This chapter investigates how and why in both legal and ecclesiastical sources ascetic groups such as the Encratites and the Messalians are associated with the Manichaeans, as well as the way these ascetics are treated by the state and church authorities. The ultimate aim of the research is to answer the question: what does this link (made by the sources) reveal about the Manichaeans of the Roman East?
In modern scholarship it has been supported that this connection did not actually exist, but only served the rhetoric of the authorities against anarchist asceticism. However, this paper—taking into account (1) that these ascetics shared a series of common features (practices, beliefs behind the practices, and lifestyle) with the Manichaeans; (2) the emphasis of the sources that some of these features have been established by Manichaean leaders; and (3) the organized character of the Manichaean movement in contrast to the anarchist and irregular character of these ascetic groups—argues that the answer to the question whether the ‘Manichaean’ features of the Messalian or Encratite portrait were a heresiological construction or reflect a Manichaean influence upon anarchist Christian asceticism (as the sources imply) is not one-dimensional. A possible interpretation need not exclude the others.