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Montanism – What is it?

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Montanism was a movement that developed during the late second century named after a man named Montanus. It began in Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey) and soon spread throughout the Roman Empire.

Montanus converted to Christianity around 170 after serving as a priest in the cult called Cybele. As a Christian, he claimed to have a gift of prophecy and was recorded by the church historian Eusebius as a man known for ecstatic utterances. Two women named Priscilla and Maximilla also claimed to prophesy in a similar manner and joined Montanus.

The teachings of Montanus and his followers are often not well-documented or are only available through those who opposed him and his practices. It is clear that he was condemned and rejected by many Christian leaders because of false prophecies or the odd ways in which he prophesied. The movement was also known by the name of the New Prophecy, referring to the belief by Montanus and his followers that their prophecies provided new revelation for those living in their time.

Today, some have suggested the Montanus movement was an early form of Pentecostalism and have sought to make connections between his movement and the modern Pentecostal or Charismatic movements. While some connections exist, too little is known regarding the practices of Montanus to either prove or disprove much in this regard.

Overall, what is known historically regarding Montanism reveals a prophetic movement within the Christian churches that became concerning to the point that many rejected it, especially based on false prophecies. Over time, the movement appears to have subsided, though it lived on for several generations. A Montanus shrine existed into the sixth century, by the command of emperor Justinian. Other sources suggest it continued into the ninth century.

The most famous Montanist would be Tertullian, a writer born around 150 who became a Christian around 190. He produced several writings, including several in defense of the New Prophecy. He noted one of their unique practices as forbidding second marriages after the death of the first spouse.

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