Book Report: Montanism / Theology

Pages: 7 (3085 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] The famous satirist Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels) indeed wrote a satire on pneumaticist beliefs, which owes a lot to the Montanist heresy. Swift's fictional pneumatics are here called the "Aeolists" (after the pagan god of wind) but in any case it is a satire on heretical misinterpretation of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and quite similar to the condemnations of the Montanists offered by Saint Jerome and others: [5: Gonzales, 74.]

…some authors maintain these AEolists to have been very ancient in the world, because the delivery of their mysteries, which I have just now mentioned, appears exactly the same with that of other ancient oracles, whose inspirations were owing to certain subterraneous effluviums of wind delivered with the same pain to the priest, and much about the same influence on the people. It is true indeed that these were frequently managed and directed by female officers, whose organs were understood to be better disposed for the admission of those oracular gusts, as entering and passing up through a receptacle of greater capacity, and causing also a pruriency by the way, such as with due management has been refined from carnal into a spiritual ecstasy. And to strengthen this profound conjecture, it is further insisted that this custom of female priests is kept up still in certain refined colleges of our modern AEolists, who are agreed to receive their inspiration, derived through the receptacle aforesaid, like their ancestors the Sybils.[footnoteRef:6] [6: Swift, Jonathan. A Tale of a Tub. Accessed online at:]

Here Swift holds up to ridicule the sort of beliefs to which pneumaticists at their worst are susceptible. The Biblical word for "spirit" (as in Holy Spirit) is indistinguishable from the word for breath, and gives us the modern word "inspiration." But the belief, held by the Montanists, that literally every breath is holy enough to make prophecy constant, and every utterance a holy one, is dangerous: as Swift mocks it, it seems like a flatulent delusion. Swift also suggests that the excessive chastity practiced by such a sect is, in fact, responsible for the supposed manifestations of things like glossolalia -- that the supposed Pentecostal gifts of a pneumaticist sect may simply be due to a derangement caused by abnormal sexual practices. In the case of the Montanists, however, the pneumaticist belief is elevated to a dispensationalist one, thinking that the sect operated in the end times which were ruled over by the direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to see why the early church found this so potentially troubling: if a large evangelizing sect has millenarian beliefs and a direct experience of God, with a belief in continuous prophecy. how can this be distinguished from a mob of madmen who constantly utter their own "prophetic" directions from God in order to justify whatever they wish? Once again, it is clear that -- more than anything -- the injunction against false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount is presumably the chief reason for anathematizing the Montanists. But it is clear that the Montanists had peculiar interpretations of the Christian sacraments: Saint Augustine recorded that they "used cheese in their Eucharist." [footnoteRef:7] Presumably then, in addition to ignoring Christ's warnings against false prophets, a Montanist interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount would include the notion of "blessed are the cheesemakers." But if Gonzales is correct in likening the Montantists to early Pentecostals, we must take in that a warning about the heretical elements inherent in Pentecostalism rather than an endorsement of Montanism. [7: Tabbernee, William. "Initiation/Baptism in the Montanist Movement." In Hellholm, David, Vegge, Tor, Norderval, Oyvind, and Hellholm, Christer. Ablution, Initiation and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity. Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2011. 933.]


Gonzales, Justo L. And Gonzales, Catherine Gunsalus. Heretics for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Saint Jerome, Letter XLI. Accessed online at:

Saint Justin Martyr, First Apology XXVI. Accessed online at:

Swift, Jonathan. A Tale of a Tub. Accessed online at:

Tabbernee, William. "Initiation/Baptism in the Montanist Movement." In Hellholm, David, Vegge, Tor, Norderval, Oyvind, and Hellholm, Christer. Ablution, Initiation and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity. Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2011.

Tertullian, Against Praxeas. Accessed online at

Tertullian, "To the Nations." In Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Volume XI: The Writings of Tertullian. Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James (eds.) Edinburgh: Clark, 1869.

In understanding heretical and controversial Christian beliefs, we do Christianity a service by testing our faith by examining objections to its central elements -- this is a virtue that does not hide indoors and timidly fear to think, but which is prepared to defend the paradoxes and mysteries of faith against challenges. We can see this in examining the Trinitarian, Donatist, Pelagian and Christological controversies, and examining the reasons for the development of doctrine. The Trinitarian controversies mainly concerned the heresies of Arius and Sabellius. Arianism denied the Trinity in asserting that Father and Son were not of the same substance (homoousia). Sabellius denied the Trinity in asserting that Father and Son were the same person, and thus not part of a triune mystery. In both of these heresies, it seems clear that what is most repellent is the way in which they force Christianity to conform to the pattern of a pagan human-sacrifice cult: if Father and Son do not share the same essence, then the humiliation and death of Christ on the cross becomes a means of appeasing an angry God by means of human sacrifice (in Arianism) or a suicide wish (in Sabellianism). The Donatist controversy involved the validity of the sacraments, and whether they were still sacramental when performed by a priest not in a state of grace. The official church teaching was that the grace was inherent in the sacrament itself and the relative righteousness or sinfulness of the person administering the sacrament was therefore beside the point.

Pelagianism is perhaps the most subtle of the early church heresies, and was remorselessly attacked by Saint Augustine. Pelagianism involves an interpretation of the doctrine of original sin. It claims that the fall of Adam did not necessarily translate into a permanently sinful state for mankind: Pelagius held that infants were born into the same sinless state that Adam enjoyed before the fall, and that the redemption offered by Christ must have been available to those who lived before Christ. Ultimately the controvery hinged upon a doctrine of grace and its relation to free will -- Pelagius' error was not so much to deny original sin as to deny the agency of divine grace in salvation, thus essentially suggesting that it would be possible for a man to save himself from damnation. With no original sin, there is no extension of grace, as per Romans 11:32.

The divinity of Christ has been denied by various heretical sects -- among those in existence today, we may count the Unitarians and the Quakers. The Christological position that heretically holds that Jesus Christ was just this guy with various worthy ethical suggestions, rather than the son of God, is presumably one which intends to place emphasis on Christ's ethical teachings as though he were merely a preternaturally wise young rabbi. Unfortunately it conflicts with various scriptural passages, most notably the Gospel of John 1:14.

The development of doctrine in the early church was presumably a way to approach various contradictions within the faith and within scripture. After the controversy between Pelagius and Augustine, the doctrine of original sin and the doctrine of grace required clarification. The ultimate reason for this, however, lies in the attempt to understand the nature of free will in light of an omniscient and omnipotent God.

It seems likely that if God's grace is indeed all-pervading, the study of heresy and controversy in the early church might, in some sense, help to clarify the necessity of certain beliefs in light of why other beliefs have been fervently espoused and condemned by competing sects throughout history. For example, it becomes clear that heresies which reject the Trinity are not only attempting to do an end-run around clear New Testament references to the concept (if not a full exposition of the doctrine) but the result of anti-Trinitarian heresy is that it ultimately runs the risk of making God into a rather bloodthirsty and unpleasant being, who demands the human sacrifice of his own son, not unlike Saturn devouring Zeus On the other hand, it is clear that anti-Trinitarians look at the doctrine of the Trinity and see something that looks like polytheism hiding behind a mystery, a system of three gods in defiance of the Decalogue. In both cases, it seems like the orthodox and the heretic were chiefly concerned with making sure that Christianity did not… [END OF PREVIEW]

Four Different Ordering Options:

Which Option Should I Choose?

1.  Buy the full, 7-page paper:  $28.88


2.  Buy + remove from all search engines
(Google, Yahoo, Bing) for 30 days:  $38.88


3.  Access all 175,000+ papers:  $41.97/mo

(Already a member?  Click to download the paper!)


4.  Let us write a NEW paper for you!

Ask Us to Write a New Paper
Most popular!

Apophatic Theology Essay

Public Theology Assessment

Theology and the Church: A Response Thesis

Theology - Critical Analysis George Macleod's Description Term Paper

Theology of Servant Leadership Term Paper

View 998 other related papers  >>

Cite This Book Report:

APA Format

Montanism / Theology.  (2012, March 25).  Retrieved May 19, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Montanism / Theology."  25 March 2012.  Web.  19 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Montanism / Theology."  March 25, 2012.  Accessed May 19, 2019.