The Encratites ("self-controlled") were an ascetic 2nd-century sect of Christians who forbade marriage and counselled abstinence from meat. Eusebius says that Tatian was the author of this heresy. It has been supposed that it was these Gnostic Encratites who were chastised in the epistle of 1 Timothy (4:1-4).
The first mention of a Christian sect of this name occurs in Irenæus. They are mentioned more than once by Clement of Alexandria, who says that they are named from "Temperance". Hippolytus of Rome 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. Origen says they did not acknowledge St. Paul’s Epistles.
Somewhat later this sect received new life and strength by the accession of a certain Severus, 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. They rejected marriage – declaring women and sex the work of Satan – and also intoxicants, calling wine 'drops of venom from the great Serpent'. 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[which?] and in Syrian Antioch, they were found scattered here and there. They split up into a number of smaller sects of whom the Apotactics were remarkable for their condemnation of private property, the Hydroparastatæ or Aquarii for their use of water instead of wine in the Eucharist.
In the Edict of 382, Theodosius pronounced the sentence of death on all those who took the name of Encratites, Saccophori, or Hydroparastatæ, and commanded Florus, the Magister Officiarum, to make strict search for these heretics, who were Manichæans in disguise.
- Eusebius, Church History: iv. 28, 29
- Transitions and Transformations in the History of Religions, by Joseph Mitsuo Kitagawa, Frank E. Reynolds, Theodore M. Ludwig, 208
- 1 Timothy 4:1-4: Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
- Irenæus, Against Heresies: I, xxviii)
- Paedagogus, II, ii, 33; Stromata, I, xv; VII, xvii
- Stromata 7
- Origen Contra Celsum, Book V, Chapter 65
- Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, IV, xxix
- Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 9 John McClintock, James Strong Baker Academic; 2nd edition ISBN 0801061237 ISBN 978-0801061233 
- (Hær., xiv)