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Montanism

Montanism (mŏn´tənĬzəm), apocalyptic movement of the 2d cent. It arose in Phrygia (c.172) under the leadership of a certain Montanus and two female prophets, Prisca and Maximillia, whose entranced utterances were deemed oracles of the Holy Spirit. They had an immediate expectation of Judgment Day, and they encouraged ecstatic prophesying and strict asceticism. They believed that a Christian fallen from grace could never be redeemed, in opposition to the Catholic view that, since the sinner's contrition restored him to grace, the church must receive him again. Montanism antagonized the church because the sect claimed a superior authority arising from divine inspiration. Catholics were told that they should flee persecution, Montanists were told to seek it. When the Montanists began to set up a hierarchy of their own, the Catholic leaders, fearing to lose the cohesion essential to the survivial of persecuted Christianity, denounced the movement. Tertullian was a notable member of the movement, which died (c.220) as a sect, except in isolated areas of Phrygia, where it continued to the 7th cent. But the puristic anti-intellectual movement had many descendants—Novatian, the Donatists (see Donatism), the Cathari, and even Emanuel Swedenborg and Edward Irving.

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Montanism

Montanism. An early Christian heresy. In the latter half of the 2nd cent., Montanus, claiming the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (or Paraclete), prophesied that the Heavenly Jerusalem would soon descend near Pepuza in Phrygia. His followers were led by prophets and prophetesses, through whom the Paraclete spoke, and embraced a severe asceticism, marked by fasting, forbidding of second marriages, and an enthusiastic attitude to martyrdom.

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Montanism

MONTANISM

MONTANISM . Although there are various reports (e.g., Hippolytus, Refutatio 8.19.1; Eusebius, Church History 6.20.3) that the leaders of Montanism composed many writings, none of these has come down to us. As a result, special importance attaches to the approximately twenty-five surviving fragments of their prophecies and oracles (see new edition in Kirchengeschichtliche Entwürfe, 1960) and a few inscriptions, as well as to the writings from Tertullian's Montanist period, although the latter reflect essentially the later development of Montanism. Even the writings of the adversaries of Montanism have disappeared and are known to us only from citations by the fathers of the church. Especially important are Eusebius's account in his Church History and the Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, both of which are based on numerous sources. By contrast, what we know of Montanism from Jerome and Augustine has significantly less value as a source.

According to the sources, Montanism arose in Asia Minor in 156/7 ce and was centered there, at least in its first period. Its founder was Montanus, but he was evidently accompanied from an early date by prophetesses, among whom Priscilla (or Prisca) and especially Maximilla were particularly important. After they had first attracted attention by speaking in tongues, Montanus and his associates made use of intelligible oracles and prophecies to proclaim the final revelation and the will of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was calling for an intensified expectation of the end, since the Parousia (the second coming of Christ) was imminent. The thousand-year reign would descend to earth at Pepuza (and Tymion?) in Phrygia, and the faithful were to travel there in order to share in it as soon as it appeared. They were to prepare themselves by intensified asceticism.

Glossolalia and the claim of a communication of the Spirit were at this time just as suspect to the official church in Asia Minor as was the expectation of an imminent end. The bishops endeavored in vain through exorcisms to resist the "new prophecy," as the apparently tightly organized movement was called, and they tried to coordinate their activity against the "Cataphrygians" (so called after their place of origin) at the first provincial synods. Despite these efforts, Montanism spread far beyond Asia Minor. Only with great difficulty was its recognition by the bishop of Rome prevented, and approximately in the year 207 in North Africa it made a convert of Tertullian, who became a passionate proselytizer for Montanism.

The fight against the movement was difficult because early Montanism was orthodox in its doctrine and exemplary in its ethics. Its characteristic traitsa heightened expectation of an imminent Parousia and a resultant intense asceticism (to the point of seeking martyrdom)were basic elements of early Christianity, as were speaking in tongues and the claim to immediate revelation from the Holy Spirit. Montanus claimed that in him the Paraclete had made his appearance. After all, the coming of the Spirit was expressly announced in the Gospel of John. In addition, millenarianism found justification in the Revelation to John and was especially widespread in Asia Minor, and this even in the subsequent period. The Revelation to John and the Gospel of John were evidently among the spiritual sources from which Montanism was derived.

By the second half of the second century the official church and its theology had moved beyond the expectation of an imminent Parousia and had made room for the idea of postponement of the end. The Second Letter of Peter and the Shepherd of Hermas are clear proof of this. In the community at large, however, the expectation of an imminent end was still alive, at least in a latent form, and was given new life by Montanism. It was this expectation that made it possible for the movement to spread so quickly and so widely. The church's opposition to Montanism began to be effective only when the predicted return of the Lord did not occur and the prophetic energies of the movement fell off. Maximilla's oracle, "After me there will be no further prophet but only the end" (Epiphanius, Panarion 48.12.4), gave the church a weapon that became all the more effective as time passed after the death of Maximilla and neither the predicted end nor even the disturbances and wars preceding the end came to pass. During the second half of the second century, Montanism underwent the same kind of development that official Christianity had experienced: there was a withering of the prophetic element, cessation of glossolalia, and a decline in ethical standards.

It was the ethical rigorism of Montanism that converted Tertullian. When he became a Montanist in about 207, he evidently had been in conflict with the official church, which in his opinion was too lax, for some time. The gift of prophecy was still alive in Montanism at that time, as was eschatological expectation, though this was no longer as intense as in the beginning. The gift of tongues had disappeared, and the Lord's thousand-year reign was expected to come no longer in Asia Minor but in Jerusalem.

It is not possible to say for certain to what extent Montanism had spread in the West and how long it persisted there. Modern writers often rely too much on the lists of heresies, in which Montanism soon acquired its fixed place, as proof that the movement actually existed in a given area. Although Augustine wrote of "Tertullianists" in Africa, it is uncertain to what extent they are to be identified with Montanism. On the other hand, in the East the laws against heretics give the impression down to the beginning of the fifth century that Montanism was still a living reality there.

The attempt (by Wilhelm E. Schepelern and, later, B. W. Goree Jr., for example) to explain Montanism in terms of the paganism of Asia Minor and especially the cult of Cybele is not a promising one in view of the state of the sources. What these writers view as a tradition peculiar to Asia Minor (e.g., emphasis on ecstasy, the special place of women, intense asceticism) was in fact the common possession of early Christianity.

Bibliography

My contributions to Kirchengeschichtliche Entwürfe (Gütersloh, 1960) expand on themes treated above: "Bemerkungen zum Montanismus und zur frühchristlichen Eschatologie" (pp. 105148) and "Augustin und der Montanismus" (pp. 149164). See also Heinrich Kraft's "Die altkirchliche Prophetie und die Entstehung des Montanismus," Theologische Zeitschrift 11 (1955): 249271; Douglas Powell's "Tertullianists and Cataphrygians," Vigiliae Christianae 29 (1975): 3354; W. E. Schepelern's Der Montanismus und die phrygischen Kulte: Eine religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Tübingen, 1929); and B. W. Goree Jr.'s "The Cultural Bases of Montanism" (Ph. D. diss., Baylor University, 1980). Pierre de Labriolle's Les sources de l'histoire du montanisme (Paris, 1913) is still fundamental, even though the editions used are largely outdated.

Kurt Aland (1987)

Translated from German by Matthew J. O'Connell

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Montanism

MONTANISM

A schismatic movement that originated in Phrygia about the middle of the 2d century, spread rapidly and widely through the East and West, and almost completely disappeared during the 5th and 6th centuries. Montanism was a manifestation of a recurring phenomenon in the Church that, for want of a better term, is called "illuminism" or "enthusiasm" and is characterized by a conviction on the part of its devotees that (1) they are a spiritual elite called to restore the Church to its primitive simplicity, (2) they are under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, and (3) in their circle are renewed the charismatic gifts common during the period of the Church's first fervor.

Montanus. Montanus, the founder of the sect, was a convert from paganism. Shortly after his conversion he became the leader of a group of illuminati at Ardabau, and later at Pepuza, in Phrygia. He and certain of his followers, notably the women Priscilla (or Prisca) and Maximilla, were seized by religious raptures and, in the course of ecstasy, spoke in strange tongues and uttered prophecies that the sectaries regarded as oracles of the Holy Spirit.

Stories of mysterious apparitions of Christ and the Paraclete were spread abroad, and in the meetings of the Montanists, trances, convulsions, and mass hysteria occurred similar to the bizarre experiences of the Camisards, the Shakers, and the 17th-century visionaries of Paris who danced in the cemetery of Saint-Médard. Phrygia was traditionally the home of frenzy and fanaticism, and it is probably the irrationality and extravagance of Montanism that led opponents to call its adherents Phrygians or Cataphrygians.

Doctrine. During its earliest stages, Montanism was less concerned with doctrine than with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that the Montanists saw in the transports of their prophets. Some points of discipline were inculcated; certain fasts were introduced; virginity was praised in exaggerated terms; husbands and wives were advised to separate or to live in continence; there were warnings of imminent catastrophes; and true believers were summoned to assemble at Pepuza to await the descent of the new Jerusalem and the coming of the millennium.

Montanists of the second and third generations developed the primitive asceticism of the sect into a doctrinal and disciplinary system that is described in considerable detail by tertullian, the most famous of its converts. In his Montanist treatises he condemns all second marriages as adultery. He insists that there are some sins that are so serious that the Church cannot or should not forgive them. Flight during time of persecution is a kind of apostasy; relatively mild fasts of the orthodox Church were to be replaced by frequent and prolonged xerophagies or dry fasts. The antihierarchical and anti-institutional prejudices characteristic of Pentecostal groups appear in Tertullian's views on the priesthood of all believers, and in the opposition that he sets up between the internal Church of the Spirit and the external Church of the bishops.

St. jerome, in describing Montanism, lists the errors already mentioned and says that members of the sect were infected with sabellianism. The claim that the utterances of the new prophets add to or supersede the revelation delivered to the Apostles and handed down in the apostolic churches remained a basic point at issue between Montanists and Catholics.

Importance. The importance of the sect during the early centuries may be judged by the attention it received from ancient Christian writers and ecclesiastics. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Jerome, Sozomen, and, most particularly, Eusebius of Caesarea and Epiphanius furnish information on its historical development and describe the principal tenets of the sect. According to Eusebius the earliest anti-Montanist writings are those of Apollonius (c. 197); the apologists Miltiades, Melito, and Apollinaris of Hierapolis; the Roman Caius; and an anonymous bishop of Asia Minor who composed an influential three-volume work on the subject, c. 192193 (Hist. Eccl. 5.1619), Popes Soter (c. 166175) and Eleutherius (c. 175189) condemned the movement shortly after its appearance in the Church. The energetic opposition of Pope innocent i (401417) and the laws of the Emperor honorius i against heresy (Feb. 22, 407) contributed substantially to the decline of Montanism in the West, and some 150 years later the severe anti-Montanist legislation of the Emperor justinian i all but destroyed it in the East.

As the movement lost its formal identity, its members either returned to the Church or went over to other Pneumocentric groups such as the Priscillianists and Cathari. However, evidence of the tenacity of some of its adherents and of the sect's stubborn will to live may be seen in a letter of gregory the great (June or July 601) to the bishops of Spain on the invalidity of Montanist baptism. And again as late as the 9th century, according to Ignatius of Nicaea, Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople, urged the emperor to take restrictive measures against the Phrygian heretics.

Bibliography: p. de labriolle, La Crise montaniste (Paris 1913); ed., Les Sources de l'histoire du montanisme (Fribourg 1910). h. von campenhausen, Kirchliches Amt und geistliche Vollmacht in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Tübingen 1953). r. a. knox, Enthusiasm (New York 1950) 2549. b. altaner, Patrology tr. h. graef from 5th German ed. (New York 1960) 138139. k. aland, Zeitschrifte für die neutestamentliche Wissen- schaft und die Kunde der alteren Kirche 46 (1955) 109116. h. bacht, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 195765) 7:578580.

[w. le saint]

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