« Monothelitism Montanus Montanus, bishop of Toledo »


Montanus (1), a native of Ardabau, a village in Phrygia, who, in the latter half of the 2nd cent., originated a widespread schism, of which traces remained for centuries.

I. Rise of Montanism.—The name Montanus was not uncommon in the district. It is found in a Phrygian inscription (Le Bas, 755) and in three others from neighbouring provinces (Boeckh—3662 Cyzicus, 4071 Ancyra, 4187 Amasia). Montanus had been originally a heathen, and according to Didymus (de Trin. iii. 41) an idol priest. The epithets "abscissus" and "semivir" applied to him by Jerome (Ep. ad Marcellam, vol. i. 186) suggest that Jerome may have thought him a priest of Cybele. That after his conversion he became a priest or bishop there is no evidence. He taught that God's supernatural revelations did not end with the apostles, but that even more wonderful manifestations of the divine energy might be expected under the dispensation of the Paraclete. It is asserted that Montanus claimed himself to be the Paraclete; but we believe this to have merely arisen out of the fact that he claimed to be an inspired organ by whom the Paraclete spoke, and that consequently words of his were uttered and accepted as those of that Divine Being. We are told that Montanus claimed to be a prophet and spoke in a kind of possession or ecstasy. He held that the relation between a prophet and the Divine Being Who inspired him was the same as between a musical instrument and he who played upon it; consequently the inspired words of a prophet were not to be regarded as those of the human speaker. In a fragment of his prophecy preserved by Epiphanius he says, "I have come, not an angel or ambassador, but God the Father." See also Didymus (u.s.). It is clear that Montanus here did not speak in his own name, but uttered words which he supposed God to have put into his mouth; and if he spoke similarly in the name of the Paraclete it does not follow that he claimed to be the Paraclete.

His prophesyings were soon outdone by two female disciples, Prisca or Priscilla and Maximilla, who fell into strange ecstasies, delivering in them what Montanus and his followers regarded as divine prophecies. They had been married, left their husbands, were given by Montanus the rank of virgins in the church, and were widely reverenced as prophetesses. But very different was the sober judgment formed of them by some of the neighbouring bishops. Phrygia was a country in which heathen devotion exhibited itself in the most fanatical form, and it seemed to calm observers that the frenzied utterances of the Montanistic prophetesses were far less like any previous manifestation of the prophetic gift among Christians than they were to those heathen orgiasms which the church had been wont to ascribe to the operation of demons. The church party looked on the Montanists as wilfully despising our Lord's warning to beware of false prophets, and as being in consequence deluded by Satan, in whose power they placed themselves by accepting as divine teachers women possessed by evil spirits. The Montanists looked on the church leaders as men who did despite to the Spirit of God by offering the indignity of exorcism to those whom He had chosen as His organs for communicating with the church. It does not appear that any offence was taken at the substance of the Montanistic prophesyings. On the contrary, it was owned that they had a certain plausibility; when with their congratulations and promises to those who accepted them they mixed a due proportion of rebukes and warnings, this was ascribed to the deeper art of Satan. What condemned the prophesyings in the minds of the church authorities was the frenzied ecstasy in which they were delivered.

The question as to the different characteristics of real and pretended prophecy was the main subject of discussion in the first stage of the Montanist controversy. It may have been treated of by Melito in his work on prophecy; it was certainly the subject of that of Miltiades περὶ τοῦ μὴ δεῖν προφήτηϖ ἐν ἐκστάσει λαλεῖν; it was touched on in an early anonymous writing against Montanism [ABERCIUS], of which large fragments are preserved by Eusebius (v. 16, 17). Some more of this polemic is almost certainly preserved by Epiphanius, who often incorporates the labours of previous writers and whose section on Montanism contains a discussion which is clearly not Epiphanius's own, but a survival from the first stage of the controversy. We learn that the Montanists brought as Scripture examples of ecstasy the text "the Lord sent a deep sleep (ἔκστασιν) upon Adam," that David said in his haste (ἐν ἐκστάσει) "all men are liars," and that the same word is used of the vision which warned Peter to accept the invitation of Cornelius. The orthodox opponent points out that Peter's "not so" shews that in his ecstasy he did not lose his individual judgment and will. Other similar instances are quoted from O.T.

The same argument was probably pursued by Clement of Alexandria, who promised to write on prophecy against the Montanists (Strom. iv. 13, p. 605). He notes it as a characteristic of false prophets ἐν ἐκστάσει προεφήτευον ὡς ἂν Ἀποστάτου διάκονοι (i. 17, p. 369). Tertullian no doubt defended the Montanist position in his lost work in six books on ecstasy.

Notwithstanding the condemnation of Montanism and the excommunication of Montanists by neighbouring bishops, it continued to spread and make converts. Visitors came from far to witness the wonderful phenomena; 739and the condemned prophets hoped to reverse the first unfavourable verdict by the sentence of a larger tribunal. But all the leading bishops of Asia Minor declared against it. At length an attempt was made to influence or overrule the judgment of Asiatic Christians by the opinion of their brethren beyond the sea. We cannot be sure how long Montanus had been teaching, or how long the excesses of his prophetesses had continued; but in 177 Western attention was first called to these disputes, the interference being solicited of the martyrs of Lyons, then suffering imprisonment and expecting death for the testimony of Christ. They were informed of the disputes by their brethren in Asia Minor, the native country no doubt of many of the Gallic Christians. Eusebius in his Chronicle assigns 172 for the beginning of the prophesying of Montanus. A few years more seems necessary for the growth of the new sect in Asia before it forced itself on the attention of foreign Christians, and the Epiphanian date 157 appears more probable, and agrees the vague date of Didymus, "more than 100 years after the Ascension." Possibly 157 may be the date of the conversion of Montanus, 172 that of his formal condemnation by the Asiatic church authorities.

Were the Gallic churches consulted by the orthodox, by the Montanists, or by both? and what answer did the Gallic Christians give? Eusebius only tells us that their judgment was pious and most orthodox, and that they subjoined letters which those who afterwards suffered martyrdom wrote while yet in prison to the brethren in Asia and Phrygia and also to Eleutherus, bp. of Rome, pleading (or negotiating, πρεσβεύοντες) for the peace of the churches. If, as has been suggested, the last expression meant entreating the removal of the excommunication from the Montanists, Eusebius, who begins his account of Montanism by describing it as a device of Satan, would not have praised such advice as pious and orthodox.

We think that the Montanists had appealed to Rome; that the church party solicited the good offices of their countrymen settled in Gaul, who wrote to Eleutherus representing the disturbance to the peace of the churches (a phrase probably preserved by Eusebius from the letter itself) which would ensue if the Roman church approved what the church on the spot condemned. We have no reason to think of Rome as then enjoying such supremacy that its reversal of an Asiatic excommunication would be quietly acquiesced in. Yet the Asiatic bishops might well be anxious how their decision would commend itself to the judgment of a stranger at a distance. To such a one there would be nothing incredible in special manifestations of God's Spirit displaying themselves in Phrygia, while the suggestion that the new prophesying was inspired by Satan might be repelled by its admitted orthodoxy, since all it professed to reveal tended to the glory of Christ and to the increase of Christian devotion. To avert, then, the possible calamity of a breach between the Eastern and Western churches, the Gallic churches, it would appear, not only wrote, but sent Irenaeus to Rome at the end of 177 or the beginning of 178. This hypothesis relieves us from the necessity of supposing this πρεσβεία to have been unsuccessful, while it fully accounts for the necessity of sending it.

The Asiatic churches laid before the Christian world justification for their course. Their case was stated by one of their most eminent bishops, Claudius Apolinarius of Hierapolis. Apolinarius gives the signatures of different bishops who had investigated and condemned the Montanist prophesyings. One of these, Sotas of Anchialus, on the western shore of. the Black Sea, was dead when Apolinarius wrote; but Aelius Publius Julius, bp. of the neighbouring colony of Debeltus, gives his sworn testimony that Sotas had tried to cast the demon out of Priscilla but had been hindered by the hypocrites. We learn from a later writer that Zoticus of Comana and Julianus of Apamea similarly attempted to exorcise Maximilla, and were not permitted to do so. Another of Apolinarius's authorities adds weight to his signature by appending the title martyr, then commonly given to those who braved imprisonment or tortures for Christ. The result was that the Roman church approved the sentence of the Asiatic bishops, as we know independently from Tertullian.

II. Montanism in the East, second stage.—For the history of Montanism in the East after its definite separation from the church, our chief authorities are fragments preserved by Eusebius of two writers, the anonymous writer already mentioned and Apollonius of Ephesus. The date of both these writings is considerably later than the rise of Montanism. Apollonius places himself 40 years after its first beginning. In the time of the Anonymous the first leaders of the schism had vanished from the scene. Montanus was dead, as was Theodotus, an early leader in the movement, who had probably managed its finances, for he is said to have been towards it a kind of ἐπίτροπος. The Anonymous states that at the time he wrote 13 full years had elapsed and a 14th had begun since the death of Maximilla. Priscilla must have died previously, for Maximilla believed herself to be the last prophetess in the church and that after her the end would come.

Themiso seems to have been, after Montanus, the head of the Montanists. He was at any rate their leading man at Pepuza; and this was the headquarters of the sect. There probably Montanus had taught; there the prophetesses Priscilla and Maximilla resided; there Priscilla had seen in a vision Christ come in the form of a woman in a bright garment, who inspired her with wisdom and informed her that Pepuza was the holy place and that there the New Jerusalem was to descend from heaven. Thenceforth Pepuza and the neighbouring village Tymium became the Montanist holy place, habitually spoken of as Jerusalem. There Zoticus and Julianus visited Maximilla, and Themiso was then at the head of those who prevented the intended exorcism.

Montanus himself probably did not live long to preside over his sect, and this is perhaps why it is seldom called by the name of its founder. The sectaries called themselves πνευματικοί, spiritual, and the adherents of the church ψυχικοί, carnal, thus following the usage of some Gnostic sects. In Phrygia 740itself the Catholics seem to have called the new prophesying after its leader for the time being. Elsewhere it was called after its place of origin, the Phrygian heresy. In the West the name became by a solecism the Cataphrygian heresy.

Apparently after Themiso MILTIADES presided over the sect; the Anonymous calls it the heresy τῶν κατὰ Μιλτιάδην. One other Montanist of this period was Alexander, who was honoured by his party as a martyr, but had, according to Apollonius, been only punished by the proconsul, Aemilius Frontinus, for his crimes, as the public records would testify. We cannot, unfortunately, fix the date of that proconsulship.

Taking the Eusebian date, 172, for the rise of Montanism, Apollonius, who wrote 40 years later, must have written c. 210. The Epiphanian date, 157, would make him 15 years earlier. The Anonymous gives us a clue to his date in the statement that whereas Maximilla had foretold wars and tumults, there had been more than 13 years since her death with no general nor partial war, and the Christians had enjoyed continual peace. This, then, must have been written either before the wars of the reign of Severus had begun or after they had finished. The latest admissible date on the former hypothesis gives us 192, and for the death of Maximilla 179. It is hardly likely that in so short a time all the original leaders of the movement would have died.

Before the end of the 2nd cent. Montanist teachers had made their way as far as Antioch; for Serapion, the bishop there, wrote against them, copying the letter of Apolinarius. It is through Serapion that Eusebius seems to have known this letter.

Early in the 3rd cent. the church had made converts enough from Montanists born in the sect for the question to arise, On what terms were converts to be received who had had no other than Montanist baptism? Matter and form were perfectly regular; for in all essential points of doctrine these sectaries agreed with the church. But it was decided, at a council held at Iconium, to recognize no baptism given outside the church. This we learn from the letter to Cyprian by Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia, when the later controversy arose about heretical baptism. This council, and one which made a similar decision at another Phrygian town, Synnada, are mentioned also by. Dionysius of Alexandria (Eus. vii. 7). Firmilian speaks as if he had been present at the Iconium council, which may be dated c. 230.

So entirely had the Catholics ceased to regard the Montanists as Christian brethren that, as stated by the Anonymous, when persecution by the common enemy threw confessors from both bodies together, the orthodox persevered till their final martyrdom in refusing to hold intercourse with their Montanist fellow-sufferers; dreading to hold any friendship with the lying spirit who animated them. Epiphanius states that in his time the sect had many adherents in Phrygia, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Cilicia, and a considerable number in Constantinople.

III. Montanism in the West.—If we set aside the worthless Praedestinatus, there is no evidence whatever that any Roman bp. before Eleutherus had heard of Montanism, and the history of the interference of the Gallic confessors in 177 shews that it was then a new thing in the West. The case submitted to Eleutherus no doubt informed him by letter of the events in Phrygia; but apparently no Montanist teachers visited the West at this time, and after the judgment of Eleutherus the whole transaction seems to have been forgotten at Rome. It was in a subsequent episcopate that the first Montanist teacher, probably Proclus, appeared at Rome. There was no reason to regard him with suspicion. He could easily satisfy the bishop of his perfect orthodoxy in doctrine; and there was no ground for disbelieving what he might tell of supernatural manifestations in his own country. He was therefore either received into communion, or was about to be so and to obtain authority to report to his churches in Asia that their commendatory letters were recognized at Rome, when the arrival of another Asiatic, Praxeas, changed the scene. Praxeas could shew the Roman bp. that the Montanist pretensions to prophecy had been condemned by his predecessors, and probably the letter of Eleutherus was still accessible in the Roman archives. The justice of this previous condemnation Praxeas could confirm from his own knowledge of the Montanist churches and their prophesyings; and his testimony had the more weight because, having suffered imprisonment for the faith, he enjoyed the dignity of a martyr. The Montanist teacher was accordingly put out of communion at Rome. This story, which has all the marks of probability, is told by Tertullian (adv. Prax.), who probably had personal knowledge of the facts. The bishop could only be Zephyrinus, for we cannot go later; and as predecessors in the plural number are spoken of, these must have been Eleutherus and Victor. The conclusion which we have reached, that Montanism made no appearance in the West before the episcopate of Zephyrinus, is of great importance in the chronology of this controversy.

The formal rejection of Montanism by the Roman church was followed by a public disputation between the Montanist teacher Proclus, and Caius, a leading Roman presbyter. Eusebius, who read the record of it, says it took place under Zephyrinus. The Montanist preachers, whatever their failures, had one distinguished success in the acquisition of Tertullian. Apparently the condemnation of the Roman bishop was not in his mind decisive against the Montanist claims, and he engaged in an advocacy of them which resulted in his separation from the church. His writings are the great storehouse of information as to the peculiarities of Montanist teaching. The Italian Montanists were soon divided by schism arising out of the violent Patripassian controversy at Rome at the beginning of the 3rd cent. Among the Montanists, Aeschines was the head of the Patripassian party, and in this it would appear from an extract in Didymus that he followed Montanus himself; Proclus and his followers adhered to the orthodox doctrine on this subject.

IV. Montanism and the Canon.—The most 741fundamental innovation of Montanist teaching was the theory of an authorized development of Christian doctrine, as opposed to the older theory that Christian doctrine was preached in its completeness by the apostles and that the church had merely to preserve faithfully the tradition of their teaching. The Montanists did not reject the apostolic revelations nor abandon any doctrines the church had learned from its older teachers. The revelations of the new prophecy were to supplement, not to displace, Scripture. They believed that while the fundamental truths of faith remained unshaken, points both of discipline and doctrine might receive correction. "A process of development was exhibited in God's revelations. It had its rudimentary principle in the religion of nature, its infancy in the law and the prophets, its youth in the gospel, its full maturity only in the dispensation of the Paraclete. Through His enlightenment the dark places of Scripture are made clear, parables made plain, those passages of which heretics had taken advantage cleared of all ambiguity" (Tert. de Virg. Vel. i.; de Res. Carn. 63). Accordingly Tertullian appeals to the new revelations on questions of discipline, e.g. second marriages, and also on questions of doctrine, as in his work against Praxeas and his treatise on the Resurrection of the Flesh. Some have thought it a thing to be regretted that the church by her condemnation of Montanism should have suppressed the freedom of individual prophesying. But each new prophetic revelation, if acknowledged as divine, would put as great a restraint on future individual speculation as words of Scripture or decree of pope or council. If Montanism had triumphed, Christian doctrine would have been developed, not under the superintendence of the church teachers most esteemed for wisdom, but usually of wild and excitable women. Thus Tertullian himself derives his doctrine as to the materiality and the form of the soul from a revelation made to an ecstatica of his congregation (de Anima, 9). To the Montanists it seemed that if God's Spirit made known anything as true, that truth could not be too extensively published. It is evident from quotations in Epiphanius and Tertullian that the prophecies of Maximilla and Montanus were committed to writing. To those who believed in their divine inspiration, these would practically form additional Scriptures. Hippolytus tells that the Montanists "have an infinity of books of these prophets whose words they neither examine by reason, nor give heed to those who can, but are carried away by their undiscriminating faith in them, thinking that they learn through their means something more than from the law, the prophets, and the gospels." Didymus is shocked at a prophetical book emanating from a female, whom the apostle did not permit to teach. It would be a mistake to suppose that the Montanistic disputes led to the formation of a N.T. canon. On the contrary, it is plain that when these disputes arose Christians had so far closed their N.T. canon that they were shocked that any modern writing should be made equal to the inspired books of the apostolic age. The Montanist disputes led to the publication of lists recognized by particular churches, and we consider that it was in opposition to the multitude of Montanist prophetic books that Caius in his disputation gave a list recognized by his church. The controversy also made Christians more scrupulous about paying to other books honours like those given to the books of Scripture, and we believe that it was for this reason that the Shepherd of Hermas ceased to have a place in church reading. But still we think it plain from the history that the conception of a closed N.T. canon was found by Montanism and not then created.

V. Montanist Doctrines and Practices.—The church objected, as against Montanism, to any addition being made to the teaching of Scripture. What, then, was the nature of the additions actually made by the Montanists?

(1) New Fasts.—The prophetesses had ordained that in addition to the ordinary Paschal fast of the church two weeks of what was called Xerophagy should be observed. In these the Montanists abstained, not only from flesh, wine, and the use of the bath, but from all succulent food, e.g. juicy fruit, except on Saturday and Sunday. The weekly stations also, or half fasts, which in the church ended at three p.m., were by Montanists usually continue till evening. The church party resisted the claim that these two new weeks of abstinence were divinely obligatory. The real question was, Had the prophetess God's command for instituting them? This particular revelation only came into prominence because at recurring intervals it put a marked difference between Montanists and Catholics, similar to that which the Paschal fast put between Christians and heathen.

(2) Second Marriages.—On this subject again the difference between the Montanists and the church really reduces itself to the question whether the Paraclete spoke by Montanus. Second marriages had before Montanus been regarded with disfavour in the church. Tertullian deprecates them with almost as much energy in his pre-Montanist work ad Uxorem as afterwards in his Montanist de Monogamia. But however unfavourably such marriages were regarded, their validity and lawfulness were not denied. St. Paul had seemed to declare that such marriages were not forbidden (Rom. vii. 3; I. Cor. vii. 39), and the direction in the pastoral epistles that a bishop should be husband of one wife seemed to leave others free.

(3) Church Discipline.—The treatise of Tertullian (de Pudicitia) shews a controversy of Montanists with the church concerning the power of church officers to give absolution. The occasion was the publication, by one whom Tertullian sarcastically calls "Pontifex Maximus" and "Episcopus Episcoporum," of an edict of pardon to persons guilty of adultery and fornication on due performance of penance. Doubtless a bp. of Rome is intended, and as Hippolytus tells (ix. 12) of Callistus being the first to introduce such laxity in granting absolution, it seems plain that Callistus was referred to. Tertullian holds that for such sin absolution ought never to be given. Not that the sinner was to despair of obtaining God's pardon by repentance; 742but it was for God alone to pardon; man might not.

We refer to our art. TERTULLIAN for other doctrines which, though advocated by Tertullian in his Montanist days, we do not feel ourselves entitled to set down as Montanistic, in the absence of evidence that Tertullian had learned them from Montanus, or that they were held by Eastern Montanists. The bulk of what Tertullian taught as a Montanist he probably would equally have taught if Montanus had never lived; but owing to the place which Montanism ascribed to visions and revelations as means of obtaining a knowledge of the truth, his belief in his opinions was converted into assurance when they were echoed by prophetesses who in their visions gave utterance to opinions imbibed from their master in their waking hours.

VI. Later History of Montanism.—We gather from Tertullian's language (adv. Prax.) that it was some time before his persistent advocacy of Montanism drew excommunication on himself. To this interval we refer the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas, in the editor of which we may perhaps recognize Tertullian himself. Both martyrs and martyrologist had clearly been under Montanist influences: great importance is attached to visions and revelations, and the editor justifies the composition of new Acts, intended for church reading, on the grounds that the "last days" in which he lived had witnessed, as had been prophesied, new visions, new prophecies, new exhibitions of the mighty working of God's Spirit, as great as or greater than in any preceding age. Yet the martyrs are evidently in full communion with the church. The schism which soon afterwards took place appears to have been of little importance either in numbers or duration. We hear nothing of Montanists in the writings of Cyprian, whose veneration for Tertullian would scarcely have been so great if his church were still suffering from a schism which Tertullian originated. In the next cent. Optatus (i. 9) speaks of Montanism as an extinct heresy, which it were slaying the slain to refute. Yet there were some who called themselves after Tertullian in the 4th cent. Augustine (Haer. 86) at Carthage heard that a well-known church which formerly belonged to the Tertullianists had been surrendered to the Catholics when the last of them returned to the church. He had evidently heard no tradition as to their tenets, and set himself to search in Tertullian's writings for heresies which they presumably may have held. Elsewhere in the West Montanism entirely disappears.

In the East, we have already mentioned the councils of Iconium and of Synnada. There is a mention of Montanism in the Acts of Achatius (Ruinart, p. 152). Though these Acts lack external attestation, internal evidence strongly favours their authenticity. Their scene is uncertain; the time is the Decian persecution a.d. 250. The magistrate, urging Achatius to sacrifice, presses him with the example of the Cataphrygians, "homines antiquae religionis," who had already conformed. Sozomen (ii. 32) ascribes the extinction of the Montanists, as well as of other heretical sects, to the edict of Constantine depriving them of their places of worship and forbidding their religious meetings. Till then, being confounded by heathen rulers with other Christians, they could meet for worship, and, even when few in number, keep together; but Constantine's edict killed all the weaker sects, and among them the Montanists, everywhere except in Phrygia and neighbouring districts, where they were still numerous in Sozomen's time. He says (vii. 18) that, unlike Scythia, where one bishop ruled over the whole province, among these Phrygian heretics every village had its bishop. At last the orthodox zeal of Justinian took measures to crush out the remains of the sect in Phrygia, and the Montanists in despair gathered with wives and children into their places of worship, set them on fire, and there perished (Procop. Hist. Arc. 11). In connexion with this may be taken what is told of John of Ephesus in the same reign of Justinian (Assemani, Bibl. Or. ii. 88), that a.d. 550 he had the bones dug up and burned of Montanus and of his prophetesses Carata, Prisca, and Maximilla. What is disguised under the name Carata we cannot tell. It is hardly likely that Montanism survived the persecution of Justinian. Besides Cataphrygians they were often called from their headquarters, Pepuzans, which Epiphanius counts as a distinct heresy. The best monograph on Montanism is by Bonwetsch (Erlangen, 1881). See also Zahn, Forschanger zur Gesch. des N. T. Kanons, etc. (1893), v. 3 ff., on the chronology of Montanism.


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