The early Christian prophet Montanus (active 2nd century) was the leader of a group of people who were convinced that their ability to speak in mysterious languages was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Montanism was later condemned as a heresy.

Very little is known about the life of Montanus He was probably an adult convert to Christianity, enthusiastic about his newly found salvation. About 156 he made a strong impression on the town of Ardabau in Asia Minor when he was overcome by a seizure of some kind and began speaking rapidly and forcefully about religion. He said that he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit and that he was prophesying. This happened a number of times over a period of months. Sometimes speaking clearly, sometimes babbling in what seemed to be foreign tongues, he succeeded in convincing several other men and women that the Holy Spirit was really present, to the point that they also would fall into a trance and prophesy. The group began to attract other followers, especially when the similarity between Montanus's actions and some of the events described in the Bible was pointed out. Many people saw his followers as an elite Christian group calling the rest of mankind to a new spirit of religious fervor. They seemed to be inspired.

The movement spread rapidly throughout Asia Minor. Wherever Montanus and his followers went, they stirred the people into a state of ecstatic madness. Crowds screamed with joy, whirling, dancing, singing, convinced that the Holy Spirit was being poured into them. In moments of relative calm Montanus preached. He urged the people to pray and fast and punish themselves. The human body was troublesome, he said. Sex was evil, and marriage should be no more than tolerated. Christians must return to the original fervor of biblical times and give up worldly pleasures. The Holy Spirit, he said, was once again tangibly present in the world, acting through Montanus and his followers.

At one point Montanus preached that the world was about to come to an end. The heavenly Jerusalem, he declared, was soon to come down and be established on a plain between two towns in nearby Phrygia. From all over Asia Minor the followers of Montanus streamed to the appointed place. They were disappointed when the end of the world did not come about as Montanus had predicted. They kept faith in their prophet, however, and his movement continued to spread. It swept through North Africa and Greece, despite the excommunication imposed on its followers by a bishop in Phrygia. Two centuries later it died out, disappearing as quickly as it had arisen.


Further Reading on Montanus

A helpful analysis of Montanism's basic religious content is in Ronald A. Knox's articulate study, Enthusiasm (1950). Henry B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church (1912), describes some of the controversies stirred up by the Montanists. A useful discussion of Montanus and Montanism is in Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church (2 vols., 1957). See also Newman C. Eberhardt, A Summary of Catholic History (2 vols., 1961-1962).