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Encratites Leão, Naiara


It’s a popular early Christian movement characterized by the defense of chastity, rejection of marriage and perhaps a refusal of meat and wine. However, it’s a poorly defined movement as there aren’t clear boundaries of where and when it took place and who were its adherents. The name comes from the Greek word egkrateia, which means restraint from one’s emotions and desires and self-control. This was considered a virtue in the Greco-Roman world, and examples of communities that abstained from sex and had strict diets are abundant already in pre-Christian communities. In Christian context, Encratism appears in second-century charges of heresists against Marcion, Saturninus and Tatian. But in addition to naming a heresy and identifying a specific group, encratism it is also understood as a general tendency of eschatological early Christian communities to refuse sex and sexuality. In the first scenario, we have the writings of Church Fathers, namely Irenaeus (185) and Clement of Alexandria (190), accusing Marcion and Saturninus of presenting marriage as corruption and Tatian of advancing these ideas. Irenaeus and Hippolytus (ca.225) also mention they abstain from eating living things (probably meat). Jerome (385) is the first Church Father to also add refusal of wine as an Encratite rule. According to these Fathers, Encratic rules were based on theological formulations about salvation. Tatian would've posited that Adam and Eve created separation from the Holy Spirit through the original sin putting humans and animals on the same level. As a consequence, humans acquired animalistic characteristics such as mortality and sex drive. The vegetarian diet and chastity were intended to lessen these characteristics and bring humans close to their original purity and proximity with the Holy Spirit. In the second scenario, it seems that from the second century throughout Late Antiquity, Christians from several sects adopted at least some form of continence or dietary restrictions. Whether Encratism was an actual movement or just a widespread practice is uncertain. Its interwoven with other movements is clear in the Edict of 382, for example. In the document, the Emperor Theodosius pronounces a death sentence to all that take the name of Encratites and affirms they are Manichaeans (another persecuted sect) in disguise. In scholarship, encratism has been used interchangeably with early Christian asceticism. It has also been linked to the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of the Egyptians, the Apocryphal Acts, particularly in relation to chaste women, and passages of the New Testament (Luke 2:36; Matt 1:24; I Tim 4:1-4).

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