The beauty of historical studies is found in its propensity to illustrate for the historian that no matter how much things change, they stay the same. Dualism is an example of this profound lesson derived from the past. Major doctrinal teachings in the modern world were influenced by Manicheanism in the 4th Century, as one of Mani’s primary disciples became a Christian. We know him as Augustine. As such, the Dualism of Manicheanism and its teachings and impact on modern and ancient historical considerations should serve as a reminder for diligence and caution in the present, if the astute will listen to the lessons of the past.


A school of Gnostic thought that was dualistic has been identified as Iranian in configuration. It is the Mesopotamian variation with a marked connection to Zoroastrianism and extended into Manicheanism in the 3rd, and 4th Centuries A.D. Manichean Gnostic thought held that there were:

· Two powers, light and darkness, which exist in conflict

· These opposing powers are locked in a cosmic dual

· Particles of light (soul) have been captured by jealous particles of darkness (flesh)

· Light and darkness have both created beings with light particles within

· Both light and darkness seek to access the hidden light within[1]

As a side note, there appears to be an eerie analogy that exists between Manichean heresy and modern Mormonism’s hierarchical system of salvation and awakening the latent ‘god’ within.

The second form of Gnosticism that existed in ancient times was the Syrian variation, which appears to have originated somewhere between Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. This was a complex system of thought that espoused a type of vertical dualism that accepted “good” as the ultimate or primary principle behind all creation.[2] As with each variant form of Gnosticism, the primary goal of the sect was to explain evil’s purpose. The dominant theme of gnostic thought appears to revolve around the necessitation of justifying evil’s existence. Gnostic’s were assumed to be those souls who exist in the world that contain the light particles: thus, existing in need of liberation and the awakening of their divine selves. This applies to both classifications of created beings: those who owe their origin to light or darkness. The same arguments that were used to separate good from evil have been applied to the world of business and religion, making the religious configurations superior.

The third form of humanity needs to be addressed at this point. This classification of persons would constitute the personalities who were perceived to exist as material substance alone. These people were not believed to own any particles of light within. As such, these deviant entities were not viewed as possessing any intrinsic ability to attain salvation and liberation, for there was nothing to liberate. This hypothesis stipulates determinism in creation and awareness. This Manichean or Dualism belief of awakened destiny for the pre-determined elected gnostic and the exclusion of the baser non-light participants may explain Augustinian theories in the theology of selective or pre-determined salvation. If so, Mandian influence may well survive within the Calvinist framework of predestination and pre-determinism, particularly in salvific grace. Dualism has also had a profound impact on the church in finances and remuneration for ministers, which has its origins in England and the Lollards.

Manichean philosophy is shrouded in the annals of ancient times, finding its origins in the third century following the advent of Jesus Christ.  Founded by a teacher of Persian extraction named Mani, this blend of philosophies and religion found ready adherents in the Roman Empire wherever they could be found.  Some, such as Augustine of Hippo before his conversion to Christianity, have made significant historical contributions in theology and practice, thus ensuring the survival of Manicheanism as an acknowledged philosophy down through the ages. This notoriety of personality has allowed a continuous discussion to exist as to the nature and format of Manicheanism, even though most of the original thoughts and documents were destroyed through relentless persecution upon the summation of the group being identified as a heresy, and Mani acknowledged as a heresiarch.

From its inception, Manicheanism has been and continues to be, religion or philosophy of dualism. It also is an attempt to blend or amalgamate various religious thought or expressions into a cohesive whole.  Mani sought to synthesize Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity with a sampling of Astrological and Mystic elements also included.  From the dualistic perspective, Mani taught there were two emanations or pulses from which all things found their subsistence through the created universe.  In his convoluted fashion, Mani explained that the god (sic) of the Bible was the good god of impulse. However, because he was responsible for the creation, he was also responsible for evil’s existence, by failing to keep creation free of its influence.

Modern Neo-Manicheanism now claims it addresses accurately the “greatest weakness of the world’s largest religions: the origin of evil and suffering.”[3] They assert that the creator-god is ultimately responsible for the suffering and evil because the creator’s god is evil. This is a twist on Mani’s original teaching that the human body has inherent evil in it due to matter’s corruption. According to Mani, only the human soul is pure, and its job is to extricate or liberate itself from matter through strict religious practices of deprivation and discipline.

In both its manifestations, past and present, Manicheanism is a heretical movement that subverts the truth of Christianity through dilution. Mani’s claims to enlightenment and prophetic insight must be rejected.  However, the dangers of this cult must not be dismissed. In its origins, an ancient lie lay below the surface that has existed in many fashions and formats. Its teachings are like the modern mysticism of the New Age, where once again people have attempted to forge a new religious expression through the weaving together of ancient thoughts and religions.

Manicheanism resurgence in modern times raises a historical conundrum for the church in Manicheanism classification. Is it legitimate to identify this philosophy/religion as a cult, or is the church better served by placing it in a category of its own?  Are there enough similarities to categorize it as being an errant branch or should it be identified with other esoteric New Age/Old Lie religious expressions?


If a 21st century challenge exists for the church, its stoutest protagonist possibly exists in the guise of the re-emergence of the 2nd centuries’ dabbling in Dualism’s thought. How does the modern church address an ancient heresy recoated in new drapery? Is it possible to once again counter the Gnostic influx of Dualism, expelling it from the church’s boundaries, or will the church be forced into a quiet acquiescence of heretical thought and deviant practices as being normative? The answer must be a clear and decisive stance against Gnostic influence within the church.

From a purely problematic standpoint, the most significant difficulty may not exist in the churches ability to define Dualism’s heresy. Its challenge may be weighted more heavily in the arena of determining what is orthodox and acceptable. As such, the difficulty of Montanism’s with Dualism during his day as a Church Father’s struggle may re-emerge in a significant format again. Will the churchmen once more allow prejudice to dominate argumentative thought, excluding members who may be feasible, while conversely bedding with denominational deviants and the re-emerging Gnostic framework and Dualism’s practices?

Augustine’s conversion to Manicheanism exemplifies the inherent danger of Dualistic thought. As a philosophic and religious blend, it attempts to resolve intellectually all questions posited through metaphysical deliberations. The epistemological considerations led the initiate into ‘fuller knowledge’ thus elevating the learned into a higher dimension or plane of existence. This gnosis was appealing to those who valued knowledge and sought to live by the discipline of the Greek forms of philosophical meanderings.

Tertullian poignantly states the belief that Gnosticism was a blending of Greek philosophy and Christianity.[4] Hans Jonas, in an article on Gnosticism for the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, sees Gnosticism as transcending religious constraints. Jonas asserts that the blend was a cultural adaptation between Greeks and Oriental cultures and belief systems.[5] The ideals of gnostic thought are essential in our modern considerations of business and religion, as the impact of dualism continues to influence our society, as it separates the practical world from religious expressions and belief.

Modern thought views this assorted and variant belief system as capitalizing on Greek perceptions of Jewish monotheism, Babylonian mystery religions and astrology coupled with Iranian dualism. Gnosticism in modern times has been perceived as carrying within its parameters an extension of apocalyptic theories and traditions into the arena of philosophical existence. Current traditional and conservative thought appear to hold to the underlying assumption that in ancient Gnostic deliberation, two dominant formats achieved prominence. Both strains are viewed as mythological frameworks that seek to explain the problem of evil about creation. The prevailing question appears to be: how could God, as good, allow evil to exist, if indeed God is omnipotent?

[1] ___ Woods, Constance, op. cit. p. 1-8

[2] Douglas, J. D., Ed, Gnosticism, New Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Publishing House, ILL, 1962, pp. 424-6

[3] http://www.meta-religion.com/Philosophy/Articles/Other/Mani_paper.htm

[4] Tertullian, Against Marcion, Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, Hendrickson Publishers, MA, 1994, p. 377

[5] Borchert, J.L, Evangelical Dictionary of the Bible, Walter Elwell Ed, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, 1984, pp. 444-47

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