Montanism was an early Christian movement of the mid-2nd century A.D., named after its founder Montanus. It flourished mostly in and around the region of Phrygia, where early on its followers were called Cataphrygians. It spread rapidly to other regions in the Roman Empire at a time before Christianity was generally tolerated or legal. Although the orthodox mainstream Christian church prevailed against Montanism within a few generations, labeling it a heresy, the sect persisted in some isolated places into the 8th century. Some people have drawn parallels between Montanism and modern Pentecostalism (which some call Neo-Montanism). The most widely known Montanist was undoubtedly Tertullian, who was the foremost Latin church writer before he converted to Montanism.
Scholars are divided as to when Montanus first began his prophecy, having chosen dates varying from c. AD 165 to as late as AD 177. Montanus travelled among the rural settlements of Asia Minor after his conversion, and preached and testified what he purported to be the Word of God; however, his teachings were regarded as heresy by the orthodox Church for a number of reasons. He claimed to have received a series of direct revelations from the Holy Ghost. In some of his prophecies Montanus spoke in the first person as God. Many casual readers and even many uninformed scholars such as church father Cyril of Jerusalem have misinterpreted this as Montanus claiming to be God or the Holy Spirit. However, scholars of Montanism agree that these words of Montanus exemplify the general practice of religious prophets to speak as the passive mouthpieces of the divine, and to claim divine inspiration (similar to modern prophets stating "Thus saith the Lord"). That practice occurred in Christian as well as in pagan circles with some degree of frequency (Pelikan 101, Tabernee 93). Montanus was accompanied by two women, Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and Maximilla, who likewise claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As they went, "the Three" as they were called, spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these personal revelations. His preachings spread from his native Phrygia (where he proclaimed the village of Pepuza as the site of the New Jerusalem) across the contemporary Christian world, to Africa and Gaul.
It is generally agreed that the movement was inspired by Montanus' reading of the Gospel of John— "I will send you the advocate [paraclete], the spirit of truth" (Heine 1987, 1989; Groh 1985). The response to this continuing revelation split the Christian communities, and the more orthodox clergy mostly fought to suppress it. Bishop Apollinarius found the church at Ancyra torn in two, and he opposed the "false prophesy" (quoted by Eusebius 5.16.5). But there was real doubt at Rome, and Pope Eleutherus even wrote letters in support of Montanism, although he later recalled them (Tertullian, "Adversus Praxean" c.1, Trevett 58-59).
Prisca claimed that Christ had appeared to her in female form. When she was excommunicated, she exclaimed "I am driven away like the wolf from the sheep. I am no wolf: I am word and spirit and power."
The most widely known defender of Montanists was undoubtedly Tertullian, onetime champion of orthodox belief, who believed that the new prophecy was genuine and began to fall out of step with what he began to call "the church of a lot of bishops" (On Modesty).
Although the orthodox Christian church prevailed against Montanism within a few generations, inscriptions in the Tembris valley of northern Phrygia, dated between 249 and 279, openly proclaim their allegiance to Montanism.
A letter of Jerome to Marcella, written in 385, refutes the claims of Montanists that had been troubling her (letter 41)
A group of "Tertullianists" continued to exist at Carthage. The anonymous author of Praedestinatus records that a preacher came to Rome in 388 where he made many converts and obtained the use of a church for his congregation on the grounds that the martyrs to whom it was dedicated had been Montanists. He was obliged to flee after the victory of Theodosius I. Augustine records that the Tertullianist group dwindled to almost nothing in his own time, and finally was reconciled to the church and handed over their basilica. It is not certain whether the Tertullianists were Montanist or not.
In the sixth century, at the orders of the emperor Justinian, John of Ephesus led an expedition to Pepuza to destroy the Montanist shrine there, which was based around the tombs of Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla.
The sect persisted into the eighth century. The Columbia Encyclopedia claims that “in isolated areas of Phrygia, where it [Montanism] continued to the 7th cent.”
Some modern writers have suggested that some of its emphasis on direct, ecstatic personal presence of the Holy Spirit bears resemblance to all forms of Pentecostalism. “It [Montanism] claimed to be a religion of the Holy Spirit and was marked by ecstatic outbursts which it regarded as the only true form of Christianity”, While there may be some similarities between Montanism and modern Pentecostalism, there does not appear to be any historical link between the two, as most Pentecostals claim authenticity based on the New Testament Book of Acts (chapter 2). There is also a similarity to spiritualism. As the prophetess, while in a trance is not speaking for God. Instead the entranced prophetess claims to be the actual voice of God.
The beliefs of Montanism contrasted with orthodox Christianity in the following ways:
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