Fundamental Epistle of Mar Mani (sacred writings of the Manichaean religion)

The FUNDAMENTAL EPISTLE or LETTER OF FOUNDATION (Latin: Epistola Fundamenti) was one of the sacred writings of the Manichaean religion, written by the founder Mani (c. 210–276 CE), originally in Syriac. Since none of the original Syriac writings of Manichaeism remain, we only have translations of small sections of this book, made by either Manichaeans or anti-Manichaeans. One of the most well-known references to this book is found in the writings of Saint Augustine (354-430 CE), who before converting to Christianity, was a Manichaean “hearer” for a number of years. In two of his anti-Manichaean books, he quotes a few paragraphs of the Fundamental Epistle. {Source Wikipedia}[1]

As classical Gnosticism was waning, another Gnostic movement developed under the inspiration of the Prophet Mani. The Manichaean movement became a true world religion, spreading to Europe, Central Asia and China; it survived as a living religion in the Orient up until the present century. Though once anathematized and little understood, the discovery of several ancient documents during the last century, including large collections of Manichaean texts in Central Asia, has stimulated a new study and understanding of one of Gnosticism’s most important representatives. {Source}[2]

Bible Dictionaries[3]see

A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Manes, Called Also Mani

Manes (called also Mani among Oriental writers, Μανιχαῖος and Manichaeus among Greeks and Latins). The lives of all ancient heretics have suffered much from the misrepresentations of their opponents. In the case of Manes there is the additional difficulty that we have two contradictory accounts in the Western and Eastern traditions. The Western story is derived from the Acts of Archelaus, bp. of Caschar; the Eastern from Persian and Arabian historians.

Our earliest authentic notice of him is in Eusebius ( H. E. vii. 31), where he is described “as a barbarian in life, both in speech and conduct, who attempted to form himself into a Christ, and then also proclaimed himself to be the very Paraclete and the Holy Spirit. Then, as if he were Christ, he selected twelve disciples. the partners of his new religion, and after patching together false and ungodly doctrines, collected from a thousand heresies long since extinct, he swept them off like a deadly poison, from Persia, upon this part of the world.”

The Acta Archelai were forged by some romancing Greek between a.d. 330 and 340, as we first find them quoted by Cyrill. Hieros. ( Catech. vi., written a.d. 348–350), and Eusebius in his history, pub. 326–330, knows nothing of them. If genuine, it is scarcely possible that Eusebius, living but a few miles from Jerusalem and with all the imperial resources at his back, could have been ignorant of a dispute which must have made such a noise all over Syria and Mesopotamia. [See ARCHELAUS.]

Upon the story told by the Syrian, Persian, and Arab historians and chroniclers known to Beausobre he places much more reliance than upon the Western tradition (pt. i. liv. ii. cc. i.–iv.). It runs thus: Manes was born c. 240, and descended from a Magian family.

He was well educated in Greek, music, mathematics, geography, astronomy, painting, medicine, and the Scriptures. Being very zealous for the faith, he was ordained priest while yet young, but becoming a heretic he went to the court of Sapor, whom he proselytized to his views, c. 267, but as soon as he opened his views more fully the king resolved to put him to death. In fact, a real revival of Zoroastrian doctrine had taken place under his reign, and as soon as Manes disclosed his full plan it was seen to involve the overthrow of the national religion.

He then fled into Turkestan, where he gained many disciples, used his talents to adorn a temple with paintings, and hiding himself in a cave for 12 months produced his gospel in a book embellished with beautiful figures. He returned to Persia, and presented this to king Hormisdas, who protected him and embraced his views. This king, dying within two years, was succeeded by Varanes I. a.d. 273, who was at first favourable to Manes. The national priesthood, however, becoming alarmed at the power of his sect, challenged him to a disputation before the king, after which he was condemned to die as a heretic.

According to some he was crucified, according to others cut in two or flayed alive (Hyde, Rel. Vet. Pers. p. 283; Renaudot, Hist. Pat. Alex. pp. 40–49; Eutych.Annal. Alex. t. i. p. 387; Hotting. Hist. Orient. i. 3). Varanes instituted a general persecution of the Manicheans after his death. Eutychius ( l.c. ) reports a savage jest of his on this subject. He put to death 200 Manicheans, and caused them to be buried with their heads down and their feet projecting above ground. He then boasted he had a garden planted with men instead of trees. The persecution was so severe that adherents of the sect fled into all the neighbouring lands—India, China, Turkestan, etc. The pretext of the persecution was that the spread of the sect was hostile to the human race through their opposition to marriage (Assem. Bibl. Or. iii. 220).

Since Beausobre’s time the sources of Oriental knowledge have been much enlarged, and modern research inclines more and more to trust the concordant testimony of Persian, Arabic, and Armenian historians, as opposed to the Byzantines, about the affairs of W. Asia. According to these Eastern authorities, the father of Manes came originally from Persia to Babylon, where Manes was born. One day his father heard in a temple a voice saying, “Eat no flesh, drink no wine, and abstain from women,” whereupon he founded the sect of the Mugtasila or the Washers, identical with the Sabians of the Marshes between the Tigris and Euphrates, still found near Bassora.

In this sect Manes was brought up, being instructed in all the knowledge of his time. At 12 years old an angel announced to him that when older he should abandon that sect. At 24 the same angel summoned him to found Manicheism in these words: “Hail, Manes, from me and from the Lord which has sent me to thee and chosen thee for his work. Now he commands thee to proclaim the glad tidings of the truth which comes from him, and bestow thereon thy whole zeal.”

Manes, according to one tradition, entered on his office the day that Sapor, son of Artaxerxes, succeeded to the throne, Sun. Apr. 1, 238, as Flügel determines by a lengthened calculation (pp. 146–149). According to another (p. 85) Manes appeared in the 2nd year of the emperor Gallus, a.d. 252 (pp. 150–162). He claimed to be the Paraclete promised by Christ, and derived his dogmas from Persian and Christian sources. Before Manes met Sapor he travelled for 40 years through various countries. Upon his return he invited Fîruz, the brother of Sapor and son of Artaxerxes, to accept his doctrines.

Through him he was introduced to Sapor, who shewed him great respect, though he had previously intended to slay him. He promised reformation of his own life and freedom to Manes’s adherents to preach their views. Already the sect had spread into India, China, and Turkestan. Manes was put to death by Varanes I. (272–276), and his body, cut in two, was suspended over the two gates of the city Dschundîsâbûr, pp. 99, 329–334. A version of his history which later research has brought to light is in Albîrûnî’s Chronology of Ancient Nations , trans. by E. Sachau and pub. by the Oriental Trans. Fund in 1879.

It is a most important document, and well deserves the praise the learned editor lavishes upon it in his introduction. In many particulars it strikingly confirms the narrative of an-Nadîm given by Flügel, both being probably derived from Manichean sources. Albîrûnî was a native of Khiva, a.d. 973–1048, and lived and wrote near there. This work proves him to have possessed vast literary resources no longer available, but some of which may yet be found in Central Asia. (Cf. art. by Thomas on Recent Pehlvi Decipherments in Jour. Asiat. Soc. 1871, p. 417.)

The writings of Manes were very numerous. From Albîrûnî’s work we learn that some were still in existence in the 11th cent. They were written in Persian and Syriac, and, according to Muhammad ben Ishak, in a character peculiar to the Manicheans. Of this alphabet Flügel in his commentary, p. 167, gives a copy. It contained more letters than the Syriac, and was chiefly used by the Manicheans of Samarkhand and Transoxania, where the Marcionites who still existed there in the 10th cent. used a similar character.

The names of his books, according to Beausobre, are his Gospel; his Treasure of Life; Book of Chapters; Treatise about the Faith, which Beausobre (t. i. p. 427) believes identical with his Mysteries ( μυστήρια , Epiph. Haer. lxvi. 14), of which too he gives an analysis, with which cf. the very different one by Muhammad ben Ishak in Flügel, p. 102; Book about the Giants, known in Syriac at the court of Baghdad so late as the 9th cent. ( Jour. Asiat. Mar 1835, p. 260). According to Epiphanius he also wrote treatises on astronomy, astrology, and magic. To his Fundamental Epistle Augustine replies in his treatise cont. Ep. Fundamenti. This last seems to have been specially popular in Africa. In Fabric. ( Bibl. Graec. lib. v. c. i.) will be found a collection of fragments from his epistles and a list of his works.

1. Mani, by the grace of God the Father, Apostle of Isho, the Messiah:

2. These are the healthful words from the perennial and Living Source, which he who first hears and believes them, then guards what they teach, shall never be subject to death but will enjoy eternal and glorious life.

3. Happy indeed may he be deemed who has been initiated in this divine gnosis, whereby he will be liberated and abide in everlasting life.

4. May the peace of the Invisible God and the Knowledge of the Truth be with the holy and most dear brothers who believe in the Divine Precepts and at the same time, fully observe them.

5. May also the Right Hand of Light guard and save you from every evil assault and from the snares of the world. May the compassion of the Spirit of Holiness open the depth of your heart and let you see your soul with your own eyes.

1. Dearest brother, Patteci, on that which you have written to me saying that you desire to know how the birth of Adam and Eve took place – whether these were brought about by a word, or first-born from the body, you shall be answered as is fitting.

2. For it is recorded and reported of these by most in various scriptures and revelations in different ways: so that the truth of this matter as it actually was is unknown to almost all peoples, and even to those who have long and much discussed it.

3. For if it had come to know clearly about the generation of Adam and Eve, they would never have been subject to corruption and death.

4. Necessarily then there are many things to be remembered beforehand in order without any ambiguity to attain to that mystery.

5. Thus, if you please, hear what existed first, before the creation of the world, and after the conflict was stirred up, so that you may be able to separate the nature of the Light and the darkness.

1. In the beginning there were these two Substances separated from each other. And the Father of Greatness was holding the Empire of the Light – eternal in one Holy Origin, magnificent in power, true in His very nature, ever rejoicing in His own eternity, containing in Himself Wisdom and the Vital Senses by means of which even He comprehends the twelve members[4]the Maidens of His own Light, namely the abounding Riches of His own Kingdom.

2. Now in each of His Members are hidden thousands of untold and immense treasures[5]bright beings or emanations.

3. This same Father, sovereign in His own glory and incomprehensible in vastness, has blessed the glorious Aeons united around Him; these glorious Aeons can not be counted either in number or in extent. They are always with the holy and illustrious Father – He who is the Producer of lives. Nothing exists either poor or weak in His Realms of Splendour.

4. His most glorious realms indeed have been so founded on the bright and blissful Land that they can neither be moved nor ever overturned by anyone.

1. Now just adjoining one part and side of that bright and Holy Land was the Land of Darkness, deep and immense in size, wherein dwell fiery bodies and poisonous beings.

2. Here were infinite darknesses emanating from the same nature of evil, countless with their own offspring.

3. Beyond which there were filthy and muddy waters with their denizens inside of which terrible and violent winds prevailed with their own ruler and the fathers.

4. Next, the fiery and corruptible region, with its own leaders and peoples.

5. Finally, at the centre, a people full of mist and smoke, wherein was residing the horrible chief and leader of all, having around it countless chieftains, of all of whom she herself was mind and source.

6. Now these were the five natures of the pestiferous land, while these beings inhabiting those five natures were fierce and destructive.

7. Indeed, the Father of the most Blessed Light knew the great impurity and ruin which would erupt out of the Darkness to threaten His holy Aeons, unless He opposed to them some extraordinary divinity, outstanding and mighty in strength, by which He could at the same time overcome and destroy the dark beings, on the extinction of which perpetual tranquillity would be ensured for the inhabitants of the Light.

1. The Ruler of the Darkness with crooked motives spoke with its friends, the other rulers of darkness who surrounded herself:

2. “What does this greatest Light which rises seem like to you? You see how it moves the Pole of heaven and overturns most of the Powers! For this reason it is right that you should remit to me as much as you have of the Light in your control to command; thus I shall produce an image of that Great One which has appeared in glory, by which we shall be able to reign, free from the life of the darkness known hitherto!”

3. After hearing this and long discussing it together, they thought it most proper to concede what they were asked.

4. For they did not hope to retain always that Light, so they found it better to offer it to their ruler, in no way giving up hope to reign with her when that was accomplished.

1. So then, how they handed over that Light which they held is now to be considered.

2. Now this is scattered throughout all the various divine scriptures and heavenly mysteries: to the wise it is not at all difficult to know how it may be put, for it is clearly and openly known by the one who has truly and faithfully wished to have an understanding of it.

3. As the bulk of those who had gathered were of two particular genders, namely females and males, the evil one forced them to pair off together; in this coupling some sowed, others were made pregnant. But the offspring were like those who had begotten, being first-born receiving most of the strength of the parents.

4. Taking these as a royal tribute, their ruler was satisfied and, as we see taking place even now, the nature of evil shapes the formation of bodies, taking up power from them, so indeed the aforesaid ruler, accepting her friends’ offspring with the senses of the parents and their prudence, at the same time, devoured the Light and procreated with them in the act of generation.

5. Then, having gained full power from such a food, wherein was not only the strength but rather the cunning and depravity of the savage race of the parents, the ruler called her own mate, issued from that same race to which she belonged.

6. Now having paired with her mate, she created among other things the abundance of ills she had swallowed; and she also added something of her own thought and strength, so that her sense might form and describe all those elements which she had spread abroad.

7. Her partner received these as a soil excellently prepared usually accepts the seed. And in it were built up and hatched the images of all the heavenly and earthly powers, so that she might obtain the likeness of the whole universe which was being formed.

8. In fact, the evil one, who believed she had crucified the Saviour, the Father of the Righteous, was herself crucified, at the time when one thing was done and another shown.

9. Thus the ruler of the darkness was nailed to a cross and the same with her friends, they wore a thorny crown and had a royal robe; she also drank the vinegar and the gall, which they imagined the Lord to have drunk.

10. And all that Messiah seemed to bear was really inflicted on the leaders of the darkness, who were also wounded and bruised with rods and the lance.

1. Those souls who for the love of the world have let themselves wander from their own first bright nature and have become foes to the Holy Light and openly armed themselves to the ruin of the Holy Elements, and have submitted to the fiery spirit, and have even by their cruel persecution imprisoned the Holy Church and the Elect included in it who observe the Divine Precepts, will be shut out from the bliss and the glory of the Holy World – the Kingdom of Light.

2. And because they have let themselves be ruled by evil, they will continue in the same race of evil – that peaceful land and the immortal regions being forbidden them.

3. What then will come to them when they have thus fettered themselves by wicked deeds, so that they are estranged from the life and liberty of the Holy Light?

4. They cannot then be received into those peaceful realms, but will be confined in the horrid Lump, on which moreover a guard must be set.

5. Whence also the same souls will cling to those things they have loved, being left behind in the same Lump of Darkness, seeking that out for themselves by their own deserts.

6. For they have neither cared to know these things, nor withdrawn from the same when time was given.


3 see
4 the Maidens
5 bright beings or emanations

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