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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K046-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Manicheism is a defunct religion, born in Mesopotamia in the third century ad and last attested in the sixteenth century in China. Its founder, Mani (c.216–76), had some familiarity with Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, and aimed to supplant them all. He taught a form of dualism, influenced by earlier Gnostics: God is opposed by forces of darkness; they, not God, created human beings, who nevertheless contain particles of light which can be released by abstemious living. Two points of contrast with Catholic Christianity are particularly striking. First, in Manicheism, sinfulness is the natural state of human beings (because of their creators), and does not stem from Adam’s Fall. Second, the Manichean God did not create and does not control the forces of darkness (although he will eventually triumph); hence the problem of evil does not arise in as stark a form as it does for the all-powerful Christian God.

Although Mani’s own missionary journeys took him eastwards, it was in the Roman Empire to the west that the main impact of his teaching was first felt; Augustine of Hippo was an adherent for nine years. The religion was eventually suppressed in the Roman Empire, and driven east by the Arab conquest of Mesopotamia. In the West, various Christian heresies were loosely called Manichean throughout the Middle Ages.

Citing this article:
Kirwan, Christopher. Manicheism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K046-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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