‘Human Semen Eucharist’ among the Manichaeans? The Testimony of Augustine Reconsidered in Context

In: Mani and Augustine
Johannes van Oort
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Starting from his De haeresibus 46, 9–10, this essay examines Augustine’s contention that, among the Manichaeans, there was a certain ceremony in which human semen (i.e., sperma and menstrual fluid) was collected and consumed during a eucharistic rite. My contextual analysis of the pivotal passage, haer. 46, 9–10, is followed by an overview of scholarly opinions on this text. From here I proceed to interpret the incriminated rite in light of the ‘Seduction of the Archons’ myth and conclude that, according to Augustine, the Manichaeans consider the ‘vital substance’ (or ‘light’ or ‘living soul’) in the life of plants, animals and human beings, to be the very nature of God, which should be released whenever possible. I finish my research by interpreting the Manichaean practice within a wider ‘gnostic’ context, in particular Epiphanius’ report on the ‘Borborites’. My final conclusion is that we should try to understand both Manichaeans (such as the ‘Catharists’) and Gnostics (such as the ‘Borborites’) according to their own logic: both appear to have considered the life-substance of man, i.e., the semen, as divine, and a part of God.

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Mani and Augustine

Collected Essays on Mani, Manichaeism and Augustine

Series:  Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, Volume: 97


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