Steiner held Mani (or Manes), the founder of the Manichean religion, in high regard, ranking him above such exalted initiates as Buddha and Zarathustra.* The parallels between Mani’s efforts and Steiner’s may be illuminating. Like Manichaeism, Anthroposophy seeks to weld together all “true” religious and spiritualistic teachings in a single overarching set of doctrines. (Mainly, Steiner adapted the work done by Helena Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy. Steiner’s chief contribution was to emphasize the role of Christ, whom he identified as the Sun God.) The doctrines of Manichaeism and Anthroposophy show striking parallels, such as their emphasis on gnosis. To the degree that these doctrines appeal to Christians, they are heretical.
Like Mani but unlike many other religious leaders, Steiner codified his teachings by writing them down. Steiner published a great deal, especially early in his career. He later came to see this as an error, since it opened him to public ridicule and attack. Most of the Steiner texts we have today are transcripts of his lectures, which he did not approve for publication.
Here is how THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA describes Mani and Manichaeism:
“Mani regarded himself as the carrier of a universal message destined to replace all other religions. Hoping to avoid corruption and to ensure doctrinal unity, he recorded his teachings in writing and gave those writings canonical status during his lifetime ... At its core, Manichaeism was a type of Gnosticism — a dualistic religion that offered salvation through special knowledge (gnosis) of spiritual truth ... Inner illumination or gnosis reveals that the soul which shares in the nature of God has fallen into the evil world of matter and must be saved by means of the spirit or intelligence (nous). To know one’s self is to recover one’s true self, which was previously clouded by ignorance and lack of self-consciousness because of its mingling with the body and with matter ... The saving knowledge of the true nature and destiny of humanity, God, and the universe is expressed in Manichaeism in a complex mythology ... At death the soul of the righteous person returns to Paradise. The soul of the person who persisted in things of the flesh — fornication, procreation, possessions, cultivation, harvesting, eating of meat, drinking of wine — is condemned to rebirth in a succession of bodies.” — "Manichaeism." ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 01 Feb. 2010.
A Buddhistic image of Mani.
("Manicheism is a religion founded by the Parthian (Persian) Mani in the 3rd century CE.
He grew up under the influence of Judeo-Christian Baptist sect in Babylonia (modern Irak).
After he was enlightened by a visitation of his celestial twin he founded his own gnostic sect
with the conception of the cyclical appearance of a true prophet that was sent by the heavenly light.
Jesus, Zarathustra, and Buddha are thought to be such prophets."
Here are some relevant statements by Steiner:
”There is a fourth individuality named in history behind whom for those who have the proper comprehension, much lies hidden — an individuality still higher and more powerful than Skythianos, than Buddha or than Zarathustra. This individuality is Manes, and those who see more in Manichaeism than is usually the case know him to be a very high messenger of Christ.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WES, lecture 9, GA 113.
Steiner’s “proper comprehension” would have been rejected by Mani himself, who did not consider himself a messenger of Christ but the proper successor to Christ and all previous “prophets.” To quote the BRITANNICA again: “Mani viewed himself as the final successor in a long line of prophets, beginning with Adam and including Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus.” Skythianos, according to Steiner, was a great initiate who preserved the wisdom of Atlantis.
Back to Steiner on Mani. Ancillary subjects pop up, such as Freemasonry and St. Augustine:
• “Before one can understand Freemasonry, one must study the original spiritual streams with which it is connected. An even more important spiritual stream than that of the Rosicrucians was that of Manicheanism. The Faust Problem is connected with it. Manicheanism was founded by Manes about the third century after Christ and its great opponent was Augustine.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Manicheans” (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), a lecture, GA 93.
• “The tradition is as follows: In Western Asia there lived a merchant who was exceedingly learned. He was the Author of four works: (1) The Mysteries, (2) The Letters, (3) The Gospel, and (4) The Thesaurus. Tradition holds that his death he left the writings to his widow, who was a Persian. She had once redeemed a slave named Manes and he was called ‘the Son of the Widow.’ His followers called themselves ‘Sons of the Widow.’ Manes designated himself ‘Paraclete’ or ‘Holy Spirit’ promised by Christ to humanity — that is as an incarnation of the Holy Spirit, merely a reincarnation of the same. The teachings he proclaimed were attacked by Augustine when he had become a member of the Catholic Church.“ — Ibid.
• “The Legend of Manes is a legend dealing with supersensible truths, a mighty cosmic legend. The Spirits of Darkness wished to storm the Kingdom of Light. They came to its borders for the attack. They were, however, able to achieve nothing. Now they were to be punished by the Kingdom of Light. But in the Kingdom of Light there is only good. Thus the Demons of Darkness could only have been punished through good. Therefore the Spirits of the Kingdom of Light took a portion of their own kingdom and mingled it into the Kingdom of Darkness ... The deep and profound thought here contained is the following: the darkness must be overcome through the Kingdom of Light, through the mingling of the Good with the Evil, in order that the Evil may be redeemed, but not through punishment. The conception underlying this is also that of Theosophy, namely that Evil is only an untimely Good ... The guiding forces of the Lemurian epoch would work evil in a later epoch if they were then still mingled in evolution.” — Ibid.
• “What is the meaning of the utterance of Manes that he is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Widow? It means that he will prepare for that epoch in which the men of the Sixth Root Race will be led by themselves, by the light of their own souls. Manes will create an overlapping stream, a stream which goes further than the stream of the Rosicrucians ... A number of human beings must be formed into an organization, a Form, in which the Christianity of the Sixth Root Race can find its place. This Form, this external Form of Society must spring from a handful of men whom Manes prepares. This is the community that Manes prepares ... In this Sixth Root Race, Good and Evil will form a far greater contrast than they do today. What will appear in the Fifth Round for the whole of humanity, i.e., that the physiognomy will be a direct expression for that which karma has created in man, so, in the Sixth Root Race, Evil will appear, especially in the Spiritual. There will be men who are mighty in Love and Goodness. But Evil will also be there as a mood and a disposition (Gesinnung) without any covering, within a large number of human beings. They will extol Evil ... Those who lead the conflict on the one side are all conscious that they are waging war. But those who, as Manes, are battling on the other side, are not all of them conscious of this. Only the head of the movement is conscious of it. Thus there are pitted against each other: Jesuitism (Augustinianism) and Freemasonry (Manicheanism). — Ibid.
• “[T]hat which came later was mostly removed from the teaching of Zarathustra and then passed over into the teaching of Mani, and further on into the teaching of Manichaeism. We know the deepest questions of the riddle of man belongs to the question of the relationship of good and evil, and we know that we can understand it when we have insight into the working of Lucifer and Ahriman.” — Rudolf Steiner, THINGS IN PAST AND PRESENT IN THE SPIRIT OF MAN (typescript, Rudolf Steiner Achive), lecture 11, GA 167.
• “One of those who struggled out of the character of that period toward an understanding of Christianity is to be seen in Augustine. In this Augustine we see a spirit who could no longer understand the ancient form of the conception of nature. You know that Augustine is said to have been a Manichean. Augustine narrates this himself. But all that lies back of these things can no longer be rightly seen through by means of external thinking. What Augustine called Manicheanism, what is called at present the teaching of Mani, is only the degenerate outcome of an ancient teaching which conceived the Spirit only as creative and knew no difference between matter and spirit. No spirit was existent that did not create and what it created was seen by the human being as matter. Just as little conception did these ancient times have of mere matter; on the contrary, spirit existed in everything. This was something that Augustine could not understand. What Gnosis understood, and what was no longer understood later; what our own period does not at all understand, — this is true: no matter exists of itself; this was known by the Manicheans and they beheld the descent of Christ in the light of this view. Augustine could no longer make anything out of this; the time had passed, the possibility of making anything out of it, because the documents had been destroyed and the ancient clairvoyance had been blotted out. “ — Rudolf Steiner, THE WAKING OF THE HUMAN SOUL AND THE FORMING OF DESTINY (Steiner Book Center, 1970), lecture 2, GA 224.
• “The only hope of understanding Manichaeism is to bring the light of Spiritual Science to bear upon it. Oriental thought had already fallen into decadence but in the teachings of Mani we find a note that is both familiar and full of significance. The Manichaeans strove to attain a living knowledge of the interplay between the spiritual and the material worlds. The aim of those who adhered to the teachings of Mani was to perceive the Spiritual in all things material. In the light itself they sought to find both wisdom and goodness. No cleft must divide Spirit from nature. The two must be realised as one. Later on, this conception came to be known by the name of dualism. Spirit and nature — once experienced as a living unity — were separated, nor could they be reunited. ” — Rudolf Steiner, EUROPEAN SPIRITUAL LIFE IN THE 19TH CENTURY (Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1933, translated by H. Collison), lecture 1, GA 325.
* Do not confuse Mani or Manes, the man, with Manes as a synonym for Manas: “[C]lear consciousness exists; for amongst the people, at least before they had completely absorbed the materialistic point of view, that part of man which remains over after death was called the Manes: people said that after death there remains over, the Manes — Manas is the same as the Manes.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966) lecture 4, GA 293. Manas is a spiritual human component, the transformed astral body; the reincarnating self.
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings