Ancient History & Civilisation

Mani: The Good and Evil Powers

The last section showed how millions of people sought various means of religious escape from the evils of the times. But many more, especially if they were thoughtful, were tormented by the eternally topical problem: why does such evil exist? If the world was created or is controlled by a beneficent and all-powerful God or gods, how can this be? Browning in his Mihrab Shah called it the most issueless and tragic of all the dilemmas of mankind:

Wherefore should any evil hap to man –

From ache of flesh to agony of soul –

Since God’s All-mercy makes All-potency?

Nay, why permits He evil to Himself? –

If a bullet causes apparently pointless evil by mistake, asked William James, should God (1) prevent this, (2) deflect the bullet, (3) undo the injury? Each of these causes involves reversals of the law of nature, and (3) also implies by the initial error a doubt of God’s sovereign power. And (1), (2) and (3) alike deny the freedom of the human will, a cardinal belief of Christianity which had also been stressed by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius (p. 135). If the world were forced to be good and happy, said Berdyaev, ‘man would have lost his likeness to God, which primarily resides in his freedom’. The arguments of Catholic Theodicy defend the justice and righteousness of God in the face of this fact of evil.

Those dark, deadly, devastating ways,

How do you bear them, suffer them? I praise!125

Christian Scientists respond by dismissing evil, not exactly as the supreme unreality like Plotinus (p. 144), but still as an illusion. Other modern thinkers speak of an internal dualism locating opposition to good within a single divine nature. When, however, this question why the world contains so much evil preoccupied the people of late antiquity, they sought different solutions. The deplorable and ever-present facts of life, it was felt, cannot be harmonised with the supposition that the world is made and managed by an all-powerful and all-beneficent god or gods, for if they were all-powerful and all-beneficent there would not be evil. This can, therefore, only be explained by the existence of two powers, not only a good one but an evil one – which must have created this world.

A dualist view of the divine power is found in the earlier Egyptian legends which tell of the struggle between Horus and Set, day and night, good and evil; and the problem of evil is discussed in the Dialogue of a Misanthrope with his own soul (c. 2000 BC). But the classic formulation of the dilemma is Job’s. ‘The earth is given into the hand of the wicked. God covereth the faces of the judges thereof: if not, where and who is he? … God hath shaken me to pieces.’ Job does not venture upon a dualist solution. Nor does the Preacher (Ecclesiastes), who considers the same theme. Yet during the successive stages of the composition of the Old Testament, Satan changes from an over-zealous member of the heavenly court, not indeed into a second principal power, but at least into a bad spirit who entices man to disobey divine commands.126 Satan appears more frequently in the later than the earlier books of the Old Testament. The change is partly due to Persian influence, for the Persians, influenced by the legendary Zoroaster, had developed a thoroughgoing dualism. Although they believed in many gods, their basic theological fact was the strife between the good power of Light, Ahuramazda (Ormuzd), and the power of Darkness, Ahriman. Even if an ultimate optimism was justifiable – and Zoroaster is lyrical in praise of Creation127 – the mentality which dominated western Asia was pessimistic as far as the measurable future was concerned. Ahriman, the older of the two gods, controls the world, and the fight must go on until victory is eventually achieved by Ahuramazda – his counterpart on earth being the Persian Great King whose seals represent the god and himself as twin images.

Such dualism seems inherent in the Indo-European languages, in which the root ‘two’ stands for badness – dishonourable, dyspepsia, dubious, bévue, Zweifel. The Buddhist epic the Dhammapada asks,‘How is there laughter, how is there joy, as the world is always burning?’ To the Hindu sage Yajnavalkya, existence is ‘this patched together hiding-place’.

In Greece, Athenian tragic dramatists had been preoccupied by the problem of evil. The contrast between celestial and terrestrial worlds was stressed by Plato, who anticipated modern theologians by claiming that Zeus was not wholly responsible for evil happenings.128 Then Epicurus formulated the problem in timeless terms: is the divine power impotent or malevolent ? If neither, whence comes evil ?

In later Greek and Roman times, the dilemma was restated in the ancient terms of the two powers, of good and evil. Within this dualistic framework the restatement assumed a thousand different forms, which added up to a dominant religion of the age. There were many reasons why this came about. Among them were the increasing preoccupations with morality and individual salvation, displayed respectively by Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and by a thousand sarcophagi. But dualism was also encouraged by the obvious proliferation of evil – visible in civil war and economic collapse – and the failure of the traditional Olympian religion to provide an explanation. To the Jews, as well, the catastrophe of their risings against the Romans seemed to show that God had failed to act and could not act.129 Philosophers such as Epictetus and Marcus had stressed the utter instability of the human condition; another writer described it as no better than a nightmare.

Moreover, Persian ideas had been seeping towards the west for centuries, particularly through Mesopotamia, the cockpit of empires and faiths; and Greco-Roman dualism recognised Zoroaster among its prophets. The forty treatises found at Chenoboskion (Nag Hammadi) in Egypt include anApocalypse of Zoroaster, and one of the texts found at Qumran on the Dead Sea, the Manual of Discipline, explains the origin of evil in terms of Zoroastrian dualism. This had begun to come westwards in the second century BC,through the Greek writings of Persian priests in Asia Minor. These ‘Magi’ produced a purified text of their holy writ the Avesta, which was rendered into Aramaic characters in Parthia and thus became more accessible. There were traces of Buddhism in the dualists’ dismissal of material nature as illusion; and sorcery and demonology made their contributions. Many dualists also drew heavily upon Christianity, and indeed believed themselves to be Christians.

Throughout all this phantasmagoric variety of beliefs ran the general theme that the world, created by the evil power, must be condemned, and that man, to escape the imprisoning vileness of the body, must purge what is non-spiritual within him. For the spirit is in him too, waiting for realisation; seeing that human spirits are fragments, incarcerated in the body, of the vast luminous divine light beyond the sky (p. 175). Some drew positive and optimistic conclusions from this situation, and there were thorough pessimists who believed that the material universe ought not to be there at all. Yet the purpose of all their faiths was to rescue and uplift a being who is good but fallen, the visible universe being an evil prison. From Time also man must obtain deliverance. The official Persian (Sassanian) religion of the third and later centuries AD regarded Time as the original Principle producing the good and evil spirits alike,130 but to many dualists it was a defilement, an enemy and a horror. ‘In this world (of Darkness) I was living for a thousand myriads of years, no one knowing that I was there.’

But escape from the world and its evils is possible: man possesses the consciousness of good which allows such an escape. There is a way out of the prison, while we still remain in the body. We must give expression to what is spiritual in us and ‘flee to our own country’. A fresco painted soon after AD 200 at Rome (Viale Manzoni) shows this idea in terms of the return of Odysseus – the soul’s return to the land where it belongs.

But how are we to get there ? The answer is provided by the second characteristic feature of dualist doctrine, which has given it the synonym of Gnosticism. For escape can only be effected by knowledge (Gnosis). But this is not the rationalist sort of knowledge for which the leading thinkers of the ancient world had been striving; this is neither science nor common sense. The last great theory of knowledge, formulated by Chrysippus the director of the Stoics in the third century BC, had been shattered by Carneades (d. c.128 BC), who was founder of the New Academy in Plato’s line but a sceptic above all else. Carneades had denied all possibility of knowledge,131 and his tradition was maintained in the later second century AD by the physician Sextus Empiricus, who has given us our only complete account of ancient Scepticism. His chief principle is suspense of judgment:‘there is no agreed opinion on justice, courage or religion’.132 Like Carneades before him, Sextus was attacking knowledge acquired by supposedly rational means. Neither of them meant to imply that reverence for wholly irrational ‘knowledge’ should instead be encouraged; but such was the result when they discouraged the rational kind.

Sextus’ contemporary, Lucian of Samosata of Cynic leanings, tried jeering at the ever-increasing irrationality of the times, and did so very amusingly (p. 192), but he was kicking against the pricks. Daylight reality was ceasing to be trusted.133 The dualists or Gnostics are not intellectuals. Their ‘knowledge’ of the secrets of the universe is acquired through piety and inner vision. This is the illumination bred not of reasoning or dialectical struggling but of proclaimed revelation: what premises were to the philosophers, revelation was to the dualists.134 Gnosis was given its name by Persian Magi practising in Babylon and Egypt. But its attitudes recall beliefs in the magic liberating power of knowledge that had already been apparent in the early Vedic philosophy and then the earlyUpanishads (from the eighth century BC) and the Bhagavad Gita which originated some six hundred years later. Meanwhile the followers of Pythagoras supplied the Greco-Roman world with the idea of knowledge, acquired under instruction and discipline, as at once the condition and the end of sanctification (c. 500 BC).

The knowledge attained by the Gnostics gave its recipients special privileges not only here but hereafter. A stele-relief shows how life’s choice of good and evil is repeated in that next world: the possessors of Gnosis are redeemed not just now but for ever. In reaction against the egalitarian tendencies of the age (p. 82), the Gnostics were an elect, raised above the rank and file. Yet they were not a single religion, but a scattering of small intimate spiritual aristocracies each with elaborate scriptures of its own. These were esoteric movements shrouding the names and rituals of their deities in an atmosphere of determined secrecy, enforced by maledictions. Their messages and scriptures were therefore often complex, too complex. A divine revelation had to make some sense to its recipients, but complicated solutions looked elevated and inspired, and showed that only a true initiate could attain first-class status. Gnostics gathered together endless and often contradictory speculations and mythologisings by anonymous seers, conjuring up ever new cosmic patterns – and reinterpreting previous revelations as hitherto mistaken and misunderstood. Christianity, in particular, was subjected to these reinterpretations. But Christians such as Irenaeus and Eusebius replied that Gnosticism’s outstanding weakness was its bewildering variety and absence of a Canon. For it was not a system, but a collection of diverse materials, a mythological attitude, a climate of opinion, a state of mind.135

Yet throughout all these fantastic structures of the imagination ran the thread of alienation and recoil from man’s physical environment, which was incurably corrupt because it was the creation of an evil power.

Most surviving texts of Gnosticism range from the later third to the early fifth century AD.136 But there are also earlier ones, including moving hymns lamenting over our banishment in matter, and it was in the time of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius that the most talented and influential exponents of these doctrines flourished.

The first beginnings of the movement can be placed earlier still. Legend later ascribed a founder’s role to Simon Magus, a sorcerer regarded by his devotees as a god; he is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.137 Simon came from Gitta in Samaria, and it was perhaps to those regions that the origins of the Gnostics can be traced. Then the deacon Nicolaus of Antioch was said to have formulated the distinguishing doctrine of Gnosticism indicating that the visible world, being evil, had been made not by God but by a ‘demiurge’. Next, in Hadrian’s time, there were Gnostics in Egypt, where many of their texts have been discovered – and after the middle of the second century AD the largest of their groups, the one expressly calling itself Gnostic, appeared at Rome.138

Marcion of Sinope in northern Asia Minor, who abandoned Christianity in c.138 and perhaps died in c.170, seems to have organised something like a dualist church. Perhaps partly Iranian in culture, Marcion was struck by the contrast between the Old and New Testaments, and made their irreconcilable opposition the basis of his dualism. He hated the Old Testament, and set up the mercy of Jesus against its justice, his love against its rigour.139 The New Testament was purged of Judaisms, only St Luke’s Gospel and ten letters of St Paul being retained. Pauline teachings were welcomed and carried to extremes, for Marcion had a pathological distaste for the world. His beliefs, endowed with an arresting simplicity so often lacking in Gnosticism, were backed by an efficient organisation which, although it did not gain a footing at Rome, lived on elsewhere and outlasted its founder by centuries.

On a less organised and unified basis there were also both eastern and western disciples of Valentinus, an Egyptian who was active in Rome during the middle years of the second century AD. The dualism of Valentinus, though too complicated and scholarly, was daringly speculative, with a psychological, indeed almost psychoanalytical, freshness and originality of its own. In his world-order Jesus played a part but was little but an incident. Evil had originated when the Fall took place before men existed; it was a Fall of Wisdom (Sophia). The demiurge, maker of the world, is of imperfect understanding – he believes he is the only god – but not wholly evil. Valentinus may also have been the author, or more probably the inspiration, of the Gospel of Truth.140 The theme of this meditative work is humanity’s deliverance from its plight, which, contrary to St Paul, is due not to sin but to ignorance. The New Testament is referred to, yet this is not a specifically Christian but a Gnostic vision showing ‘whence man has come and whither he is going’.

To Valentinus also has been ascribed another treatise explaining the purpose of the universe, known as the Poimandres. Here it is man himself who has Fallen, not the abstract pre-human Wisdom of Valentinus. The Poimandres is the earliest and best of a collection of holy books, more literary than liturgical, which are deeply concerned, in differing ways, with revelations based upon the dualism of the good and evil forces. These writings, composed in Egypt by men of Greek speech during the second and third centuries AD, bear the name of Hermes the Thrice-Greatest (Trismegistos), the equivalent of the god Thoth, reputed author of ancient sacred writings kept in Egyptian temples (p. 191). The wisdom of Egypt, with the prestige of its remote antiquity, seemed best able to provide revelations which would give the keys to knowledge and the after-life.

The Hermetic treatises were varied, and their collection under this single heading may be fortuitous. Every contemporary influence is present in them, with strong overtones of current Platonism and Judaism. The Hermetists, like the Gnostics, seem to have been a proliferation of small quasi-religious groups or sects; and their scriptures have something of the common Gnostic attitude according to which all research is subordinated to revelation to the elect, and revelation is designed to explain the conflict between good and evil. Some of the solutions are popular and magical, others breathe an elevated, tranquil grandeur. There are pessimistic conclusions such as the plea of the Poimandres that the world should be totally shunned. But there are also more hopeful arguments holding that the world of matter, being penetrated by the divinity, is good. The demiurge, who relieves God of responsibility for creating the world, is often interpreted not as an independent deity hostile to God but as an emanation or intermediary or subordinate, through whom ritual may establish communication with the deity itself and thus bring about individual redemption. According to another fertile idea, regeneration would take place not by means of any personal redeemer but through the replacement of the old self by a new divine personality. As in Plotinus’ union with the divine (p. 147), the stress is on personal experience mediated by private instruction. The Hermetists influenced the Jewish Kabbala, and their lore also passed into western iconography of the fourteenth and later centuries.

By the time of Marcus Aurelius, the dualists had gained a substantial following. At Alexandria Basilides taught that men have a good and an evil soul, and that all evil is the result of personal sin, from which, however, the elect are able to escape. His curious scheme of 365 heavens – the sort of over-complexity which ultimately proved fatal to Gnosticism – represents yet another endeavour to place God out of range of the material universe, for which he is therefore not responsible. There were still followers of Basilides in fourth-century Gaul; and linked with him, perhaps, were various groups attributing revelations to Adam’s third son Seth, who is no longer (like the Pharaonic Set) an enemy to the other principal gods, but the recipient of revelations at the Gates of Paradise.141This tradition was still retained in an eighth-century Syriac chronicle,142 in which ‘Adam imparted revelations to his son Seth, and showed him his original greatness before the Transgression and his going out of Paradise.’

The culminating period in the history of dualism, a decisive stage in the religion of the Roman empire as well as its eastern neighbours, began in c. 240 when the young Mani started to preach at the Persian (Sassanian) capital Ctesiphon, and Seleucia which lay opposite it across the Tigris. A contemporary of the other outstanding spiritual personality of the century, Plotinus, Mani taught for thirty years. By the time of his death, the Persian empire was filled with Manichaean doctrines, and within the following century they had permeated huge regions of the Roman empire. Mani’s intention was to found a religious community which for the first time would embrace the entire world.

He combined first-class organising ability with high artistic and poetic gifts, comprehensive mastery of oriental literature and Greek philosophy alike, a talent for staging ceremonial, and a reputation for miraculous acts such as levitation and the healing of demons. Brought up in a Christian community, Mani called himself the ‘Apostle of Jesus Christ’, but among his divinely sent forerunners he included Buddha and Zoroaster as well as Jesus. Their place was on the periphery, while he himself stood in Babel or Babylon, the centre of the earth, as the Redeemer’s latest and last Incarnation and the Seal of the Prophets.

The religion and philosophy of Mani can be reconstructed from writings in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Syriac, Turkish and Persian of central Asia, and the Coptic of upper Egypt. His teaching conveys the basic dualism in which Persian and Greco-Roman strands converge. He is an eclectic unifier of doctrines from many sources,143 a theosophist, a speculator in numerical patterns, but he is also heir to Marcion and the last of the great Gnostics, terminating one epoch and inaugurating another. Yet his doctrine is even more radical than Marcion’s, and goes far beyond Christianity in its outspoken, comprehensive claims to synthesize contemporary thought and employ inspiration to solve the problems of the universe.

Mani’s fundamental principle is the distinction between Light and Darkness. Light-symbolism was prominent in the philosophy and religion of the day (p. 175), but Mani probably derived his particular attitude towards the opposition of the two principles from a Mesopotamian who, like himself, claimed to be an heir of Christianity, Bardaisan (p. 232).144

Light and Dark are two absolutely different eternal Existences. In the past the Dark made an incursion on the Light and some of the Light became mingled with the Dark, as it is still in the Present, in this world around us; nevertheless in the Future Light and Dark will be happily separated. To Mani with the idea of Light was conjoined with everything that was orderly, peaceful, intelligent, clear, while with the Dark was conjoined everything that was anarchic, turbulent, material, muddy, a region of suffocating smoke, of destructive fire, of scorching wind, of poisonous water, of ‘darkness that might be felt’.145

This damage, from which we are still suffering, began when Darkness invaded Light. Then Primal Man was called into being to repel the invasion, but he failed; the suffering of this Redeemer in need of redemption is a central theme, since his failure and Fall created the world in which we live. When he was thus temporarily overcome by the Demons of the Dark, for the time being Primal Man lost his Divine Light. Adam, who was then born, contained both Light and Darkness together, and through him and his son Seth are descended our corrupted selves (p. 200). As the world thus pursues its weary way, there is ground for final optimism, because its dirt is, all the time, slowly being blotted out by the distillation of the particles of Light into their true realm. When this has been completed, Jesus will return146: man will cease to exist, and the imprisoned fragments of God will return to their home. Meanwhile the body is an encumbrance. ‘Woe, woe to the creator of my body’, laments Adam. ‘Woe to him who has bound my soul to it and to the rebels who enslaved me!’147 Manichaeans often quoted St Paul’s antithesis of spirit and flesh, seeking to increase the Light in themselves by abstaining from sex and meat and wine. Except for those who interpreted the unimportance of material life in the opposite sense –as an invitation to uninhibited sensuality148 –asceticism seemed necessary to win the cosmic conflict and attain redemption from this loathsome world.

Mani had his apostles, bishops, priests, teachers, monastic communities, rules of fasting, and confessions. He preached in Persia and northwest India, where Buddhism impressed him. But his movement had its heart in Mesopotamia and Syria and western Asia, and it absorbed the mass of dualistically, Gnostically minded people in those lands. His crusading zeal enjoyed the favour of the Persian monarch Shapur I, who knew him personally. But as time went on Mani was eclipsed in state favour by another. This was Kartir, architect of the Persian state religion which, although Mani owed it so much, claimed to need no prophet like himself for its interpretation; the King of Kings was sufficient leader for the faith. Recently discovered inscriptions in Middle Persian show how Kartir rose to be chief Magus and judge of the whole empire, guardian of patriotic orthodoxy and founder of traditional fire-altars. Jews, Buddhists, Brahmins, Christians and Manichaeans were alike the objects of his persecution: the national church was to be made safe from the Euphrates to India. Shapur I found it possible to encourage Kartir and Mani at the same time. But when Shapur was dead, royal favour was withdrawn from Mani, for why, asked Bahram I, had the revelation come to him and not to his king? Mani was arrested and charged, and at Gundeshapur, under the weight of his heavy fetters, he collapsed and died (c. 274/7).

But within the next twenty years his doctrines continued to spread so rapidly, westwards as well as eastwards, that the emperors Diocletian and Maximian saw them as major dangers to the national religion of Rome. A savage imperial edict against Manichaeans was forwarded to the governor of Africa (c. 297). Like Rome’s pronouncement against the Jews in 139 BC, the edict denounces poisonous witchcraft and the abominable books with which the people had been seduced. But the Manichaeans may also have been involved in an Egyptian rebellion.149

To the Roman government such risings, and indeed eastern ideas in general, assumed a pro-Persian aspect. Persia was Rome’s enemy, and the Manichaeans had originated there. At the very least, they were an unstable and even a socially revolutionary element on the sensitive Persian frontier, and among the suspected immigrants who filtered through its barriers into the world of Rome. And indeed these formed only a part of a larger problem, created by the many believers in Manichaeanism who wandered about and lived on charity, despising the world too much to do any work or abide by secular regulations.

Nevertheless during the century after Mani’s death his doctrines became a world religion: nearly the world religion. Their churches extended from Turkestan to Carthage. Yet they were too pacifist and non-resistant to stand up well against repression by the Roman and Persian states; and their martyrs lacked the dramatic appeal of the Christians. When Christianity became the national religion of Rome, again the Manichaeans could not compete. For if they were too passive to form a good opposition, they were too anti-social to create a national church. Christianity made its pact with the government, but Manichaeanism meant irresponsibility, ascetic withdrawal, and potential race suicide. Nor did it fully satisfy the spiritual emotions of the time. This is reflected by the experience of its most distinguished convert, St Augustine. For nine years he embraced the creed of Mani (373–82), because he could not believe that a good God had created evil. He was also fascinated by the apparent completeness of Manichaeanism’s doctrines, which seemed to have a reasonable and consistent answer to everything. But a turning-point in world-history came when Augustine decided, partly through his studies of Plotinus (p. 157), that it was, after all, ‘a shocking and detestable profanity to make the wedge of darkness sunder the very nature of God’.150 Besides, if Satan created the world, how and why did God allow any good to be imprisoned in it?–the dilemma was unexplained, and the alleged scientific outlook dissolved into myths. Augustine felt it nobler and more rewarding to make the effort of faith demanded by Christianity.

A further advantage possessed by Christianity was that it had preceded Mani: and had been launched by a series of alleged historical happenings which the vague myths of the Manichaeans could not rival. Another cause of their failure to win over the generality was that, in spite of Mani’s world aspirations, he preached a perfection to which only an elect of initiates could aspire. Christianity, too, went through such phases of esotericism –there are many signs of them in the New Testament –but it outgrew them and universalised its appeal (p. 207).

And yet Manichaeans continued, through a wide variety of channels, to play a vital part in world affairs. In the east, despite the passivity of its devotees, Persian persecution could not keep them down. Related to Manichaean doctrines were those of the Mandaeans, who believed in a Great King of Light, contrasted by them with the Zodiac and Seven Planets which are the creations of evil spirits. The earliest texts of the Mandaeans go back to c.AD 400, but seem to originate from an unorthodox Judaism of a date several centuries earlier. There are still today people of similar beliefs, the Sabians, in southern Iraq.151

Mani was translated into Arabic, and the Manichaeans were persecuted by Caliphs. Persian writers came under criticism as dualists, and dualist missionaries were denounced by the Chinese whose court they visited –though their beliefs were allowed for western barbarians. Bugug Khan (760–80), prince of the Uigurs, was converted, and proclaimed Manichaeanism as his state religion; it continued in eastern Turkestan until the end of the millennium. From the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries the doctrines of Mani gained favour in the province of Fukien, and two Manichaean works are represented in the Taoist canon. There were still Chinese Manichaeans up to modern times; perhaps there still are today.

Meanwhile the Byzantine empire, despite the strength of its church, saw the same rich Gnostic tradition kept alive by evangelical dualists. This group, following Basilides’ belief that men have two souls of which one is the dwelling of a demon (p. 200), was accused of immorality because its members held that until initiation a human being is at the disposal of the devil. But its supporters became numerous in an Armenian principality on the Euphrates, which troubled the Byzantines and was persecuted by them in the ninth century. When these heretics were deported to Thrace, dualism was maintained there by the powerful Bogomil sect. In the twelfth century its numerous adherents at Constantinople were treated with hostility by the government; but two hundred years later they still flourished in the monastic centres of Mount Athos. And meanwhile Bogomilism had become the national religion of Bosnia, where it was still strong after 1400.152 Many a popular legend and fairy-tale has kept the tradition alive.

Such sources in eastern Europe brought dualism to Italy, where Gnostics known as the Cathars (the pure) made their appearance in the tenth and eleventh centuries. From there the doctrines spread to France, Flanders and Germany. ‘So it was that one great confederate dualist church arose, stretching from the Black Sea to Biscay’.153 The strength of this new, persistent Manichaeanism was mainly in Lombardy, Provence and Languedoc, where the severity of the Albigensians as these Cathars were called from their centre at Albi – suited the melancholy gaiety of the troubadours’ civilisation. But St Louis IX of France (I226–70) employed every means to detach dualists from their cause, and then misused the name of Crusade to stamp them out. Catharism seemed a major menace to the social structure, because it brought together in one group and theology most of the current elements of heterodoxy and potential subversion – revulsion against worldly materialism, an ascetic, fervent elect and élite, private and peculiar religious practices, and an appeal to the disaffected poor.

But even St Louis’ knights could not eradicate beliefs that have a fundamental hold upon the mind of man. It was correct Christianity to believe that there is a Devil who is powerful but did not create the material world. But it was Manichaean heresy to believe that he is the creator, and that evil is the product not of God but of him. Such dualism has exerted strong temptations upon our own times. Karl Gustav Jung, for example, regarded the Devil as ‘a most valuable and acceptable psychic possession’ we enjoy criminal fiction, and when the lion roars, we know where old Harry lurks. Already amid the disruptions of the third century, it needed exceptional faith to believe that a single all-powerful all-beneficent power was responsible for all that happened, or even to conclude with any conviction that the battle between two powers, a good and evil one, will surely be won by the good. Amid the unspeakable horrors of twentieth-century persecutions, dualism is even more tempting. ‘If God much stronger’, said Man Friday to Robinson Crusoe, ‘why God no kill the devil?’ Personification of the powers of good and evil may be out of date; but the age when millions found it easy to believe that the two forces exist on more or less equal terms is with us once more.

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