Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Eusebius, EH.5.14-17: Against Heresies: Montanism

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 5, chapters 14-17. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters survey the Montanist or Phrygian (or Kataphyrgian) heresy.

Chapter 14 introduces this Montanist heresy and its adherents who “like poisonous reptiles crawled over Asia and Phrygia.” Its leader Montanus was called the Paraclete (of the “Comforter” the term for the Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel) and two women of the sect, Priscilla and Maximilla, were considered to be his prophetesses.

Chapter 15 notes two other heterodox men who had been turned out of the church at Rome, Florinus and Blastus..

Chapter 16 describes Apolinarius of Hierapolis as a “powerful and invincible weapon” against Montanism. He and other “learned men” opposed the heresy.

Eusebius cites several passages from a work by one of these men [perhaps Asterius Urbanus to whom reference is made] addressed to a certain Abercius Marcellus. The Montanists are called the sect of Miltiades, one of their early teachers.

The writer expresses his hesitancy to write, since he did not want to add to or take away from the gospel (canonical Scripture?).

What the Montanists claimed to be prophecy, he called “false prophecy.”

He says the movement began in the village of Ardabav in Phrygian Misia where Montanus had been a Christian convert led astray by an unbounded lust for leadership control. He had ecstatic experiences, spoke strangely and prophesied contrary to church tradition. Some assumed he was led by the devil or a spirit of error. The two women were then raised up who were also possessed by the same “bastard spirit” and spoke madly, improperly and strangely, like Montanus.

When this arrogant spirit blasphemed the universal (catholic) church, the Montanists were drive our and excommunicated.

This author reports the miserable end of these “prophets”, relaying a tradition that Montanus and Maximilla, like Judas, committed suicide.

Another Montanist teacher named Theodotus is also said to have come to a miserable end.

He reports that faithful bishops attempted to refute Maximilla, while she lived, but were muzzled by the Montanists.

He also cites prophecies made by Maximilla about the end of the world, but 13 years later these prophesies had proven false.

Finally, he cites a report that the Montanists, like the followers of Marcion, claimed to have martyrs, as did the orthodox. The martyrs of the true faith, like Gaius and Alexander of Eumeneia, however, separated themselves from those in these sects, so as not even to die with them.

Chapter 17 continues this survey of the anti-Montanist work, citing another anti-Montanist author named Miltiades [not to be confused with the Montanist teacher of the same name] who described Montanist attacks against the orthodox teacher Alcibiades. The Christians pointed to the prophets of the OT and of those with prophetic gifts in the NT (Agabus, Judas, Silas, and the daughters of Philip) as well as early Christian prophets Ammia and Quadratus. It is noted that the Montanist prophets had not one to succeed them when they passed.

Finally, other writings of this Miltiades are mentioned including works against Gentiles and against Jews and an Apology to the secular rulers.


These chapters are important for understanding the Montanist heresy, which was something like a “charismatic” sect, relying on ecstatic experiences and utterances. The Romans in their persecutions lumped those of this sect in among the orthodox Christians but, according to Eusebius, the martyrs from the heretical sects were not authentic. Against the Montanists, there were also raised up orthodox writers and teachers to oppose them.


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