(redirected from Acuanitae)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


Manichaeism (mănˈĭkēĭzəm) or Manichaeanism (mănĭkēˈənĭzəm), religion founded by Mani (c.216–c.276).

Mani's Life

Mani (called Manes by the Greeks and Romans) was born near Baghdad, probably of Persian parents; his father may have been a member of the Mandaeans. After wandering for several years as a meditative ascetic he came forward (c.240) as the inspired prophet of a new religion. He went to Bactria in NW India, where he came in contact with Buddhism.

He returned to Persia after the coronation (241) of Shapur I, who was tolerant of new religious movements; at the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon he began preaching (c.242) the doctrine that was to become Manichaeism, a great synthesis of elements from Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, other Persian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as from the teachings of Marcion. Rejecting all of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament, Mani claimed Buddha, Zoroaster, Hermes, and Plato as his predecessors. He always called himself “Mani, Apostle of Jesus Christ” and held that he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus.

During the long reign of Shapur I (d. 272), Mani was free to travel about the realm making converts. However, the accession of Bahram I brought a reaction against the Manichaeans (or Manichees) from orthodox Zoroastrian religious circles, and, after 272, Mani and his followers met with increasing persecution. He died while imprisoned (c.276) in SW Persia.

The Religion

Due to Mani's organizational abilities, the simplicity of his dualistic theology, and his incorporation of elements from other religions, Manichaeism spread rapidly, and it was soon disseminated throughout the Roman Empire and into China.


Basic to the religion's doctrine was the conflicting dualism between the realm of God, represented by light and by spiritual enlightenment, and the realm of Satan, symbolized by darkness and by the world of material things. To account for the existence of evil in a world created by God, Mani posited a primal struggle in which the forces of Satan separated from God; humanity, composed of matter, that which belongs to Satan, but infused with a modicum of godly light, was a product of this struggle, and was a paradigm of the eternal war between the forces of light and those of darkness. Christ, the ideal, light-clad soul, could redeem for each person that portion of light God had allotted. Light and dark were seen to be commingled in our present age as good and evil, but in the last days each would return to its proper, separate realm, as they were in the beginning. The Christian notion of the Fall and of personal sin was repugnant to the Manichees; they felt that the soul suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter. Evil was a physical, not a moral, thing; a person's misfortunes were miseries, not sins.

Classes of Followers

Mani's followers were divided into two classes: the elect, or perfect, were assured of immediate felicity after death because of the resource of light they had acquired through strict celibacy, austerity, teaching, and preaching; and the auditors, or hearers, the laity who administered to the elect, and who could marry. Believing in metempsychosis (see transmigration of souls), the auditors hoped to be reborn as elect. All other were sinners, doomed to hell.


Several Christian emperors, including Justinian, published edicts against the Manichees. St. Augustine, in his youth a Manichee, describes in his Confessions his conversion to Christianity. Little is heard of the Manichees in the West after the 6th cent., but their doctrines reappear in the medieval heresies of the Cathari, Albigenses, and Bogomils. It was the practice in the Middle Ages to call by the name of Manichaeism any dualist Christian heresy. The young religion of Islam was also challenged by the Manichean sect in Africa and Asia. The sect survived in the East, notably in Chinese Turkistan (Xinjiang), until about the 13th cent.


The prime sources for the study of Manichaeism are the so-called Turfan (Turpan) texts, named after the Dunhuang region where they were found in 1904–5. These include fragments of Mani's long-lost bible and portions of Manichaean literature written in Pahlavi, Saghdian, Old Turkish, and Chinese. Other sources are a collection of documents found in Egypt in 1933 and refutations of Manichaeism by Christian, Islamic, and Zoroastrian polemicists. See also F. C. Burkitt, The Religion of the Manichees (1925); A. V. W. Jackson, Researches in Manichaeism (1932, repr. 1965); S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichees (1947, repr. 1961); S. N. C. Lien, The Religion of Light (1979) and Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a religious teaching that arose in the Near East in the third century as a synthesis of Chaldean-Babylonian, Persian (Zoroastrianism, Mazdaism, and Parsi), and Christian myths and rituals. It is usually linked with Gnosticism.

The term “Manichaeism” is derived from the name of the founder of the religion, the semilegendary Mánes, or Mani (c. 216-c. 277). According to tradition he propagated his teaching in Persia, Middle Asia, and India. About seven works of religious and ethical content are attributed to him. The pessimistic notion that evil is coeternal with being provided the basic content of Manichaeism. Taking issue with Christianity, Manichaeism teaches that evil is as independent a principle as good. Although he linked evil with matter and good with light as spirit, Mánes—in contrast to the Neoplatonists—did not consider darkness or matter the consequence of the extinction of light. In Manichaeism the kingdom of darkness stands opposed to the kingdom of light as an equal. World history is seen as a struggle between light and darkness, between good and evil, between god and the devil. In the attack of darkness on light, part of the light was imprisoned by darkness. The meaning of subsequent history can be found in the liberation of the imprisoned light. According to Manichaeism, man has a dual nature—he is a creation of the devil, yet he was created in the image of a heavenly “luminous first man” and contains elements of light in himself.

Manichaeism was persecuted everywhere for its opposition to the predominant religions; however, it spread as far as Spain in the West and China in the East. It was seen in the West by Christianity as a Christian heresy. In the eighth century it became the predominant religion in the Uighur kingdom. During the eighth and ninth centuries Manichaeism was persecuted by the followers of Islam. Later, it ceased to exist as a separate religion in both Europe and Asia. (It was definitely prohibited in China in the late 14th century.) The teaching concerning the dualism of good and evil that Manichaeism spread was later developed in Europe by the Paulicians, the Bogomils, and the Cathars and in the Orient by the Persian Mazdakites.


D’iakonov, M. M. Ocherk istorii drevnego Irana. Moscow, 1961. (With bibliography.)
Alfaric, P. Les Ecritures manicheennes, vols. 1-2. Paris, 1918.
Burkitt, F. C. The Religion of the Manichees. Cambridge, 1925.
Schaeder, H. H. Urform und Fortbildungen des manichdischen Systems. Leipzig, 1927.
Jackson, A. V. W. Researches in Manichaeism. New York, 1932.
Puech, H. Le Manicheisme: Son Fondateur, sa doctrine. Paris, 1949. (With bibliography.)
Widengren, G. Mani und der Manichäismus. Stuttgart, 1961.
Ort, L. I. R. Mani: A Religio-historical Description of His Personality. Leiden, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.