CREATION AS CONFLICT
THE MANICHAEAN VIEW OF GOOD AND EVIL*
By Christine Gruwez
Translated by Philip Mees
Is evil increasing in the world? Can we speak of an exponential growth of evil causing a never-ending wave of conflicts and violence that threaten to overwhelm humanity? And what about the natural catastrophes that have been happening one after another which, in the final analysis, are in many cases man-made, and form a constant threat to the delicate balance of the life processes in nature?
No one will deny that the twentieth century brought a revolution in the way people regard life. Our belief in unstoppable progress and ever-increasing wealth can no longer be maintained. The enormous price the population of the world is paying for the emancipation of the individual is out of proportion to the little progress that is being made in the area of human rights. Only a small group is able to claim possession of such rights, while the large majority of the world is at the mercy of an unpredictable, arbitrary exercise of power. What should be universal human rights is handled by people in privileged positions as a personal possession at the expense of those who for whatever reason cannot share in them. Self-interest, also of groups, reigns supreme. Moreover, the modern media enable everyone to follow at every moment everything that happens on earth. This gives many people the feeling that they are powerless spectators of phenomena that can be called the working of evil.
Rudolf Steiner described these phenomena of the time with great emphasis in several lectures. In the eighth lecture of the cycle on the Apocalypse of St. John (Nuremberg 1908) the question is asked what the cause is of the apparent increase in wars and violence, to the point that we can almost speak of a “war of all against all.” The answer he gives is shockingly direct: the source of the increase in evil in the world is the human “I.” It is the “I” which out of self-interest usurps the space of someone else. It is the “I” which lays claim to the riches of the world at the expense of the life circumstances of other egos. In brief, the “I” is still largely governed by egotism and self-interest.
“We must bear in mind the foundation, the real cause of this war. … Those who do not fully realize that this ego is a two-edged sword will scarcely be able to grasp the entire meaning of the evolution of mankind and the world.” For in the human “I,” which Steiner in this regard compares with the two-edged sword in the Book of Revelation, there lives a double tendency: toward a gesture of integration and one of exclusion, a yes or a no. “… to drive away all the other egos from its realm,” but at the same time it “… gives man his independence and his inner freedom” and “…it is the basis for the divine in man.”*
Evil and its workings form part of creation for the sake of the (as yet mostly future) potential of freedom for every human being. But the good has the same goal of unlocking the potential of freedom! To understand the good as self-evident in contrast with a not-self-evident evil is an indication that the true nature of the good has not yet been revealed. Wherever evil is capable of disturbing or destroying existing relationships, the working of the good is invariably inconspicuous. It takes into itself whatever might fall out of a relationship, or is excluded from it. The countless people who provide and share meals with refugees who are sometimes literally washed up on the shore never make the news. But where walls are erected to ward off immigrants, such as along the Mexican border in the U.S., news is made. The good does not seek the floodlights of publicity; as a matter of fact, that may be one of its main characteristics. The intrinsic inconspicuousness of the good may help create the appearance that evil and its effects predominate. But that remains to be seen. Good and evil are both part of creation, albeit each according to its own nature. This means that good and evil are also present in the human being who is a part of creation.
The relationship of human beings to these two principles has not always been the same. It is changing, and the process of consciousness development plays a decisive role in this change. It depends on this development of consciousness to what extent human beings are able to recognize good and evil also in themselves, as moral intentions. Apparently this is the point at which we have now arrived. The age-old question of, Why am I struck by evil? Why me?, is changing more and more often to the question of Why do I bear within me the potential of evil? Why in me? There is no straightforward answer to this question. But the Manichaean creation myth can open the door to it so we can begin to work on the problem. It is extraordinary to realize that a view that was developed in the third century of our era proves to be able to help us with existential questions of our time. This is in agreement with Rudolf Steiner’s view of historical Manichaeism, which he considered to be a precursor of a new relationship to good and evil, to be realized in the future, in which the good in each of us can meet the evil in each of us with mildness, and can thus redeem it.*
Conflict and creation: an unusual creation story
The Manichaean cosmogony is as radically different from the biblical creation story as from the creation myths of some Gnostic streams. In a document called the Chinese Compendium, the Manichaean creation story is described as the teaching of two principles and three eras. The two principles are known as light and darkness which must, of course, not be viewed as abstract concepts but as active principles. In the Shabuhragan, the document Mani composed at the request of the Persian King Shapur I, these two principles are called the do bun, meaning two seeds or roots, in other words, that from which something can come into existence and grow.
The first era
In the first great era both principles, also called realms, abide in a state of deep rest. One could regard this as a condition of consciousness that is aware neither of itself nor the other. Both realms are immersed and absorbed in themselves. As regards their essential substance they are equivalent to each other. As regards their essential nature, however, they are each other’s complete opposites. Both realms are uncreated and have existed since all eternity. In Iranian scriptures this simultaneous existence of both realms is emphasized, as opposed to Coptic Manichaean writings that tell of different time elements. A remarkable aspect is a kind of spatial boundary; the light realm borders to the south on the realm of darkness.
The second era
The second great era is ushered in by a change that radically ends the calm in which both realms were abiding. The principle of darkness has perceived a glimpse of light at its border, and it is immediately filled with desire to conquer this light for itself. This is the moment when it becomes conscious of being darkness. An army is raised to attack the light realm and capture the light.
As a result of the approaching threat the light realm also awakens and becomes conscious of its own nature. The Father of Greatness, king of the light realm, decides to call forth light beings from himself, to meet the darkness himself. Thus they can remain faithful to their light nature. The beings of the realm of darkness also act in accordance with their nature, in their urge to overwhelm and usurp.
This is the beginning of a creation process that unfolds in three great phases. Every time there is a triad of light beings who enter into interaction with the beings from the realm of darkness. These three phases of creation, therefore, take place in the second great era, the whole of which bears the general characteristic of mingling. At the end of the third phase of creation, however, preparations are made—in the sense of ‘de-mingling’—for the third great era.
The first creation
The Father of Greatness calls forth out of himself the Mother of Life who, in her turn, calls forth the first human being (primal man, Ohrmizd in Iranian sources). Primal man girds himself with five light elements, like an armor. Together they form the Light Soul or the Living Self. The beings of darkness hurl themselves onto him and destroy and devour his Light Soul, which is thus torn into countless little light particles. The Light Soul that has been absorbed by the beings of darkness becomes the substance from which the creation can be formed. Now the work of creation can begin.
By the sacrifice of primal man during the first creation, the substance for the creation is formed. This is the phase of the mingling of light and darkness.
First triad of light beings:
- Father of Greatness
- Mother of Life
- Primal Man (Ohrmizd)
The five light elements, also called the five sons—ether, wind, light, water, fire—together form the Light Soul, the Living Self.
The second creation
Primal man calls for help; successively, three light envoys come to him to save him. Since his Light Soul was completely absorbed into the beings of darkness (only his Light–nous, his spirit principle, was able to return to the light realm) the creation is put into action in order to form a setting for the Light Soul. During this second creation the actual creation of cosmos and earth takes place from the mingled substance.
Second triad of light beings:
- The Friend of the Light (literally: the lights)
- The great Architect
- The Living Spirit and his five sons
The third creation
The creation is now extended until finally the first human being is formed on earth. Twelve light maidens float into the cosmos in a light ship; they are the prototype after which the first human being will be formed. Jesus the Splendor instructs the first human being and teaches him the principle of discernment. The Column of Glory, in which the freed light is collected, arises in the center of the creation.
During this third creation the first human being is made. Light envoys bestow on him the instruments of redemption, namely for the “de-mingling” of light and darkness. A New Paradise is being prepared.
Third triad of light beings:
- The Third Envoy
- Jesus the Splendor
- The great Light-nous (Iranian: Manohmed) and his five sons
The third era
The third great era begins with the war of all against all. Heaven and earth collapse. The battle and the destruction of the cosmos are images for the de-mingling of light and darkness, as is the great world fire that works as a final purification. Successive purification processes are described. Jesus returns to effect the further separation while the New Paradise is formed. Darkness, which has resisted the purification to the last moment, is placed under a stone in the New Paradise.
In Iranian texts the New Paradise is also called Frashegird, which is an indication that it is not the same as the original light realm.* There is a new relationship between light and darkness in the New Paradise—which ushers in a new era—in which the darkness is placed in its center. In contrast to the completely unconscious self-absorbed state of the first great era, now the spirit is actively present and completely awake. This is expressed in the image of joy with which the New Paradise is entered.
The challenge of dualism*
The Manichaean creation story does not begin with the creation! It begins with a kind of prelude in which two principles that are each other’s opposites are dwelling in a state of deep self-absorption. At first sight this is strange. The fundamental contrast between their respective essential natures seems not to disturb this state of rest, at any rate, not yet. Still, this prelude, in spite of its total quiet, is far from paradisal. For even before there is any creation we are presented not with the One, a unity, but with two. And two means contrast and tension, the potential of conflict. Unity, on the other hand, gives a sense of wholeness, security. It ensures that, in spite of breaks or disintegration of the unity in creation, there remains the possibility of a return to the original condition.
The fact that the Manichaean cosmogony begins with two elements means, among other things, that such a return is not guaranteed. In fact, any return is actually out of the question. Mani’s teaching of salvation brings a message of redemption which at the same time also encompasses change. It has an orientation to the future which only becomes evident by the fact that both primal principles go through a process of densification followed by a process of solution. The original creation becomes a new creation. Redemption in this case means transformation, not restoration of what existed before. This necessarily means that it is an open question as to how this transformation will turn out. It is no pre-programmed event. Only the direction can be indicated, the intention that guides the process. Although this intention is part of the creation, it can only awaken and come to life in the consciousness of the human being.
The word “living” (zindag in Middle Persian) plays an important role in Manichaeism. It signifies the awakening in the human being of the Light-nous, the spirit principle. As the bearer of the intention of creation, the human being is called to contribute to its realization. It is this intention that awakens him to life so that out of death he becomes living. This means an enormous challenge.
A second challenge is presented by the fact that conflict precedes the creation and that the creation can only begin because a conflict has arisen. It is conflict which, at the beginning of the second great era, ushers in the creation, and it permeates the three phases of creation like a common characteristic. Even in the third great era, from which the New Paradise will come forth, conflict and strife continue unabated. The light beings who had participated in the creation withdraw; one after another they leave their positions. The cosmos as it had existed until then collapses, heralding the new order! To put it mildly, this is disconcerting. The end of time, the finale, does not bring a return to former security. The original state of harmony does not come back.
In this view conflict and creation apparently go hand in hand. The creation does not take place in spite of the conflict, but as a result of it. And the conflict, with all its strife and loss of security, continues for the entire duration of the creation. In brief, conflict precedes creation, and not the other way around. There is not first a creation in which at a certain time a conflict arises. First there is the conflict, a battle that erupts between radically opposed principles, and from this ever-further raging battle the creation comes into being.
Since the creation has its origin in conflict, one could draw the conclusion that the whole process of creation is a negative event. It could be said that what comes into existence out of a conflict cannot bear the mark of the good.
First and foremost we have to appreciate that light and darkness as creative principles do not carry any moral overtones. The moral dimension does not appear until human beings develop the awareness that both principles, light and darkness, are present in their own nature. Only by the deed of their consciousness do they become capable of good and evil.
In the view of Manichaeism, the creation is rather the instrument by which the eventual transformation of the cosmos becomes possible at the end of the third great era. The creation is a means for redemption and salvation. But also the sacrifice of primal man, whose living light soul is devoured by the powers of darkness, is not simply a tragic accident that should perhaps have been prevented. This sacrifice is necessarily accompanied by indescribable suffering by the light soul. However, as a result of this sacrifice the mingling of light and darkness begins, which brings about the substance from which creation will take place. Throughout the several phases of creation this substance will become ever more dense, to the point where matter comes into existence. This would have to signify that there are also elements of the light soul in matter. For mingling means that the two elements are both there. Matter is therefore not the end product of the darkness, but of a process of mingling in which both light and darkness participate. This means that Manichaeism, in its original form, cannot be characterized as a kind of spirit-matter dualism. Both light and darkness are spiritual principles and from their mutual conflict matter is created.*
The problem presented by dualism consists in the fact that it places a second power principle side by side with the divine power, and that both justifiably claim to be absolute. It is not a power that is shared, so that one could suppose that a larger part could go to the light, no, we are shown two distinguishable principles, each possessing the fullness of power. The second principle forms the absolute counter pole of the first which, as a rule, is represented by the images of light and darkness. Dualism is convinced that in this way it gives a meaningful answer to the question of why evil exists in creation.
Both dualism and monotheism faces a paradox. In the case of monotheism, the opposition appears only in second instance, while in dualism it is clearly there from the very beginning. The one God, whose omnipotence is above all doubt, apparently does not possess sufficient power to bar evil from his creation. Church Father Lactantius (240-320) formulated it as follows: “either God could not bar evil, and that means that he is not all-powerful; or God wanted evil in creation, and then he is not all-good.”
Monotheism also evokes another problem, namely that of the transcendence versus immanence of God. If the unity of God is understood in such a way that there is no place outside his being, we inevitably face the question of how the human being can be placed within this unity. How does the human being fit in, and the creation? Does God stand outside and above the creation, unreachable for human existence? Or is it in the creation that God truly realizes himself? In the first case there is a gap that is ever more difficult to bridge and, in the end, becomes the dualism of God and world, creator and creature, spirit and matter. In the second case we end up in pantheism, where everything is God, which means that the original intention of monotheism erodes itself.
The representatives of dualism have been fully conscious of the irresolvable contradictions of monotheism from the moment that the question of good and evil in creation is raised. We have examples of this in history in the expositions of dualists and both Christian and Muslim thinkers. The debates between St. Augustine and representatives of the Manichaean community are also extremely important in this regard. And in the end, it is Manichaeism itself that in its original form offers the possibility to do full justice to dualism. For it radically poses two principles from the start: the realm of light and the realm of darkness. When both of these awaken to activity—namely when the creation unfolds—the light, under the pressure of the invading powers of darkness, will freely surrender to the darkness, as a result of which a complete mingling of the essential substances of light and darkness is set in motion. As a consequence, a new substance comes into being, a mixture that will contain the “material” to realize the creation down into matter. The human being too is created from this mixed substance, which means that the essential nature of the human being is created from light and darkness.
Not all dualism begins in the same radical manner as Manichaeism, where two principles are given that are equivalent from the outset, and that each possess the fullness of its individual contrary nature. Many Gnostic teachings begin with one sole principle, the light realm, from which, by a fall-into-sin, the realm of darkness comes into being, including the creation, an event that was never part of the divine intention. In order to protect themselves from any subsequent attacks by the powers of darkness, the light beings then build an impenetrable boundary around their realm. In other words, they withdraw within the walls of their own realm and avoid the confrontation with the absolute other.
Many Gnostic streams also proclaim a teaching of salvation, just like Manichaeism. But salvation then consists mostly in a return to the beginning, which is the original condition in which conflict has not yet arisen and there are not yet any cracks in the whole world. The creation is viewed as the region of matter in which matter represents the principle of darkness and, in a subsequent phase, also of evil. In Manichaeism, on the other hand, it is not a question of a return to a condition before the conflict, but of a process taking place in phases in which the creation can gradually be transformed into a new creation. Conflict plays a decisive role in this.
In this connection, Hans Jonas* characterizes the Gnostic streams as expressions of a nostalgic longing, an insatiable homesickness for a world in which the suffering caused by evil has no place. A key concept in this view is alienation, the experience of being a stranger on the earth. This alienation is related to the idea that there has to be a world and an existence that is the real existence, while life here on earth amounts to a painful exile. True life is “elsewhere,” outside and above the world in which we are born, and therefore unreachable. Hence the longing for a return to the original homeland. Also, God as the origin and principle of existence, is unknowable and unreachable. He too is elsewhere. From the position of the human being, viewed as a creature, God is a total stranger. The Gnostic experience of life is that human beings are strangers on earth, exiled from their true homeland and landed in an environment where everything is done to make them forget their origin. But this tragic fate, which causes loneliness and suffering, leads them to do everything possible to find the means to discover the way home.
Hans Jonas also notes a remarkable similarity between the Gnostic view of life and 20th century philosophical trends. Since Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, God has withdrawn from the world, says Jonas. There are no longer any signs of the “elsewhere,” of the transcendence, and human beings have been abandoned, “condemned to freedom,” as Jean Paul Sartre called it. In Martin Heidegger’s term Geworfenheit (“thrown-ness”), Jonas recognizes an echo of the well-known words from the Gnostic teaching of Valentinus (100-160): “What makes us human beings free is the insight into who we were, who we have become, where we were and where we have been thrown, where we are hurrying and of what we are redeemed.”
Gnostic streams—including those of our time—frequently display a tendency toward weariness of life and pessimism. Life is tough. This is not directly applicable to the Manichaean view of life. Fragments of Manichaean painted miniatures that came to light in the early 20th century show pictures of a community with people making music under a flowering tree, and gatherings adorned with flowers and fruit. Many hymns resound with joy in the delights of nature and in the budding life in herbs, flowers and trees. There is also longing, but it is a longing for what is yet to come, the ultimate transfiguration of the creation, Frashegird.
The word Frashegird comes from frasho-kereti that appears several times in the Avesta. “May we be the ones who renew existence!” (Yasna 30.9) Frasho-kereti means literally “to make new,” two elements therefore, both equally essential, and to be understood as complementary and simultaneous.
Light and darkness: their nature and working
Light and Darkness are the do bun, the two seeds or creative principles, as the seed bears in itself the principle of the plant. These are cosmic principles, both of which have contributed to the fact of creation. To enable them to become active it was necessary that they should come into conflict. It was the darkness that, as cosmic principle, set this conflict in motion, upon which the light, likewise as cosmic principle and in conformity with its nature, surrendered to the powers of darkness. In this regard, light and darkness are genuine images of the activity of two contrary creative principles. Not only was their mutual opposition necessary, it had to be elevated to a paroxysm in order for the mingling in the second great era to take place. The extreme nature of this opposition comes to expression, on the one hand, in the ruthless aggression of the powers of darkness and, on the other hand, the selfless sacrifice of the light.
It is therefore not an opposition in which the one element keeps the other in balance. In fact, in a certain respect we find that kind of opposition in the first great era when both light and darkness are still immersed in themselves and have no awareness of either themselves or each other. That was a form of sleep consciousness. Of course, no creation can come forth from such a condition.
This changes radically when the principle of darkness becomes conscious of itself, because it has noticed the beauty of the light world. At that moment the state of balance is disturbed and it will not be restored, at any rate, not to the condition in which it was at the beginning of the first great era. Only at the end of the third era, when Frashegird (transfiguration) has been achieved will there be a new equilibrium between light and darkness. As Mani described in his Shabuhragan, this will be an entirely different condition from the state of balance at the beginning of the first era.
But first there is the invasion by the darkness, which puts an end to the harmony that reigned until then in the light realm. Not only are things thrown out of balance, it looks as if darkness will prevail. The light soul is vanquished, dismembered into countless little light particles and devoured. One can really speak of a cosmic drama, even a tragedy. But what looks like a tragedy, on closer inspection, is no tragedy. For this dismembering leads to mingling which, in turn, makes creation possible. Thus the second great era can then begin.
The work of the dark powers always comes down to disturbing an existing relationship and, if possible, destroying it. The work of the light follows the intention of restoring the relationship. In both cases this requires a particular way of operating. The darkness operates by means of attack, annexation and usurpation. Devouring the light soul is an image for this behavior. In Manichaean communities one of the most important rituals was the daily meal. Every intake of food means an attack; we grab something for ourselves and destroy it. Manichaeans were fully conscious of this. But it is an intervention enabling the light particles that are mixed into the densification of the food ultimately to be freed and absorbed into the Column of Glory, where the substance for the new creation is prepared.
Of course, the intentions of the light forces are the opposite of those of the darkness. Wherever a relationship is broken, the light seeks to restore it. This is clearly not simply a “repair” in the usual sense of the word, as it is in some Gnostic cosmogonies. There, the damage caused by the fall of Sophia is restored and a boundary is created around the light world to enable the light to protect and preserve itself.
In the Manichaean view, the light does not preserve itself when primal man surrenders to the darkness. Even though the opponents of Manichaeism (as well as some researchers in our own time) viewed this as a trap set by the light world, the dismembering of the light soul and the resulting suffering are not only real, but they make a subsequent development possible.
The light does not emerge from this episode as the victor! The sacrifice of primal man does not stop the attacks; on the contrary, his defenseless surrender drives the desire of the forces of darkness to a climax. This helps us understand that this sacrifice should be viewed in the sign of a future redemption, not as a strategic ploy that brings an immediate solution.
We also have to take care not to equate light and darkness with the moral dimensions of good and evil. Light and darkness are active principles that have their effect in the world and in their working bring their essence to expression. The Manichaean cosmogony describes their working during three great eras, the second of which takes its course in three phases. Not only does this mean that changes take place in the process of creation, but also that light and darkness go through changes in their essential natures.
Mani did not just present this succession of transformations, in which the new is born from the old, as a story; he also painted it, which put even more emphasis on the image character of the creation story. The light soul, which is torn apart and devoured by the powers of darkness and which still, by the intensity of the sacrifice, does not lose itself, is transformed into the light glory that rises up in the middle of the creation. Out of this transformed light the new paradise comes into being.
But darkness also undergoes changes. The unmitigated tendency toward appropriating things, which drives the powers of darkness in their attack on the light realm, gradually alters into cunning. It seems as if the urge toward lying turns the brutal aggression of the beginning into crafty deception. This grows into a kind of obstinate stubbornness that then ends into hardening with, in the end, a hard core that in the radical events in the third era cannot be purified and redeemed. This core is then placed in the center of the new paradise.
It is important to realize that Frashegird, in which the earth and the cosmos enter the state of transfiguration, is not realized until the process of de-mingling has been completed. Just as the realms of light and darkness were existing outside time in the first great era, Frashegird happens after the end of time. Similarly to the state of the two principles before the beginning of creation, Frashegird can therefore only be hinted at as a state of being. Frashegird is not a finis but duration in the same way as the two principles originally existed side by side “since all eternity.” The creation itself, as dynamic activity, coincides with the second era with its cycles of time of the three phases of creation and their threefold emanations. In this threefold structure a double movement takes place of mingling and de-mingling. While mingling brings about the conditions in which creation can occur, de-mingling prepares the new creation, and when the latter is accomplished, Frashegird, the new eternity, dawns.
Between past and future
In the form it has developed in the course of history, Manichaeism no doubt fits into categories like dualistic Gnosis or Jewish-Christian movements. It certainly shows a relationship with these categories. We can only indicate a few elements of this relationship without going into depth.
Manichaeism shares with Gnostic movements the fact that it is a teaching of salvation surrounded by a complex cosmogony. The creation of cosmos, earth and human being follows a pattern of emanations similar to Gnosis and Neo-Platonism. Moreover, it expresses itself in the kinds of images that are characteristic of Gnosis.
Redeemers such as Jesus the Redeemer and Apostle of Light play an important role that reminds us of the Jewish-Christian element. The place of Jesus in Manichaeism is also expressed in the fact that Mani called himself the Apostle of Jesus Christ, as well as in the many hymns and prayers addressed to Jesus in the Manichaean communities. There is also an expectation of a Last Judgment, an ultimate and definitive redemption at the end of time.
But this does not mean that Manichaeism does not also possess an essential nature of its own, which may be overlooked if certain characteristics are not emphasized that distinguish it from related movements. First of all there are the questions relating to the two principles and the nature of Manichaean dualism. Here we need to consider with fresh eyes the Iranian component, where dualism was first manifested within the Old Persian and later Iranian cultures in the teaching of Zarathustra. Ever since the discovery of the Cologne Mani Codex, researchers have had to reevaluate the contribution to Manichaeism from Iran, but it has also been necessary to develop criteria to better highlight the differences between Iranian and North-African Manichaeism. For a religion that has spread over as great a territory as Manichaeism (from North Africa throughout the Middle East and along the Silk Road deep into China) inevitably develops regional differences in the course of time. In North-African Manichaeism, which is strongly reflected in Coptic-Manichaean documents, we find an emphasis on vertical dualism, in which the principles of light and darkness are not equivalent. This deviates from the Shabuhragan which can be considered as a first generation scripture for the development of eastern Manichaeism.* In the Coptic-Manichaean scriptures we can also notice a general tone of wanting to escape from the earth and reject joy in life, while in Eastern Manichaeism this tendency toward unworldliness is much less manifest.
Another element that might stand in the way of recognizing the unique character of Manichaeism are the statements Rudolf Steiner made about a “Manichaeism of the future.” This could lead to a view that Manichaeism is not relevant for the present, and we don’t yet need to pay attention to it. However, there can hardly be any misunderstanding in this respect, for while what Steiner calls the “Mani intention” is indeed oriented to the future, it cannot wait “till we get there.” An intention finds its origin in a decision made now. Only then can we direct ourselves to the future. Steiner speaks of the way he visualizes the final goal of the development of humanity: “… the community of free and independent egos … egos [who] learn to confront one another freely.”* The idea then is not to make the protection of one’s own life situation or, in Gnostic terms, the salvation of the soul one’s first priority, for this prevents us from confronting each other as free individuals and is, therefore, perhaps the greatest impediment to forming such a community. If the Manichean community would focus only on nurturing an inner disposition, this movement would not achieve what it is due to achieve, says Steiner very clearly.
If we want to approach Manichaeism in its own unique nature—both in its historical and in its future dimension—we cannot avoid recognizing its radical characteristics, which consist, on the one hand, of admitting and affirming that pain and loneliness exist as parts of human existence. On the other hand, we need to accept the challenge of maintaining ourselves in the tension between our natural need for security and the intention to face a situation “unarmed.”
A true story
In the language of the North-African Berbers, Tibhirine means “garden.” It is also the name of a spot in the Atlas Mountains in Algeria where the monastery of Notre Dame de l’Atlas was founded in 1938. Trappist monks established themselves there.
Currently the monastery is empty. There is only a gardener, Jean-Marie Lassausse, who lives in a small annex on the monastery grounds. He heard about the existence of the monastery after what had happened there in 1996. When he was asked to care for the large orchard he was particularly impressed with the 12 acres of apple trees, but also by the stories the people still tell about the “Seven of Tibhirine.”
The true story is about the last few months in the life of the small monastic community of Trappists in Tibhirine. In the middle of the 1990’s, Algeria was scourged by a wave of terrorism that especially targeted westerners. The monks were advised to seek a safer place. But they stayed—a decision that, in the end, each of them made, albeit not without inner struggles. Letters and diaries of some of them witness to this inner conflict. But seeking safety for themselves would have meant leaving others behind who were unable to do that. And it meant most of all to relinquish the core of their existence in that spot: to be there without any form of discrimination for every fellow human being, a kind of unspoken promise that connected them with the people in the village and its surroundings, which they neither wished to nor could break for the sake of their own safety.
In March 1996 the seven monks were abducted. On May 23 of that year the shocking news of their deaths became known in the world. Christian de Chergé, the prior of the community, had kept intensive contacts with people he considered as his Muslim brothers. This continued even when the situation became dangerous. On Christmas Eve 1995 a terrorist group under Sayah Attiyah came to the monastery looking for medicines and money. The group of armed men were about to attack when Christian came out to meet them.
“You are welcome,” he said, “but the weapons will stay outside. No weapons are allowed in this monastery.” Against all advice, the monks had decided not to have any weapons themselves. “You have no choice,” said the leader. “We do,” said Christian, “we do have choice.” His spiritual testament that follows here is an impressive witness of this choice:*
Facing a GOODBYE….
If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down. I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called the “grace of martyrdom” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters. It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it. I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!” But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, God willing: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, you are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too,
because in God’s face I see yours. May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
AMEN ! INCHALLAH !
Algiers, 1st December 1993
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994
Translation: Philip Mees
* From: Bastiaan Baan, Christine Gruwez and John van Schaik, Het kwaad als uitdaging (Evil as Challenge), Uitgeverij Christofoor, Zeist, Netherlands 2012.
* Rudolf Steiner, The Apocalypse of St. John, CW 104, Rudolf Steiner Press, lecture of June 25, 1908.
* See Christine Gruwez, Mani and Rudolf Steiner— Manichaeism, Anthroposophy and their Meeting in the Future, SteinerBooks 2014.
* See Christine Gruwez, Eschatology and Dualism, an article published on www.christine gruwez.info.
* For the exceptional nature of Manichaean dualism see Christine Gruwez, Mani and Rudolf Steiner— Manichaeism, Anthroposophy and their Meeting in the Future, SteinerBooks 2014.
* The Shabuhragan, the first text Mani wrote, indicates that there is no spirit-matter dualism. See the article Gumezishn (mixture) and the two principles in Mani’s Shabuhragan on www.christinegruwez.info.
* Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion. The Message of the Alien God & the Beginnings of Christianity, London 1992.
* See Christine Gruwez, The Question of Dualism in the Cologne Mani Codex, on www.christinegruwez.info.
* Rudolf Steiner, op. cit. page 1.
* Source: ocso.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=100&Itemid=149&lang=en