How influential was the Manichaeism religion?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Manichaean religion was very influential even up until its revival during the Middle Ages. Having originated in Persia with Iranian Mani as the prophetic seer behind it, it spread westward then eastward, though it was not steadily accepted even after taking root in a locality.

The westward spread was facilitated by the Aramaic language. One of the most widespread religions in the world at the time of the 7th century (600s), it had spread westward from Persia through Rome and to Egypt, then across Northern Africa and across Southern Europe to Spain. In North Africa, it influenced the soon-to-be powerful Christian leader, Augustine. The eastward spread went as far as China where it was given status as a religion that was free to practice. When Turkistan was conquered, Manichaeism temporarily became the state religion for about 100 years.

One of Mani's stated objectives was to incorporate the wisdom of previous prophets, especially Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus, in a universal and ecumenical religion that could be adopted by all. Thus this religion had great missionary zeal and great flexibility and adaptability combined with great fervor to produce writings in all languages.

Being a Gnostic religion predicated upon the accepted idea of duality between material and spiritual bodies, Manichaeism taught that salvation from the material life and world was given by self-knowledge, which omitted the role of propitiation by a Christ or Savior. The Christian Church denounced the religion as a heresy, since it denied the role of Jesus as Propitiator, Christ and Savior, and Rome also rejected the religion. In Africa and Europe, Manichaeism was virtually extinct by the 5th century (400s). In China, Manichaeism fell out of favor and was banned, though much later, in 843 after close to 200 years of court favor, having been first introduced in 694 and given freedom of practice status in 732. Thus while Manichaeism was widespread and very influential in early centuries, after being begun by Mani in the third century (200s, c. 274), its influence eventually died out from each place that accepted it.

There was a revival of neo-Manichaeism in Europe, including in the locals of Armenia, Bulgaria and France, between the 7th and 12th centuries (600s to 1100s). Continually being considered a heresy by the powerful Catholic Church (pre-Reformation), neo-Manichaeism did not long last. Since archaeological discoveries of Manichaean writings came to light in the 20th century (1900s) in Egypt and China (Turkistan), Manichaeism may see renewed interest.