Holy Spirit - Montanism
A. The “Doctrine” of the Holy Spirit in the Post-Apostolic Fathers
The fact is, there was no “doctrine” of the Spirit, per se. References to the HS were personal, experiential, catechetical, and doxological. The focus is on his activity and work but not his nature or relationship to Father and Son. For example:
Clement of Rome coordinates three persons in an oath: “As God lives, and the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit;” and again he asks: “Have we not one God, and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured upon us?” (Mart. Polyc., 58,2; 46,6). He also spoke of the HS inspiring the prophets of God both in the OT and NT (ibid., 8,1; 13,1; 16,2; 63,2).
In the Shepherd of Hermas the distinction between the HS and the Son is dated from the incarnation (not eternity). As pre-existent, the Son of God is identified with the HS (hence, binitarianism). Hence, before the incarnation there were but two divine persons, Father and Spirit (Sim., 9,1,1). According to Hermas, Jesus Christ was elevated to the status of Father and Spirit because of his personal merit, having cooperated with the Spirit who indwelt him.
B. The Holy Spirit among the Apologists
Once again our primary source is Justin Martyr who often spoke of “three persons” but usually when citing the baptismal formula or in relation to the eucharist or catechetical teaching. He also countered the charge of atheism by pointing to the veneration and worship that Christians paid to the Father, Son, and the “prophetic Spirit” (the latter title occurs 27x in Justin). Justin also referred to the “Holy Spirit” (32x), “the holy prophetic spirit” (4x), “the spirit of God” (4x), “the divine Spirit” (3x), “the prophetic spirit of God” (once), and “the divine holy prophetic spirit” (once).
Thus Justin’s primary emphasis was on the activity of the Spirit as the one who revealed the Son and thus served as the source of the illumination which makes Christianity the supreme philosophy.
C. Early Forms of Pneumatological Heresy
· Dynamic Monarchianism – The Spirit was viewed as the impersonal power or energy of the Father by which the Son was anointed and adopted at the time of his water baptism.
· Modalistic Monarchianism – The distinct personality of the Spirit was emphatically denied, “Spirit” simply being another name for or mode by which the One God was manifest in history.
D. The Beginnings of Pneumatological Orthodoxy
The Nicene Creed is silent concerning the HS except for the declaration: “We believe . . . in the Holy Spirit.” One group should be noted for its opposition to the full deity of the Spirit.
The Macedonians (named after their leader, Macedonius), also called Pneumatomachians (i.e., “spirit-fighters”) made three points: (1) Based on a false interpretation of John 1:3, they argued that the HS was a creature. They punctuated the verse as follows: “All things were made by Him [i.e., the Son], and without Him was not anything made. That which was made in Him was life [a reference to the Spirit].” (2) They insisted that since the Spirit was neither unbegotten (the Father) nor begotten (the Son), he must be a creature. (3) Finally, they insisted that the NT does not command believers to worship or adore the Spirit, as it does with respect to both Father and Son.
The belief that the Spirit is identical or same in nature (homoousion) with the Father, as was declared of the Son at Nicea, was defended by:
· Athanasius – He first articulated his view of the Spirit in response to a group of Egyptian Christians called the Tropici (because of their figurative interpretation of Scripture [Gk. tropos = figure]). They had argued that the spirit was created ex nihilo and was no different from the “ministering spirits” of Heb. 1:14. Athanasius countered in several ways: (1) The Scriptures consistently distinguish between the Spirit and mere creatures (the Spirit, said Athanasius, “belongs to and is one with the Godhead which is in the Triad” [Ad Serap., 1,21]). He predicated of the Spirit immutability, omnipresence, and uniqueness. (2) The Spirit is referred to as “of God” and “of Christ”. Since the Godhead is eternal and indivisible the Spirit must be consubstantial with the Father and Son. (3) He appealed to the common work of Son and Spirit: creation, inspiration, illumination, sanctification, etc., and concluded that only God can act in perfect conjunction with God. (4) It is by the Spirit that we are made partakers of God’s nature and by Him that God dwells in us (1 Cor. 3:16). If the Spirit were only a creature, how could we have communion and participation with God through Him? Thus, although Athanasius refrains from actually calling the Spirit “God”, he emphatically declares Him to be homoousion with Father and Son (Ad Serap., 1,27).
· The Cappadocians –Although cautious in their predication of deity to the Spirit, they became progressively more adamant. According to Basil the Spirit was intrinsically holy, one with the divine nature, and inseparable from the Father and Son. He must be “reckoned with” and not “reckoned below” them. The Spirit must be glorified equally with Father and Son. Gregory of Nazianzus asked: “Is the Spirit God?” “Yes, indeed. Then is He consubstantial? Of course, since He is God” (Or. 31,10; 34,11). If the homoousion of the Spirit suggested to some that the Father had two sons, the Cappadocians responded. Basil said that the Spirit issues from God, not by way of generation (as does the Son), but as “the breath of His mouth.” He insisted that the divine qualities reach the Spirit through the Son. Gregory of Nazianzus appealed to John 15:26 where the Spirit is said to “proceed from” the Father (hence the Spirit proceeds from the Father and through the Son).
· Augustine was not satisfied with the idea that the Spirit was of the Father and only through the Son. He believed the Bible taught that the Spirit sustained the same relationship to both, i.e., the Spirit was the consubstantial bond who unites all three. Hence the Spirit is of both Father and Son alike (cf. Rom. 8:9-11). Thus Augustine set the pattern for the western view of the “Double procession” of the Spirit, i.e., the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). More on this latter point when we examine medieval developments, especially the theology of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Thus, the Trinitarian relationships as conceived in the western church may be summarized as follows:
The Father begets the Son and is He from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. But, the Father is neither begotten nor does He proceed.
The Son is begotten and is He from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds. But, He neither begets nor proceeds.
The Holy Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son. But, He neither begets nor is He one from whom any proceed.
E. The Emergence and Essence of Montanism
Montanism arose in Phrygia in about a.d. 155. Eusebius and Jerome both date the movement to a.d. 173 (more recent scholarship puts it in the 160s). It spread from Asia Minor to Rome and eventually to North Africa. The following in Rome was small, but in North Africa Montanism became quite popular. Certainly the most famous person to “convert” to Montanism was Tertullian, who embraced their views in @205 a.d.
News of the movement reached Rome as early as 177. Eusebius, writing in the early 4th century, reports that Irenaeus took letters from the Martyrs of Lyons (who were still in prison) to the bishop of Rome, Eleutherius (a.d. 175-80) in which they expressed their opinion of the movement. The letters were conciliatory in nature.
Clearly, though, the movement was perceived as significant enough to warrant the first council or synod in the history of the church. According to McDonnell and Montague (Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries [Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991),
"the problems the New Prophecy, as it was called, raised in Asia must have been considerable. Neither the threat of gnosticism, nor Marcionism had ever pressed the church into calling councils. Montanism was threat enough to institute the first council since Jerusalem (Acts 15); it is not surprising that there were excommunications" (107-08).
Initially at least one bishop of Rome, Victor, endorsed the movement. This was short-lived, however, as a man named Praxeas (a heretic in his own right [he introduced Patripassian Monarchianism into Rome]) succeeded in turning Victor against Montanism. It was condemned by certain synods of the church in Asia around a.d. 200 and then also by Zephyrinus, Victor's successor as bishop of Rome, in the early part of the 3rd century.
Our greatest obstacle in understanding what the Montanists believed and taught is that virtually all our information is fragmentary in nature and comes from those who were hostile to the movement. As Trevett has noted, “the bulk of the evidence is from the anti-Montanist side” (Montanism: Gender, authority and the New Prophecy [Cambridge, 1996], 4). That being the case, what did the Montanists affirm that had such a remarkable impact on the ancient church? Several items are worthy of mention.
1) Apparently Montanus was among the first to insist that teachers and prophets should be paid. As Trevett notes, “the Prophecy [this is her name for the movement] must have been successful in attracting monetary support and probably the catholic side was outraged not just by the success of the Prophecy and the gullibility, as they saw it, of those Christians who succumbed to it (rich and needy alike . . .) but also at the threatened loss to their own coffers!” (49).
2) Montanism is portrayed by its opponents as an effort to shape the entire life of the church in keeping with the expectation of the immediate return of Christ. Thus they were perceived to oppose any developments in church life that appeared institutional or would contribute to a settled pattern of worship. If this is an accurate representation of their views, needless to say, those who held official positions of authority within the organized church would be suspect of the movement. According to his critics, Montanus allegedly taught that this outpouring of the Spirit, of which he and his followers were the principal recipients, was a sign of the end of the age. The heavenly Jerusalem would soon descend near Pepuza in Phrygia. Trevett has recently argued, on the other hand, that concrete evidence for this sort of apocalyptic excess among the Montanists is sparse. “Never are we told explicitly,” she notes, “that the first Prophets expected an imminent return of Christ, and we are not told until Quintilla’s [a later proponent of Montanism] vision that he, or the Jerusalem of promise, was expected at Pepuza” (104).
3) Montanus himself allegedly spoke in terms that asserted his identity with the Paraclete of John 14:16. The prophetic utterance in question is as follows:
"For Montanus spoke, saying, 'I am the father, and the son and the paraclete.'" (Found in the writings of Didymus On the Trinity, 3:41,1).
One wonders, however, if Montanus is claiming what his critics suggest. More likely he, as well as others in the movement who prophesied, is saying that one or another or perhaps all of the members of the Trinity are speaking through them. That is to say, it is a claim to be a mouthpiece of the Spirit. For example, in yet another of his prophetic utterances, Montanus said,
"You shall not hear from me, but you have heard from Christ" (Quoted in Epiphanius, Panarion, 48:12; col. 873).
Given their view of the on-going “voice” of God through the prophetic Spirit, Montanism was thereby “claiming . . . to bring something new and would not allow the catholic side, in any case, to lay claim to a monopoly of insight about what ‘apostolic’ tradition entailed” (Trevett, 54).
4) Montanus and his followers (principally, two women, Prisca and Maximilla) held to a view of the prophetic gift that was a departure from Paul's teaching in 1 Cor. 14. According to Ronald Kydd, "among the Montanists prophecy was a type of ecstasy in which God was in control of the prophet" (Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984], p. 33).
Another of the prophetic utterances that survived (there are only 16), found in Epiphanius (Pan. xlviii.4,1), confirms this view:
"Behold, a man is like a lyre and I pluck his strings like a pick; the man sleeps, but I am awake. Behold, it is the Lord, who is changing the hearts of men and giving new hearts to them."
If this was what Montanus taught, he would be asserting that, when a prophet prophesied, God was in complete control. Man is little more than an instrument, such as the strings of a lyre, on which God plucks his song or message. Man is asleep, in a manner of speaking, and thus passive during the prophetic utterance.
This concept of prophecy is contrary to what we read of in 1 Cor. 14:29-31 where Paul asserts that "the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophet". The Montanists cannot be charged with having originated this view, for it is found among the Greek Apologists of this period. Justin Martyr and Theophilus both claimed that the Spirit spoke through the OT prophets in such a way as to possess them. Athenagoras says of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and other OT prophets that they were
"lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the Divine Spirit, [and that they] uttered the things with which they were inspired, the Spirit making use of them as a flute player breathes into a flute" (in his work, A Plea for the Christians, 9).
The point is that the Montanists were not espousing a view of prophecy that was significantly different from what others in the mainstream of the church of that day were saying. Nevertheless, it was the form of their prophetic utterances that aroused the greatest opposition. Ecstasy and loss of self-control were viewed as fanatical and excessive.
5) The gift of tongues may also have been prominent among the Montanists, as was the experience of receiving revelatory visions. Eusebius preserved a refutation of Montanism written by Apollinarius in which the latter accused these "prophets" of speaking in unusual ways. For example, "He [Montanus] began to be ecstatic and to speak and to talk strangely" (quoted in Kydd, 35). Again, Maximilla and Prisca are said to have spoken "madly and improperly and strangely, like Montanus" (ibid.). Finally, he refers to the Montanists as "chattering prophets". We cannot be certain, but the word translated chattering, found nowhere else in all of Greek literature, may refer to speaking at great length in what sound like languages, i.e., speaking in tongues.
Montanus insisted that if the gifts of the Spirit were scarce in the church it was due to moral laxity and spiritual sterility.
6) The Montanists stressed monogamy. Some claim Montanus insisted on chastity between husband and wife, but this is unlikely. Whereas celibacy was the choice of some, there were also marriages and children born to them in the movement. They were quite ascetic in their approach to the Christian life (which is what attracted Tertullian into their ranks). They strongly emphasized self-discipline, repentance, and the glory of martyrdom. However, there is no evidence that their emphasis on fasting was any more rigorous than that of others in that age. It is true that Priscilla and Maximilla, Montanus’s two most devoted followers, deserted their husbands to embrace the movement, but there is no indication that others followed suit. Montanus apparently claimed the authority to “loose” and “bind” (Mt. 16:19; 18:18) in respect to marriages. Says Trevett,
“If, as some posit, the first Prophets were living in a state of heightened, almost frenzied, expectation of the End, there is nothing in our sources to suggest that they responded to this by recourse to unbending sexual or other asceticism. . . . Celibacy may have been preferable but marriage was to be honored” (110).
7) Although Montanism was regarded as heresy by some of its opponents, numerous authors in the early church insisted on the overall orthodoxy of the movement. Hippolytus said that the Montanists "are thought to be orthodox about the beginning, and the fashioning of all [the doctrine of creation], and they do not accept unorthodox teachings with regard to Christ" (McDonnell & Montague, 136). The "heresy hunter" Epiphanius (a.d. 315-403) conceded that the Montanists agreed with the church at large on the issues of orthodoxy, especially the doctrine of the Trinity.
8) Some allege that Montanism was gnostic. However, “had the Prophecy been tainted with Gnosticism, then Hippolytus, no less than Tertullian, would certainly have recognised and written of it” (Trevett, 61), which in point of fact they didn’t.
Epiphanius, writing in the late 4th century, contended that the Montanists were still found in Cappadocia, Galatia, Phyrgia, Cilicia, and Constantinople. This assessment was confirmed by Eusebius who devoted four chapters of his monumental Ecclesiastical History to the Montanists. Didymus the Blind (a.d. 313-98), "after saying that many heresies would not be referred to because they were then academic relics, went out of his way to treat of Montanism in several chapters, because the dangers were real and the faithful needed to be warned" (McDonnell & Montague, 137). The great church father Jerome (a.d. 342-420) personally encountered Montanist communities in Ancyra when he was travelling through Galatia in 373. The point being that Montanism was alive and influential as late as the close of the 4th century.
The presence of Montanism in the early church also provides us with evidence of the continuing operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Aside from the Montanists themselves, numerous church fathers regard the gifts as still valid. For example:
Justin Martyr (a.d. 100-165) boasted to the Jewish Trypho "that the prophetic gifts remain with us" (Dialogue with Trypho, 82).
Irenaeus (a.d. 120-200) also bears witness to the presence of the gifts of the Spirit. He writes:
· "We have heard of many of the brethren who have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances; others, by laying-on of hands, heal the sick and restore them to health" (Against Heresies, 2:32,4).
· "We hear of many members of the church who have prophetic gifts, and, by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men's secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God" (Against Heresies, 5:6,1).
· "It is impossible to enumerate the charisms which throughout the world the church has received from God" (Against Heresies, 2:32,4).
Eusebius himself concludes that the charismata were all still in operation down to the time in which Irenaeus lived (Ecclesiastical History, 5:7,6).
Apollinarius is quoted by Eusebius as saying that "the prophetic gifts must continue in the church until the final coming, as the apostle insists" (EH, 5:16,7).
Epiphanius, perhaps the most vocal opponent of the Montanists, did not attack them because they practiced the gifts of the Spirit. Indeed, he declared that "the charism [of prophecy] is not inoperative in the church. Quite the opposite. . . . The holy church of God welcomes the same [charisms] as the Montanists, but ours are real charisms, authenticated for the church by the Holy Spirit" (Panarion, 48).
Ironically, one of the principal reasons why the church became suspect of the gifts of the Spirit and eventually excluded them from the life of the church is because of their association with Montanism. The Montanist view of prophecy, in which the prophet entered a state of passive ecstasy in order that God might speak directly, was a threat to the church's belief in the finality of the canon of Scripture. Other unappealing aspects of the Montanist lifestyle, as noted above, provoked opposition to the movement and hence to the charismata. In sum, it was largely the Montanist view of the prophetic gift, in which a virtual "Thus saith the Lord" perspective was adopted, that contributed to the increasing absence in church life of the charismata.
Modern critics frequently attempt to discredit the charismatic movement in its many forms by associating it with Montanism. John MacArthur writes: "The contemporary charismatic movement is in many ways the spiritual heir of Montanism. In fact, it would not at all be unfair to call today's charismatic movement neo-Montanism" (Charismatic Chaos, 75). If the perception of Montanism as a heresy, outside the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy, can be sustained, this tactic will continue to carry weight with those who are predisposed to question the on-going validity of the gifts of the Spirit.
In the final analysis, why was Montanism perceived as such a threat, thus leading to its eventual condemnation? Trevett’s conclusion seems reasonable and warranted by the evidence. The Prophets, says Trevett,
“claimed direct authority of the Spirit (which clarified the meaning of Scripture) and that might prove at odds with the teaching authority of the catholic clergy. . . . The Prophecy was proclaiming the in-breaking of a new order, bypassing established authority by direct revelation and putting to the forefront something which had been relegated to the margins. I do not think it began as an act of revolt against catholic clergy (however much individual prophetic Christians might have resented the decline of prophetic ministry). Catholic leaders may have perceived a dangerous laicisation and democratisation but not even Tertullian denounced clericalisation per se or sought to divorce charismatic empowerment from Christian office. No, this was not just a case of envy of bishops. The Prophets intended to prophesy, in the context of troubled times and to a Church which could not but benefit, they thought, from inspired interpretation of its present experience and the declaration of God’s promises for it” (146).