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Montanus

Montanus

The early Christian prophet Montanus (active 2nd century) was the leader of a group of people who were convinced that their ability to speak in mysterious languages was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Montanism was later condemned as a heresy.

Very little is known about the life of Montanus He was probably an adult convert to Christianity, enthusiastic about his newly found salvation. About 156 he made a strong impression on the town of Ardabau in Asia Minor when he was overcome by a seizure of some kind and began speaking rapidly and forcefully about religion. He said that he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit and that he was prophesying. This happened a number of times over a period of months. Sometimes speaking clearly, sometimes babbling in what seemed to be foreign tongues, he succeeded in convincing several other men and women that the Holy Spirit was really present, to the point that they also would fall into a trance and prophesy. The group began to attract other followers, especially when the similarity between Montanus's actions and some of the events described in the Bible was pointed out. Many people saw his followers as an elite Christian group calling the rest of mankind to a new spirit of religious fervor. They seemed to be inspired.

The movement spread rapidly throughout Asia Minor. Wherever Montanus and his followers went, they stirred the people into a state of ecstatic madness. Crowds screamed with joy, whirling, dancing, singing, convinced that the Holy Spirit was being poured into them. In moments of relative calm Montanus preached. He urged the people to pray and fast and punish themselves. The human body was troublesome, he said. Sex was evil, and marriage should be no more than tolerated. Christians must return to the original fervor of biblical times and give up worldly pleasures. The Holy Spirit, he said, was once again tangibly present in the world, acting through Montanus and his followers.

At one point Montanus preached that the world was about to come to an end. The heavenly Jerusalem, he declared, was soon to come down and be established on a plain between two towns in nearby Phrygia. From all over Asia Minor the followers of Montanus streamed to the appointed place. They were disappointed when the end of the world did not come about as Montanus had predicted. They kept faith in their prophet, however, and his movement continued to spread. It swept through North Africa and Greece, despite the excommunication imposed on its followers by a bishop in Phrygia. Two centuries later it died out, disappearing as quickly as it had arisen.

Further Reading

A helpful analysis of Montanism's basic religious content is in Ronald A. Knox's articulate study, Enthusiasm (1950). Henry B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (1912), describes some of the controversies stirred up by the Montanists. A useful discussion of Montanus and Montanism is in Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church (2 vols., 1957). See also Newman C. Eberhardt, A Summary of Catholic History (2 vols., 1961-1962). □

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Montanus

Montanus (2nd cent. CE). A self-proclaimed prophet, who attracted followers to his message that the end of the world was imminent. Initially the movement had the support of Tertullian, but it came to be vigorously opposed, until, at the Synod of Iconium, its baptisms were held to be invalid.

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Montanus

MONTANUS

MONTANUS , second-century Christian schismatic. For information on the life of Montanus we are dependent on statements made by the Christian controversialists of the time, as transmitted by the fathers of the church. Only a few utterances of Montanus himself have come down to us: "I am the Father and I am the Son and I am the Paraclete," as in the Dialogue between a Montanist and an Orthodox Christian (J. Ficker, 1905, pp. 447ff.) and according to Didymus of Alexandria (De Trinitate 3.41) and Epiphanius (Panarion 48.11.1). "The Paraclete" is sometimes replaced by "the Spirit" or "the Holy Spirit" or some expanded form of this. Man is like a lyre, and Montanus is described as the plectrum that sweeps across the strings. Extraordinary promises are made to the faithful, but no concrete indications are given of Montanus's teaching or ethical demands in any of the extant sources concerning him.

Montanus reportedly first attracted notice in the time of the proconsulate of Gratus (Quadratus?), in Ardabau (on the Phrygian border of Mysia), as promulgator of the "new prophecy." When combined with data provided by Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis, this information suggests the date 156/157 as the approximate beginning of this movement. Montanus is also reported to have been a recent convert to Christianity (in Eusebius's Church History 5.16.17) and to have previously been a priest of Apollo (this designation appears in the Dialogue ) or, more generally, a priest of idols (in the Dialogue and in Didymus's De Trinitate 3.41). Jerome speaks of him (Letters 41, to Marcella) as abscisum et semivirum (castrated and half a man), that is, a priest of Cybele. Montanus is reported to have hanged himself (Church History 5.16.13). Since the same story is told of Maximilla, the prophetess and close associate of Montanus, the report is evidently a piece of antiheretical polemic, passed on by an anonymous writer simply as a rumor (cited in Church History 5.16.15). We cannot say for certain whether the report is true that Montanus was originally a pagan priest, but the contradictory claims suggest that early Christian polemics played a role in the report, especially since there is no reference to this pagan background of Montanus among the writings of the anti-Montanists of the second century.

Augustine (De haeresibus liber 26) reports that Montanus celebrated the Lord's Supper with bread that had been prepared using the blood of a one-year-old infant. The blood had been extracted by means of countless tiny punctures. The same story is told by numerous church fathers (Epiphanius, Filastrius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome), but it represents nothing more than the acceptance into antiheretical Christian polemics of the pagan legend of the orthodox Christian Lord's Supper as involving the ritualistic sacrifice of an infant. This story was told at the end of the second century (cf. Minucius Felix, Octavius 9.5). Because they did not recognize this, some scholars saw the story as reflecting the influence of an orgiastic culture in Asia Minor and considered it as justification for looking into the matter further. Montanus's contemporary adversaries knew nothing about the story, or they gladly would have used it in arguments against him. Also, Eusebius, who summarizes virtually everything of the anti-Montanist writings, would undoubtedly have passed the story on.

There was nothing about Montanism that could not have been found, at least in the form of tendencies, in the early Christian church. Montanism was a movement of renewal that sought to revive, in the second half of the second century, certain elements of worship, doctrine, and ethics that had gradually died out in the church at large during the first half of the century. Montanism itself eventually underwent the same kind of development that official Christianity had experienced (cessation of glossolalia, withering of the prophetic element, nonfulfillment of the expectation of the second coming of Christ, decline in ethical standards), so that in the third century Montanism's internal energies were gradually exhausted and nothing was left but a sect that, from the fourth century on, was exposed to ecclesiastical and civil persecution and was doomed to extinction.

Bibliography

Barnes, Timothy D. "The Chronology of Montanism." Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 20 (1970): 403408.

Ford, J. Massingberd. "Was Montanism a Jewish-Christian Heresy?" Journal of Ecclesiastical History 17 (1966): 145158.

Gero, Stephen. "Montanus and Montanism according to a Medieval Syriac Source." Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 28 (1977): 520524.

Kurt Aland (1987)

Translated from German by Matthew J. O'Connell

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