Nicolaites (NICOLAITANS), a sect mentioned in the Apocalypse (ii, 6, 15) as existing in Ephesus, Pergamus, and other cities of Asia Minor, about the character and existence of which there is little certainty. Irenaeus (Adv. Hwr., I, xxvi, 3; III, xi, 1) discusses them but adds nothing to the Apocalypse except that “they lead lives of unrestrained indulgence”. Tertullian refers to them, but apparently knows only what is found in St. John (De Priescrip xxxiii; Adv. Marc., I, xxix; De Pud., xvii). Hippolytus based his narrative on Irenaeus, though he states that the deacon Nicholas was the author of the heresy and the sect (Philosoph., VII, xxvi). Clement of Alexandria (Strom., III, iv) exonerates Nicholas, and attributes the doctrine of promiscuity, which the sect claimed to have derived from him, to a malicious distortion of words harmless in themselves. With the exception of the statement in Eusebius (H. E., III, xxix) that the sect was short-lived, none of the references in Epiphanius, Theodoret etc. deserve mention, as they are taken from Irenaeus. The common statement, that the Nicolaites held the antinomian heresy of Corinth, has not been proved. Another opinion, favored by a number of authors, is that, because of the allegorical character of the Apocalypse, the reference to the Nicolaitans is merely a symbolic manner of reference, based on the identical meaning of the names, to the Bileamites or Balaamites (Apoc., ii, 14) who are mentioned just before them as professing the same doctrines.
P. J. HEALY