Literally, abstainers, because they refrained from the use of wine, animal food, and marriage
Encratites [Enkrateis (Irenaeus) Enkratetai (Clement Alex., Hippolytus)], literally, “abstainers” or “persons who practiced continency”, because they refrained from the use of wine, animal food, and marriage. The name was given to an early Christian sect, or rather to a tendency common to several sects, chiefly Gnostic, whose asceticism was based on heretical views regarding the origin of matter.
I. HISTORY.—Abstinence from the use of some creatures, because they were thought to be intrinsically evil, is much older than Christianity. Pythagorism, Essenism, Indian asceticism betrayed this erroneous tendency, and the Indian ascetics are actually quoted by Clement of Alexandria as the forerunners of the Encratites (Strom., I, xv). Although St. Paul refers to people, even in his days, “forbidding to marry and abstaining from meats” (I Tim., iv, 1-5), the first mention of a Christian sect of this name occurs in Irenaeus (I, xxviii). He connects their origin with Saturninus and Marcion. Rejecting marriage, they implicitly accuse the Creator, Who made both male and female. Refraining from all empsucha (animal food and intoxicants), they are ungrateful to Him Who created all things. “And now”, continues Irenaeus, “they reject the salvation of the first man [Adam]; an opinion recently introduced among them by Tatian, a disciple of Justin. As long as he was with Justin he gave no sign of these things, but after his martyrdom Tatian separated himself from the Church. Elated and puffed up by his professorship, he established some teaching of his own. He fabled about some invisible aeons, as the Valentinians do; and proclaimed marriage to be corruption and fornication, as Marcion and Saturninus do, but he made the denial of Adam‘s salvation a specialty of his own.” The Encratites are next mentioned by Clement Alex. (Paed., II, ii, 33; Strom., I, xv; VII, xvii). The whole of the third book of the Strornata is devoted to combating a false encrateia, or continency, though a special sect of Encratites is not there mentioned. Hippolytus (Philos., VIII, xiii) refers to them as “acknowledging what concerns God and Christ in like manner with the Church; in respect, however, of their mode of life, passing their days inflated with pride”; “abstaining from animal food, being water-drinkers and forbidding to marry”; “estimated Cynics rather than Christians”. On the strength of this passage it is supposed that some Encratites were perfectly orthodox in doctrine, and erred only in practice, but ta peri tou theou kai tou christou need not include the whole of Christian doctrine. Somewhat later this sect received new life and strength by the accession of a certain Severus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., IV, xxix), after whom Encratites were often called Severians. These Severian Encratites accepted the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospels, but rejected the Book of the Acts and cursed St. Paul and his Epistles. But the account given by Epiphanius of the Severians rather betrays Syrian Gnosticism than Judaistic tendencies. In their hatred of marriage they declared woman the work of Satan, and in their hatred of intoxicants they called wine drops of venom from the great Serpent, etc. (Haer., xlv). Epiphanius states that in his day Encratites were very numerous throughout Asia Minor, in Pisidia, in the Adustan district of Phrygia, in Isauria, Pamphylia, Cilicia, and Galatia. In the Roman Province and in Antioch of Syria they were found scattered here and there. They split up into a number of smaller sects, of whom the Apostolici (q.v.) were remarkable for their condemnation of private property, the Hydroparastatae for their use of water instead of wine in the Eucharist. In the Edict of 382, Theodosius pronounced sentence of death on all those who took the name of Encratites, Saccophori, or Hydroparastatae, and commanded Florus, the Magister Officiorum, to make strict search for these heretics, who were Manichaeans in disguise. Sozomen (Hist. Eccl., V, xi) tells of an Encratite of Ancyra in Galatia, called Busiris, who bravely submitted to torments in the Julian persecution, and who under Theodosius abjured his heresy and returned to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, we learn from Macarius Magnes (about 403—Apocr., III, xliii) of a certain Dositheus, a Cilician, who about the same time wrote a work in eight books in defense of Encratite errors. About the middle of the fifth century they disappear from history, absorbed, probably, by the Manichaeans, with whom they had so much in common from the first.
II. WRITINGS.—The Encratites developed a considerable literary activity. The earliest writer in their defense probably was Tatian in his book “Concerning Perfection according to the Savior”, which Clement of Alexandria quotes and refutes in Strom., III, xii. Almost contemporary with him (about A.D. 150) was Julius Cassianus, known as the founder of Docetism (see Docetae). He wrote a work “Concerning Self-restraint and Continency”, of which Clement and St. Jerome have preserved some passages (Strom., I, xxi; Euseb., Praep. Ev., X, xii; Strom., III, xiii; Jerome, ad Gal., VI, viii). Concerning the eight books of Dositheus we know only that he maintained that, as the world had its beginning by sexual intercourse, so by continency (encrateia) it would have its end; and that he inveighed against wine-drinkers and flesh-eaters. Among the apocryphal works which originated in Encratite circles must be mentioned: The Gospel according to the Egyptians, referred to by Clement (Strom., III, ix, 13), Origen (Hom. in i Luc.), Hippolytus (Philos., V, vii), which contained a dialogue between Jesus and Salome specially appealed to by the Encratites in condemnation of marriage (to this Gospel the recently discovered “Logia” probably belong); the Gospel of Philip, of Thomas, the Acts of Peter, of Andrew, of Thomas, and other Apocrypha, furthering Gnostic-Encratite views.
Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., IV, xxi, 28) says that Musanus (A.D. 170 or 210) wrote a most elegant book addressed to some brethren who had fallen into the heresy of the Encratites. Theodoret (Haer. Fab., I, xxi) says that Apollinaris of Hierapolis in Phrygia (about 171) wrote against the Severian Encratites.
J. P. ARENDZEN