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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Or MANICHEANS, (Manichaei, ) a sect of ancient heretics, who asserted two principles; so called from their author Manes, or Manichaeus, a Persian by nations, and educated among the Magi, being himself one of that number before he embraced Christianity. This heresy had its first rise about the year 277, and spread itself principally in Arabia, Egypt and Africa. St. Epiphanius, who treats of it at large, observes that the true name of this heresiarch was Cubricus; and that he changed it for Manes, which in the Persian or Babylonish language signifies vessel. A rich widow, whose servant he had been, dying without issue, left him stores of wealth; after which he assumed the title of the apostle or envoy of Jesus Christ. Manes was not contented with the quality of apostle of Jesus Christ, but he also assumed that of the paraclete, whom Christ had promised to send; which Augustine explains, by saying, that Manes endeavoured to persuade men that the Holy Ghost did personally dwell in him with full authority. He left several disciples; and among others, Addas, Thomas, and Hermas. These he sent in his life time into several provinces to preach his doctrine. Manes having undertaken to cure the king of Persia's son, and not succeeding, was put in prison upon the young prince's death, whence he made his escape; but he was apprehended soon after, and flayed alive.

However, the oriental writers cited by D'Herbelot and Hyde, tell us that Manes, after having been protected in a singular manner by Hormizdas, who succeeded Sapor in the Persian throne, but who was not able to defend him, at length, against the united hatred of the Christians, the Magi, the Jews, and the Pagans, was shut up in a strong castle, to serve him as a refuge against those who persecuted him on account of his doctrine. They add, that after the death of Hormizdas, Varanes I. his successor, first protected Manes, but afterwards gave him up to the fury of the Magi, whose resentment against him was due to his having adopted the Sadduccan principles, as some say; while others attribute it to his having mingled the tenets of the Mage with the doctrines of Christianity. However, it is certain that the Manicheans celebrated the day of their master's death. It has been a subject of much controversy whether Manes was an impostor. The learned Dr. Lardner has examined the arguments on both sides; and though he does not choose to deny that he was an impostor, he does not discern evident proofs of it. He acknowledges that he was an arrogant philosopher, and a great schemist; but whether he was an impostor he cannot certainly say. He was much too fond of philosophical notions, which he endeavoured to bring into religion, for which he is to be blamed: nevertheless he observes that, every bold dogmatizer is not an impostor.

The doctrine of Manes was a motley mixture of the tenets of Christianity with the ancient philosophy of the Persians, in which he had been instructed during his youth. He combined these two systems, and applied and accommodated to Jesus Christ the characters and actions which the Persians attributed to the god Mithras. He established two principles, viz. a good and an evil one: the first a most pure and subtle matter, which he called light, did nothing but good; and the second a gross and corrupt substance, which he called darkness, nothing but evil. This philosophy is very ancient; and Plutarch treats of it at large in his Iris and Osiris. Our soul, according to Manes, were made by the good principle, and our bodies by the evil one; these two principles being, according to him, co-eternal and independent of each other. Each of these is subject to the dominion of a superintendent Being, whose existence is from all eternity. The Being who presides over the light is called God; he that rules the land of darkness bears the title of hyle or demon. The ruler of the light is supremely happy, and in consequence thereof benevolent and good; the prince of darkness is unhappy in himself and desirous of rendering others partakers of his misery; and is evil and malignant. These two beings have produced an immense multitude of creatures resembling themselves, and distributed them through their respective provinces. After a contest between the ruler of light and the prince of darkness, in which the latter was defeated, this prince of darkness produced the first parents of the human race.

The beings engendered from this original stock consist of a body formed out of the corrupt matter of the kingdom of darkness, and of two souls; one of which is sensitive and lustful, and owes its existence to the evil principle; the other rational and immortal, a particle of that divine light which had been carried away in that contest by the army of darkness, and immersed into the mass of malignant matter. The earth was created by God out of this corrupt mass of matter, in order to be a dwelling for the human race, that their captive souls might by degrees be delivered from their corpreal prisons, and the celestial elements extricated from the gross substance in which they were involved. With this view God produced two beings from his own substance, viz. Christ and the Holy Ghost; for the Manicheans held a consubstantial Trinity. Christ, or the glorious intelligence, called by the Persians Mithras, subsisting in and by himself, and residing in the sun, appeared in the time among the Jews, clothed with the shadowy form of a human body, to disengage the rational soul from the corrupt body, and to conquer the violence of malignant matter. The Jews, incited by the prince of darkness, put him to an ignominious death, which, he suffered not in reality, but only in appearance, and according to the opinion of men. When the purposes of Christ were accomplished, he returned to his throne in the sun, appointing apostles to propagate his religion, and leaving his followers the promise of the paraclete or comforter, who is Manes the Persian.

Those souls who believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, renounce the worship of the god of the Jews, who is the prince of darkness, and obey the laws delivered by Christ, and illustrated by Manes the comforter, are gradually purified from the contagion of matter; and their purification being completed, after having passed through two states of trial, by water and fire, first in the moon and then in the sun, their bodies return to the original mass (for the Manicheans derided the resurrection of bodies, ) and their souls ascend to the regions of light. But the souls of those who have neglected the salutary work of purification, pass after death into the bodies of other animals and natures, where they remain till they have accomplished their probation. Some, however, more perverse and obstinate, are consigned to a severer course of trial, being delivered over for a time to the power of malignant aerial spirits, who torment them in various ways. After this, a fire shall break forth and consume the frame of the world; and the prince and powers of darkness shall return to their primitive seats of anguish and misery, in which they shall dwell for ever. These mansions shall be surrounded by an invincible guard, to prevent their ever renewing a war in the regions of light. Manes borrowed many things from the ancient Gnostics; on which account many authors consider the Manicheans as a branch of the Gnostics. In truth, the Manichean doctrine was a system of philosophy rather than of religion.

They made use of amulets, in imitation of the Basilidians; and are said to have made profession of astronomy and astrology. They denied that Jesus Christ, who was only God, assumed a true human body, and maintained it was only imaginary; and therefore they denied his incarnation, death, &c. They pretended that the law of Moses did not come from God, or the good principle, but from the evil one; and that for this reason it was abrogated. They rejected almost all the sacred books in which Christians look for the sublime truths of their holy religion. They affirmed that the Old Testament was not the work of God, but of the prince of darkness, who was substituted by the Jews in the place of the true God. They abstained entirely from eating the flesh of any animal, following herein the doctrine of the ancient Pythagoreans: they also condemned marriage. The rest of their errors may be seen in St. Epiphanius and St. Augustine; which last, having been of their sect, may be presumed to have been thoroughly acquainted with them. Though the Manichees professed to receive the books of the New Testament, yet in effect they only took so much of them as suited with their own opinions. They first formed to themselves a certain idea or scheme of Christianity, and to this adjusted the writings of the apostles, pretending that whatever was inconsistent with this had been foisted into the New Testament by the later writers, who were half Jews. On the other hand, they made fables and apocryphal books pass for apostolical writings; and even are suspected to have forged several others, the better to maintain their errors. St Epiphanius gives a catalogue of several pieces published by Manes, and adds extracts out of some of them. These are the Mysteries, Chapters, Gospel, and Treasury. The rule of life and manners which Manes prescribed to his followers was most extravangantly rigorous and severe.

However, he divided his disciples into two classes; one of which comprehended the perfect Christian, under the name of the elect; and the other the imperfect and feeble, under the title of auditors or hearers. The elect were obliged to rigorous and entire abstinence from flesh, eggs, milk, fish, wine, all intoxicating drink, wedlock, and all amorous gratifications; and to live in a state of the severest penury, nourishing their emaciated bodies with bread, herbs, pulse and melons, and depriving themselves of all the comforts that arise from the moderate indulgence of natural passions, and also from a variety of innocent and agreeable pursuits. The auditors were allowed to possess houses, lands, and wealth; to feed on flesh, to enter into the bonds of conjugal tenderness; but this liberty was granted them with many limitations, and under the strictest conditions of moderation and temperance. The general assembly of Manicheans was headed by a president, who represented Jesus Christ. There were joined to him twelve rulers or masters, who were designed to represent the twelve apostles, and these were followed by seventy-two bishops; the images of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord. These bishops had presbyters or deacons under them, and all the members of these religious orders were chosen out of the class of the elect. Their worship was simple and plain, and consisted of prayers, reading the Scriptures, and hearing public discourses, at which both the auditors and elect were allowed to be present.

They also observed the Christian appointment of baptism, and the eucharist. They kept the Lord's day, observing it as a fast: and they likewise kept Easter and the Pentecost. Towards the fourth century the Manicheans concealed themselves under various names, which they successively adopted, and changed in proportion as they were discovered by them. Thus they assumed the names of Encratites, Apotactics, Saccophori, Hydroparastates, Solitaries, and several others, under which they lay concealed for a certain time, but could not, however, long escape the vigilance of their enemies. About the close of the sixth century, this sect gained a very considerable influence, particularly among the Persians. Towards the middle of the twelfth century, the sect of Manichees took a new face, on account of one Constantine, an Armenian, and an adherer to it; who took upon him to suppress the reading of all other books besides the evangelists and the epistles of St. Paul, which he explained in such a manner as to make them contain a new system of Manicheaism.

He entirely discarded all the writings of his predecessors; rejecting the chimeras of the Valentinians and their thirty xons: the fable of Manes, with regard to the origin of rain, and other dreams; but still retained the impurities of Basilides. In this manner he reformed Manicheism, insomuch that his followers made no scruple of anathematizing Schythian, Buddas, called also Addas and Terehinth, the contemporaries and disciples, as some say, and, according to others, the predecessors and masters of Manes, and even Manes himself; Constantine being now their great apostle. After he had seduced an infinite number of people, he was at last stoned by order of the emperor. This sect prevailed in Bosnia and the adjacent provinces about the close of the fifteenth century propagated their doctrine with confidence, and held their religious assemblies with impunity.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Manichees'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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