The Adamites, or Adamians, were adherents of an early Christian sect (considered heretical by the orthodox church) that flourished in North Africa in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries, but knew later revivals.
The obscure sect, dating probably from the second century, professed to have regained Adam's primeval innocence. Various accounts are given of their origin. Some have thought them to have been an offshoot of the Carpocratian Gnostics
, who professed a sensual mysticism
and a complete emancipation from the moral law. Theodoret
(Haer. Fab., I, 6) held this view of them, and identified them with the licentious sects whose practices are described by Clement of Alexandria
. Others, on the contrary, consider them to have been misguided ascetics
, who strove to extirpate carnal desires by a return to simpler manners, and by the abolition of marriage.
St. Epiphanius and Augustine of Hippo mention the Adamites by name, and describe their practices. They called their church "Paradise", claiming that its members were re-established in Adam and Eve's state of original innocence. Accordingly, they practiced "holy nudism", rejected the form of marriage as foreign to Eden, saying it would never have existed but for sin, lived in absolute lawlessness, holding that, whatever they did, their actions could be neither good nor bad and stripped themselves naked while engaged in common worship.
Practices similar to those just described appeared in Europe several times in later ages. During the Middle Ages
the doctrines of this obscure sect, which did not itself exist long, were revived: in the thirteenth century in the Netherlands by the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit
and the Taborites
, and, in a grosser form, in the fourteenth by the Beghards
in Germany. Everywhere they met with firm opposition from the mainstream churches.
The Beghards became the Picards
of Bohemia, who took possession of an island in the river Nezarka
, and lived communally, practicing social and religious nudity, polyamory and rejecting marriage and individual ownership of property. Jan Žižka
, the Hussite leader, nearly exterminated the sect in 1421 (cf. Konstantin von Höfler
, Geschichtsquellen Böhmens
, I, 414, 431);
A brief revival of these doctrines took place in Bohemia after 1781, owing to the edict of toleration issued by Emperor Joseph II
. The Austrian government suppressed the last remnants of the Neo-Adamites
in Bohemia by force in 1849.
In the Modern Age
some English Dissenters
practiced the Adamite doctrine.
Sources and references