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Manichaeans [1]

or Manichees, a denomination founded in the latter part of the third century, by Mani, Manes, or Manichaeus. Being a Persian or Chaldean by birth, and educated among the magi, he attempted a coalition of their doctrine with the Christian system, or rather, the explication of the one by the other. Dr. Lardner, so far from taking Mani and his followers for enthusiasts, as some have done, thinks they erred on the other side, and were rather a sect of reasoners and philosophers, than visionaries and enthusiasts. So Faustus, one of their leaders, says, the doctrine of Mani taught him not to receive every thing recommended as said by our Saviour, but first to examine and consider whether it be true, sound, right, genuine; while the Catholics, he says, swallowed every thing, and acted as if they despised the benefit of human reason, and were afraid to examine and distinguish between truth and falsehood. St. Augustine, it is well known, was for some time among this sect; but they were not pretensions to inspiration, but specious and alluring promises of rational discoveries, by which Augustine was deluded, as he particularly states in his letter to his friend Honoratus. So Beausobre remarks: "These heretics were philosophers, who, having formed certain systems, accommodated revelation to them, which was the servant of their reason, not the mistress."

Mani, according to Dr. Lardner, believed in an eternal self-existent Being, completely happy and perfect in goodness, whom alone he called God, in a strict and proper sense; but he believed, also, in an evil principle or being, which he called hyle, or the devil, whom he considered as the god of this world, blinding the eyes of them that believe not,   2 Corinthians 4:4 .

God, the supreme and good, they considered as the Author of the universe; and, according to St. Augustine, they believed, also, in a consubstantial trinity, though they strangely supposed the Father to dwell in light inaccessible, the Son to have his residence in the solar orb, and the Holy Spirit to be diffused throughout the atmosphere; on which account they paid a superstitious, and perhaps an idolatrous, reverence to the sun and moon. Their belief in the evil principle was, no doubt, adopted to solve the mysterious question of the origin of evil, which, says Dr. Lardner, was the ruin of these men, and of many others. As to the hyle, or the devil, though they dared not to consider him as the creature of God, neither did they believe in his eternity; for they contended, from the Greek text of   John 8:44 , that he had a father. But they admitted the eternity of matter, which they called darkness; and supposed hyle to be the result of some wonderful and unaccountable commotion in the kingdom of darkness, which idea seems to be borrowed from the Mosaic chaos. In this commotion darkness became mingled with light, and thus they account for good and evil being so mixed together in the world. Having thus brought hyle, or Satan, into being, they next found an empire and employment for him. Every thing, therefore, which they conceived unworthy of the fountain of goodness, they attributed to the evil being; particularly the material world, the Mosaic dispensation, and the Scriptures on which it was founded. This accounts for their rejecting the Old Testament. Dr. Lardner contends, however, that they received generally the books of the New Testament, though they objected to particular passages as corrupted, which they could not reconcile to their system. On Romans 7, Mani founded the doctrine of two souls in man, two active principles; one, the source and cause of vicious passions, deriving its origin from matter; the other, the cause of the ideas of just and right, and of inclinations to follow those ideas, deriving its origin from God. Considering all sensual enjoyments to be in some degree criminal, they were enemies to marriage; though, at the same time, knowing that all men cannot receive this saying, they allowed it to the second class of their disciples, called auditors; but by no means to the perfect or confirmed believers. Another absurd consequence of believing the moral evil of matter was, that they denied the real existence of Christ's human nature, and supposed him to suffer and die in appearance only. According to them, he took the form only of man; a notion that was afterward adopted by Mohammed, and which necessarily excludes all faith in the atonement. Construing too literally the assertion that flesh and blood could not inherit the kingdom of God, they denied the doctrine of the resurrection. Christ came, they said, to save the souls of men, and not the bodies. No part of matter, according to them, could be worthy of salvation. In many leading principles they thus evidently agreed with the Gnostics, of whom, indeed, they may be considered a branch.