Last updated

Montanism ( /ˈmɒntəˌnɪzəm/ ), known by its adherents as the New Prophecy, was an early Christian movement of the late 2nd century, later referred to by the name of its founder, Montanus. [1] Montanism held views about the basic tenets of Christian theology similar to those of the wider Christian Church, but it was labelled a heresy for its belief in new prophetic revelations. [2] [3] The prophetic movement called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic. [2] Parallels have been drawn between Montanism and modern-day movements such as Pentecostalism (including Oneness Pentecostals) and the Charismatic movement. [4] [5]


Montanism originated in Phrygia, a province of Anatolia, and flourished throughout the region, [2] leading to the movement being referred to elsewhere as Cataphrygian (meaning it was "from Phrygia") or simply as Phrygian. [6] They were sometimes also called Pepuzians after Pepuza, their new Jerusalem. Sometimes the Pepuzians were distinguished from other Montanists for despising those not living in the new Jerusalem. [7] The Montanist movement spread rapidly to other regions in the Roman Empire before Christianity was generally tolerated or legal. It persisted in some isolated places into the 6th century. [8]

The Montanists did not want to separate themselves from the wider Christian church, and Tertullian even recorded an event where a bishop almost declared Montanism as orthodox, however changing his mind later. [9]


Scholars debate as to when Montanus first began his prophetic activity, having chosen dates varying from c. AD 135 to as late as AD 177. [10] [11] Montanus was a recent convert when he first began prophesying, supposedly during the proconsulate of Gratus in a village in Mysia named Ardabau; no proconsul and village so named have been identified, however. [12] Some accounts claim that before his conversion to Christianity, Montanus was a priest of Apollo or Cybele. [13] [lower-alpha 1] He believed he was a prophet of God and that the Paraclete spoke through him. [3]

Montanus proclaimed the towns of Pepuza and Tymion in west-central Phrygia as the site of the New Jerusalem, making the larger—Pepuza—his headquarters. [7] [15] Phrygia as a source for this new movement was not arbitrary. Hellenization was slow to take root in Phrygia, unlike many of the surrounding eastern regions of the Roman Empire. This sense of difference, while simultaneously having easy access to the rest of the Mediterranean Christian world, encouraged the foundation of this separate sect of Christianity. [16]

Montanus had two female colleagues, Prisca (sometimes called Priscilla, the diminutive form of her name) and Maximilla, who likewise claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Their popularity even exceeded Montanus' own. [17] "The Three" spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and to pray, so that they might share these revelations. Their followers claimed they received the prophetic gift from the prophets Quadratus and Ammia of Philadelphia, figures believed to have been part of a line of prophetic succession stretching all the way back to Agabus (1st century AD) and to the daughters of Philip the Evangelist. [18] In time, the New Prophecy spread from Montanus's native Phrygia across the Christian world, to Africa and to Gaul. [8]

The response to the New Prophecy split the Christian communities, and the proto-orthodox clergy mostly fought to suppress it. Opponents believed that evil spirits possessed the Phrygian prophets, and both Maximilla and Priscilla were the targets of failed exorcisms. [19] The churches of Asia Minor pronounced the prophecies profane, and excommunicated New Prophecy adherents. [20] Around 177, Apollinarius, Bishop of Hierapolis, presided over a synod which condemned the New Prophecy. [21] The leaders of the churches of Lyons and Vienne in Gaul responded to the New Prophecy in 177. Their decision was communicated to the churches in Asia and Pope Eleuterus, but it is not known what this consisted of, only that it was "prudent and most orthodox". [7] It is likely they called for moderation in dealing with the movement.

There was real doubt at Rome, and its bishop (either Eleuterus or Victor I) even wrote letters in support of Montanism, although he was later persuaded by Praxeas to recall them. [22] [23] In 193, an anonymous writer found the church at Ancyra in Galatia torn in two, and opposed the "false prophecy" there. [24]

Eventually, Montanist teachings came to be regarded as heresy by the orthodox Great Church for a number of reasons. The clash of basic beliefs between the movement's proponents and the greater Christian world was likely enough for such conflict to occur. Additionally, in the opinion of anti-Montanists, the movement's penchant for dramatic public displays by its adherents brought unwanted attention to the still fledgling religion. Thus, fears concerning the appearance of Montanist practices to their non-Christian rulers fueled anti-Montanist sentiment. [25] The imperial government carried out sporadic executions of Christians under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, circa AD 161–180, which coincides with the spread of Montanism.[ citation needed ]

There is no clear evidence as to what happened to Montanus. One of the most widespread stories at the time, as stated by an anonymous associate of Apolinarius, is that he hanged himself, as did Maximilla, although he does not exclude the possibility of them dying some other way. [26]

There was never a uniform excommunication of New Prophecy adherents, and in many places they maintained their standing within the orthodox community. This was the case at Carthage. While not without tension, the church there avoided schism over the issue. There were women prophesying at Carthage, and prophecy was considered a genuine charism. It was the responsibility of the council of elders to test all prophecy and to determine genuine revelation. [27] Tertullian, undoubtedly the best-known defender of the New Prophecy, believed that the claims of Montanus were genuine beginning c. 207. [28] He believed in the validity of the New Prophecy and admired the movement's discipline and ascetic standards. Debates continue as to whether Tertullian decisively left the orthodox Church and joined a separate Montanist sect or remained an early proto-orthodox Christian. [28] [29]

Although what became 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 allegiance to the New Prophecy. Speros Vryonis considers these inscriptions remarkable in that they are the only set of inscriptions which openly reveal the religious affiliations of the deceased before the period of toleration, when Christians dared not to do so. [30] In the 3rd century, a new prophetess appeared in Pepuza, Quintilla. Her followers, the Quintillians, were regarded as an important Montanist sect into the 5th century. [31]

A letter of Jerome to Marcella, written in 385, refutes the claims of Montanists that had been troubling her. [14] A group of "Tertullianists" may have continued 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. [32] He was obliged to flee after the victory of Theodosius I.

In his own time, Augustine (354–430) records that the Tertullianist group had dwindled to almost nothing and, finally, was reconciled to the church and handed over its basilica. [33] It is not certain whether these Tertullianists were in all respects "Montanist" or not. In the 6th century, on the orders of the Emperor Justinian, John of Ephesus led an expedition to Pepuza to destroy the Montanist shrine there, which was based on the tombs of Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla.

A Montanist sect in Galatia, the Tascodrugites, is attested around 600 by Timothy of Constantinople and in the 9th century by Theodore the Studite. [34] A sect called "Montanist" existed in the 8th century; the Emperor Leo III ordered the conversion and baptism of its members. These Montanists refused, locked themselves in their houses of worship, set the buildings on fire and perished. [30]


Because much of what is known about Montanism comes from anti-Montanist sources, it is difficult to know what they actually believed and how those beliefs differed from the Christian mainstream of the time. [35] The New Prophecy was also a diverse movement, and what Montanists believed varied by location and time. [36] Montanism was particularly influenced by Johannine literature, especially the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse of John (also known as the Book of Revelation). [37]

In John's Gospel, Jesus promised to send the Paraclete or Holy Spirit, from which Montanists believed their prophets derived inspiration. In the Apocalypse, John was taken by an angel to the top of a mountain where he sees the New Jerusalem descend to earth. Montanus identified this mountain as being located in Phrygia near Pepuza. [38] Followers of the New Prophecy called themselves spiritales ("spiritual people") in contrast to their opponents whom they termed psychici ("carnal, natural people"[ need quotation to verify ]). [39]

Ecstatic prophecy

As the name "New Prophecy" implied, Montanism was a movement focused around prophecy, specifically the prophecies of the movement's founders which were believed to contain the Holy Spirit's revelation for the present age. [40] Prophecy itself was not controversial within 2nd-century Christian communities. [41] [42] However, the New Prophecy, as described by Eusebius of Caesarea, departed from Church tradition: [43]

And he [Montanus] became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.

Eusebius of Caesarea [44]

According to opponents, the Montanist prophets did not speak as messengers of God, but believed they became fully possessed by God and spoke as God. [7] A prophetic utterance by Montanus described this possessed state: "Lo, the man is as a lyre, and I fly over him as a pick. The man sleepeth, while I watch." Thus, the Phrygians were seen as false prophets because they acted irrationally and were not in control of their senses. [45]

A criticism of Montanism was that its followers claimed their revelation received directly from the Holy Spirit could supersede the authority of Jesus or Paul the Apostle or anyone else. [46] In some of his prophecies, Montanus apparently, and somewhat like the oracles of the Greco-Roman world, spoke in the first person as God: "I am the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." [47]

Many early Christians understood this to be Montanus claiming himself to be God. However, scholars 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. [48] [49]

Other beliefs

Other beliefs and practices (or alleged beliefs and practices) of Montanism are as follows:

Geographical differences

It appears that North African Montanism and the form of Montanism in Anatolia had many differences, the Montanists in North Africa believed that the New Testament was the supreme rule of Christian life and theology, bishops were successors of the apostles and held much similar theology as the Great church, while Montanus himself had different views. [58]

See also


  1. Claim made in Dialogue Between a Montanist and an Orthodox (4.4) and possibly alluded to by St. Jerome [14]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prophet</span> Person claimed to speak for a divine being

In religion, a prophet or prophetess is an individual who is regarded as being in contact with a divine being and is said to speak on behalf of that being, serving as an intermediary with humanity by delivering messages or teachings from the supernatural source to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tertullian</span> Roman Christian theologian and writer (c.155–c.220)

Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He was the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology".

Pope Soter was the bishop of Rome from c. 167 to his death in c. 174. According to the Annuario Pontificio, the dates may have ranged from 162–168 to 170–177. He was born in Fondi, Campania, today Lazio region, Italy. Soter is known for declaring that marriage was valid only as a sacrament blessed by a priest and also for formally inaugurating Easter as an annual festival in Rome. His name, from Greek Σωτήριος from σωτήρ "saviour", would be his baptismal name, as his lifetime predates the tradition of adopting papal names.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prophecy</span> Message claimed to be from a deity

In religion, a prophecy is a message that has been communicated to a person by a supernatural entity. Prophecies are a feature of many cultures and belief systems and usually contain divine will or law, or preternatural knowledge, for example of future events. They can be revealed to the prophet in various ways depending on the religion and the story, such as visions, divination, or direct interaction with divine beings in physical form. Stories of prophetic deeds sometimes receive considerable attention and some have been known to survive for centuries through oral tradition or as religious texts.

<i>The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity</i>

The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity is a diary by Vibia Perpetua describing her imprisonment as a Christian in 203, completed after her death by a redactor. It is one of the oldest and most notable early Christian texts.

<i>The Shepherd of Hermas</i> Christian literary work of the 1st or 2nd century

The Shepherd of Hermas, sometimes just called The Shepherd, is a Christian literary work of the late first half of the second century, considered a valuable book by many Christians, and considered canonical scripture by some of the early Church fathers such as Irenaeus. The Shepherd was very popular amongst Christians in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries. It is found in the Codex Sinaiticus.

Quartodecimanism is the practice of celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan being on whatever day of the week, practicing Easter around the same time as the Passover was to be kept. Quartodecimanism caused controversy in the Church over if Easter should be celebrated on a certain day of the week or at the same time as the Jews would sacrifice the lamb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Jerusalem</span> Ezekiels prophetic vision of a city centered on the rebuilt Holy Temple

In the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible, New Jerusalem is Ezekiel's prophetic vision of a city centered on the rebuilt Holy Temple, the Third Temple, to be established in Jerusalem, which would be the capital of the Messianic Kingdom, the meeting place of the twelve tribes of Israel, during the Messianic era. The prophecy is recorded by Ezekiel as having been received on Yom Kippur of the year 3372 of the Hebrew calendar.

Pepuza was an ancient town in Phrygia, Asia Minor. Coordinates of the central terrasse of the settlement: UTM 35 S 0714926/4253954 (WGS-84), 38.408˚ N, 29.4615˚ E.

Montanus was the second century founder of Montanism and a self proclaimed prophet. Montanus emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit, in a manner which set him apart from the Great Church.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Apollonius of Ephesus</span> Late 2nd/early 3rd century Greek eccelesiastical writer

Apollonius of Ephesus was an anti-Montanist Greek ecclesiastical writer, probably from Asia Minor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christian mysticism in ancient Africa</span>

Christian mysticism in ancient Africa took form in the desert, as part of a long-reaching Judeo-Christian mystical tradition. In the Judeo-Christian mystical tradition, the desert is known to induce religious experiences and altered states of consciousness.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prophets of Christianity</span>

In Christianity, the figures widely recognised as prophets are those mentioned as such in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is believed that prophets are chosen and called by God. This article lists such prophets. The first list below consists of only those individuals that have been clearly defined as prophets, either by explicit statement or strong contextual implication, along with the biblical reference to their office. The second list consists of those individuals who are recorded as having had a visionary or prophetic experience, but without a history of any major or consistent prophetic calling. The third list consists of unnamed prophets. The fourth list contains the names of those described in the Bible as prophets, but who are presented as either misusing this gift or as fraudulent. The final list consists of post-biblical individuals regarded as prophets and of post-biblical individuals who are claimed to have had visionary or prophetic experience.

Tymion was an ancient town in Phrygia, Asia Minor. Its site is located at the Turkish village of Şükraniye. From the middle of the 2nd century CE to the middle of the 6th century CE, Tymion was an important town for the ancient Christian church of Montanism. The Montanists, whose church spread all over the Roman Empire, expected the New Jerusalem to descend to earth at Tymion and the nearby town of Pepuza; Pepuza was the headquarters of Montanism and the seat of the Montanist patriarch. One of the founders of Montanism, Montanus, called both towns "Jerusalem." In late antiquity, both places attracted crowds of pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire. Women played an emancipated role in Montanism. They could become priests and also bishops. In the 6th century CE, this church became extinct.

Zoticus was a 3rd-century martyr and bishop of Comana. Zoticus is known for his opposition to the Montanist heresy. He died in 204 a martyr. A life of Zoticus, the Vita Zotici, was written during the reign of Michael IV (1034–41). The town of Saint-Zotique, Quebec is named for him, as is Rue St Zotique in Montreal.

Maximilla was a prophetess and an early advocate of Montanism, a heretical Christian sect founded in the third century A.D. by Montanus. Some scholars believe that Maximilla and Priscilla, another prophet, were actually the co-founders of Montanism. Other scholars dismiss this as unproven. Either way, it is generally agreed upon that Maximilla and Priscilla provided the primary prophetic content and some of the oracles for the movement.

Prisca, often written in the diminutive form Priscilla, was a 2nd-century A.D. foundational leader and prophet of the religious movement known today as Montanism based in the Phrygian towns of Pepuza and Tymion. She, along with the prophets Montanus and Maximilla, proselytized a form of Christianity in which the Holy Spirit would enter the human body and speak through it.

Quintilla was a Phrygian Christian prophetess within the movement known as Montanism. The sect of the Quintillians was named after her.

Blastus was a 2nd-century leader of the Roman Montanists, a presbyter in Rome and a Quartodeciman, however likely originally born in Alexandria. Blastus caused a schism in Rome about Easter and gained many followers. Some scholars have argued that the hostility of Pope Victor I against the Quartodecimans, was caused by Blastus' schism. Blastus argued that Christians must keep Easter at the same time Moses commanded passover to be kept. Blastus was accused of judaizing the Church by pseudo-Tertullian. Irenaeus wrote a letter to Blastus called "on Schism" which is no longer extant.


  1. Laing, Jim (7 January 2014). "5 Things to Know About Montanism". Transformed. Archived from the original on 16 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  2. 1 2 3 "Montanism". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  3. 1 2 "Montanism". Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  4. Robeck, Cecil M, Jr (2010), "Montanism and Present Day 'Prophets'", Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies , 32 (3): 413, doi:10.1163/157007410x531934 .
  5. "Oneness Pentecostal Origins by Thomas Weisser". 16 May 1996. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  6. Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor: And the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh Through the Fifteenth Century , (Berkeley: University of California, 1971), p. 36
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Chapman, John (1911). "Montanists". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. Robert Appleton. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  8. 1 2 Bradshaw, Robert I. "Montanism: Heresy or Healthy Revival?". Early Christianity.
  9. Binder, Stephanie E. (13 November 2012). Tertullian, On Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah: Questioning the Parting of the Ways between Christians and Jews. BRILL. ISBN   978-90-04-23548-9.
  10. de Labriolle, Pierre (1913). La crise montaniste. Bibliothèque de la Fondation Thiers (in French). Vol. 31. Leroux. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  11. Trevett 1996, p. 2–7.
  12. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 12, 19 note 8.
  13. Tabbernee 2009, p. 19 note 2.
  14. 1 2 Jerome 385, Letter 41.
  15. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 15–18.
  16. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 44.
  17. Tabbernee 2009, p. 89.
  18. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 37, 40–41 notes 6–8.
  19. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 31–32.
  20. Tabbernee 2009, p. 25.
  21. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 21–23.
  22. Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, c. 1.
  23. Trevett 1996, pp. 58–59.
  24. Quoted by Eusebius 5.16.4
  25. Trevett 1996, p. 43.
  26. Eusebius. The History of the Church . Penguin Classics. p. 162.
  27. Tabbernee 2009, p. 128.
  28. 1 2 Tabbernee 2009, p. 98 note 1.
  29. Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press, 1984, Vol. 1, pp. 159-161• Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, The University of Chicago Press, 1971, Vol. 1, pp. 181–199
  30. 1 2 Vryonis, Decline of Medieval Hellenism, p. 57 and notes.
  31. Trevett 1996, pp. 167–170.
  32. Tertullian, Praedestinatus, v. 1 c. 86.
  33. Tertullian, De haeresibus .
  34. Lieu 1999, pp. 211–212.
  35. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 1–3.
  36. Tabbernee 2009, p. 118 note 5.
  37. Tabbernee 2009, p. 20 note 21.
  38. Tabbernee 2009, p. 67.
  39. Tabbernee 2009, p. 110.
  40. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 68.
  41. Ash, James L, Jr (June 1976), "The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church", Theological Studies, 37 (2): 236, doi:10.1177/004056397603700202, S2CID   53551663 .
  42. Jerome 385, Letter 41.2: "we tell them [Montanists] that we do not so much reject prophecy—for this is attested by the passion of the Lord—as refuse to receive prophets whose utterances fail to accord with the Scriptures old and new".
  43. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 12, 37.
  44. Eusebius of Caesarea, "Chapter 16. The Circumstances related of Montanus and his False Prophets.", Ecclesiastical History, vol. 5, retrieved 5 August 2022.
  45. Epiphanius, Against Heresies, 48.3–4.
  46. Placher, William C. A History of Christian Theology: an introduction. Westminster John Knox Press, 1983, p. 50.
  47. Tabbernee 2009, p. 12.
  48. Pelikan 1956, p. 101.
  49. Tabbernee 2009, p. 93.
  50. Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 63.9.
  51. Tabbernee 2009, p. 111.
  52. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 129.
  53. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 123.
  54. Tabbernee 2009, p. 91.
  55. Epiphanius, Against Heresies, 49.2.5.
  56. Kienzle, Beverly Mayne; Walker, Professor Pamela J.; Walker, Pamela J. (30 April 1998). Women Preachers and Prophets Through Two Millennia of Christianity. University of California Press. ISBN   978-0-520-20922-0.
  57. Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Montanism"  . Collier's New Encyclopedia . New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.
  58. 1 2 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Montanism"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  59. Tabbernee 2009, pp. 13–15.
  60. Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 5, 18
  61. Trevett 1996, p. 202.
  62. Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 5, 23–25.
  63. Foster, K. Neill; Fessenden, David E. (1 February 2007). Essays on Premillennialism: A Modern Reaffirmation of an Ancient Doctrine. Moody Publishers. ISBN   978-1-60066-959-0.
  64. Pohle, Rev Joseph; Press, Aeterna. Rev. Joseph Pohle Collection [9 Books]. Aeterna Press.
  65. III, H. W. Crocker (25 February 2009). Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church. Crown. ISBN   978-0-307-56077-3.
  66. "Hierarchy of the Early Church". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 6 May 2022. H. The Hierarchy as an Ecclesiastical Institution.—(I) The utterance of Tertullian (De exhort. cast. vii), declaring that the difference between the priests and the laity was due to ecclesiastical institution, and that therefore any layman in the absence of a priest could offer sacrifice, baptize, and act as priest, is based on Montanistic theories and contradicts earlier teachings of Tertullian (e.g., De baptismo, xvii). (2)
  67. Killen, W. D. (29 July 2020). The Ancient Church. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN   978-3-7523-6403-3.


Further reading