Webster's definition of Manichaean
1) a believer in a syncretistic religious dualism originating in Persia in the third century AD and teaching the release of the spirit from matter through asceticism
2) a believer in religious or philosophical dualism
The reigion was founded by a Persian nobleman called Mani (210-276 AD). He lived in Babylon, which at the time was a province of the Sassanid Persia. Mani taught that two natures existed from the beginning: light and darkness. The realm of light lived in peace, while the realm of darkness was in constant conflict with itself. The universe we know is the result of an attack by the realm of darkness on the realm of light. In other words Manichaeism is a Dualist religion.
A corollary of Mani's teaching is that there is no omnipotent good power, and therefore no problem in explaining how an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenificent god could have allowed evil to enter his creation - a major unresolved philosophical problem for educated Jews, Christians and Moslems to this day.
Human beings provided the main battleground for the two opposing powers: the good part is the soul (which is composed of immaterial light) and the bad part is the body (composed of dark material). The soul defines the person and is incorruptible, but in human beings it is under the domination of a foreign power. Humans are said to be able to be saved from this power (the power of matter) if they come to know who they are and identify themselves with their soul.
One of the tenets of Manichaeism was that it presented the complete version of teachings revealed only partially by teachers such as Zoroaster, Hermes, Plato, Buddha, and Jesus. Mani was also influenced by Mandaeanism.
He began preaching at an early age. He claimed to be the 'Paraclete of the Truth', as promised in the New Testament: the Last Prophet and Seal of the Prophets that finalised a succession of men guided by God. Buddhist influences were significant in the formation of Mani's religious thought, and the transmigration of souls became a Manichaean belief.
Manichaeism spread rapidly throughout both the east and west. To the east the religion spread to Northern India, Tibet, and Western China, where it was known by the second half of the sixth century. The religion was adopted by the Uyghur ruler Bugug Khan (759-780 AD), and it remained state religion for about a century before the collapse of the Uyghur Empire. It spread along trade routes as far as Chang'an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty in China. In its last organised form appears to have died out before the 16th century in southern China
To the west it reached Rome through the apostle Psattiq by AD 280. He was also in Egypt in 244 and 251 and Manichaeism is known to have been flourishing in the Fayum area of Egypt by 290 AD Manichaean monasteries are known in Rome in 312 AD, during the time of Pope Miltiades. By 354 AD, Hilary of Poitiers was writing that the Manichaean faith was a significant force in southern Gaul - exactly the area where later Gnostic Dualists that we now know as Cathars were to appear in the Middle Ages.
Third and Fourth century Christian writers such as Hippolytus and Epiphanius mention a certain Scythianus, who visited India around 50 AD. From there he is said to have brought "the Doctrine of the Two Principles". According to these writers, Scythianus' pupil Terebinthus presented himself as a "Buddha" Terebinthus went to Palestine and Judea where he met the Apostles, and ultimately settled in Babylon, where he transmitted his teachings to Mani, thereby creating the foundation of Manichaeism.
The Manichaean faith was widely persecuted. In 381 AD Christians requested the Emperor Theodosius I to strip Manicheans of their civil rights. By the following year the devout Christian emperor had decreed death for Manicheans.
From now on Christians who showed any sympathy for Dualism would be heretics and liable to execution. The first victims appear to have been the Christian bishop Priscillian and his followers, soon afterwards. They appear to have attempted to adapt what they thought were valuable parts of Arian Christianity and Manichaeism into Catholic Christianity. Priscillian was beheaded at Trier in 385, with the approval of the Catholic Church synod that met there in the same year. He has been called the first Christian martyred by Christians, but it is probably more accurate to describe him as the first mainstream Christian martyred by the Catholic Christians
For a thousand years the faith maintained a patchy existence in the Christian Roman Empire including Mesopotamia, North Africa, the Iberian peninsular, Gaul, North Italy, and the Balkans, It flourished for a time in the land of its birth (Persia) and for a while at least was tolerated. In the 9th century the Muslim Caliph Ma'mun tolerated a community of Manicheans.
Manichaean Ideas and Christianity
Manichaean ideas undoubtedly had a major effect on the development of Christianity.
In particular Gnostic Christians held similar Dualist ideas. The Pauline line of Christianity that developed into what we now call the Orthodox and Catholic Churches was also influenced. It absorbed a number of characteristic Manichaean ideas that are not generally recognised as such. A few examples are the God of Light locked in battle with the "god of this world", along with their armies of light and darkness respectively, with human beings as combatants on either side.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) Augustine was a "hearer" of Manichaeism for nine years, but he failed to make any progress in the hierarchy of his chosen faith. Soon after Christian persecution of his faith started in earnest he dropped it and adopted Christianity, becoming a critic of his earlier faith. According to his Confessions of St. Augustine, he converted to Christianity from Manichaeism in the year 387, possibly sensing greater opportunities given his failure to progress, and the ascendancy of the Christian Church. The Emperor Theodosius I, prompted by Christians, had issued a decree in 382 AD imposing the death penalty for Manicheans, and in 391 he was to declare Christianity to be the only legitimate religion in the Roman Empire.
.Despite his hostility it is apparent that Manichaean ways of thinking had an influence on the development of Augustine's ideas, even after his conversion to Christianity. Some of his Manichaean ideas that were later considered mainstream (but were not mainstream before his time) include the polarised nature of good and evil (Good/Bad; Light/Dark; Heaven / Hell; Immaterial/Material; eternal/corruptible); the separation of people into elect, hearers, and sinners; the hostility to the flesh and a horror of sexual activity. His novel idea of Origin Sin, by which sin became a sexually transmitted disease, owes much to his fundamentally Manichaean outlook.
Augustine's writings documented some Manichaean beliefs and when later Christians encountered Dualist ideas they tended to assume that they represented a survival or re-emergence of Manichaeism, and thus heresy. This is unfortunate, not only for the Dualist who were persecuted as heretics, but also for modern scholars. Whenever medieval Christian chroniclers recorded the discovery of Manicheans it is generally impossible to determine whether they really were Manicheans or whether they were other Dualists branded as Manicheans and with Manichaean beliefs falsely imputed to them.
Intriguingly there are also links with the Essenes. Comparisons between Manichaean myths and the Book of Enoch reveal that they both recognised the same "King of Glory", also referred to in other Dead Sea Scrolls.
Unknown artist, circa 1480-1500, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Original article source: Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc. Cathar Origins.http://www.cathar.info/cathar_origins.htm