History of religion

Religions of Antiquity IX: The Manichaeans

(Published in GralsWelt 41/2006)


About three millennia ago, a new religious idea spread from Persia: It was the idea of the struggle of the forces of good against the forces of darkness, which - as far as we know - was the first to be the founder of the Persian religion Zarathustra (Greek Zoroaster) has spoken. Since then, this announcement of the Zarathustra shaped the religious sentiments of countless people and influenced many religions, including Christianity.

To this day, for example, chiliasts[1] of various religious denominations speak of the imminent final battle of light against darkness and expect Armageddon in the near future. Even political decisions are not always unaffected by this expectation.

In this context, people often speak of “Manichaean ideas” or “Manichaeanism”, which is the reason for us to go into the Manichaean religion, which religious scholars regard as perhaps the most typical expression of Gnosis.

The founder of a religion, who was born in southern Babylon, grew up in a Judeo-Christian sect. At the age of 12 and 24 he had visions of his calling in which an unearthly being gave him insights into the interrelationships of the world.

Mani then broke away from his sect and spread his doctrine of the "father of greatness" and his servants (the "Aiones"), who stand in contrast to the "father of darkness" with his followers (the "archons"). He preached and proselytized in India and Persia.

The Persian King Shapur I. (242-273) promoted Mani, but the one with its successor Bahram I. (274-277) fell out of favor. At the instigation of Zoroastrian priests Mani accused of magic in Persia and died in prison.

Mani saw himself as a link in a chain of prophets who come back to earth again and again, bring revelations to mankind, and help to redemption from spiritual darkness: e.g. Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Mani ...

In a typical Gnostic way was also at Mani Knowledge (Gnosis) is the prerequisite for salvation, not "just faith" as is the case with many Christians.
Later the Manicheans saw themselves as the "true Christians" who, in the tradition of the "Apostle of Light" Christ stand, whose work of Mani has been completed.
Mani emphasized “That he was the only one of the founders of religion to have written down the truths unencrypted and without speaking in parables in his own writings. Therefore his religion is the only one that cannot be falsified by wrong understanding. " (6).

He founded a new religion, which was supposed to bring together all older religions, and wrote down his theological system himself. He said:

“The scriptures and the wisdom and the apocalypses and the parables and the psalms of all the previous churches have gathered in all places and have come to my church and have joined to the wisdom that I have revealed. As one water joins another water and they become many bodies of water, so also the ancient books were added to my writings and became great wisdom, the like of which was not preached among all the ancient generations. " (6).

Around Manis Many legends are entwined with life. He is said to have been born of a virgin, allegedly had twelve disciples as a retinue and cast out demons. His martyr death in prison is symbolically interpreted by his followers as a "crucifixion".

Mani has left behind extensive writings, most of which have been saved in various places where they were found. To date, they have only been partially deciphered and translated. Mani is therefore one of the few founders of religions in antiquity whose writings have largely been preserved, at least in fragments; nevertheless they have remained largely unknown (outside of religious studies).

A basic question for every religious person is the question of the origin of evil. Many religions have opted for either a dualistic or a monistic worldview. For polytheistic religions this difference is often not decisive; for monotheists, however, there can really only be one God who is good, perfect, omnipotent. Then the question arises, however, how a good and almighty God can allow evil; or did he even create it himself?

The answer is then, for example, that a fallen angel brought evil into the world. According to some Gnostics, it is a brother of Jesus, who went wrong or who was wronged. (See 1, p. 55).

Since time immemorial there have been various explanations in Zoroastrianism, Cervanism, and Gnosis, which generally assume that there is a "fallen angel" or an "evil God" in the world from whom the earthly world must be redeemed.

Mani taught an extreme dualism, similar to Marcion (85-ca. 140). So there were two opposing principles from the start: Den "Good, great father who lives in the land of light", and the "Prince of darkness who dwells in darkness". According to some Gnostics, the latter is none other than Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.

The creation of the world and of man happened when darkness attacked light. In the struggle between light and darkness, light substance got into the darkness and mixed with it. For the final victory of light, this light substance must be separated from the dark and returned to the world of light.
The human being is therefore a being who has a material body created by darkness and a light core. It is important to free this core of light. Messengers from the kingdom of light, insight (gnosis), unworldly striving and asceticism help.

Similar to the later Cathars, the Manichaeans were also divided into two classes: the Elekti (elect) and the catechumens (lay people). The elect had no property, were strictly celibate and vegetarian, did not drink alcohol, did not work and devoted themselves exclusively to prayer and teaching (6). The radical rejection of everything carnal as the work of evil gave Manichaeism extremely puritanical traits.

Manichaeans saw the development of the world in three stages: the time of the beginning, when the two principles (light and darkness) were separated; the time of mixing; and the third time when the initial state is restored. The human being, who represents a refuge of light in the dark, material world, should contribute to the separation of the two principles in the time of mixing. Strict asceticism helps him to do this, so that his (light) soul can break through the cycle of rebirth and reunite with the divine (from which it once started).

Many, sometimes complicated, myths are entwined with the mixing of light and dark, the origins of humans and the process of conflict between light and dark. Since the Manichaeans were open to other religious teachings, their religion developed differently in different regions: Not only Christian ideas, but also Jewish, Buddhist etc. ideas penetrated Manichaeans.

In the 4th century this understanding of religion can be demonstrated in Rome, Dalmatia, Gaul, Spain, North Africa and Egypt. The teachings of Mani spread to China, and in the 8th century Manichaeism even became the state religion in the Uyghur empire, so that because of this spread over large parts of the world known at the time, Manichaeism is spoken of as a world religion. Persecution by Christians, Muslims and Buddhists replaced Manichaeism, which almost completely disappeared by the 14th century.

Various late antique religious movements that mixed with Christian thoughts, but have their origin in pre-Christian times, are collectively referred to as Gnosis. Gnosis was relatively free and undogmatic, but in its most typical and most widespread form it took on the concrete form of a codified religion among the Manicheans.

Many of the Gnostic or Manichaean thoughts entered Christianity. The prologue of the Gospel of John (Joh. 1,1-1,18) is typically Gnostic, church fathers like Clement of Alexandria (approx. 150-215) or Origen (185-254) were not opposed to Gnosis, and Augustine (354-430) was a Manichean before turning to Christianity.

When “heretics” had to be fought in the Middle Ages, reformers split the church in modern times, or new religions emerged, Manichean or Gnostic ideas were regularly involved. Ideas which the church had partly taken up itself. Later she tried painstakingly to cover up how many sources, including pagan ones, the Christian theology came together from.

The fundamental question of the origin of evil and the way to salvation has shaped Western culture for two millennia; Religion, philosophy and art deal with it in a variety of ways. The prophecy of the fight of good against evil, also handed down in the Bible (e.g. in the John Apocalypse), has provided religious, sometimes even political guidelines, and the devaluation of opponents as "pagans", "wicked", "blasphemers", " Crusaders ”,“ Heretics ”,“ Unbelievers ”,“ Subhumans ”,“ Enemies of Faith ”or“ Axis of Evil ”remained relevant into the 21st century.

Continued "Religions of the Ancient World" X.

Read about it too "Why does God allow all of this?" under "History of Religion".

Final grade:
[1] Chiliasts (from the Greek chiliasmos = thousand) or millenarianism (from the Latin mille = thousand) believe in the return of Christ and the establishment of his thousand-year kingdom.

(1) Hagl, Siegfried, Chaff and Wheat, Gralsverlag, Eggersdorf, 2003.
(2) Rudolph, Kurt, Die Gnosis, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1977.
(3) Widengren, Geo, Der Manichäismus, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 1977.
(4) http: //www.goetter-und-
(5) http: / Glossary / Manichaeismus.htm.