Carpocratians, Gnostic heretics of the second century, so named from Carpocrates of Alexandria (q.v.). In common with the Gnostics generally, they held the existence of one Supreme Principle, the Primal Being, or Monas, toward which all finite things are striving to return. They taught that the visible world was formed by angels, inferior to the Father (Epiphan. Haeres. 27, 100, 11; Iren. Haeres. 1:25). They regarded Christ as a religious Genius, born, in the ordinary course of nature, of Joseph and Mary, but as having excelled other men not only by the holiness and virtue of his life, but by the wonderful elasticity of his mind (εὔτονος), which retained the remembrance of what he had seen when circling in the train of the Father. They admitted that he had been educated among the Jews, but had despised them, and had therefore obtained the power to surmount his sufferings, and afterward ascended to the Father (Iren. Haer. 1:25). The Carpocratians boasted of resembling Christ, and even allowed, hypothetically speaking, that if any person had a purer soul, or despised in a greater degree the things here below, he might excel him. They had statues and images of Christ and his apostles, and also of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and other eminent men, whom they are said to have honored with superstitious rites in the temple of Epiphanes in Cephallenia. Carpocrates maintained the transmigration of the soul, which must perform all to which it was destined before it can obtain rest. In support of his doctrine he cited the words of our Lord, "Verily thou shalt not depart hence until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." Those souls, however, which are deeply impressed with the remembrance of their former existence, are enabled to defy the influence of the spirits governing this world, and, soaring to the contemplation of the Supreme Being, finally reach a state of eternal rest. In proof of this, Carpocrates adduced the examples of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle among the heathen, and Jesus among the Jews. To the latter he ascribed extraordinary strength of soul, which, animated by the remembrance of its former existence, soared to the highest flights of contemplation, and enabled him to obtain a divine power, by which, in working miracles, he set at naught the spirits of this world, cast off the thraldom of the God of the Jews, and overturned the religion which this god had devised. Every human soul was supposed by contemplation capable of becoming equal in every respect with Jesus Christ. The Carpocratians are stigmatized on account of the consequences which they drew from their principles. They are charged with asserting that there was nothing good or evil in itself; that the distinction between right and wrong was not real, but depended merely on human opinion-an assertion which appears inconsistent with their view of the character of Christ, and which was, perhaps, applied, not to moral duties, but to positive rites. They are also said to have taught the community of women; a doctrine which, together with their notions of a preexistent state, and of metempsychosis, may be traced to Plato, in whose writings Carpocrates and his son Epiphanes (by whom the opinions of this sect were much amplified, and to whom extraordinary honor was paid) were familiarly versed (Clement, Strom. 3:428). As the fruit of these last opinions, they are represented as having indulged in the grossest licentiousness, and as having given occasion to the dreadful calumnies by which the early Christians were assailed. The reproach of licentiousness is not confirmed by Ireneus, who is the oldest source of our knowledge of the Carpocratians.
Epiphanius says the Carpocratians rejected the Old Testament. It appears not certain that they rejected any part of the New (Euseb. Ecc. Hist. 4:7; Epiphan. Haer. 17). — Jeremie, Church Hist. 154; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1:449-451; Lardner, Works, 8:391-403; Dorner, Person of Christ, div. 1, vol. 1, p. 186; Hase, Church History, § 78; especially Mosheim, Commentaries, etc., cent. 2, § 50.