Montanism

Overview

Montanism is derived from Montanus, a “monk” who was a former priest of Cybele in Asia Minor in either 156 or 172. He claimed that he was given the gift of speaking in tongues, and proceeded to give many revelations concerning the “end of the world.” We do not have much information on this group, but the little that we do have is very enlightening, and sheds light on the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

Sections on this Page

The Gift of the Spirit and Revelation

There is nothing mentioned about Montanus and his group in the Scriptures since they originated at least 50 years after the end of the Apostles. We do have information concerning them from those that are deemed the “church fathers”: one of them, Tertullian, even joined Montanism.

From the information preserved in the records of these “church fathers,” we see that Montanus described himself as the inspired instrument of the Holy Spirit, even going so far as to claim that he was the “Father and the Son and the Paraclete1.” The movement was also known for two women, Prisca (or Priscilla) and Maximilla; the latter declared that “after me, there will be no more prophecy, but the End2.”

The Montanists’ main theology was that the end of the world was soon to come and that the “heavenly Jerusalem” would soon come to earth in Phrygia, in the little town of Pepuza3. They were known for their “ecstatic outbursts,” losing possession of their faculties, and their insistence that their words were the actual words of God Himself4.

Let us examine the testimony of Eusebius of Caesarea concerning this group:

In a certain village in that part of Mysia over against Phrygia, Montanus, they say, first exposed himself to the assaults of the adversary through his unbounded lust for leadership. He was one of the recent converts, and he became possessed of a spirit, and suddenly began to rave in a kind of ecstatic trance, and to babble in a jargon, prophesying in a manner contrary to the custom of the Church which had been handed down by tradition from the earliest times5.

If we remove the more virulent language to see the nature of the history that Eusebius recounts, we see that Montanus believed in the gift of speaking in tongues and did so not in accordance with the speaking in tongues of Pentecost, but as a form of babble.

Conclusion

Montanism no longer exists today; the movement continued into the third century, but died out not long after its three founders did. The “heavenly Jerusalem” did not fall to Pepuza in Phrygia, and 1,800 years later, the millennium they imagined has not begun. Therefore, can anyone say that these individuals were truly given the Spirit?

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement looks back and sees a bit of itself in the Montanism of the second century. Montanism, however, represents an Achilles’ heel to the Pentecostals: if it were a true movement, how can the gifts still be around when one of its members declared that “after [her], there will be no more”? Furthermore, why did the world not end in the second or even third century? If we accept, therefore, that the Montanists were deluded by false spirits, why does the Montanist experience correlate so well with the Pentecostal/Charismatic experience of the twentieth century, with the emphasis on emotionalism, loss of possession of faculties, and the “utterance of the Spirit”?

The debacle that was Montanism thus demonstrates that the Spirit of God is not poured out in such a way that causes the high emotionalism and the “ecstasy” that has been purported first in Montanism and later in Pentecostalism. The Montanists help affirm the truth of the fulfillment of the prophecy given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10:

Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.

Since the experience of Montanism has been proven false by the passing of time, why should we believe that the experiences of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements fall into any other category when the same nature of experience existed in both groups? Therefore, it is evident that the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:8 are not present today, just as they were not present in the second and third centuries CE.

Other Resources

Notes

1: Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, pp. 100-101
2: Ibid.
3: Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, p. 52, and The Canon of the New Testament, p. 100
4: The Early Church, p. 52
5: Eusebius of Caesarea, History of the Church, v. xvi. 7


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