Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection


[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

St. Augustine in His Confessions in 3.6. said that he fell "in with men proudly erring... a very birdlime made of a mixture of the syllables of your name - These were the Manichees. They did speak of Jesus, and that was a trap for him, for he wanted that name.

At the very time he was disappointed in Scripture, he came upon the Manichees, founded by Manes, a Persian, executed 277 AD. He promised they would not need to take anything on faith, would prove all. He did not do that at all. (Cf. Augustine De utilitate credendi 1.2) Manes said there were two eternal kingdoms, light and darkness, each infinite except in the direction where they bordered on each other. The God of Light rules the one kingdom, but Hyle (matter) rules the other. In the darkness there were five provinces, corresponding to the five evil elements: darkness, evil water, evil wind, evil fire, and smoke. But some natives of the darkness looked up, saw the kingdom of light, got up an army to attack. God saw the five evil elements and forces coming and was terrified! He sent out Primal Man (not same as Adam) who was part of the divine substance, and who had as armor the five good elements. God let him be beaten, imprisoned in matter to prepare the way for a greater victory later - which never came. At request of Primal Man God sent out the Friend of Lights, who evoked the Great Architect, who evoked the Living Spirit - who rescued Primal Man, but the latter had lost some of his light and good elements were mixed with evil. To recover the lost light it was necessary to make a universe. The Living Spirit and his five sons formed ten heavens and eight earths out of the mixture, with everything arranged higher or lower according to the amount of light it had (light particles are parts of God). Four earths are filled with darkness, four with a mixture. So the Sun and Moon are to be adored, and contain holy virtues. The latter can take on either masculine or feminine appearance to attract others. This aroused concupiscence, and the light of the soul which is held captive in matter can be set free. Then the moon, a light ship, can carry it to the sun, dump it there, and come back as a crescent. The large animals and man originated in the realm of darkness. Man came from the den of smoke. When the Third Messenger came, in the third phase of the war, sin was captivated by the beauty of the Exalted One. So Sin

made a tree, came forth from it as its fruit. In the fruit was the image of the Exalted One. The light of this image was given to one of the evil princes, Saclas, who was the father of Adam and Eve. So Adam was made in the image of the Exalted One. Man has a body of matter which is evil. He also has two souls, one from God, which is good, the other from the land of darkness. All sins are due to the evil soul. There is a twofold Jesus: 1) the Jesus of the Gospels, but he had no real flesh (flesh is evil) and only seemed to be born and crucified. So the Manichees made little of Easter, but exalted the feast of the Bema, the day on which Manes was killed. 2) the Suffering Jesus - that part of God which is held bound and defiled in demons, animals, and brings forth this suffering Jesus, the life of man, hanging from every tree. At the end will be a final conflagration. All evil plus whatever parts of God have not been liberated, will be bound in a globe of fire. So the greater victory never came.

The Manichees attacked the OT, said misdeeds of some of the chief men proved the book was not of God. There was a hierarchy. There were Twelve Masters plus a chief, 72 Bishops were ordained by the Masters, and priests ordained by the bishops, and also deacons. But they rejected baptism. There were two classes, Elect, and Hearers, Elect did not kill animals or harvest plants or marry. Hearers did all these, furnished vegetables for the Elect, who then by eating, set free gods, from "the factory of their stomachs" (Confessions 4.1.1).

Augustine began to have doubts in faith: what they said about the moon did not fit with what he read in astronomy. Local officials could not solve, said Faustus would come. Augustine waited 9 years, but Faustus admitted he did not know. So became disillusioned.



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