. The light was really the only good, and darkness the only bad. Hence it followed, that religious knowledge could be nothing but the knowledge of nature and its elements, and that redemption consisted exclusively in a physical deliverance of the fractions of light from darkness. But under such circumstances, ethics became a doctrine of abstinence from all elements arising from the realm of darkness.
The self-contradictory character of the present world formed for Mani the starting-point of his speculation. But the inconsistency appeared to him to be primarily elemental, and only secondarily ethical, in so far as he regarded the material side of man as an emanation from the bad parts of nature. From the self-contradictory character of the world he inferred two beings, originally wholly separate from each other,—light and darkness. Both were, however, to be thought of after the analogy of a kingdom. The light appeared as the good Primeval Spirit-God, shining in the ten (twelve) virtues of love, faith, fidelity, magnanimity, wisdom, gentleness, knowledge, intelligence, mystery, and insight. It also manifested itself in the heaven and earth of light with their guardians, the 324glorious Æons. The darkness, similarly, was a spiritual realm: more correctly, it was represented in a spiritual, or feminine, personification; but it had no “God” at its head. It embraced an “earth of darkness”. As the earth of light had five distinguishing features—the gentle breeze, cooling wind, bright light, cheering fire, and clear water—so also the earth of darkness had five—fog, fiery heat, burning wind, darkness, and damp. Satan with his demons was born from the realm of darkness. From eternity the two realms stood opposed. They came into contact on one side, but they did not mingle. Then Satan began to storm, and made an attack on the realm, the earth, of light. The God of light, with his Syzygos (mate) “the spirit of his right hand”, now generated the Primeval man, and sent him, equipped with the five pure elements, to fight against Satan. But Satan proved himself the stronger. Primeval man was defeated for a moment. Now indeed the God of light himself marched forth, utterly defeated Satan by the help of new Æons—the spirit of life, etc.—and delivered the Primeval man. But a part of the light of the latter had already been robbed by darkness, the five dark elements had already mingled with the generations of light. The Primeval man could only descend into the abyss and hinder the increase of the dark “generations” by cutting off their roots; but the elements once mixed he could never again separate. The mixed elements were the elements of the present visible world. This was fashioned out of them at the command of the God of light; the formation of the world was itself the first step in the redemption of the imprisoned portions of light. The world itself was represented as an ordered chain of different heavens and different earths, which was borne and supported by the Æons, the angels of light. In sun and moon, which from their nature were almost wholly pure, it possessed great reservoirs, in which the rescued portions of light were stored. In the sun Primeval man himself dwelt along with the holy spirits, who pursued the work of redemption; in the moon the Mother of life was throned. The twelve signs of the zodiac constituted an artificial machine, a great wheel with buckets which poured the portions of light delivered from the world into the moon 325and sun, the illuminating vessels swimming in space. There they were purified anew, and finally reached God himself in the realm of pure light. The later Manichæans of the West designated the portions of light scattered in the world—in elements and organisms—and waiting for redemption, “Jesus patibilis.”
Now it is characteristic of the materialistic and unhuman character of the system, that while the construction of the world is regarded as the work of the good spirits, the creation of man is referred to the princes of darkness. The first man, Adam, was begotten by Satan in conjunction with “sin,” “greed” and “lust.” But the spirit of darkness conjured into him all the portions of light which he had robbed, in order to make more certain of his power to rule over them. Adam was accordingly a divided being, created in the image of Satan, but bearing the stronger spark of light within him. Eve was associated with him by Satan. She was seductive sensuousness, although even she had a tiny spark of light in her. If the first human beings thus stood under the rule of Satan, yet from the very first the glorious spirits took an interest in them. These sent Æons—e.g., Jesus—down to them, who instructed them as to their nature, and warned Adam especially against the senses. But the first man fell a victim to sexual lust. Cain and Abel, indeed, were not sons of Adam, but of Satan and Eve; but Seth was the lightpossessed offspring of Adam and Eve. Thus arose mankind, among whose individual members light was very variously distributed. It was always stronger, however, in men than women. Now the demons sought in the course of history to bind men to themselves through sensuality, error, and false religions, which included above all the religion of Moses and the prophets, while the spirits of light continued their process of distillation, in order to obtain the pure light in the world. But they could only deliver men by giving the true Gnosis as to nature and its powers, and by recalling them from the service of darkness and sensuousness. For this purpose prophets, preachers of the true knowledge, were sent into the world. Mani himself appears, in accordance with the example set by Gnostic Jewish Christians, to have held Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and perhaps Zoroaster 326and Buddha to have been such prophets. Probably Jesus was also considered by him to have been a prophet come down from the world of light; not, however, the historical Jesus, but a contemporary, seemingly human, Jesus who neither suffered nor died (Jesus impatibilis). Some Manichæans taught that Primeval man himself, as Christ, spread the true Gnosis. But in any case Mani was held, as he claimed, to be the last and greatest prophet, having taken up the work of “Jesus impatibilis,” and of Paul, who is also recognised, and having been the first to bring complete knowledge. He was the “guide,” the “ambassador of the light,” the “Paraclete.” Only by his labours and those of his “imitators, the Elect,” was the separation of light from darkness accomplished. The process by which the unfettered parts of light finally ascend to the God of light himself are very fancifully elaborated. He who has not succeeded in becoming elect in his life-time, has not completely redeemed himself, has to pass through severe purifications in the future state, until he also is gathered to the blessedness of the light. A doctrine of transmigration of souls has, however, been erroneously imputed to the Manichæans. Bodies fall naturally, like the souls of unredeemed men, to the powers of darkness. But those souls, according at least to the oldest conception, contain no light at all; a later view, adapted to the Christian, taught that the parts of light existing in them were really lost. Finally, when the elements of light are delivered—completely, or as far as possible—the end of the world takes place. All glorious spirits assemble, the God of light himself appears, accompanied by the Æons and the perfectly righteous. The angels who uphold the world withdraw from their burden, and everything collapses. An enormous conflagration destroys the world: once more the two powers are completely severed: high above is the realm of light restored to its perfect state, low down is the darkness (now powerless?).
Ethics, Social Constitution and Cultus of the Manichæans.
The only possible ethics based on this doctrine of the world were dualistic and ascetic. But as it was not only considered 327necessary to escape from darkness, but also to cherish, strengthen, and purify the parts of light, the ethics were not merely negative. They aimed not at suicide, but at preservation. Yet in practice they assumed a thoroughly ascetic form. The Manichæan had to abstain above all from sensuous enjoyment. He was to deny himself to it by means of three seals: the signaculum oris, manus, and sinus (the seal of the mouth, hand, and breast). The signaculum oris forbade any use of unclean food, as well as impure talk; unclean were all animal flesh, wine etc.; vegetable food was permitted, because plants contained more light; but the destruction of plants, even the plucking of fruits or breaking of twigs, was not allowed. The sign. manus prevented any occupation with things, in so far as they contained elements of darkness. Finally, the sign. sinus forbade especially any satisfaction of sexual desire, and therefore prohibited marriage. Besides, life was regulated by an extremely rigorous list of fasts. Fast-days were selected in obedience to certain astronomical conjunctures. Moreover, men fasted, i.e., held holiday, regularly on Sunday, and generally also on Monday. The number of fast-days amounted almost to a quarter of the year. Times of prayer were appointed just as exactly. Four times a day had the Manichæan to utter prayers; and these were preceded by ablutions. He who prayed turned to the sun or moon, or to the North as the seat of light. Yet the inference that the Manichæans worshipped the sun and moon themselves is wrong. The Fihrist has preserved some Manichæan forms of prayer. They were directed to the God of light, the whole realm of light, the glorious angels and Mani himself, who is addressed in them as “the great tree in whom is all healing.” According to Kessler, these prayers are closely allied to the Mandæan and ancient Babylonian hymns.
An asceticism so minute and strict as that demanded by Manichæism,628628It also professed imitation of the apostolic life; see Raumer’s note on Confess. Aug. VI. 7 (12). could only be practised thoroughly by a few. The religion would, therefore, have been compelled to forego an extensive propaganda, had it not conceded a morality of two kinds. A distinction was accordingly drawn within the 328community between the “Electi” (perfecti), the perfect Manichaeans, and the Catechumeni (auditores), the secular Manichæans. Only the former submitted to all the demands imposed by the religion; for the latter the regulations were relaxed. They required to avoid idolatry, witchcraft, greed, lying, fornication, etc.; above all, they must kill no living creature—keeping Mani’s ten commandments. They were to renounce the world as far as possible; but they lived in fact very much like their fellow-citizens of other faiths. We have here, accordingly, substantially the same state of matters as in the Catholic Church, where a twofold morality also prevailed, viz., that of the religious orders and of the secular Christians. The only difference was that the position of the Electi was still more distinguished than that of the monks. For the Christian monks never wholly forgot that redemption was a gift of God through Christ, while the Manichean Electi were really themselves redeemers; therefore it was the duty of the Auditores to pay the deepest veneration and render the greatest services to the Electi. These perfect beings, as they languished away in their asceticism, were admired and cherished most devotedly. Analogous is the reverence paid by Catholics to the saints, and by Neoplatonists to the “philosophers,” but the prestige of the Manichæan Electi surpassed that of both. Foods were brought to them in abundance; by using them the Electi delivered the parts of light from the plants. They prayed for the Auditores, they blessed and interceded for them, thereby abbreviating the purgatory through which the latter had to pass after death. And the Electi alone possessed complete knowledge of religious truths—it was otherwise in Catholicism.
The distinction between Electi and Auditores did not, however, constitute the whole idea of the Manichæan Church; it possessed a hierarchy also. This fell into three grades, so that altogether there were five in the religious constitution. In its fivefold division the social order was conceived to be a copy of the numbers of the realm of light. At the head stood the Teachers (“the sons of gentleness” = Mani and his successors); these were followed by the Administrators (“sons of knowledge” = the Bishops); then the Elders (“sons of understanding” = the 329presbyters); the Electi (“sons of mystery”); and finally the Auditores (“sons of insight”). The number of Electi was at all times small. According to Augustine, there were twelve Teachers and seventy-two Bishops. One of the Teachers appears to have stood as president at the head of the whole Manichæan Church. At least Augustine speaks of such an one, and the Fihrist also knows of a supreme head over all Manichæans. The constitution accordingly had here also a monarchical head.
The cultus of the Manichæans must have been very simple, and have consisted essentially of prayers, hymns, and ceremonies of adoration. This simple divine service promoted the secret spread of the doctrine. Besides, the Manichæans seem, at least in the West, to have adhered to the Church’s order of festivals. The Electi celebrated special festivals; but the chief one common to all was the “Bema” (Βῆμα), the festival of the “doctoral chair,” in memory of the death of Mani, in the month of March. Believers prostrated themselves before a decorated, but vacant chair, erected on a pedestal with five steps. Long fasts accompanied the festival. Christian and Mohammedan writers were able to learn little concerning the mysteries and “sacraments” of the Manichæans; the Christians therefore raised the charge that obscene rites and repulsive practices were observed. But it may be held certain that the later Manichæan mysteries were solemnised after the style of Christian Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They may have been based on old rites and ceremonies instituted by Mani himself, and descended from natural religion.
The Historical Position of Manichæism.
In the present state of the inquiry it is made out, and the account given above will also have shown, that Manichæism did not rise on the soil of Christianity. We would even be better justified if we were to call Mohammedanism a Christian sect; for Mohammed approaches the Jewish and Christian religions incomparably more closely than Mani. Kessler has the credit of having shown that the ancient Babylonian religion, the original source of all the Gnosis of Western Asia, was the foundation of the Manichæan system. The opinion formerly held is accordingly 330wrong, viz., that Manichæism was a reformation on the ground of Parsiism, a modification of Zoroastrianism under the influence of Christianity. It was rather a religious creation belonging to the circle of Semitic religions: it was the Semitic nature-religion lifted out of national limitations, modified by Christian and Persian elements, raised to the level of Gnosis, and transforming human life by strict rules. But when we have perceived this, we have only obtained a very general explanation of the origin of Manichæism. The question rises, through what means and to what extent Mani adopted Persian and Christian elements, and further, in which form the nature-religion of ancient Babylonia was made use of by him.
Now as regards the latter point, it is well known that the Semitic nature-religions had been taken up, centuries before Mani, by isolated enthusiastic or speculative heads, had been philosophically deepened and remodelled into “systems”, in support of which missions were conducted by means of mysterious cults. Mani’s enterprise was accordingly nothing new, but was rather the last in a long series of similar attempts. Even the earlier ones, from Simon Magus the Samaritan down, had adopted Christian elements to a greater or less extent, and the Christian Gnostic scholastic sects of Syria and Western Asia all pointed back to ancient Semitic nature-religions, which were transformed by them into a philosophy of the world and of life. But in particular the doctrines of the Babylonian sect of Moghtasilah, which were indeed influenced also by Christianity, seem to have afforded Mani material for his religio-philosophical speculation. The religion of this sect was not, however, purely Semitic (see the treatise by Kessler on the Mandæans in the Real-Encyklopaedia für prot. Theol. u. Kirche, 2 Ed., Vol. IX., p. 205 ff.; the Mandæans were allied to the Moghtasilah, Brandt, 1. c.). From this source sprang the rigid dualism on which Mani’s system was based; for the ancient Persian religion was not in principle dualistic, but in its ultimate foundation Monistic, since Ahriman was created by Ormuzd. However, ancient Persian theologoumena were employed by Mani. Even the designation of the antitheses as “light” and “darkness” was hardly independent of Parsiism, and elsewhere in Manichæism there occur 331technical terms taken from the Persian religion. Whether Mani’s idea of redemption goes back to the ancient Babylonian religion or to Zoroastrianism, I do not venture to decide; the idea of the “Prophet” and the “Primeval man” is at all events Semitic.
It is very difficult to determine how far Mani’s acquaintance with Christianity went, and how much he borrowed from it; further, through what agencies Christian knowledge reached him. In any case, in those regions where Manichæism was settled and where it came more closely into contact with Christianity, it was at a later stage influenced by the latter. Western Manichæans of the fourth and fifth centuries were much more “Christian” than those of the East. In this respect the system passed through the same development as Neoplatonism. As regards Mani himself, it is safest to suppose that he held Judaism as well as Christianity to be entirely false religions. But if he not only characterised himself as the Paraclete—and it is probable that he originated this use of the title—but also admitted “Jesus” to so high a role in his system, we can hardly explain this otherwise than by supposing that he distinguished between Christianity and Christianity. The religion which emanated from the historical Christ was to him as objectionable as that Christ himself and as Judaism; i.e., Catholicism was to him a diabolical religion. But he distinguished the Jesus of darkness from the Jesus of light, who wrought contemporaneously with the other, This distinction agrees as strikingly with that of the Gnostic Basilides, as the criticism of the O. T. conducted by Manichæism with that of the Marcionites; (see even the Acta Archelai in which Marcion’s antitheses are placed in Mani’s lips). Finally, Manichæan doctrines show agreement with those of the Christian Elkesaites; yet it is possible, nay, probable, that the latter are to be derived from the common ancient Semitic source, and therefore they do not come further into consideration. Mani’s historical relation to Christianity will therefore be as follows: from Catholicism, with which in all probability he was not very accurately acquainted, Mani borrowed nothing, rejecting it rather as a devilish error. On the other hand, he regarded Christianity in the form which it had assumed in the Basilidian and Marcionite sects (also among the Bardesanians ?) 332as a relatively valuable and correct religion. But from them, as also from the Persians, he took hardly anything but names, and perhaps, besides, what criticism he had of the O. T. and Judaism. His lofty estimate of Paul (and his epistles?), as well as his express rejection of the Acts of the Apostles, also point to influences due to Marcionitism. He seems to have recognised and to have interpreted in accordance with his own teaching a part of the historical matter of the Gospel.
Finally, the question further rises whether Buddhistic elements are not to be observed in Manichaeism. The majority of later scholars since F. Chr. Baur have answered this question in the affirmative. According to Kessler, Mani used Buddha’s teaching, at least for his ethics. There is no doubt that he took long journeys to India, and was familiar with Buddhism. The occurrence of the name of Buddha (Budda) in the legend about Mani and perhaps in his own writings points to the fact that the founder of this religion concerned himself with Buddhism. But what he borrowed from it for his own doctrine must have been very unimportant On a closer comparison we find that the difference between the two faiths is in all their main doctrines very great, and that the resemblances are almost always merely accidental. This is true even as regards morality and asceticism. There is no point in Manichæism for whose explanation we need have recourse to Buddhism. Under such circumstances any relationship between the two religions remains a bare possibility; nor has the investigation of Geyler raised this possibility to a probability (Das System des Manichäismus und sein Verhältniss zum Buddhismus, Jena 1875).
How are we to explain the fact that Manichaeism spread so rapidly and really became a world-religion? The answer has been given that it was because it was the complete Gnosis, the fullest, most consistent, and most artistic system based on the ancient Babylonian religion (so Kessler). This explanation is not sufficient, for no religion makes an impression mainly by its doctrinal system, however complete that may be. But it is also incorrect, for the older Gnostic systems were not more meagre than the Manichaean. What rather gave Manichæism its strength was, above all, the combination of ancient mythology and a rigid 333materialistic dualism with an extremely simple, spiritual cultus, and a strict morality; this was supplemented by the personality of the founder (of which indeed we know little enough). If we compare it with the Semitic nature-religions, it is obvious that it retained their mythologies, transformed into “doctrines,” but did away with the whole sensuous cultus, substituting a spiritual worship as well as a strict morality. Thus it was capable of satisfying the new wants of an old world. It offered revelation, redemption, moral virtue, and immortality, spiritual blessings, on the ground of nature-religion. Further, the simple and yet firm constitution calls for attention which Mani himself gave to his institution. The learned and the ignorant, the enthusiast and the man of the world, could here find a welcome, no one had more laid upon him than he could and would bear; moreover, each was attracted and secured by the prospect of reaching a higher stage, while those who were gifted were besides promised that they would require to submit to no authority, but would be led by pure reason to God. As this religion was thus adapted, perhaps beforehand, to individual needs, it was also capable of continuously appropriating what was foreign. Furnished from the first with fragments of different religions, it could increase or diminish its store, without breaking its own elastic structure. But a great capacity for adaptation was quite as necessary to a world-religion, as a divine founder in whom men could see and venerate the supreme revelation of God himself. While Manichæism in fact knew of no redeemer, although it gave Mani this title; while it only recognised a physical and Gnostic process of redemption; yet in Mani it possessed the chief prophet of God.
If we notice, finally, that Manichæism presented a simple, apparently profound, and yet easy, solution of the problem of good and evil, which had become especially burdensome in the second and third centuries, we have named the most important phenomena which explain its rapid extension.
Sketch of the History of Manichceism.
Manichaeism first got a firm footing in the East, in Persia, Mesopotamia, and Transoxania. The persecutions which it had to endure did not hinder its extension. The seat of the Manichæan 334Pope was for centuries in Babylon, and afterwards in Samarcand. Even after Islam had conquered the East, Manichæism held its ground; it even seems to have spread still further owing to the Mohammedan conquest, and it gained secret adherents among the Mohammedans themselves. The doctrine and discipline of the Manichæan Church underwent little change in the East, it especially did not there approach much nearer the Christian religion. But it experienced attempts at reform several times; for, as was natural, its “Auditores” readily became secularised. These attempts also led temporarily to schisms and the formation of sects. At the close of the tenth century, the time when the Fihrist was written, the Manichæans had been already expelled from the cities in Mesopotamia and Persia, and had withdrawn into the villages. But in Turkestan and up to the borders of China, there existed numerous Manichæan communities, nay, even whole tribes which had adopted the religion of Mani. Probably the great Mongolian migrations first put an end to Manichæism in Central Asia. But in India, on the coasts of Malabar, there were Manichæans even in the fifteenth century, side by side with Thomist Christians (see Germann, Die Thomaschristen, 1875). Manichaeism first penetrated into the Græco-Roman Empire about A.D. 280, in the time of the Emperor Probus (see Eusebius. Chronicon). If we may hold Diocletian’s edict against the Manichæans to be genuine, they already had a firm footing in the West at the beginning of the fourth century; but Eusebius did not know the sect accurately as late as about A.D. 325. It was only after about A.D. 330 that the religion spread rapidly in the Roman Empire. Its adherents were recruited, on the one hand, from the ancient Gnostic sects, especially the Marcionites, Manichaeism having, besides, strongly influenced the development of the Marcionite Churches in the fourth century. On the other hand, it gained followers from the great number of the “cultured”, who sought for a “rational” and yet to some extent Christian, religion, and who had exalted “free inquiry”—esp. as regards the O. T.—into a battle-flag. Criticism on Catholicism, and polemics, were now the strong point of Manichaeism, esp. in the West. It admitted the stumbling-blocks which the O. T. 335presented to every thinker, and gave itself out as a Christianity without the O. T. Instead of the subtle Catholic theories about divine predestination and human freedom, and the difficult Theodicy, it offered an extremely simple conception of sin and goodness. It did not preach the doctrine of the incarnation, which was particularly repugnant to those who were passing from the ancient cults to the Universal Religion. In its rejection of this doctrine, it coincided with Neoplatonism. But while the latter, with all its attempts to accommodate itself at various points to Christianity, found no formula that would introduce into its midst the special veneration of Christ, the Western Manichæans succeeded in giving their doctrine a Christian colouring. Of the Manichæan mythology all that became popular was the rigid physical dualism; its barbarous portions were prudently disguised as “mysteries”; nay, they were even frankly disavowed here and there by the adepts. The farther Manichæism pushed into the West, the more Christian and philosophical it became; in Syria it kept itself comparatively pure. It found its most numerous adherents in North Africa, where it had secret followers even among the clergy; this may perhaps be explained by the Semitic origin of a part of the population. Augustine was an “Auditor” for nine years, while Faustus was at the time the most distinguished Manichæan teacher in the West. In his later writings against Manichæism Augustine chiefly discusses the following problems: (1) the relations of knowledge and faith, reason and authority; (2) the nature of good and evil, and the origin of the latter; (3) the existence of free-will, and its relation to divine omnipotence; (4) the relation of evil in the world to the divine government.
The Christian Byzantine and Roman Emperors from Valens onwards issued strict laws against the Manichæans. But at first these bore little fruit. The “Auditores” were difficult to detect, and really gave slight occasion for a persecution. In Rome itself the doctrine had a large following, especially among the scholars and professors, between A.D. 370 and 440, and it made its way among the mass of the people by means of a popular literature, in which even the Apostles played a prominent part (“Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles”). Manichæism 336also experienced attempts at reform in the West; but we know little about them. Leo the Great, in alliance with the civil power, was the first to adopt active measures against Manichæism. Valentinian III. sentenced its adherents to banishment, Justinian made the penalty death. It seems to have been extinguished in North Africa by the persecution of the Vandals. It really died out nowhere else, either in the Byzantine Empire, or in the West; for it gave an impulse to the formation of new sects which were allied to it in the early part of the Middle Ages. If it has not been proved that the Spanish Priscillians had been already influenced by Manichæism in the fourth century, still it is undoubted that the Paulicians and Bogomilians, as well as the Cathari, are to be traced back to it (and Marcionitism). Thus, if not the system of Mani the Persian, yet Manichæism modified by Christianity accompanied the Catholic Church of the West on into the thirteenth century.
Literature.—Beausobre, Hist. critique de Manichιe et du Manichéisme, 2 vols. 1734 sq. Too great prominence is given in this work to the Christian elements in Manichæism. Baur, Das manichäische Religionssystem, 1831. Manichæan speculation is here presented speculatively. Flügel, Mani, 1862; an investigation based on the Fihrist. Kessler, Unters. z. Genesis des manich. Religionssystems, 1876; by the same author, “Mani, Manichäer” in the R.-Encykl. f. protest Theol. u. Kirche, 2 Ed., Vol. IX., p. 223-259 ; the account given above is based in several of its expositions on this article. Kessler has since published a work, “Mani, Forschungen über die manich. Relig. Ein Beitrag z. vergleichenden Religionsgeschichte des Orients. I. Bd. Voruntersuchungen und Quellen, 1889;” see on this the acute reviews of Rahlfs (Gött Gel. Anz. 1889, No. 23), Nöldeke (Zeitschrift d. deutschen morgenl. Gesellsch. Vol. XLIII., p. 535 ff.) and August Müller (Theol. Lit.-Ztg., 1890, No. 4). The older accounts may be mentioned of Mosheim, Lardner, Walch, and Schröckh, as also the monograph of Trechsel, Ueber Kanon, Kritik und Exegese der Manichäer, 1832, and A. Newmann’s Introductory Essay on the Manichæan heresy, 1887.
|« Prev||Appendix on Manichæism||Next »|