Monday, April 16, 2012

2001 analysis - part 47: Saint Augustine vs. the Manichaeans


Prophet Mani. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Mani (prophet)' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

By giving the showdown between David Bowman and HAL the appearance of a final, universal battle between good and evil, Stanley Kubrick would seem, on the face of it, to hold a Manichaean point of view. Manichaeism was a major gnostic religion, originating in Sassanid era Babylonia. Although most of the original writings of the founding prophet Mani (c. 216–276 CE) have been lost, numerous translations and fragmentary texts have survived.

Manichaeism taught an elaborate cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process which takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light from which it came. Its beliefs, based on local Mesopotamian gnostic and religious movements, contained elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.

Manichaeism thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire. It was widespread among the legions of the Roman Empire, who considered it a soldier's religion, and it was briefly the main rival to Christianity in the competition to replace classical paganism. Manichaeism survived longer in the East than in the West, and it appears to have finally faded away after the 14th century in southern China, contemporary to the decline in China of the Church of the East.

Manichaeism is also referred to as Manicheanism (or Manichaeanism) and its adherents as Manicheans (or Manichaeans). By extension, the term "manichean" is widely applied (often disparagingly) as an adjective to a philosophy or attitude of moral dualism, according to which a moral course of action involves a clear (or simplistic) choice between good and evil, or as a noun to people who hold such a view.[a]


Augustine of Hippo by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Augustine of Hippo' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

As opposed to Manichaeism, Thomas Harris, author of the Hannibal Lecter novels (on which the movies, such as The Silence of the Lambs, are based), could be considered to be in agreement with St. Augustine, in that Augustine held a more complex view of good and evil than the Manichaeans. Augustine of Hippo (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430), also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria). He was a Latin philosopher and theologian from Roman Africa. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity.

According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine "established anew the ancient Faith." In his early years he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his conversion to Christianity and baptism in AD 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and different perspectives. He believed that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, and he framed the concepts of original sin and just war. He became a famous preacher (more than 350 preserved sermons are believed to be authentic), and was noted for combating the Manichaean religion, to which he had formerly adhered.

When the Western Roman Empire was starting to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God (in a book of the same name), distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. Augustine's City of God was closely identified with the Church, the community that worshiped God.[b]

Thomas Harris. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Thomas Harris' page, licensed under fair use via Wikipedia.]

The analyses of some of the Hannibal Lecter movies on this blog, turned up many references and allusions to Augustine in these movies. This implies that Thomas Harris was a not a follower of Manichaeism, and that by making allusions to Augustine (these allusions being present in some of the films based on Harris's novels, as stated), Harris and the makers of certain Lecter movies are giving us a hint that the supposed 'final showdown' in 2001 mentioned above (the one between Bowman and HAL) has a 'red herring' aspect to it, within the context that it is designed to 'trick' audiences into believing that 2001 portrays a Manichaean point of view; whereas, deep analysis of the film shows that this is not really true.

a. Wikipedia, 'Manichaeism'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Augustine of Hippo'. Web, n.d. URL =


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Marcus Aurelius's Meditations - from Wikisource (except where otherwise noted); portions from Wikisource used on this blog are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica from the 'Logos Virtual Library' website (except where otherwise noted), compiled and edited by Darren L. Slider; believed to be in public domain.