Montanism was a movement within the Catholic Church from the 2nd to 6th centuries. While Montanists held many common beliefs with the Catholic Church, certain distinctive beliefs eventually led the Catholic Church to declare Montanism a heresy. Montanist beliefs and practices centered on prophecy, a belief in the priesthood of all people and ascetic lifestyle practices.
The Montanist Sect
Montanus was a self-proclaimed Christian prophet near the end of the 2nd century. He believed the Holy Spirit gave new prophecies and direction to the church through him, as well as two prophetesses, Priscilla and Maximilla. Montanist beliefs spread throughout Asia Minor for the following two centuries. The Church Father, Tertullian, opposed the Montanists and created many works refuting their beliefs. Opposition to Montanism steadily increased, and two of the early church councils debated some Montanist beliefs. By the 5th century, the Montanists were driven underground. It's believed the sect died out before the close of the 6th century.
Shared Beliefs with Catholics
Montanism agreed with the Catholic Church on many major points of belief. The sect accepted the developing doctrine of the Trinity. They believed the same things Catholics believed about Jesus, including the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth and the resurrection and the Second Coming. Montanists practiced the same sacraments as the Catholic Church. Montanism taught the second coming of Christ and the final judgment of the living and the dead. In many ways, it would have been hard to differentiate a Montanist from a Catholic.
Prophecy is one of the distinctive beliefs of Montanism. Montanus and his followers taught that any believer could be a prophet. He believed that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to all Christians and all Christians could speak equally on God's behalf. Montanist worship services often consisted of prophetic visions from leaders and members of the congregations. The Montanists also prophesied that Christ would return soon and set up a 1,000-year kingdom on earth known as the Millennium or Millennial Kingdom.
Priesthood of the People
Perhaps one of the more enduring Montanist beliefs held that every believer could commune directly with God. No believer was above any other believer. Priests were equal with members of the congregation. Men were equal with women. Unauthorized laity, prophetic women and common folk were as important as the Bishop of Rome. Teachers and preachers were ordained directly by God, rather than by following the traditions of episcopal succession. Some of these ideas would be echoed during the Reformation. One of the three principle distinctives of the Reformation is the doctrine of the "Priesthood of all Believers."
Montanism promoted a system of soberness and humility. Montanists turned their faces away from the pleasures in life. They required virgins to cover their heads. Montanists forbid the wearing of jewelry or ornate clothing. They promoted fasts. They prohibited a divorced Christian to remarry. Montanists even refused to restore a lapsed Christian back into the Church after repentance. All of this came, largely, from the belief that Christ would return soon and set up his Millennial Kingdom. Only those who denied themselves earthly pleasures would be spared at Christ's return.
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