Manichaeism was a major religion founded or at least promoted by the Iranian prophet Mani (or Manes) in the Sasanian Empire in the third century. Manichaeism appears to have taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness.
In its day, Manichaeism was one of the most popular Religions of the ancient world Most of what we know about the philosophies and religion of Manichaeism has come from its critics. It appears to be a synthesis of the Zoroastrian dualism between light and dark and Babylonian folklore and Buddhist ethics and what some people call superficial elements of Christianity; spread widely in the Roman Empire but had largely died out by 1000 AD.
Gautama Buddha taught mostly in northeastern India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries before Christ. Gautama as a primary figure in Buddhism was sharing a message a social reformer rather than a divine messenger or founder of religion. Most of what was written about him was produced 400 years after the death of Buddha.
Everything we label religion may often only contain superficial elements of the founders teachings. The Christianity of Constantine did not conform to every word and Doctrine of Jesus and most modern Christianity today traces its roots back to many of the practices of the Church of Constantine rather that what Christ commanded and the Apostles did through their daily ministration of Pure Religion.
Eusebius commented concerning the error of the Manichees:
- — In the mean time, also, that madman Manes, (Mani is of Persian or Semitic origin) as he was called, well agreeing with his name, for his demoniacal heresy, armed himself by the perversion of his reason, and at the instruction of Satan, to the destruction of many. He was a barbarian in his life, both in speech and conduct, but in his nature as one possessed and insane. Accordingly, he attempted to form himself into a Christ, and then also proclaimed himself to be the very paraclete and the Holy Spirit, and with all this was greatly puffed up with his madness. Then, as if he were Christ, he selected twelve disciples, the partners of his new religion, and after patching together false and ungodly doctrines, collected from a thousand heresies long since extinct, he swept them off like a deadly poison, from Persia, upon this part of the world. Hence the impious name of the Manichaeans spreading among many, even to the present day. Such then was the occasion of this knowledge, as it was falsely called, that sprouted up in these times.
Manichaeism was repressed by the Sasanian Empire and persecution arose in the Persian empire with the murder of the apostle Sisin by Bahram II, and the slaughter of many Manichaeans. By 296, the Roman emperor Diocletian decreed all the Manichaean leaders to be burnt alive along with the Manichaean scriptures and many Manichaeans in Europe and North Africa were killed. The official persecution continued off and on around the world.
Even in China they were called the "vegetarian demon-worshippers".
What did they believe
We may never know and the application and practice of those beliefs may very.
Mani's teaching dealt with the origin of evil, by addressing a theoretical part of the problem of evil by denying the omnipotence of God and postulating two opposite powers. Humanity, the world, and the soul are seen as the by-product of the battle between God's proxy, Primal Man, and the devil. The human person is seen as a battle-ground for these powers: the soul defines the person, but it is under the influence of both light and dark.
Neither the Earth nor the flesh were seen as intrinsically evil, but rather possessed by portions of both light and dark influencing the life or soul of individuals and society.
Supposedly, Manichaeism presented an elaborate description of the conflict between the spiritual world of light and the material world of darkness. Both the world of darkness and the world of light were given names. There are numerous sources for the details of the Manichaean belief. The flaw in creation which was not caused by God but which constituted rather the product of a battle by the devil against God.
- Luke 11:46... 52 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers... Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.
- Eusebius. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea, Translated from the originals by Christian Frederick Cruse.1939. Ch. XXXI.