THE STUDY OF MONTANISM
‘One of the holiest men …’
Montanism and the Primitive Church (1878), Soyres' work, has been until now the only monograph in English on the history of Montanism, though recently there have been studies in English of oracles, inscriptions and testimonia. Towards the end of his work Soyres raised the question which many a student of Montanism has continued to keep in a recess of the mind:
was the ‘Spirit’ which Tertullian preached, and for which Perpetua died, the Father of lies, or was it the Spirit of God?
In other words, was Montanism heresy or a much-maligned movement with the potential to be valuable grit for the pearl of the Church? Was Montanus, whose name was taken to designate the movement, indeed ‘one of the holiest men in the second century’ (as the sermonising John Wesley maintained) or was he that wretched little man (τό έλεεινόν άνθρωπάριoν; Epiphanius Panarion xlviii.11, 9), the deceiving, corrupt, semi-pagan opportunist ‘prophet’ described in a number of ancient sources?
Montanus has mostly been regarded as a villain, though a few have conceded that, like the women Priscilla and Maximilla and some of those who followed them, he may have been only in ecstatically contrived error – like Edward Gibbon's whirling dervishes, mistaking ‘the giddiness of the head for the illumination of the spirit’. This study will examine both the phenomenon of Montanism and its leading protagonists.
What was Montanism? Montanism was a religious movement emerging within Christianity of the second century. It was not a simple and single phenomenon but was long-lived.