Montanists , schismatics of the second century, first known as Phrygians, or “those among the Phrygians” (oi kata phrugas), then as Montanists, Pepuzians, and (in the West) Cataphrygians. The sect was founded by a prophet, Montanus, and two prophetesses, Maximilla and Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla.
CHRONOLOGY.—An anonymous anti-Montanist writer, cited by Eusebius, addressed his work to Abercius Marcellus, Bishop of Hieropolis, who died about 200. Maximilla had prophesied continual wars and troubles, but this writer declared that he wrote more than thirteen years after her death, yet no war, general or partial, had taken place, but on the contrary the Christians enjoyed permanent peace through the mercy of God (Eusebius, “Hist. eccl.”, V, xvi, 19). These thirteen years can be identified only with the twelve and a half years of Commodus (March 17, 180-December 31, 192). The wars between rival emperors began early in 193, so that this anonymous author wrote not much later than January, 193, and Maximilla must have died about the end of 179, not long before Marcus Aurelius. Montanus and Priscilla had died yet earlier. Consequently the date given by Eusebius in his “Chronicle”—eleventh (or twelfth) year of Marcus, i.e. about 172—for the first appearance of Montanus leaves insufficient time for the development of the sect, which we know further to have been of great importance in 177, when the Church of Lyons wrote to Pope Eleutherius on the subject. Again, the Montanists are coordinated with the martyr Thraseas, mentioned chronologically between Poly-carp (155) and Sagaris (under Sergius Paulus, 166-7) in the letter of Polycrates to Pope Victor; the date of Thraseas is therefore about 160, and the origin of Montanism must be yet earlier. Consequently, Zahn, Harnack, Duchesne, and others (against Volter and Voigt, who accept the late date given by Eusebius, regard St. Epiphanius (Hair., xlviii, 1) as giving the true date of the rise of the sect, “about the nineteenth year of Antoninus Pius” (that is, about the year 156 or 157).
Bonwetsch, accepting Zahn’s view that previously (Haer., xlvi, 1) Epiphanius had given the twelfth year of Antoninus Pius where he should have said M. Aurelius, wishes similarly to substitute that emperor here, so that we would get 179, the very date of the death of Maximilla. But the emendation is unnecessary in either case. In “Haereses”, xlvi, 1, Epiphanius clearly meant the earlier date, whether right or wrong; and in xlviii, 1, he is not dating the death of Maximilla but the first appearance of the sect. From Eusebius, , xvi, 7, we learn that this was in the proconsulship of Gratus. Such a proconsul of Asia is not known. Bonwetsch accepts Zahn’s suggestion to read “Quadratus“, and points out that there was a Quadratus in155 (if that is the year of Polycarp’s death, which was under Quadratus), and another in 166, so that one of these years was the real date of the birth of Montanism. But 166 for Quadratus merely depends on Schmid’s chronology of Aristides, which has been rejected by Ramsay and others in favor of the earlier chronology worked out by Waddington, who obtained155 for the Quadratus of Aristides as well as for the Quadratus of Polycarp. Now it is most probable that Epiphanius‘s authority counted the years of emperors from the September preceding their accession (as Hegesippus seems to have done), and therefore the nineteenth year of Pius would be September 155—September 156. Even if the later and Western mode of reckoning from the January after accession is used, the year 157 can be reconciled with the proconsulship of Quadratus in 155, if we remember that Epiphanius merely says “about the nineteenth year of Pius”, without vouching for strict accuracy. He tells us further on that Maximilla prophesied: “After me there shall be no prophetess, but the end”, whereas he was writing after 290 years, more or less, in the year 375 or 376. To correct the evident error Harnack would read 190, which brings us roughly to the death of Maximilla (385 for 379). But ekaton for diakosia is a big change. It is more likely that Epiphanius is calculating from the date he had himself given, 19th of Pius =156, as he did not know that of Maximilla’s death; his “more or less” corresponds to his former “about”. So we shall with Zahn adopt Scaliger’s conjecture diakosia enneakaideka for diakosia enenekonta, which brings us from 156 to 375 = 219 years. As Apollonius wrote forty years after the sect emerged, his work must be dated about 196.
MONTANISM IN ASIA MINOR.—Montanus was a recent convert when he first began to prophesy in the village of Ardabau in Phrygia. He is said by Jerome to have been previously a priest of Cybele; but this is perhaps a later invention intended to connect his ecstasies with the dervish-like behavior of the priests and devotees of the “great goddess”. The same prophetic gift was believed to have descended also upon his two companions, the prophetesses Maximilla and Prisca or Priscilla. Their headquarters were in the village of Pepuza. The anonymous opponent of the sect describes the method of prophecy (Eusebius, V, xvii, 2-3): first the prophet appears distraught with terror (en parekstasei), then follows quiet (adeia kai aphobia, fearlessness); beginning by studied vacancy of thought or passivity of intellect (ekousios amathia), he is seized by an uncontrollable madness (akousios mania psuches). The prophets did not speak as messengers of God: “Thus saith the Lord,” but described themselves as possessed by God and spoke in His Person. “I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete,” said Montanus (Didymus, “De Trin.”, II, xli); and again: “I am the Lord God omnipotent, who have descended into a man”, and “neither an angel, nor an ambassador, but I, the Lord, the Father, am come” (Epiphanius, “Haer.”, xlviii, 11). And Maximilla said: “Hear not me, but hear Christ” (ibid.); and: “I am driven off from among the sheep like a wolf [that is, a false prophet—cf. Matt., vii, 15]; I am not a wolf, but I am speech, and spirit, and power.” This possession by a spirit, which spoke while the prophet was incapable of resisting, is described by the spirit of Montanus: “Behold the man is like a lyre, and I dart like the plectrum. The man sleeps, and I am awake” (Epiphanius, “Haer.”, xlviii, 4).
We hear of no false doctrines at first. The Paraclete ordered a few fasts and abstinences; the latter were strict xerophagiae, but only for two weeks in the year, and even then the Saturdays and Sundays did not count (Tertullian, “De jej.”, xv). Not only was virginity strongly recommended (as always by the Church), but second marriages were disapproved. Chastity was declared by Priscilla to be a preparation for ecstasy: “The holy [chaste] minister knows how to minister holiness. For those who purify their hearts [reading purificandes enim corda, by conjecture for purificantia enim concordal] both see visions, and placing their head downwards (!) also hear manifest voices, as saving as they are secret” (Tertullian, “Exhort.” X, in one MS.). It was rumored, however, that Priscilla had been married, and had left her husband. Martyrdom was valued so highly that flight from persecution was disapproved, and so was the buying off of punishment. “You are made an outlaw?” said Montanus, “it is good for you. For he who is not outlawed among men is outlawed in the Lord. Be not confounded. It is justice which hales you in public. Why are you confounded, when you are sowing praise? Power comes, when you are stared at by men.” And again: “Do not desire to depart this life in beds, in miscarriages, in soft fevers, but in martyrdoms, that He who suffered for you may be glorified” (Tertullian, “De fuga”, ix; cf. “De anima”, lv). Tertullian says: “Those who receive the Paraclete, know neither to flee persecution nor to bribe” (De fuga, 14), but he is unable to cite any formal prohibition by Montanus.
So far, the most that can be said of these didactic utterances is that there was a slight tendency to extravagance. The people of Phrygia were accustomed to the orgiastic cult of Cybele. There were doubtless many Christians there. The contemporary accounts of Montanism mention Christians in otherwise unknown villages: Ardabau on the Mysian border, Pepuza, Tymion, as well as in Otrus, Apamea, Cumane, Eumenea. Early Christian inscriptions have been found at Otrus, Hieropolis, Pepuza (of 260), Trajanopolis (of 279), Eumenea (of 249) etc. (see Harnack, “Expansion of Christianity“, II, 360). There was a council at Synnada in the third century. The “Acta Theodoti” represent the village of Malus near Ancyra as entirely Christian under Diocletian. Above all we must remember what crowds of Christians were found in Pontus and Bithynia by Pliny in 112, not only in the cities but in country places. No doubt, therefore, there were numerous Christians in the Phrygian villages to be drawn by the astounding phenomena. Crowds came to Pepuza, it seems, and contradiction was provoked. In the very first days Apollinarius, a successor of St. Papias as Bishop of Hierapolis in the southwestern corner of the province, wrote against Montanus. Eusebius knew this letter from its being enclosed by Serapion of Antioch (about 191-212) in a letter addressed by him to the Christians of Caria and Pontus. Apolinarius related that Aelius Publius Julius of Debeltum (now Burgas) in Thrace, swore that “Sotas the blessed who was in Anchialus [on the Thracian coast] had wished to cast out the demon from Priscilla; but the hypocrites would not allow it.” Clearly Sotas was dead, and could not speak for himself. The anonymous writer tells us that some thought Montanus to be possessed by an evil spirit, and a troubler of the people; they rebuked him and tried to stop his prophesying; the faithful of Asia assembled in many places, and examining the prophecies declared them profane, and condemned the heresy, so that the disciples were thrust out of the Church and its communion.
It is difficult to say how soon this excommunication took place in Asia. Probably from the beginning some bishops excluded the followers of Montanus, and this severity was growing common before the death of Montanus; but it was hardly a general rule much before the death of Maximilla in 179; condemnation of the prophets themselves, and mere disapproval of their disciples was the first stage. We hear of holy persons, including the bishops Zoticus of Cumana and Julian of Apamea, attempting to exorcize Maximilla at Pepuza, doubtless after the death of Montanus. But Themison prevented them (Eusebius, V, xvi, 17; xviii, 12). This personage was called a confessor but, according to the anonymous writer, he had bought himself off. He published “a catholic epistle, in imitation of the Apostle”, in support of his party. Another so-called martyr, called Alexander, was for many years a companion of Maximilla, who, though a prophetess, did not know that it was for robbery, and not “for the Name”, that he had been condemned by the proconsul Aemilius Frontinus (date unknown) in Ephesus; in proof of this the public archives of Asia are appealed to. Of another leader, Alcibiades, nothing is known. The prophets are accused of taking gifts under the guise of offerings; Montanus sent out salaried preachers; the prophetesses painted their faces, dyed their eyelids with stibium, wore ornaments and played at dice. But these accusations may be untrue. The great point was the manner of prophesying. It was denounced as contrary to custom and to tradition. A Catholic writer, Miltiades, wrote a book to which the anonymous author refers, “How a prophet ought not to speak in ecstasy”. It was urged that the phenomena were those of possession, not those of the Old Testament prophets, or of New Testament prophets like Silas, Agabus, and the daughters of Philip the Deacon; or of prophets recently known in Asia, Quadratus (Bishop of Athens) and Ammia, prophetess of Philadelphia, of whom the Montanist prophets boasted of being successors. To speak in the first person as the Father or the Paraclete appeared blasphemous. The older prophets had spoken “in the Spirit“, as mouthpieces of the Spirit, but to have no free will, to be helpless in a state of madness, was not consonant with the text: “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” Montanus declared: “The Lord hath. sent me as the chooser, the revealer, the interpreter of this labor, this promise, and this covenant, being forced, willingly or unwillingly, to learn the gnosis of God.” The Montanists appealed to Gen., ii, 21: “The Lord sent an ecstasy [ektasin] upon Adam“; Ps. cxv, 2: “I said in my ecstasy”; Acts, x, 10: “There came upon him [Peter] an ecstasy”; but these texts proved neither that an ecstasy of excitement was proper to sanctity, nor that it was a right state in which to prophesy.
A better argument was the declaration that the new prophecy was of a higher order than the old, and therefore unlike it. It came to be thought higher than the Apostles, and even beyond the teaching of Christ. Priscilla went to sleep, she said, at Pepuza, and Christ came to her and slept by her side “in the form of a woman, clad in a bright garment, and put wisdom into me, and revealed to me that this place is holy, and that here Jerusalem above comes down”. “Mysteries” (sacraments?) were celebrated there publicly. In Epiphanius‘s time Pepuza was a desert, and the village was gone. Marcellina, surviving the other two, prophesied continual wars after her death—no other prophet, but the end.
It seems on the whole that Montanus had no particular doctrine, and that his prophetesses went further than he did. The extravagances of his sect were after the deaths of all three; but it is difficult to know how far we are to trust our authorities. The anonymous writer admits that he has only an uncertain report for the story that Montanus and Maximilla both hanged themselves, and that Themison was carried into the air by a devil, flung down, and so died. The sect gained much popularity in Asia. It would seem that some Churches were wholly Montanist. The anonymous writer found the Church at Ancyra in 193 greatly disturbed about the new prophecy. Tertullian‘s lost writing “De Ecstasi”, in defense of their trances, is said by Praedestinatus to have been an answer to Pope Soter (Hier., xxvi, lxxxvi), who had condemned or disapproved them; but the authority is not a good one. He has presumably confounded Soter with Sotas, Bishop of Anchialus. In 177 the Churches of Lyons and Vienne sent to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia their celebrated account of the martyrdoms that had been taking place. Eusebius tells us that at the same time they enclosed letters which had been written in prison by the martyrs on the question of the Montanists. They sent the same by Irenaeus to Pope Eleutherius. Eusebius says only that they took a prudent and most orthodox view. It is probable that they disapproved of the prophets, but were not inclined to extreme measures against their followers. It was not denied that the Montanists could count many martyrs; it was replied to their boast, that all the heretics had many, and especially the Marcionites, but that true martyrs like Gaius and Alexander of Eumenea had refused to communicate with fellow martyrs who had approved the new prophecy (Anon. in Eusebius, V, xvi, 27). The acts of Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonice (the last of these threw herself into the fire), martyrs of Thyatira under Marcus Aurelius (about 161-9), may exhibit an influence of Montanism on the martyrs.
MONTANISM IN THE WEST.—A second-century pope (more probably Eleutherius than Victor) was inclined to approve the new prophecies, according to Tertullian, but was dissuaded by Praxeas (q.v.). Their defender in Rome was Proclus or Proculus, much reverenced by Tertullian. A disputation was held by Gaius against him in the presence of Pope Zephyrinus (about 202-3, it would seem). As Gaius supported the side of the Church, Eusebius calls him a Churchman (II, xxv, 6), and is delighted to find in the minutes of the discussion that Gaius rejected the Johan-nine authorship of the Apocalypse, and attributed it to Cerinthus. But Gaius was the worse of the two, for we know from the commentary on the Apocalypse by Bar Salibi, a Syriac writer of the twelfth century (see Theodore H. Robinson in “Expositor”, VII, sixth series, June, 1906), that he rejected the Gospel and Epistles of St. John as well, and attributed them all to Cerinthus. It was against Gaius that Hippolytus wrote his “Heads against Gaius” and also his “Defense of the Gospel and the Apocalypse of John” (unless these are two names for the same work). St. Epiphanius used these works for his fifty-first heresy (cf. Philastrius, “Hr.”, lx), and as the heresy had no name he invented that of “Axoyoc, meaning at once “the unreasoning” and “those who reject the Ayos”. We gather that Gaius was led to reject the Gospel out of opposition to Proclus, who taught (Pseudo-Tertullian, “De Praesc.”, Hi) that “the Holy Ghost was in the Apostles, but the Paraclete was not, and that the Paraclete published through Montanus more than Christ revealed in the Gospel, and not only more, but also better and greater things”; thus the promise of the Paraclete (John, xiv, 16) was not to the Apostles but to the next age. St. Irenaeus refers to Gaius with-out naming him (III, xi, 9): “Others, in order that they may frustrate the gift of the Spirit, which in the last days has been poured upon the human race according to the good pleasure of the Father, do not admit that form [the lion] which corresponds with the Gospel of John in which the Lord promised to send the Paraclete; but they reject the Gospel and with it the prophetic Spirit. Unhappy, indeed, in that, wishing to have no false prophets [reading with Zahn pseudoprophetas esse nolunt for pseudoprophetae esse volunt], they drive away the grace of prophecy from the Church; resembling persons who, to avoid those who come in hypocrisy, withdraw from communion even with brethren.” The old notion that the Alogi were an Asiatic sect (see Alogi) is no longer tenable; they were the Roman Gaius and his followers, if he had any. But Gaius evidently did not venture to reject the Gospel in his dispute before Zephyrinus, the account of which was known to Dionysius of Alexandria as well as to Eusebius (cf. Eusebius, III, xx, 1, 4). It is to be noted that Gaius is a witness to the sojourn of St. John in Asia, since he considers the Johannine writings to be forgeries, attributed by their author Cerinthus to St. John; hence he thinks St. John is represented by Cerinthus as the ruler of the Asiatic Churches. Another Montanist (about 200), who seems to have separated from Proclus, was Xschines, who taught that “the Father is the Son”, and is counted as a Monarchian of the type of Noetus or Sabellius.
But Tertullian (q.v.) is the most famous of the Montanists. He was born about 150-5, and became a Christian about 190-5. His excessive nature led him to adopt the Montanist teaching as soon as he knew it (about 202-3). His writings from this date onwards grow more and more bitter against the Catholic Church, from which he definitively broke away about 207. He died about 223, or not much later. His first Montanist work was a defense of the new prophecy in six books, “De Ecstasi”, written probably in Greek; he added a seventh book in reply to Apollonius. The work is lost, but a sentence preserved by Praedestinatus (xxvi) is important: “In this alone we differ, in that we do not receive second marriage, and that we do not refuse the prophecy of Montanus concerning the future judgment.” In fact Tertullian holds as an absolute law the recommendations of Montanus to eschew second marriages and flight from persecution. He denies the possibility of forgiveness of sins by the Church; he insists upon the newly ordained fasts and abstinences. Catholics are the Psychici as opposed to the “spiritual” followers of the Paraclete; the Catholic Church consists of gluttons and adulterers, who hate to fast and love to remarry. Tertullian evidently exaggerated those parts of the Montanist teaching which appealed to himself, caring little for the rest. He has no idea of making a pilgrimage to Pepuza, but he speaks of joining in spirit with the celebration of the Montanist feasts in Asia Minor. The Acts of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas are by some thought to reflect a period at Carthage when the Montanist teaching was arousing interest and sympathy, but had not yet formed a schism.
The following of Tertullian cannot have been large; but a Tertullianist sect survived him and its remnants were reconciled to the Church by St. Augustine (Hier., lxxxvi). About 392-4 an African lady, Octaviana, wife of Hesperius, a favorite of the Duke Arbogastes and the usurper Maximus, brought to Rome a Tertullianist priest who raved as if possessed. He obtained the use of the church of Sts. Processus and Martinianus on the Via Aurelia, but was turned out by Theodosius, and he and Octaviana were heard of no more. Epiphanius distinguished a sect of Montanists as Pepuzians or Quintillians (he calls Priscilla also Quintilla). He says they had some foolish sayings which gave thanks to Eve for eating of the tree of knowledge. They used to sleep at Pepuza in order to see Christ as Priscilla had done. Often in their church seven virgins would enter with lamps, dressed in white, to prophesy to the people, whom by their excited action they would move to tears; this reminds us of some modern missions rather than of the Irvingite “speaking with tongues”, with which the Montanist ecstasies have often been compared. These heretics were said to have women for their bishops and priests, in honor of Eve. They were called “Artotyrites”, because their sacrament was of bread and cheese. Praedestinatus says the Pepuzians did not really differ from other Montanists, but despised all who did not actually dwell at the “new Jerusalem“. There is a well-known story that the Montanists (or at least the Pepuzians) on a certain feast took a baby child whom they stuck all over with brazen pins. They used the blood to make cakes for sacrifice. If the child died it was looked upon as a martyr; if it lived, as a high-priest. This story was no doubt a pure invention, and was especially denied in the “De Ecstasi” of Tertullian. An absurd nickname for the sect was Tasco drugitae, from Phrygian words meaning peg and nose, because they were said to put their forefinger up their nose when praying “in order to appear dejected and pious” (Epiphanius, Hwr., xlviii, 14).
It is interesting to take St. Jerome’s account, written in 384, of the doctrines of Montanism as he believed them to be in his own time (Ep., xii). He describes them as Sabellians in their idea of the Trinity, as forbidding second marriage, as observing three Lents “as though three Saviors had suffered”. Above bishops they have “Cenones” (probably not koinonoi, but a Phrygian word) and patriarchs above these at Pepuza. They close the door of the Church to almost every sin. They say that God, not being able to save the world by Moses and the Prophets, took flesh of the Virgin Mary, and in Christ, His Son, preached and died for us. And because He could not accomplish the salvation of the world by this second method, the Holy Spirit descended upon Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, giving them the plenitude which St. Paul had not (I Cor., xiii, 9). St. Jerome refuses to believe the story of the blood of a baby; but his account is already exaggerated beyond what the Montanists would have admitted that they held. Origen (“Ep. ad Titum” in “Pamph. Apol.”, I fin.) is uncertain whether they are schismatics or heretics. St. Basil is amazed that Dionysius of Alexandria admitted their baptism to be valid (Ep., clxxxii). According to Philastrius (Hr., xlix) they baptized the dead. Sozomen (xviii) tells us that they observed Easter on April 6 or on the following Sunday. Germanus of Constantinople (P.G., XCVIII, 44) says they taught eight heavens and eight degrees of damnation. The Christian emperors from Constantine onwards made laws against them, which were scarcely put into execution in Phrygia (Sozomen, II, xxxii). But gradually they became a small and secret sect. The bones of Montanus were dug up in 861. The numerous Montanist writings (bibloiapeiroi, “Philosophumena”, VIII, xix) are all lost. It seems that a certain Asterius Urbanus made a collection of the prophecies (Euseb., V, xvi, 17).
A theory of the origin of Montanism, originated by Ritschl, has been followed by Harnack, Bonwetsch, and other German critics. The secularizing in the second century of the Church by her very success and the disappearance of the primitive “Enthusiasmus” made a difficulty for “those believers of the old school who protested in the name of the Gospel against this secular Church, and who wished to gather together a people prepared for their God regardless alike of numbers and circumstances”. Some of these “joined an enthusiastic movement which had originated amongst a small circle in a remote province, and had at first a merely local importance. Then, in Phrygia, the cry for a strict Christian life was reinforced by the belief in a new and final outpouring of the Spirit.. The wish was, as usual, father to the thought; and thus societies of `spiritual’ Christians were formed, which served, especially in times of persecution, as rallying points for all those, far and near, who sighed for the end of the world and the excessus e saeculo, and who wished in these last days to lead a holy life. These zealots hailed the appearance of the Paraclete in Phrygia, and surrendered themselves to his guidance” (Harnack in “Encycl. Brit.”, London, 1878, s.v. Montanism). This ingenious theory has its basis only in the imagination, nor have any facts ever been advanced in its favor.