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Montanism was an early Christian movement of the early 2nd century, named after its founder Montanus. It originated at Hierapolismarker where Papias was bishop and flourished throughout the region of Phrygia, leading to the movement being referred to as Cataphrygian (meaning it was "from Phrygia") or simply as "Phrygians". It spread rapidly to other regions in the Roman Empire at a time before Christianity was generally tolerated or legal. Although orthodox Nicene Christianity 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 135 to as late as AD 177. Montanus traveled among the rural settlements of Asia Minormarker 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 Spirit. 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 Ancyramarker torn in two, and he opposed the "false prophesy" (quoted by Eusebius 5.16.4). But there was real doubt at Rome, and Pope Eleuterus 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).[6567]

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 century.”

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.

Differences between Montanism and Orthodox Christianity

The beliefs of Montanism contrasted with Orthodox Christianity in the following ways:

  • The belief that the prophecies of the Montanists superseded and fulfilled the doctrines proclaimed by the Apostles.

  • The encouragement of ecstatic prophesying, contrasting with the more sober and disciplined approach to theology dominant in Orthodox Christianity at the time and since.

  • The view that Christians who fell from grace could not be redeemed, also in contrast to the orthodox Christian view that contrition could lead to a sinner's restoration to the church.

  • A stronger emphasis on the avoidance of sin and church discipline than in Orthodox Christianity. They emphasized chastity, including forbidding remarriage.

  • Some of the Montanists were also "Quartodeciman" ("fourteeners"), preferring to celebrate Easter on the Hebrew calendar date of 14 Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it landed on. Orthodox Christians held that Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following 14 Nisan. (Trevett 1996:202)


Modalism, the teaching that God was not a Trinity but was a single God of three modes or manifestations, was a doctrine adhered to by a sect of the Montanists.

Cyprian wrote of them "How, when God the Father is not known--nay, is even blasphemed--can they who among the heretics are said to be baptized in the name of Christ only, be judged to have obtained the remission of sins?" (Cyprian, c. 250, W, 5.383,484)

In 225 Hippolytus spoke of them saying "Some of them assent to the heresy of the Noetians, affirming the Father Himself is the Son."

Firmilian had this to say of them "Some had doubts about the baptism of those who appeared to recognize the same Father with the Son with us, yet who received the new prophets."

See also


  • Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiae, 5.16–18
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav, 1956. Montanism and Its Trinitarian Significance (Cambridge University Press) (Church History, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 99-109).

  1. Pierre Labriolle, Le Crise du Montaniste (1911), Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy, ISBN 0-521-41182-3, p. 2|7.
  2. v.1 c.86 Praedestinatus)
  3. c. 86 De haeresibus
  4. Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, (Oxford, 1987), p. 99. [ISBN 0198269544]

Further reading

  • Groh, Dennis E. 1985. "Utterance and exegesis: Biblical interpretation in the Montanist crisis," in Groh and Jewett, The Living Text (New York) pp 73 – 95.
  • Heine, R.E., 1987 "The Role of the Gospel of John in the Montanist controversy," in Second Century v. 6, pp 1 – 18.
  • Heine, R.E., 1989. "The Gospel of John and the Montanist debate at Rome," in Studia Patristica 21, pp 95 – 100.
  • Labriolle, Pierre, Le Cris du Montaniste (1911)
  • Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament. Its Origin, Development, and Significance, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 99-106. [ISBN 0198269544]
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Christian Doctrine. Vol. I The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 100-600. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  • Trevett, Christine, 1996. Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge University Press)
  • Tabbernee, William, 1997. Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism, Patristic Monograph Series no.16, Mercer University Press, Georgia.
  • Hirschmann, Vera-Elisabeth, 2005. Horrenda Secta. Untersuchungen zum fruеhchristlichen Montanismus und seinen Verbindungen zur paganen Religion Phrygiens (Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag)

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