Montanists and Cataphrygians

A sect which arose, about AD 171, from the teaching of Montanus, a native of Ardaban, in Mysia, on the borders of Phrygia, whence they are also called Phrygians and Cataphrygians.  They also had the name of Pepuzians, from a village in Phrygia, which was then the centre of their preaching; and the spot was called by Montanus, the New Jerusalem.  Montanus was a convert to Christianity, and had expectations of preferment in the church, but he pretended to an extraordinary degree of inspiration, announcing himself to be the Paraclete promised by Christ, who would reveal all things which the apostles had been unable to comprehend, and who was to bring the church to a state of maturity.  He associated with him two noble ladies, Priscilla and Maximilla, who in their enthusiasm abandoned their husbands, and whom he called prophetesses.  Those who followed the Holy Ghost, speaking through these new prophets, were held to be the only genuine Christians, and were to form the church.  They were the pneumatici, the spiritually-minded; and all the opponents of these new revelations were the physici, the carnally-minded.

The Montanists condemned second marriages, considering wedlock a spiritual union, sanctified by Christ, and intended to be renewed beyond the grave.  They expelled from the church all who were guilty of notorious crimes, imposed rigid fasts, advocated celibacy, encouraged martyrdom, allowed of divorce, and held it unlawful to fly in times of persecution.  Such were their notions of their own sanctity, that while they did not directly separate from the rest of the church, they esteemed others very imperfect Christians, and deemed themselves a spiritual church within the carnal church.  Eventually, however, when Praxeas, a violent opposer of Montanism, came to Rome from Asia Minor, and urged Eleutherus, the bishop, to forbid their communion, the Montanists then separated.

Eusebius regarded them as heretics.  Neander is of opinion that Montanism only carried to extremes such dispositions and views as had long existed in the church, and that its propagation was nourished by spiritual pride, which led its patrons to look upon themselves as really regenerated, and to despise all other Christians as carnally minded.  They entertained, notwithstanding, strange notions with respect to the Trinity, some of them agreeing with Sabellius and Noetus. 

Montanism spread widely, and made vast numbers of converts; but it split into various sections, and its members were excommunicated by several bishops.  There were many inferior sects which sprung from the Montanists; such as the Quintilliani, Priscilliani, etc.  They had an advocate in Tertullian.  He adopted and boldly defended their tenets in many of his treatises.  The change in his views appears to have arisen from the austerity of his character, to which the harsh and rigorous principles of the new sect were peculiarly adapted; and from the vehemence of his temper, which the envy and ill-treatment of the Roman clergy may have continued to exasperate.  Whatever may have occasioned his alienation, there is no reason to believe that it was ever removed.  Montanism was attacked by several writers.  Eusebius has preserved fragments of the works of two of these; one anonymous, (supposed to be Asterius Urbanus) who wrote about thirteen years after the death of Maximilla; and Apollonius, who wrote forty years after Montanus began to prophesy.  The anonymous author, among other circumstances, informs us that it was reported that Montanus and Maximilla destroyed themselves by hanging; but he does not vouch for the truth of the report.  Apollonius represents the austerity of Montanus as a cloak of avarice and luxury, objecting to him that he dyed his hair, darkened his eyebrows, wore splendid attire, indulged in amusements, and lent money on usury.  Cyril of Jerusalem, and Isidore of Pelusium, speak of him as a man stained with the deepest crimes. The general opinion, however, is that he was much more of an enthusiast than of an impostor, and was led into heresy by an ambitious desire of obtaining ecclesiastical distinction.

CATAPHRYGIANS: A sect, in the second century, so called because Montanus, the heresiarch, began to exercise his pretended prophetical gifts in the lower or southern parts of Phrygia.  Montanus was an enthusiast, who pretended that he was the Comforter whom our Lord had promised to send to His disciples to lead them into all truth.  Two wealthy females, Maximilla and Priscilla, associated themselves with him as prophetesses; and thus a party was formed which engaged the attention of the whole Christian world, and for a time boasted a considerable number of adherents. 

Montanus assumed that he was divinely commissioned to give completeness and perfection to the moral precepts delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, he added to the Gospel many austerities; forbad second marriages as unlawful; attributed extraordinary sanctity to celibacy; condemned all care of the body, and especially attention to dress; repudiated philosophy, arts, and whatever pertained to science, as inconsistent with the service of Christ: he also taught that incontinence, murder, and idolatry, though they did not exclude from the grace of God, operated to shut out a person for ever from the church on earth.

From: Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Montanists” p. 404-405, pub. Wesleyan Conference Office, London

From: Farrar, John, 1878, “An Ecclesiastical Dictionary, Explanatory of the History, Antiquities, Heresies, Sects, and Religious Denominations of the Christian Church”, entry “Cataphrygians” p. 136-137, pub. Wesleyan Conference Office, London