It was indeed a riotous Christian faith spurred by the teachings and followers of the heresiarch Montanus of Phrygia, a former heathen and native of Ardabau in Asia Minor, c. 156 AD. The newly baptized priest has declared himself to be the ‘Spirit of Truth’, an physical incarnation of the Holy Ghost itself – and soon a group of vision-prone ecstatic disciples grew around him. Epiphanius quotes Montanus as saying, 'I am neither an angel nor an envoy, but I the Lord God, the Father, have come'. Other gems included:
“Behold, man is like a lyre and I come upon him as a plectron. Man is asleep and I am awake.”
Purificantia enim concordat, ait, et visiones vident, et ponentes faciem deorsum etiam voces audiunt manifestas tam salutares quam et occultas—“Purification brings harmony; thus they can see visions, and when turning their faces downwards, they can hear clear voices which are as salutary as mysterious”
"Appearing as a woman clothed in a shining robe, Christ came to me in sleep; he put wisdom into me and revealed to me that this place is sacred and that here Jerusalem will come down from heaven."
Soon, they had compiled what they called the ‘Third Testament’ (clearly the lost conclusion of the trilogy) which detailed the magical conversion of their own homeland into the prophesied New Jerusalem. The sect spread its gospel quickly, imploring all good Christians to migrate to Phrygia immediately, before the transformation was over and they missed the Second Coming. By 177 AD, these epistles had spread from what is now Syria as far as North Africa, Rome and Gaul.
As Montanism (essentially a local grass-roots heresy of the tourism-boosting sort) and other local apocalyptic sects began to spread, the newly forming Church found it had to compete for souls. By the late 190s, Irenaeus’ lashed out against these village prophets in his Against Heresies (though he did tend to get a little Chicken Little himself here and there) and it was followed up in the early 3rd c. by Origen’s extensive writings against the notions of apocalypse and eschatological mysticism. After all, the Church was now a force for stability and orthodoxy in its own right. Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo at the time, put the nail into the coffin of heretical doctrine by making it official by stating in his City of God Against the Pagans that the Church was the sole vehicle of redemption left on each by Christ. This of course, didn’t keep people from trying though…
See Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (NY: Oxford, 1970) p. 25-29; Epiphanius, Panarion 48, IV,I and Haer. xlix. 1.; and Tertullian, De exhortatione castitatis X, v.
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