The Montanist movement

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A movement quite distinct from both the Gnostics and the Marcionites, but which had wide vogue in the latter part of the second century and persisted for more than two centuries and which brought division in the Church, took its name from Montanus, of Phrygia, in Asia Minor, who flourished in the second half of the second century. Because of the region of their origin, the Montanists were often referred to as Phrygians. They represented a revival of the prophets who were prominent in the first few decades of the Church, a call to Christians to stricter living, and a vivid belief in the early end of the world, in the second coming of Christ, and in the establishment of the ideal society in the New Jerusalem.

At his baptism Montanus "spoke with tongues" and began prophesying, declaring that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, promised in The Gospel according to John, was finding utterance through him. Two women, his disciples, were also believed to be prophets, mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit. The three taught that the Spirit had revealed to them the early end of the world, and that the New Jerusalem would "come down out of heaven from God," as had been foretold in The Revelation of John, and that it would be fixed in Phrygia.

The belief in the early second coming of Christ was not new nor was it exclusively a tenet of the Montanists. Ground for it was found in more than one of the Gospels and New Testament epistles and in The Revelation of John. Many held to the view that before the final end of history and the full accomplishment of God's purpose in the perfect doing of His will, a hope which was common to all Christians, Christ would return, set up his kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. The centre of this kingdom was often placed at Jerusalem. The return of Christ was associated with the resurrection and the last judgement. The conception of an age or ages of a thousand years' duration was not confined to Christians, but was also to be found in Judaism. Nor did all Christians who held the view agree upon the order of the events connected with the thousand year reign of Christ. The expectations associated with the millennial reign of Christ are technically known as chiliasm.

Not far from the time of Montanus at least two bishops, one in Pontus and one in Syria, were expecting the early return of Christ. The one declared that the last Judgement would come in two years and those who believed him ceased to cultivate their fields and rid themselves of houses and goods. The other led his flock into the wilderness to meet Christ. Since the return of Christ and the last judgement were regarded as being so imminent, believers were urged to be strict in their living. Celibacy was encouraged, fasting was enjoined, and martyrdom was held in high honour.

The Montanist movement spread widely. It was especially popular in Asia Minor and persisted there and in Carthage into the fifth century. It was found in other sections of the Mediterranean world, including Rome, Gaul, and North Africa. It had itinerant preachers supported by the gifts of the faithful, and in time seems to have been fairly well organized, with a head living in Phrygia. It prized the records of the teachings of Christ and his apostles, but it believed, although not contradicting what had been said there, that the Holy Spirit continued to speak through prophets, and among these it included women. It stressed a high standard of Christian living among Christian communities into which laxity was beginning to creep.

The most eminent convert to Montanism was Tertullian. Born in Carthage not far from the middle of the second century, of wealthy pagan parents, he was widely read in philosophy and history, knew Greek well, and practiced law in Rome. In early middle life he was converted and became a presbyter. Much of the remainder of his life he spent in his native city. There he wrote voluminously and was the first to employ Latin extensively on Christian subjects. Possibly because of the cast which his legal training had given to his mind, Tertullian's literary style was systematic, precise, and vigorously polemical. Pronouncedly orthodox, he composed an extensive treatise against Marcion. Early in the third century, in late middle life, he became a Montanist and remained critical of the majority church until his death, towards the close of the first quarter of the century.

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