Mani was born in 216 in Mesopotamia. He was born to a family that belonged to a Gnostic religion that was a mixture of Christianity and Judaism. Mani spent most of his life as a religious leader. He was persecuted by the Persian king at the time because of his religious beliefs and died as a prisoner in 276.
Mani’s beliefs centered on the idea that there is an inherent dualism in the universe between good and evil. He argued that God did not create evil. Instead, there had been good and evil worlds that had existed separately for all eternity. The evil and the good had become fused. What was evil was all that was physical and the things that were purely spiritual were good. Human beings had bits of the good in them that needed to be liberated from the evil, physical world in which they existed. People were meant to try to eradicate all aspects of evil from their lives so that, when they died, they could live in the purely good, spiritual world. Therefore, Manicheans were encouraged to do things like fasting and abstaining from sex because food and sex were physical things that were connected to the evil world. Though this philosophy was rejected by Christianity, it did have major impacts on Christian thinkers, particularly on St. Augustine of Hippo.