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Jesus: Multiplicity in Unity: How Mani taught One Cosmic Christ, but in 6 different guises.

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Augustine once asked Faustus, a Manichaean Bishop, how many Christs do you make? The answer to this question may seem difficult at first. Mani portrayed 6 different figures within his Christology: Jesus the Splendour, Patibilis, Apostle, Judge, Youth, and the Moon. Whilst it would appear to be 6 Jesuses within Manichaean thought; it is important to highlight how each guise is an aspect of the One Cosmic Christ. Each revered form serves a specific function. This post will now dive into the different aspects and show how each guise is inextricably linked with the cosmic divine figure of Jesus the Splendour.

Despite the mainstream doctrine of Christianity having been firmly established over centuries, exploring different interpretations of Christology, the theology concerned with the study of Jesus Christ, has been an indispensable area in Christian studies. This essay focuses on the Christology of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion founded by Mani in the 3rd Century AD.

In Manichaean Christology, the concept of Jesus differs from mainstream orthodoxy, portraying an imaginative theological view on his nature and function. The Manichaean understanding of Christ is situated in their dualistic view of the universe, where the spirit and matter are steeped in an eternal conflict. In this context, Jesus Christ is seen as a figure of salvation emanating from the realm of light (spirit) to salvage the divine light elements that have been entrapped within the material world.

There are essentially 6 different aspects to the Cosmic Christ;

1. Jesus the Luminous/Splendour: The Manichaeans express the notion of Jesus as light in their texts. According to them, Christ is not just a historical figure, but an eternal entity pervading the universe. In the Kephalaia (28.26–28; 37.27–28), it is stated that this Jesus is the emanation of the Greatness (The Father). He is the 5th emanation to come forth from the Father. This is also confirmed in the Prayer of the Emanations, which states; "I adore and glorify the Son of Majesty, the Enlightening Mind, Christ King: he who came forth from the outer Aeons into the upper region, and from there to this lower creation; and who incomparably announced His wisdom and the ineffable mysteries to the people on earth, and who showed the whole universe the Way of Truth, and who gave this interpretation with all voices, and who distinguished Truth from lie and the Light from darkness and good from evil and the righteous from the wicked. From You every grace has been known to the universe, and life together with the Truth is being interpreted to every nation with all voices. He Himself became, for living souls, the Redeemer of the oppression of hostile bonds."

Christ, the King, is also represented as emanating out of the Third Messenger (Keph. 35.7–10, 13–14); the Third Messenger came out of the Father, and that ‘he too summoned and sent out of him (ⲁϥⲧⲛ̅ⲛⲁⲩ ⲁⲃⲁⲁ ⲙ̅ⲙⲁϥ) three powers’ (35.9), the Pillar of Glory, Jesus the Splendour and the Virgin of Light. Jesus is mentioned as the "Firstborn" of the Father, this is not to be conceived of as an earthly conception. He is of the same substance as the Father. In the hymn "praises to Jesus" it sings; "Praises to Jesus: Jesus, the only-begotten, save me. The earthly body of the earth l will put off me: the old man of corruption I will forsake, the fire of the passions of guile, the camp of the enemies: through the armour of the Paraclete I will conquer them. I have renounced you, O devil; the angels of the darkness and the hordes of the demons. I will strip myself of the world and the likeness of these five stars, and I will destroy the guile of the Archons, I will shine in the remembrance of the Paraclete. O Mind that subdues Matter, spread your mercy upon my spirit. I, the new man, will be established in your congregation, 33 and receive all the gifts which you have promised me, the victory in Your eternal Kingdom. Jesus is the first gift that was given: Jesus is the holy flower of the Father: Jesus is the first to sit upon the luminaries: Jesus is the Perfect Man in the Pillar"

Faustus in his response to Augustine argued that; "We worship, then, one deity under the threefold appellation of the Almighty God the Father, and his son Christ, and the Holy Spirit. While these are one and the same, we believe also that the Father properly dwells in the highest or principal light, which Paul calls “light inaccessible,” and the Son in his second or visible light. And as the Son is himself twofold, according to the apostle, who speaks of Christ as the power of God and the wisdom of God,2 we believe that His power dwells in the sun, and His wisdom in the moon. We also believe that the Holy Spirit, the third majesty, has His seat and His home in the whole circle of the atmosphere. By His influence and spiritual infusion, the earth conceives and brings forth the mortal Jesus, who, as hanging from every tree, is the life and salvation of men. Though you oppose, these doctrines so violently, your religion resembles ours in attaching the same sacredness to the bread and wine that we do to everything. This is our belief, which you will have an opportunity of hearing more of, if you wish to do so. Meanwhile, there is some force in the consideration that you or any one that is asked where his God dwells, will say that he dwells in light; so that the testimony in favour of my worship is almost universal."

Mani, like Paul before him, taught that it is Christ, who is the perfect image of the Father. We can only come to know the Father through Jesus the Splendour. This aspect of Jesus is the Unity, which is reflected in the following 6 different guises. The Splendour is also referred to as 'Jesus the Luminous', which is conceptualized as an instrument for revealing the knowledge about the Kingdom of Light and the inherent dualism of the world. Jesus the Splendour is the Firstborn of the Father, begotten, not made. Begotten/emanated, are used interchangeable. In my opinion, these terms are semantic in nature. The main focus should be on the fact that it is only through Jesus that one can come to know who the Totality is. This is represented in the role Jesus takes as an instructor or teacher emphasizing the importance of asceticism and righteousness to the 'sons of virtue', thus leading souls to salvation. Finally, Jesus the Splendour is the transcendent aspect of Christ. Whilst, Patibilis is the immanent aspect, which is represented in the doctrine of the cross of light. All light trapped in this material prison, is the suffering Christ, which is essential to the teachings of duality, creation, soteriology, and eschatology. It is Jesus the Splendour who redeems and liberates Jesus Patibilis. The multiplicity in Unity, is reflective of the docetic idea of Jesus the Apostle (Earthly Jesus). These different aspects of Jesus are ultimately united in the Cosmic figure of Jesus the Splendour. Thus, God is revealed in a unique and fascinating way, which is reflective in many of the parables taught by Jesus of Nazareth. The two ontological principles portray a cosmic dance in which the Darkness ascends and tastes life, whilst the Light descends and tastes death. The parable of the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 to fetch the lost sheep. It is Wisdom (Jesus the Splendour) who reveals to us that the lamb, who was crucified, was the death of Love itself. Wisdom seeks after the lost sheep. The fall is conceived of in a Cosmic way, Love grieved, whilst Darkness celebrated. God experiences the reality of the fall in real time through the figure of Jesus Patibilis. God both falls and seeks after the fallen, which again is represented in the parable of the lost sheep.

2. Jesus Patibilis: The 'Suffering Jesus'. Unlike the traditional Christology where Jesus' sufferings are limited to his passion, Manichaeans believe that 'Jesus Patibilis' is continually suffering as long as the substance of light is trapped in materiality. The liberation from this suffering formed a keystone in Manichaean soteriology. Jesus Patibilis is the Primal Man, whilst Jesus the Splendour is the Perfect Man. The Primal Man falls together with his five sons in his battle against the Archons of Darkness. The Primal Man and his five sons are the Living Soul, which is imprisoned in our garments of flesh. Each shard of Light is a shard from the descent of God (through his emanations) into the realm of Darkness. All sentient life is embodied in this figure of the Primal Man, whose self-sacrifice, paves the way for the ultimate victory of the Light. The image of the Perfect Man is illustrated in Ephesians 4; 4 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,

and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

"17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." I think it can be safely argued that the notion of the two natures of Christ was first revealed through Mani and his teachings, which is represented in the Christ as a cosmic and suffering redeemer. Jesus, within Manichaean theology, is a saviour-figure – not by the redemption of sins made in traditional Christianity, but as an enlightener, who reveals cosmic truth to humanity. Much like many Gnostic systems, it posits an inherent divine spark within humans (Light) entrapped by the mundane corporeal existence (Darkness). The Earthly Jesus, in this framework, serves as a guide to realize and unleash this intrinsic divinity. In his terrestrial guise, Jesus is often perceived as the 'Messenger of Light', tasked with heralding the knowledge of the vast cosmic struggle to mankind, allowing individual souls to resist the encompassing darkness. Manichaean texts uphold his teaching role that is linked to gnosis, or knowledge, facilitating the liberation of Light from Darkness. Consequently, the earthly Jesus in Manichaeism represents the existential duality of our universe and takes on a liberating role, making clear the true path for the entrapped souls of Light. Moreover, the Manichaean Jesus is not affiliated with suffering or crucifixion in the same sense as the conventional Christian understanding. The crucifixion of the earthly Jesus is deemed a mere illusion, a docetic perspective. His Passion is rather seen as a metaphorical representation of the Light's ongoing struggle and suffering in the material world.

It is important to note the multifaceted nature of Jesus in Manichaeism – he is not restricted to his earthly role. Mani conceived Jesus as being part of a broader Jesus Patibilis, which encompasses various cosmic entities, the most significant 'Heavenly Jesus' or 'Jesus the Splendour.' Nevertheless, his earthly life's mission is undeniably paramount in influencing the human comprehension of Manichaean cosmic dualism.

The figure of Jesus, particularly his earthly incarnation, within Manichaeism, therefore, symbolizes enlightenment and liberation. Yet, it fundamentally diverges from traditional Christian doctrines. This version of Jesus, intricately woven into the fibres of Manichaean dualistic cosmology, is symbolic, shedding light upon the nature of existence and the struggle between the realms of Light and Darkness. Within the Manichean belief system, Jesus is not a saviour or a sacrificial messiah. Instead, He is known as Jesus the Luminous, who personifies the concept of divine knowledge and light, positioned as a spiritual entity instrumental in facilitating redemption. Two facets of Jesus are distinctly emphasized: Jesus the Splendour, who represents the spiritual entity inhabiting the Sun and the Moon's light, and Jesus the Judge or Jesus Patibilis, embodying suffering and existing within each follower's soul. The other guises of Apostle, Judge, Youth, and Moon, are intricately tied up with the two main aspects of the Splendour and the Patibilis. Yet, it is clear that even though there are two principal aspects, the reality shows a unique and eloquently depicted Unity of multiple personae. The Manichaean notion of Jesus the Judge underscores an inextricably intrinsic intertwining with human suffering and moral judgement. This insightful perspective is rather divergent from mainstream Christianity's representation of Jesus. Jesus the Judge emphasizes humanity's inner capacity to convert suffering into enlightenment. The tenet embodies the human experience's often painful trajectory, asserting that enlightenment and redemption might be achieved by fully acknowledging and understanding one's own suffering. Jesus the Judge corresponds to the Light Particle that resides within every follower's soul, judging their actions based upon the principles of truth, equity, and moral righteousness. This concept provides guidance and consciousness, indicating the way towards liberation from the physical world's clutches and the materialistic attractions that majorly represent the epitome of evil in Manichaean dualism.

In essence, the presence of Jesus the Judge is an individual's moral compass, stimulating the transformation required to attain salvation. It works to illuminate followers' paths with spiritual enlightenment, catalysing a crucial realization of the irrelevance of materialistic pursuits in their journey towards redemption. Hence, the role of Jesus in Manichaeism, and particularly as Jesus the Judge, can be seen as a constant allegorical reminder to mankind of the significance of introspection and moral righteousness. Jesus the Judge exists within all sentient life and accentuates their responsibility of being their judge, elevating the significance of perceptive, self-awareness as a part of the soul's tribulation in the physical realm.

This aspect of Jesus brings forth the uniqueness of Manichaeism, emphasizing the maturation and spiritual revolution an individual must undergo to disconnect from worldly desires and ascend towards a higher realm of existence. Jesus the Judge, therefore, plays an instrumental role in shaping the spiritual trajectory of a Manichee.

The concept of Jesus as an inner guide in Manichaeism reinforces the responsibility each follower has in dictating their own spiritual, moral, and existential paths. It is a stark divergence from the mainstream Christian dogmas that depict Jesus as an external saviour, painting a unique portrait of spiritual self-reliance and introspective wisdom in the Manichaean religion. In the Shabuhragan, we can read how; (the helpers) of the religious who stand on the right side he speaks thus, ‘Welcome, you who have been [made] blessed of the Father of Greatness thereby, for I was hungry and thirsty [and] you gave me food. I was naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you cured me. I was bound and you loosed me. I was a captive and you set me free. And I was an exile and a wanderer and you gathered me to (your) house(s).’ (M 475 a I [vv. 72–85]) Jesus Patibilis is the sacred meal of many, which is also combined with the concept of Jesus the Apostle. Jesus the Youth is represented in the forms of angels Jesus the Splendour takes, as well as his docetic "appearance" of taking on flesh. Another key aspect of the Youth figure can be identified in the way Jesus the Splendour, as the third father, emanates the third power of Jesus the Youth. These emanations find their source in the overarching figure of Jesus the Splendour, who is the Unity of the 6 different aspects of the same Cosmic Christ. Each aspect being a form, which serves to reinforce the myth of creation, its current state, and the final eschaton in which Jesus is central to the overarching Cosmic theme. It is through the perfect Love of the Father, his kenosis (emptying) of oneself, which reveals the truth and the grand master plan devised by the Totality; to ensure that Darkness will never again be able to threaten the Realm of Light. Jesus is the way, the truth and the Life. Without Christ, there is no salvation, death is only defeated through the self-sacrificial love of the Father. His fall paves the way for all light to be redeemed in the end. Whether a remnant of light will remain trapped in the Pit is up for debate. But what is certain is that God is pure light and that in Him there is no darkness to be found. It is the scandalous love of God, which portrays evil as not originating from God, but is defeated by God through his descent, death, redemption, and ascension. Christ the King defeats the powers of Evil through self-sacrificial love.

To conclude, Manichaeism’s interpretation of the earthly Jesus provides a rich testament to the diversity of early Christian thought and gnostic philosophies. It reminds us that historical encounters with spirituality and divinity are far more complex, nuanced, and varied than popularly understood. In underscoring his role as a guiding light and a vessel of divine wisdom, Manichaeism envisions a truly cosmic Jesus, a figure profoundly emblematic of the religion's spiritual and existential dualism.

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