A third century dualistic religion, founded by a visionary prophet known as Mani (A.D. c.216-c.276). Mani fused Persian, Christian, and Buddhist elements into a major new faith of universal character.

Mani said that many different prophets had been sent by the Father of Lights, such as Zoroaster in Persia, Buddha in India, and Jesus in the west (Mani was Persian). He proclaimed himself as the last and greatest Apostle of Jesus, and also the Paraclete announced in the Gospel of St. John.

Manichaeism was an example of Gnosticism, wherein Mani brought salvation via knowledge.

Manichaeism offered the principle of absolute dualism: the primal conflict between God, represented by light and spirit, and Satan, represented by darkness and the material world. Human beings, created by God, were divine in spirit but they carried within them the seeds of darkness, sown by Satan, because of their material bodies.

The world and all of its creatures were part of a battle between Good, represented by God, and Evil, the darkness, represented by a power driven by envy and lust. Human beings were made of material created by the evil powers, but inside everyone there was a divine spark, which needed to be released from the dark material of the body.

Salvation, as taught by Mani, requires liberating the seed of light, the soul, from the material darkness in which it is trapped. This is achieved by strict celibacy and ascetic practices. The imperfect are destined to continual rebirth into the material world.

Because it teaches that Satan is as powerful as God, it is felt to be heresy by Christians. Mani himself was eventually crucified as a heretic, his corpse flayed, and the skin stuffed and hung up at the city gate as a terrifying warning to his followers. Nonetheless his religion spread out over most of the known world of the 1st millennium AD, from Spain to China. Manichaeism disappeared from the West in 10th century, and from China in the 14th century.

Man"i*chae*ism, Man"i*che*ism (?), n. [Cf. F. manich'eisme.]

The doctrines taught, or system of principles maintained, by the Manichaeans.


© Webster 1913.

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