Whatever his origin, Montanus managed to acquire a sizable following, going from town to town, spreading his “prophecies” to all who would listen. Almost in the manner of Jesus himself, he gathered a small cadre of disciples.
Montanus taught that, ultimately, any believer at all, could become a “prophet” as he was, for Christ had promised the Paraclete or Holy Spirit to all believers. Next, he taught that all believers are equal, men as well as women. Two of his most trusted disciples, who became prophets in their own right, were women!
Montanist worship services included prophetic declarations, and could be presided over by women as well as men. A Spartan lifestyle was encouraged, one which minimized entanglements with the physical world (though Montanists were not ascetics or hermits). There were no clergy in Montanism — although only senior members taught doctrine to junior members.
One can see there is some overlap between Gnosticism and Montanism, however, in its time, Montanism was seen as something rather distinct; additionally, Gnosticism generally did not rely on “prophets” making declarations — something which was absolutely central to Montanism.
Montanism branched out, though, with communities popping up in large eastern cities, and as far away as north Africa. A number of Syrian and Anatolian bishops met and denounced it, several times, on the grounds that Montanists allowed women to speak in church (something that the Pauline epistles prohibited). With little political or economic clout, though, they couldn’t really do much more.
So the mainstream Church began a campaign of propaganda. Christian cholars wrote tracts explaining in great detail the doctrinal errors of Montanism. Sermons were preached against it. Christians with Montanist sympathies were harassed or ostracized.
Perhaps the most notable opponent of Montanism, was the Church Father, Tertullian. He wrote extensively against the movement, especially since there were Montanists in his own backyard of Carthage. Oddly, however, he joined that very same Montanist community! Ultimately, he found the personal involvement of Montanism to be compelling.
After a brief attempt at resisting, the late 4th century Montanists went into hiding. They kept their services secret, attending mainstream Churches so as to keep up a “veneer of respectability.” But over the years, this was hard to keep up, and the movement withered slowly over two more centuries. It died out, last, where it had begun.
Go back to Early Christian History menu.