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Montanism was a movement begun by Montanus in the second century A.D., shortly after Montanus' conversion to Christianity. He claimed to have received a series of direct revelations from the Holy Spirit or the paraclete, and was joined by two women, Prisca and Maximilla, who also purported to be prophets. 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.

Differences between Montanism and Catholicism

The beliefs of Montanism contrasted with mainstream Catholicism in the following ways:

  • The belief that the Trinity consisted of only a single person, similar to Sabellianism, but in contrast to the Catholic view that the Trinity is one God of three persons.
  • The encouragement of ecstatic prophesying and speaking in tongues, contrasting with the more sober approach to theology dominant in mainstream Catholicism at the time.
  • The view that Christians who fell from grace could not be redeemed, also in contrast to the Catholic view that contrition could lead to a sinner's restoration to the church.
  • The prophets of Montanism 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.", III, xli); 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, "Hær.", xlviii, 4).
  • A stronger emphasis on chastity, the avoidance of sin, and church discipline than in mainstream Catholicism.

History of Montanism

Although the mainstream 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. This sect persisted into the eighth century, although some people have drawn parallels between it and Pentecostalism (which some call Neo-Montanism). The most widely known Montanist was undoubtedly Tertullian, who is sometimes called the "Father of the Western Church".

The following text is a letter from Jerome to Marcella, in response to her question concerning Montanism. An effort having been made to convert Marcella to Montanism, Jerome here summarizes for her its leading doctrines, which he contrasts with those of the Church. Written at Rome in AD 385

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04