Montanism refers to a group of Christians who followed the teachings of Montanus who came into prominence in Phrygia in Asia Minor mid-second century.  Montanus was a former priest of Cybele, a goddess similar to Gaia who was revered as the Earth Mother. Prophecy was not new to the area as the cults of Men, Cybele, and Dyonysus were familiar in the area, and people were receptive to the idea of Christian prophets.

Montanus prophesied previously as a priest of Cybele, and after converting to Christianity, prophesied in Christianity.  But his manner of prophecy, according to an opponent, was to fall into a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, where he raved and babbled and uttered strange things.  He did also teach speaking in tongues and other gifts of the spirit.  According to Eusebius his manner of prophecy was different than the tradition of the church that had been handed down from the beginning.

Montanus declared that he was a vehicle of the Holy Spirit about 156 AD.[1]  Montanus preached the Paraclete of John 14:16 was working through him and two female companions, Maximilla and Priscilla, who claimed to have the same power of the spirit as Montanus.  The three of them claimed to be new prophets who had a new word from God that superseded the New Testament.  The Holy Spirit was still operational, according to them, but their doctrines were radical. They preached the end of the world was near and that the heavenly Jerusalem would be established in their area, Phyrgia.[2] People left their jobs and homes and poured into the local countryside as prophecies foretold of wars, martyrdom, and instructed fasts and abstinences.

At first, second marriages were forbidden, and then marriage itself was forbidden.  They practiced extreme fasting and other forms of asceticism.  Montanists were critical of the church at large for not practicing the gifts of the holy spirit.

The movement of Montanism was exciting and received by a lot of people. Some participants were described as “boiling over with the Spirit” and the movement spurred a yearning for martyrdom.[3]  It lasted from the first until the sixth century. Frend describes the movement as having an “extraordinary tenacity” despite the failure of the prophecies to materialize.[4] While their views were extreme and extra-biblical Montanism represented that a significant number of the believers in the first century after Christ did not believe that the power of the Holy Spirit had ended. However, the failure of their prophecies to materialize worked to dissuade some against the continuing presence and power of the Spirit to manifest in their time.

As with all movements, not all people involved with the movement adhered to all of the beliefs.  For example, Tertullian, an early church father in the Latin heritage, converted to Montanism in the year 206.  Tertullian, while attracted to the teaching of the power of the Holy Spirit, differed from the originators of the sect in the excesses.  Tertullian had a powerful impact in changing the beliefs of Montanism.  Tertullian held to some of the beliefs of mainline Christianity of the time including the fullness of the spirit in the apostolic age.  Therefore, it appears that Montanism held to more orthodox views in the later centuries of its existence than at its beginning.

The asceticism of Montanism resurfaced in Monasticism in later centuries.[5]

It is interesting to note that as the world accepted orthodox Christianity, orthodox Christians were instrumental in the persecution of Montanists.  Constantine decreed that Montanists were to be deprived of their places of worship, forbidding their services.  The emperor Justinian in the sixth century literally wiped out the movement by gathering the Montanists together with their wives and children in their places of worship and setting the places on fire.

Some modern Pentecostalists have identified with Montanus with the same criticism of the mainline church as having abandoned the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It needs to be noted, however, that, unlike Montanists, Pentecostals are devout in their belief in the New Testament, do not practice asceticism, and don’t promote abandoning the New Testament for new prophecy.

Things that identify this group then as heretical include abandoning the tradition of the Apostles that we are charged to follow, the push for martyrdom, the push for asceticism, and false prophecies.

[1] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 56

[2] Walker p.56

[3] The Rise of Christianity, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, P. 253-256

[4] Frend, p. 253-256

[5] Walker, p. 56

Other References

HERESIES, Heresy And Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p, 66-68


Last edited 8/10/2021

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