The end of Montanism

The author of the 8th century Syriac Chronicle of ps.Dionysius of Tel-Mahre is preserved in a single copy written ca. 903 AD.  This was preserved in the monastery of Deir al-Suryani in the Nitrian desert, but brought to the Vatican in 1715, where it is Ms. Vaticanus Syr. 162, 173ff. Some missing leaves were retrieved by Henry Tattam in 1840, and are now British Library Additional 14665.  

The Chronicle is very valuable because its unknown author made use of the Ecclesiastical History of the 6th century bishop John of Ephesus.  A large chunk of the latter still survives, but most does not.  Ps.Dionysius had access to the whole work, and quotes from it word-for-word.

The year 861 [=549-50 AD] … At this time the destructive heresy of Montanus was put to shame and uprooted.  We [=John] have written the story of how it sprang up in the (section about) apostolic times.  Now however at the incitement of John bishop of Asia the bones of Montanus were found, who used to say of himself that he was the Spirit Paraclete, and (the bones) of Kratis, Maximilla and Priscilla, his prophetesses.  (John) burned them with fire and pulled their temples down to the foundations.1

The events must have taken place at Pepuza in Phyrgia, where the cult was centred.  

We have no other 6th century accounts of this event.  But as often happens, early documents were embedded in later Syriac sources.  In this case Michael the Syrian, in the 12th century, gives us more information because he has access to other sources than just John.

In the land of Phyrgia there is a place called Pepuza, where the Montanists had a bishop and some clergy.  They called it Jerusalem, and there they killed the Christians.  John of Asia went there and burned their synagogue, on the orders of the emperor.  In this house there was found a great reliquary [=γλωσσόκομον] of marble sealed with lead and bound with iron fittings.  On it was written, “Of Montanus and his women.”  It was opened and in it were found Montanus and his two women, Maximilla and Priscilla, which had golden leaves over their mouths.  They were covered with confusion by seeing the fetid bones which they called “the Spirit”.  They were told, “Have you no shame to allow yourselves to be seduced by this rascal, and to call him the ‘Spirit’?  A spirit has neither flesh nor bones.”  And the bones were burned.   The Montanists were heard wailing and crying.  “Now,” they said, “the world is ruined and will perish.”  Their shameful books were also found and burned.  The house was purified, and became a church.

Previously in the days of Justinian I [=Justin], some people had informed the emperor that Montanus, at the time of his death, had ordered those responsible for his funeral to bury him fifty cubits under the earth, “because,” he said, “the fire must reveal me and devour all the face of the earth.”  His followers, by the pernicious operation of demons, put it about falsely that his bones were exorcising demons.  They bribed a few individuals who, for bread to eat, claimed that he had healed them.  — The emperor wrote to the bishop of that place.  He dug deep and removed the bones of Montanus and his women to burn them.  Then the Montanists came to find the bishop by night and gave him five hundred darics of gold.  They carried off the bones and brought others.  And in the morning, without anyone realising the mystery, the bishop burned these bones as being those of Montanus and Crites (?) his associate.  But then the Archdeacon denounced the Bishop, who was sent into exile.

Apollos, the companion of Paul, wrote that Montanus was the son of Simon Magus, that when his father died, by the prayer of Peter, he fled Rome and began to trouble the world.  Then Apollos, (led) by the Spirit, went to where he was and saw him sitting and preaching error.  He began to curse him, saying, “Enemy of God, the Lord will punish you!”  Montanus began to rebuke him and said, “What difference is there between you and I, Apollos?  If you prophesy, I do also; if you are an apostle, I am too; if you heal, I do too.”  Apollos said to him, “Let your mouth be closed, in the name of the Lord.”  He immediately stopped and was never again able to speak.  The people believed in our Lord, and received baptism.  They overthrew the seat of Montanus, who fled and escaped.  — This story is finished, just like the other.

Some interesting material there, evidently from at least three different sources.  The first paragraph must derive from some 6th century account, more detailed than that of John of Ephesus; or perhaps from a fuller text than ps.Dionysius had.

The second is still more interesting.  Is it possible that some of the Montanists, after the event, put about a rumour that the bones burned were not those of Montanus, in order that their cult might continue?  It’s not easy to imagine another source for this story, where the clergy are depicted as venal state hirelings.

The third moves into the realm of folk-tale.  Clearly the author had no idea when Montanus lived — although it sounds from ps.Dionysius if this was already rather murky in the 6th century — and we seem to have some sort of material from a hagiographic text about Apollos.  Perhaps Michael has simply assembled whatever he had about Montanus, regardless of consistency.

1. Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre: Chronicle.  Translated … by Witold Witakowski.  Liverpool University Press, 1996,  p.112 (the end of p.125 of the Syriac text)
2. Michael the Syrian, Chronicle. Translated into French by J.B.Chabot.  Book 9, chapter 33, in Volume 2, p. 269 of Chabot’s publication (on Archive.org).

1 Response to “The end of Montanism”


  1. Alex Poulos

    Interesting bits. Apollo addressing Montanus had me scratching my head!