Montanists

Schismatics of the 2nd century, named from Montanus, a Phrygian, who, c.156, shortly after his conversion to Christianity, proclaimed himself a prophet of the “Spirit.” He called the people to gather in the plain of Pepuza, there to live a more spiritual life in preparation for the second coming of Christ which he said was near. In his frenzied ecstasies, he spoke not as God‘s messenger, but as God, thus, “I am the Lord God Who dwell in man.” Two women, Maximilla and Prisca, were associated with him and had similar ecstasies.

At first the innovations were not doctrinal but disciplinary. The “Spirit” ordered three Lents to be observed, and re-marriage and flight from persecution were forbidden. The greatest danger lay in the claim that the Holy Ghost was now supplementing the revelation of Christ, for this tended to overrule the authority of the bishops. The Asiatic Churches were in a turmoil, but the new prophecies were declared heretical, and the Montanists were excommunicated by local bishops. The news of the so-called “new outpouring of the Spirit” traveled all over the Catholic world, to Rome, Africa and Gaul. Pope Zephyrinus, c.202, definitely withheld letters of communion with the Montanists. In Africa, c.206, Montanism won to its side the great lawyer Tertullian; he taught that there were some unforgivable sins.

The Montanists lingered in Africa until c.400, when they handed over themselves and their basilica to Saint Augustine of Hippo. Little is heard of them in the East after the end of the 4th century. Some critics consider that the Montanistic controversy made the Church the Catholic Church; one would better say that Montanism brought out the innate Catholicity, the unanimity of the Church.