Mani’s Influence

I was just reading about an intriguing confluence of religions.  There is a continuum of influences from Gnosticism and Manichaeanism to Islam and Sufis and to Bogomils, Paulicians and Albigensians/Cathars… and then to the Reformation.  The confluence of this was in Arab countries that kept alive many Greek and Gnostic strains of belief.  Later on, Southern France became a second Alexandria where a confusion of heresies were spread across Europe.  Italy and Germany were also major centers of heresy.
Okay, let me begin at the beginning.  *deep breath*  🙂  I find all of this fascinating, and I hope I don’t bore anyone.
Mani was born in 216 in Mesopotamia which was a time when many religions were spreading.  This is right after the heresiologists were gaining power of Catholicism and the Gnostics were growing into large religions of their own.  
Mani’s mother was related to the ruling class that I presume was pagan of some sort and his father belonged to a Jewish-Christian baptismal religion.  He was particularly influenced by the tradition of Thomas visiting the East as he also visited the East.  He might’ve also been influenced by the first century Gnostic Mandaeans which were followers of John the Baptist and still exist today.  After various visions and after travelling widely, he formed a religion that combined Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism.  He believed that all previous religions had pieces of the truth… talk about new age.
In his lifetime, he saw his religion spread across the whole known world and become a state religion after converting a Buddhist king.  Manichaeanism (or Manichaeism) which incorporated Christianity had become a larger religion than Christianity.  The religion split into Eastern and Western traditions.  It flourished between the third and seventh centuries, and survived in China until the fifteenth century.
Manichaeanism had three lines of influence on Christian Europe. 
First, Augustine was originally a Manichaean during a time when it was dangerous to be one.  His later Christian theology may have been influenced by his Manichaean education, and this is quite important considering Augustine is possibly the single most influential theologian within Christianity.
Second, Manichaean beliefs seem to have been incorporated into the Koran.  Also, the Shi’ites had many converts from other religions including Manichaeanism along with Christianity and Gnosticism.  It’s from the Shi’ites that we got both the Assasins and the Sufis.  Islamic scholarship (along with Greek, Gnostic, and Manichaean ideas) was reintroduced into Europe through Spain.
Third, some scholars detect a continuous tradition of Manichaeanism within Southern France.  From here, the rest of Europe was influenced. 
In Europe, the traditions that possibly had roots in Manichaeanism were the Bogomils, Paulicians, and the Cathars.  The Paulicians were the earliest and still survive today.  Paulicianism was synthesiszed (along with the tenth century Bulgarian Slavonic Church reform movement) into the Bogomil religion.  Identified with or closely connected with the Bogomils have been the following groups: the Cathars and Patarenes, the Waldenses, and the Anabaptists.  The Cathars in particular spread widely… often in places where Protestantism would later take hold.  Germany became a center for the Cathars and it’s where they got their name.  Many of these heretical belief systems created the groundwork for some Catholic mystic theology and also some later Reformation groups (e.g., Anabaptists).
Manichaeanism also influenced Christianity in another way.  Even though many of their own texts didn’t survive, they did keep many Christian apocyphal texts that would have othewise been lost.  There are many similarities between Manichaean scripture and that of Gnosticism, Christianity and Judaism.  One parallel that interests me is his division of people into three types along the lines of Valeninus’ theology.

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