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Manichaeanism began during the third century AD as a religious movement in opposition to Zoroastrianism and soon developed into a formidable force that for many centuries was also the rival of Christianity. .Indeed, right to the modern times, there have been religions in Europe of an essentially Manichaean character. This third great Iranian religion spread eastward to China and westward to Europe and became one of the most widely practiced of all religions and survived for over a thousand years in certain areas. Mani, the founder of Manichaeanism, was an Iranian who was born in Babylonia. At the age of 20 he announced his prophet hood and his first public appearance is recorded as having taken place in the year 242. However, following the hostile reaction of the Zoroastrian priesthood, Mani was exiled from his country. For twenty years he wandered in Central Asia, Tibet and India, where he won many disciples before returning to Iran only to be put to death there in the year 274. Mani sought to unite all religions and considered himself as the Paraclete announced by Christ. He adopted the idea of good and evil from Zoroastrianism, the conduct of life from Buddhism and the ideal of spirituality from Christianity. Other religious influences can also be seen in his doctrines, but the heart of his religion is Zoroastrian dualism. The main Zoroastrian ideas about the two forces of good and evil, their struggle and the final triumph of goodness are all adopted by Mani. But there is a major difference in that Zoroastrians considered the physical world to be good and praised marriage and the raising of children, these being practices which propagate life on earth. Manichaeism, on the contrary, considered this world to belong to the forces of evil, and therefore had a deep hatred of the flesh and of family life. It encouraged celibacy and in fact accepted into its higher orders only the celibate. Its organization, secret like that of Mithraism, was extremely rigid and required great discipline and asceticism from its members. Still it was able to spread rapidly in the West where its mystical doctrines competed with Christianity for centuries. No less a figure than St. Augustine was a Manichaean before his conversion to Christianity, and even after its destruction it continued underground and manifested itself from time to time in various new guises.

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