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Montanism was an early Christian movement of the early 2nd century, named after its founder Montanus. It originated at Hierapolis where Papias was bishop and flourished throughout the region of Phrygia, leading to the movement being referred to as Cataphrygian (meaning it was "from Phrygia") or simply as "Phrygians". It spread rapidly to other regions in the Roman Empire at a time before Christianity was generally tolerated or legal. Although orthodox Nicene Christianity prevailed against Montanism within a few generations, labeling it a heresy, the sect persisted in some isolated places into the 8th century. Some people have drawn parallels between Montanism and modern Pentecostalism (which some call Neo-Montanism). The most widely known Montanist was undoubtedly Tertullian, who was the foremost Latin church writer before he converted to Montanism.



Scholars are divided as to when Montanus first began his prophecy, having chosen dates varying from c. AD 135 to as late as AD 177.[1] Montanus traveled among the rural settlements of Asia Minor after his conversion, and preached and testified what he purported to be the Word of God; however, his teachings were regarded as heresy by the orthodox Church for a number of reasons. He claimed to have received a series of direct revelations from the Holy Spirit. In some of his prophecies Montanus spoke in the first person as God. Many casual readers and even many uninformed scholars such as church father Cyril of Jerusalem have misinterpreted this as Montanus claiming to be God or the Holy Spirit. However, scholars of Montanism agree that these words of Montanus exemplify the general practice of religious prophets to speak as the passive mouthpieces of the divine, and to claim divine inspiration (similar to modern prophets stating "Thus saith the Lord"). That practice occurred in Christian as well as in pagan circles with some degree of frequency (Pelikan 101, Tabernee 93). Montanus was accompanied by two women, Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and Maximilla, who likewise claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As they went, "the Three" as they were called, spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these personal revelations. His preachings spread from his native Phrygia (where he proclaimed the village of Pepuza as the site of the New Jerusalem) across the contemporary Christian world, to Africa and Gaul.

It is generally agreed that the movement was inspired by Montanus' reading of the Gospel of John— "I will send you the advocate [paraclete], the spirit of truth" (Heine 1987, 1989; Groh 1985), as well as some apocrypha such as 4 Esdras. The response to this continuing revelation split the Christian communities, and the more orthodox clergy mostly fought to suppress it. Bishop Apollinarius found the church at Ancyra torn in two, and he opposed the "false prophesy" (quoted by Eusebius 5.16.4). But there was real doubt at Rome, and Pope Eleuterus even wrote letters in support of Montanism, although he later recalled them (Tertullian, "Adversus Praxean" c.1, Trevett 58-59).

Prisca claimed that Christ had appeared to her in female form. When she was excommunicated, she exclaimed "I am driven away like the wolf from the sheep. I am no wolf: I am word and spirit and power."

The most widely known defender of Montanists was undoubtedly Tertullian, onetime champion of orthodox belief, who believed that the new prophecy was genuine and began to fall out of step with what he began to call "the church of a lot of bishops" (On Modesty).

Although the orthodox Christian church prevailed against Montanism within a few generations, inscriptions in the Tembris valley of northern Phrygia, dated between 249 and 279, openly proclaim their allegiance to Montanism.

A letter of Jerome to Marcella, written in 385, refutes the claims of Montanists that had been troubling her (letter 41).[1]

A group of "Tertullianists" continued to exist at Carthage. The anonymous author of Praedestinatus records that a preacher came to Rome in 388 where he made many converts and obtained the use of a church for his congregation on the grounds that the martyrs to whom it was dedicated had been Montanists.[2] He was obliged to flee after the victory of Theodosius I. Augustine records that the Tertullianist group dwindled to almost nothing in his own time, and finally was reconciled to the church and handed over their basilica.[3] It is not certain whether the Tertullianists were Montanist or not.

In the sixth century, at the orders of the emperor Justinian, John of Ephesus led an expedition to Pepuza to destroy the Montanist shrine there, which was based around the tombs of Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla.

The sect persisted into the eighth century. The Columbia Encyclopedia claims that “in isolated areas of Phrygia, where it [Montanism] continued to the 7th century.”

Some modern writers have suggested that some of its emphasis on direct, ecstatic personal presence of the Holy Spirit bears resemblance to all forms of Pentecostalism. “It [Montanism] claimed to be a religion of the Holy Spirit and was marked by ecstatic outbursts which it regarded as the only true form of Christianity”,[4] While there may be some similarities between Montanism and modern Pentecostalism, there does not appear to be any historical link between the two, as most Pentecostals claim authenticity based on the New Testament Book of Acts (chapter 2). There is also a similarity to spiritualism.

Differences between Montanism and Orthodox Christianity

The beliefs of Montanism contrasted with Orthodox Christianity in the following ways:

  • The belief that the prophecies of the Montanists superseded and fulfilled the doctrines proclaimed by the Apostles.
  • The encouragement of ecstatic prophesying, contrasting with the more sober and disciplined approach to theology dominant in Orthodox Christianity at the time and since.
  • The view that Christians who fell from grace could not be redeemed, also in contrast to the orthodox Christian view that contrition could lead to a sinner's restoration to the church.
  • A stronger emphasis on the avoidance of sin and church discipline than in Orthodox Christianity. They emphasized chastity, including forbidding remarriage.
  • Some of the Montanists were also "Quartodeciman" ("fourteeners"), preferring to celebrate Easter on the Hebrew calendar date of 14 Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it landed on. Orthodox Christians held that Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following 14 Nisan. (Trevett 1996:202)


Modalism, the teaching that God was not a Trinity but was a single God of three modes or manifestations, was a doctrine adhered to by a sect of the Montanists.

Cyprian wrote of them "How, when God the Father is not known--nay, is even blasphemed--can they who among the heretics are said to be baptized in the name of Christ only, be judged to have obtained the remission of sins?" (Cyprian, c. 250, W, 5.383,484)

In 225 Hippolytus spoke of them saying "Some of them assent to the heresy of the Noetians, affirming the Father Himself is the Son."

Firmilian had this to say of them "Some had doubts about the baptism of those who appeared to recognize the same Father with the Son with us, yet who received the new prophets."

See also


  • Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiae, 5.16–18
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav, 1956. Montanism and Its Trinitarian Significance (Cambridge University Press) (Church History, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 99-109).
  1. ^ Pierre Labriolle, Le Crise du Montaniste (1911); Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy, ISBN 0-521-41182-3, p. 2|7.
  2. ^ v.1 c.86 Praedestinatus)
  3. ^ c. 86 De haeresibus
  4. ^ Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, (Oxford, 1987), p. 99. [ISBN 0198269544]

Further reading

  • Groh, Dennis E. 1985. "Utterance and exegesis: Biblical interpretation in the Montanist crisis," in Groh and Jewett, The Living Text (New York) pp 73 – 95.
  • Heine, R.E., 1987 "The Role of the Gospel of John in the Montanist controversy," in Second Century v. 6, pp 1 – 18.
  • Heine, R.E., 1989. "The Gospel of John and the Montanist debate at Rome," in Studia Patristica 21, pp 95 – 100.
  • Labriolle, Pierre, Le Cris du Montaniste (1911)
  • Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament. Its Origin, Development, and Significance, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 99-106. [ISBN 0198269544]
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Christian Doctrine. Vol. I The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 100-600. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  • Trevett, Christine, 1996. Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge University Press)
  • Tabbernee, William, 1997. Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism, Patristic Monograph Series no.16, Mercer University Press, Georgia.
  • Hirschmann, Vera-Elisabeth, 2005. Horrenda Secta. Untersuchungen zum fruеhchristlichen Montanismus und seinen Verbindungen zur paganen Religion Phrygiens (Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag)

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MONTANISM, a somewhat misleading name for the movement in the 2nd century which, along with Gnosticism, occupied the most critical period in the history of the Early Church. It was the overthrow of Gnosticism and Montanism that made the "Catholic" Church. The credit of first discerning the true significance of the Montanistic movement belongs to Ritschl.' In this article an account will be given of the general significance of Montanism in relation to the history of the Church in the 2nd century, followed by a sketch of its origin, development and decline.

1. From the middle of the 2nd century a change began to take place in the outward circumstances of Christianity. The Christian faith had hitherto been maintained in a few small congregations scattered over the Roman Empire. These congregations were provided with only the most indispensable constitutional forms ("Corpus sumus de conscientia religionis, de unitate disciplinae, de spei foedere"). This state of things passed away. The Churches soon found numbers within their pale who stood in need of supervision, instruction and regular control. The enthusiasm for a life of holiness and separation from the world no longer swayed all minds. In many cases sober convictions or submissive assent supplied the want of spontaneous enthusiasm. There were many who did not become, but who were, and therefore remained, Christians. Then, in addition to this, Christians were already found in all ranks and occupations - in the Imperial palace, among the officials, in the abodes of labour and the halls of learning, amongst slaves and freemen. Should the Church take the decisive step into the world, conform to its customs, and acknowledge as far as possible its authorities ? Or ought she, on the other hand, to remain a society of religious devotees, separated and shut out from the world? That this was the question at issue is obvious enough now, although it could not be clearly perceived at the time. It was natural that warning voices should then be raised in the Church against secular tendencies, that the wellknown counsels about the imitation of Christ should be held up in their literal strictness before worldly Christians. The Church as a whole, however, under pressure of circumstances rather than by a spontaneous impulse, decided otherwise. She marched through the open door into the Roman state, and settled down there to Christianize the state by imparting to it the word of the Gospel, but at the same time leaving it everything except its gods. On the other hand, she furnished herself with everything of value that could be taken over from the world without overstraining the elastic structure of the organization which she now adopted. With the aid of its philosophy she created her new Christian theology; its polity furnished her with the most exact constitutional forms; its jurisprudence, its trade and commerce, its art and industry, were all taken into her service; and she contrived to borrow some hints even from its religious worship. With this equipment she undertook, and carried through, a world-mission on a grand scale. But believers of the old school protested in the name of the Gospel against this secular Church. They joined an enthusiastic movement which had originated in a remote province, and had at first a merely local importance. There, in Phrygia, the cry for a strict Christian life was reinforced by the belief in a new and final outpouring of the Spirit - a coincidence which has been observed elsewhere in Church history - as, for instance, among the early Quakers and in the Irvingite movement. These 1 Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche, 2nd ed. Bonn. (1857).

zealots hailed the appearance of the Paraclete in Phrygia, and surrendered themselves to his guidance. In so doing, however, they had to withdraw from the Church, to be known as "Montanists," or "Kataphrygians," and thus to assume the character of the sect. Their enthusiasm and their prophesyings were denounced as demoniacal; their expectation of a glorious earthly kingdom of Christ was stigmatized as Jewish, their passion for martyrdom as vainglorious and their whole conduct as hypocritical. Nor did they escape the more serious imputation of heresy on important articles of faith; indeed, there was a disposition to put them on the same level with the Gnostics. The effect on themselves was what usually follows in such circumstances. After their separation from the Church, they became narrower and pettier in their conception of Christianity. Their asceticism degenerated into legalism, their claim to a monopoly of pure Christianity made them arrogant. As for the popular religion of the larger Church, they scorned it as an adulterated, manipulated Christianity. But these views found very little acceptance in the 3rd century, and in the course of the 4th they died out.

2. Such is, in brief, the position occupied by Montanism in the history of the ancient Church. The rise and progress of the movement were as follows.

At the close of the reign of Antoninus Pius - probably in the year 156 (Epiphanius) - Montanus appeared at Ardabau in Mysia, near the Phrygian border, bringing revelations of the "Spirit" to Christendom. Montanus claimed to have a prophetic calling in the very same sense as Agabus, Judas, Silas, the daughters of Philip, Quadratus and Ammia, or as Hermas at Rome. At a later time, when the validity of the Montanistic prophecy was called in question, the adherents of the new movement appealed explicitly to a sort of prophetic succession, in which their prophets had received the same gift which the daughters of Philip, for example, had exercised in that very country of Phrygia. The burden of the new prophecy seems to have been a new standard of moral obligations, especially with regard to marriage, fasting and martyrdom. But Montanus had larger schemes in view. He wished to organize a special community of true Christians to wait for the coming of their Lord. The small Phrygian towns of Pepuza and Tymion were selected as the headquarters of his church. Funds were raised for the new organization, and from these the leader and missionaries, who were to have nothing to do with worldly life, drew their pay. Only two women, Prisca and Maximilla, were moved by the Spirit; like Montanus, they uttered in a state of frenzy the commands of the Spirit, which urged men to a strict and holy life. This does not mean that visions and significant dreams may not have been of frequent occurrence in Montanistic circles.' For twenty years this agitation appears to have been confined to Phrygia and the neighbouring provinces. But after the year 177 a persecution of Christians broke out simultaneously in many provinces of the Empire. Like every other persecution it was regarded as the beginning of the end. It would seem that before this time Montanus had disappeared from the scene; but Maximilla, and probably also Prisca, were working with redoubled energy. And now, throughout the provinces of Asia Minor, in Rome, and even in Gaul, amidst the raging of persecution, attention was attracted to this remarkable movement. The desire for a sharper exercise of discipline, and a more decided renunciation of the world, combined with a craving for some plain indication of the Divine will in these last critical times, had prepared many minds for an eager acceptance of the tidings from Phrygia. And thus, within the large congregations where there was so much that was open to censure in doctrine and constitution and morals, conventicles were formed in order that Christians might prepare themselves by strict discipline for the day of the Lord.

1 Theodotus, "the first steward of the New Prophecy," was a fellow-worker with Montanus, and almost certainly a prophet. Later on, Firmilian, writing to Cyprian, mentions a prophetess who appeared in Cappadocia about A.D. 236, and Epiphanius (Haer. 49) tells of another called Quintilla. - (ED.) Meanwhile in Phrygia and its neighbourhood - especially in Galatia, and also in Thrace - a controversy was raging between the adherents and the opponents of the new prophecy. Between s o and 176 the authority of the episcopate had been immensely strengthened, and along with it a settled order had been introduced into the Churches. As a rule, the bishops were resolute enemies of the Montanistic enthusiasm. It disturbed the peace and order of the congregations, and threatened their safety. Moreover, it made demands on individual Christians such as very few could comply with. But the disputation which Bishops Zoticus of Cumana and Julian of Apamea arranged with Maximilla and her following turned out disastrously for its promoters. The "spirit" of Maximilla gained a signal victory, a certain Themiso in particular having reduced the bishops to silence. Sotas bishop of Anchialus attempted to refute Prisca, but with no better success (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. v. 19). These proceedings were never forgotten in Asia Minor, and the report of them spread far and wide. In after times the only way in which the discomfiture of the bishops could be explained was by asserting that they had been silenced by fraud or violence. This was the commencement of the excommunication or secession of the Montanists in Asia Minor. Not only did an extreme party arise in Asia Minor rejecting all prophecy and the Apocalypse of John along with it, but the majority cf the Churches and bishops in that district appear (c. 178) to have broken off all fellowship with the new prophets, while books were written to show that the very form of the Montanistic prophecy was sufficient proof of its spuriousness. 2 In Gaul and Rome the prospects of Montanism seemed for a while more favourable. The confessors of the Gallican Church at Lyons were of opinion that communion ought to be maintained with the zealots of Asia and Phrygia; and they addressed a letter to this effect to the Roman bishop, Eleutherus. There was a momentary vacillation even in Rome. Nor is this to be wondered at. The events in Phrygia could not appear new and unprecedented to the Roman Church. If we may believe Tei`kullian, it was Praxeas of Asia Minor, the relentless foe of Montanism, who succeeded in persuading the Roman bishop to withhold his letters of conciliation.' Early in the last decade of the 2nd century two considerable works 4 appeared in Asia Minor against the Kataphrygians. The first, by a bishop or presbyter whose name is not known, is addressed to Abircius bishop of Hierapolis, and was written in the fourteenth year after the death of Maximilla - i.e. apparently about the year 193. The other was written by a certain Apollonius forty years after the appearance of Montanus, consequently about 196. From these treatises we learn that the adherents of the new prophecy were very numerous in Phrygia, Asia and Galatia (Ancyra), that they had tried to defend themselves in writing from the charges brought against them (by Miltiades), that they possessed a fully developed independent organization, that they boasted of many martyrs, and that they were still formidable to the Church in Asia Minor. Many of the small congregations had gone completely over to Montanism, although in large towns, like Ephesus, the opposite party maintained the ascendancy. Every bond of intercourse was broken, and in the Catholic Churches the worst calumnies were retailed about the deceased prophets and the leaders of the societies they had founded. In many Churches outside of Asia Minor a different state of matters prevailed. Those who accepted the message of the new prophecy did not at once leave the Catholic Church in a body. They simply formed small conventicles within the Church. Such, for example, appears to have been the case in Carthage (if we may judge from the Acts of the martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas) at the commencement of the persecution of Septimius Severus about the year 202. But even here it was impossible that an open rupture Miltiades, 7rEpi 7rpoifr, r At the same time as Miltiades, if not earlier, Apollinaris of Hierapolis also wrote against the Montanists.

It was Zephyrinus in A.D. 202 who took the decisive step of refusing to communicate with the Asiatic Montanists. - (ED.) 4 Quoted in Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v. 16 - 18.

should be indefinitely postponed. The bishops and their flocks gave offence to the spiritualists on so many points that at last it could be endured no longer. The latter wished for more fasting, the prohibition of second marriages, a frank, courageous profession of Christianity in daily life, and entire separation from the world; the bishops, on the other hand, sought to make it as easy as possible to be a Christian, lest they should lose the greater part of their congregations. And lastly, the bishops were compelled more and more to take the control of discipline into their own hands, while the spiritualists insisted that God Himself was the sole judge in the congregation. On this point especially a conflict was inevitable. It is true that there was no rivalry between the new organization and the old, as in Asia and Phrygia, for the Western Montanists recognized in its main features the Catholic organization as it had been developed in the contest with Gnosticism; but the demand that the "organs of the Spirit" should direct the whole discipline of the congregation contained implicitly a protest against the actual constitution of the Church. Even before this latent antagonism was made plain there were many minor matters which were sufficient to precipitate a rupture in particular congregations. In Carthage, for example, it would appear that the breach between the Catholic Church and the Montanistic conventicle was caused by a disagreement on the question whether or not virgins ought to be veiled. For nearly five years (202-207) the Carthaginian Montanists strove to remain within the Church, which was as dear to them as it was to their opponents. But at length they quitted it, and formed a congregation of their own.

It was at this juncture that Tertullian, the most famous theologian of the West, left the Church whose cause he had so manfully upheld against pagans and heretics. He too had come to the conviction that the Church had forsaken the old paths and entered on a way that must lead to destruction. The writings of Tertullian afford the clearest demonstration that what is called Montanism was, at any rate in Africa, a reaction against secularism in the Church. There are other indications that Montanism in Carthage was a very different thing from the Montanism of Montanus. Western Montanism, at the beginning of the 3rd century, admitted the legitimacy of almost every point of the Catholic system. It allowed that the bishops were the successors of the apostles, that the Catholic rule of faith was a complete and authoritative exposition of Christianity, and that the New Testament was the supreme rule of the Christian life. Montanus himself and his first disciples had been in quite a different position. In his time there was no fixed, divinely instituted congregational organization, no canon of New Testament Scriptures, no anti-Gnostic theology, and no Catholic Church. There were simply certain communities of believers bound together by a common hope, and by a free organization, which might be modified to any required extent. When Montanus proposed to summon all true Christians to Pepuza, in order to live a holy life and prepare for the day of the Lord, there was nothing whatever to prevent the execution of his plan except the inertia and lukewarmness of Christendom. But this was not the case in the West at the beginning of the 3rd century. At Rome and Carthage, and in all other places where sincere Montanists were found, they were confronted by the imposing edifice of the Catholic Church, and they had neither the courage nor the inclination to undermine her sacred foundations. This explains how the later Montanism never attained a position of influence. In accepting, with slight reservations, the results of the development which the Church had undergone during the fifty years from 1640 to 210 it reduced itself to the level of a sect. Tertullian exhausted the resources of dialectic in the endeavour to define and vindicate the relation of the spiritualists to the "psychic" Christians; but no one will say he has succeeded in clearing the Montanistic position of its fundamental inconsistency.

Of the later history of Montanism very little is known. But it is at least a significant fact that prophecy could not be resuscitated. Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla were always recognized as the inspired authorities. At rare intervals a vision might perhaps be vouchsafed to some Montanistic old woman, or a brother might now and then have a dream that seemed to be of supernatural origin; but the overmastering power of religious enthusiasm was a thing of which the Montanists knew as little as the Catholics. Their discipline was attended with equally disappointing results. In place of an intense moral earnestness, we find in Tertullian a legal casuistry, a finical morality, from which no good could ever come. It was only in the land of its nativity that Montanism held its ground till the 4th century. It maintained itself there in a number of close communities, probably in places where no Catholic congregation had been formed; and to these the Novatians at a later period attached themselves. In Carthage there existed down to the year 400 a sect called Tertullianists; and in their survival we have a striking testimony to the influence of the great Carthaginian teacher. On doctrinal questions there was no real difference between the Catholics and the Montanists. The early Montanists (the prophets themselves) used expressions which seem to indicate a Monarchian conception of the person of Christ. After the close of the 2nd century we find two sections amongst the Western Montanists, just as amongst the Western Catholics - there were some who adopted the Logos-Christology, and others who remained Monarchians.1 Sources. - The materials for the history of Montanism, although plentiful, are fragmentary, and require a good deal of critical sifting. They may be divided into four groups: (1) The utterances of Montanus, Prisca and Maximilla 2 are our most important sources, but unfortunately they consist of only twenty-one short sayings. (2) The works written by Tertullian after he became a Montanist furnish the most copious information - not, however, about the first stages of the movement, but only about its later phase, atter the Catholic Church was established. (3) The oldest polemical works of the 2nd century, extracts from which have been preserved, especially by Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. bk. v.), form the next group. These must be used with the utmost caution, because even the earliest orthodox writers give currency to many misconceptions and calumnies. (4) The later lists of heretics, and the casual notices of Church fathers from the 3rd to the 5th century, though not containing much that is of value, yet contain a little.3 1 It is evident that Montanism was by no means homogeneous. Too often the primitive "heresy of the Phrygians" has been studied in the light of the matured system of Tertullian. One great divergence is manifest: Tertullian never himself deviated from orthodoxy and vehemently asserts the orthodoxy of all Montanists, but both Montanus ("I am the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost") and Maximilla ("I am Word and Spirit and Power") used language which has a distinctly "monarchian" flavour. There were really divided views on the question of the Divine Monarchy among the Montanists as among the Catholics. The orthodox party were known as the Cataproclans, the heterodox as Cataeschinites, and both appealed to the oracles of their prophets. Other influences tending to diversity were the rise of later prophets and visionaries, the personality of prominent members of the sect (like Tertullian himself, who gave to Montanism much more than he received from it), and the power of local environment. An examination of Phrygian as distinct from African Montanism leads to the following conclusions: (I) The Phrygians claimed to have received the prophetic gift by way of succession just as the bishops traced their office back to the apostles; Tertullian seems to ignore the intermediate steps between the apostles and Montanus; (2) the "ecstasy" of the African section was much more restrained than the ravings of the Phrygians; (3) the original Montanists followed the example of the Phrygian native cults in assigning a prominent place to women, Tertullian on the other hand (De virg. vel. 9) says, "It is not permitted to a woman to speak in church, nor yet to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to assume any office which belongs to a man, least of all the priesthood;" (4) while both sections gave to prophets the power of absolution, the Phrygians extended it to martyrs also - at Carthage the Catholics did this contrary to the views of Tertullian. There is also good reason to doubt whether the Phrygian Montanists were anything like so ascetic and desirous of martyrdom as has been generally considered. Apollonius (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. v. 16) accuses them of covetousness and tells us that Themiso purchased his freedom from imprisonment by a considerable payment. Sir William Ramsay has also shown that martyrdoms in Phrygia were rare during the end of the 2nd and the whole of the 3rd century, a spirit of religious compromise prevailing between the Christian and pagan populations (see a paper by H. J. Lawlor in the Journal of Theological Studies for July, 1908, vol. ix. 481).

2 Collected by Munter and by Bonwetsch, Geschichte des Montanismus, p. 197.

3 On the sources see Bonwetsch, pp. 16-55.

LITERATu U'E. - Ritsthl's investigations,referred to above,supersede the older works of Tillemont, Wernsdorf, Mosheim, Walch, Neander, Baur and A. Schwegler (Der Montanismus and die christliche Kirche des 2ten Jahrhunderts, Tubingen, 1841). The later works, of which the best and most exhaustive is that of N. Bonwetsch, Die Geschichte des Montanismus (1881), all follow the lines laid down by Ritschl. See also Gottwald, De montanismo Tertulliani (1862); Reville, "Tertullien et le montanisme" in the Revue des deux mondes (Nov. I, 1864); Stroelin, Essai sur le montanisme (1870); ?De Soyres, Montanism and the Primitive Church (London, 1878); W. Cunningham, The Churches of Asia (London, 1880); Renan, "Les Crises du Catholicisme Naissant" in Rev. d. deux mondes (Feb. 15, 1881); H. Weinel, Die Wirkungen des Geistes and der Geister im nachapostol. Zeitalter (Freiburg, 1899); G. G. Selwyn, The Christian Prophets (London, 1900); Bonwetsch, art. "Montanismus" in Hauck-Herzog's Realencyklopadie. Special points of importance in the history of Montanism have been investigated by Lipsius, Overbeck, Weizsacker (Theol. Lit.-Zeitung, Nov. 4, 1882), Harnack, Das Monchthum, seine Ideale and seine Geschichte, 2nd ed., 1882; Eng. trans., 1901; and Z. f. Kirchengesch. iii. 369-408), and H. J. Lawlor. Weizsacker's short essays are extremely valuable, and have elucidated several important points previously overlooked. (A. HA.)

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

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Schismatics of the second century, first known as Phrygians, or "those among the Phrygians" (oi kata Phrygas), then as Montanists, Pepuzians, and (in the West) Cataphrygians. The sect was founded by a prophet, Montanus, and two prophetesses, Maximilla and Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla.


An anonymous anti-Montanist writer, cited by Eusebius, addressed his work to Abercius Marcellus, Bishop of Hieropolis, who died about 200. Maximilla had prophesied continual wars and troubles, but this writer declared that he wrote more than thirteen years after her death, yet no war, general or partial, had taken place, but on the contrary the Christians enjoyed permanent peace through the mercy of God (Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", V, xvi, 19). These thirteen years can be identified only with the twelve and a half years of Commodus (17 March, 180--31 December, 192). The wars between rival emperors began early in 193, so that this anonymous author wrote not much later than January, 193, and Maximilla must have died about the end of 179, not long before Marcus Aurelius. Montanus and Priscilla had died yet earlier. Consequently the date given by Eusebius in his "Chronicle" -- eleventh (or twelfth) year of Marcus, i.e. about 172 -- for the first appearance of Montanus leaves insufficient time for the development of the sect, which we know further to have been of great importance in 177, when the Church of Lyons wrote to Pope Eleutherius on the subject. Again, the Montanists are co-ordinated with the martyr Thraseas, mentioned chronologically between Polycarp (155) and Sagaris (under Sergius Paulus, 166-7) in the letter of Polycrates to Pope Victor; the date of Thraseas is therefore about 160, and the origin of Montanism must be yet earlier. Consequently, Zahn, Harnack, Duchesne, and others (against Völter and Voigt, who accept the late date given by Eusebius, regard St. Epiphanius (Hær., xlviii, 1) as giving the true date of the rise of the sect, "about the nineteenth year of Antoninus Pius" (that is, about the year 156 or 157).

Bonwetsch, accepting Zahn's view that previously (Hær., xlvi, 1) Epiphanius had given the twelfth year of Antoninus Pius where he should have said M. Aurelius, wishes similarly to substitute that emperor here, so that we would get 179, the very date of the death of Maximilla. But the emendation is unnecessary in either case. In "Hæreses", xlvi, 1, Epiphanius clearly meant the earlier date, whether right or wrong; and in xlviii, 1, he is not dating the death of Maximilla but the first appearance of the sect. From Eusebius, V, xvi, 7, we learn that this was in the proconsulship of Gratus. Such a proconsul of Asia is not known. Bonwetsch accepts Zahn's suggestion to read "Quadratus", and points out that there was a Quadratus in 155 (if that is the year of Polycarp's death, which was under Quadratus), and another in 166, so that one of these years was the real date of the birth of Montanism. But 166 for Quadratus merely depends on Schmid's chronology of Aristides, which has been rejected by Ramsay and others in favor of the earlier chronology worked out by Waddington, who obtained 155 for the Quadratus of Aristides as well as for the Quadratus of Polycarp. Now it is most probable that Epiphanius's authority counted the years of emperors from the September preceding their accession (as Hegesippus seems to have done), and therefore the nineteenth year of Pius would be Sept., 155-Sept., 156. Even if the later and Western mode of reckoning from the January after accession is used, the year 157 can be reconciled with the proconsulship of Quadratus in 155, if we remember that Epiphanius merely says "about the nineteenth year of Pius", without vouching for strict accuracy. He tells us further on that Maximilla prophesied: "After me there shall be no prophetess, but the end", whereas he was writing after 290 years, more or less, in the year 375 or 376. To correct the evident error Harnack would read 190, which brings us roughly to the death of Maximilla (385 for 379). But ekaton for diakosia is a big change. It is more likely that Epiphanius is calculating from the date he had himself given, 19th of Pius=156, as he did not know that of Maximilla's death; his "more or less" corresponds to his former "about". So we shall with Zahn adopt Scaliger's conjecture diakosia enneakaideka for diakosia enenekonta, which brings us from 156 to 375!9 years. As Apollonius wrote forty years after the sect emerged, his work must be dated about 196.


Montanus was a recent convert when he first began to prophesy in the village of Ardabau in Phrygia. He is said by Jerome to have been previously a priest of Cybele; but this is perhaps a later invention intended to connect his ecstasies with the dervish-like behavior of the priests and devotees of the "great goddess". The same prophetic gift was believed to have descended also upon his two companions, the prophetesses Maximilla and Prisca or Priscilla. Their headquarters were in the village of Pepuza. The anonymous opponent of the sect describes the method of prophecy (Eusebius, V, xvii, 2-3): first the prophet appears distraught with terror (en parekstasei), then follows quiet (adeia kai aphobia, fearlessness); beginning by studied vacancy of thought or passivity of intellect (ekousios amathia), he is seized by an uncontrollable madness (akousios mania psyches). The prophets did not speak as messengers of God: "Thus saith the Lord," but described themselves as possessed by God and spoke in His Person. "I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete," said Montanus (Didymus, "De Trin.", III, xli); and again: "I am the Lord God omnipotent, who have descended into to man", and "neither an angel, nor an ambassador, but I, the Lord, the Father, am come" (Epiphanius, "Hær.", xlviii, 11). And Maximilla said: "Hear not me, but hear Christ" (ibid.); and: "I am driven off from among the sheep like a wolf [that is, a false prophet--cf. Matt., vii, 15]; I am not a wolf, but I am speech, and spirit, and power." This possession by a spirit, which spoke while the prophet was incapable of resisting, is described by the spirit of Montanus: "Behold the man is like a lyre, and I dart like the plectrum. The man sleeps, and I am awake" (Epiphanius, "Hær.", xlviii, 4).

We hear of no false doctrines at first. The Paraclete ordered a few fasts and abstinences; the latter were strict xerophagioe, but only for two weeks in the year, and even then the Saturdays and Sundays did not count (Tertullian, "De jej.", xv). Not only was virginity strongly recommended (as always by the Church), but second marriages were disapproved. Chastity was declared by Priscilla to be a preparation for ecstasy: "The holy [chaste] minister knows how to minister holiness. For those who purify their hearts [reading purificantes enim corda, by conjecture for purificantia enim concordal] both see visions, and placing their head downwards (!) also hear manifest voices, as saving as they are secret" (Tertullian, "Exhort." X, in one MS.). It was rumored, however, that Priscilla had been married, and had left her husband. Martyrdom was valued so highly that flight from persecution was disapproved, and so was the buying off of punishment. "You are made an outlaw?" said Montanus, "it is good for you. For he who is not outlawed among men is outlawed in the Lord. Be not confounded. It is justice which hales you in public. Why are you confounded, when you are sowing praise? Power comes, when you are stared at by men." And again: "Do not desire to depart this life in beds, in miscarriages, in soft fevers, but in martyrdoms, that He who suffered for you may be glorified" (Tertullian, "De fuga", ix; cf. "De anima", lv). Tertullian says: "Those who receive the Paraclete, know neither to flee persecution nor to bribe" (De fuga, 14), but he is unable to cite any formal prohibition by Montanus.

So far, the most that can be said of these didactic utterances is that there was a slight tendency to extravagance. The people of Phrygia were accustomed to the orgiastic cult of Cybele. There were doubtless many Christians there. The contemporary accounts of Montanism mention Christians in otherwise unknown villages: Ardabau on the Mysian border, Pepuza, Tymion, as well as in Otrus, Apamea, Cumane, Eumenea. Early Christian inscriptions have been found at Otrus, Hieropolis, Pepuza (of 260), Trajanopolis (of 279), Eumenea (of 249) etc. (see Harnack, "Expansion of Christianity", II, 360). There was a council at Synnada in the third century. The "Acta Theodoti" represent the village of Malus near Ancyra as entirely Christian under Diocletian. Above all we must remember what crowds of Christians were found in Pontus and Bithynia by Pliny in 112, not only in the cities but in country places. No doubt, therefore, there were numerous Christians in the Phrygian villages to be drawn by the astounding phenomena. Crowds came to Pepuza, it seems, and contradiction was provoked. In the very first days Apollinarius, a successor of St. Papias as Bishop of Hierapolis in the southwestern corner of the province, wrote against Montanus. Eusebius knew this letter from its being enclosed by Serapion of Antioch (about 191-212) in a letter addressed by him to the Christians of Caria and Pontus. Apollinarius related that Ælius Publius Julius of Debeltum (now Burgas) in Thrace, swore that "Sotas the blessed who was in Anchialus [on the Thracian coast] had wished to cast out the demon from Priscilla; but the hypocrites would not allow it." Clearly Sotas was dead, and could not speak for himself. The anonymous writer tells us that some thought Montanus to be possessed by an evil spirit, and a troubler of the people; they rebuked him and tried to stop his prophesying; the faithful of Asia assembled in many places, and examining the prophecies declared them profane, and condemned the heresy, so that the disciples were thrust out of the Church and its communion.

It is difficult to say how soon this excommunication took place in Asia. Probably from the beginning some bishops excluded the followers of Montanus, and this severity was growing common before the death of Montanus; but it was hardly a general rule much before the death of Maximilla in 179; condemnation of the prophets themselves, and mere disapproval of their disciples was the first stage. We hear of holy persons, including the bishops Zoticus of Cumana and Julian of Apamea, attempting to exorcise Maximilla at Pepuza, doubtless after the death of Montanus. But Themison prevented them (Eusebius, V, xvi, 17; xviii, 12). This personage was called a confessor but, according to the anonymous writer, he had bought himself off. He published "a catholic epistle, in imitation of the Apostle", in support of his party. Another so- called martyr, called Alexander, was for many years a companion of Maximilla, who, though a prophetess, did not know that it was for robbery, and not "for the Name", that he had been condemned by the proconsul Æmilius Frontinus (date unknown) in Ephesus; in proof of this the public archives of Asia are appealed to. Of another leader, Alcibiades, nothing is known. The prophets are accused of taking gifts under the guise of offerings; Montanus sent out salaried preachers; the prophetesses painted their faces, dyed their eyelids with stibium, wore ornaments and played at dice. But these accusations may be untrue. The great point was the manner of prophesying. It was denounced as contrary to custom and to tradition. A Catholic writer, Miltiades, wrote a book to which the anonymous author refers, "How a prophet ought not to speak in ecstasy". It was urged that the phenomena were those of possession, not those of the Old Testament prophets, or of New Testament prophets like Silas, Agabus, and the daughters of Philip the Deacon; or of prophets recently known in Asia, Quadratus (Bishop of Athens) and Ammia, prophetess of Philadelphia, of whom the Montanist prophets boasted of being successors. To speak in the first person as the Father or the Paraclete appeared blasphemous. The older prophets had spoken "in the Spirit", as mouthpieces of the Spirit, but to have no free will, to be helpless in a state of madness, was not consonant with the text: "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." Montanus declared: "The Lord hath sent me as the chooser, the revealer, the interpreter of this labor, this promise, and this covenant, being forced, willingly or unwillingly, to learn the gnosis of God." The Montanists appealed to Gen., ii, 21: "The Lord sent an ecstasy [ektasin] upon Adam"; Ps. cxv, 2: "I said in my ecstasy"; Acts, x, 10: "There came upon him [Peter] an ecstasy"; but these texts proved neither that an ecstasy of excitement was proper to sanctity, nor that it was a right state in which to prophesy.

A better argument was the declaration that the new prophecy was of a higher order than the old, and therefore unlike it. It came to be thought higher than the Apostles, and even beyond the teaching of Christ. Priscilla went to sleep, she said, at Pepuza, and Christ came to her and slept by her side "in the form of a woman, clad in a bright garment, and put wisdom into me, and revealed to me that this place is holy, and that here Jerusalem above comes down". "Mysteries" (sacraments?) were celebrated there publicly. In Epiphanius's time Pepuza was a desert, and the village was gone. Marcellina, surviving the other two, prophesied continual wars after her death--no other prophet, but the end.

It seems on the whole that Montanus had no particular doctrine, and that his prophetesses went further than he did. The extravagances of his sect were after the deaths of all three; but it is difficult to know how far we are to trust our authorities. The anonymous writer admits that he has only an uncertain report for the story that Montanus and Maximilla both hanged themselves, and that Themison was carried into the air by a devil, flung down, and so died. The sect gained much popularity in Asia. It would seem that some Churches were wholly Montanist. The anonymous writer found the Church at Ancyra in 193 greatly disturbed about the new prophecy. Tertullian's lost writing "De Ecstasi", in defense of their trances, is said by Prædestinatus to have been an answer to Pope Soter (Hær., xxvi, lxxxvi), who had condemned or disapproved them; but the authority is not a good one. He has presumably confounded Soter with Sotas, Bishop of Anchialus. In 177 the Churches of Lyons and Vienne sent to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia their celebrated account of the martyrdoms that had been taking place. Eusebius tells us that at the same time they enclosed letters which had been written in prison by the martyrs on the question of the Montanists. They sent the same by Irenæus to Pope Eleutherius. Eusebius says only that they took a prudent and most orthodox view. It is probable that they disapproved of the prophets, but were not inclined to extreme measures against their followers. It was not denied that the Montanists could count many martyrs; it was replied to their boast, that all the heretics had many, and especially the Marcionites, but that true martyrs like Gaius and Alexander of Eumenea had refused to communicate with fellow martyrs who had approved the new prophecy (Anon. in Eusebius, V, xvi, 27). The acts of Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonice (the last of these threw herself into the fire), martyrs of Thyatira under Marcus Aurelius (about 161-9), may exhibit an influence of Montanism on the martyrs.


A second-century pope (more probably Eleutherius than Victor) was inclined to approve the new prophecies, according to Tertullian, but was dissuaded by Praxeas (q.v.). Their defender in Rome was Proclus or Proculus, much reverenced by Tertullian. A disputation was held by Gaius against him in the presence of Pope Zephyrinus (about 202-3, it would seem). As Gaius supported the side of the Church, Eusebius calls him a Churchman (II, xxv, 6), and is delighted to find in the minutes of the discussion that Gaius rejected the Johannine authorship of the Apocalypse, and attributed it to Cerinthus. But Gaius was the worse of the two, for we know from the commentary on the Apocalypse by Bar Salibi, a Syriac writer of the twelfth century (see Theodore H. Robinson in "Expositor", VII, sixth series, June, 1906), that he rejected the Gospel and Epistles of St. John as well, and attributed them all to Cerinthus. It was against Gaius that Hippolytus wrote his "Heads against Gaius" and also his "Defense of the Gospel and the Apocalypse of John" (unless these are two names for the same work). St. Epiphanius used these works for his fifty-first heresy (cf. Philastrius, "Hær." lx), and as the heresy had no name he invented that of Alogoi, meaning at once "the unreasoning" and "those who reject the Logos". We gather that Gaius was led to reject the Gospel out of opposition to Proclus, who taught (Pseudo-Tertullian, "De Præsc.", lii) that "the Holy Ghost was in the Apostles, but the Paraclete was not, and that the Paraclete published through Montanus more than Christ revealed in the Gospel, and not only more, but also better and greater things"; thus the promise of the Paraclete (John, xiv, 16) was not to the Apostles but to the next age. St. Irenæus refers to Gaius without naming him (III, xi, 9): "Others, in order that they may frustrate the gift of the Spirit, which in the last days has been poured upon the human race according to the good pleasure of the Father, do not admit that form [lion] which corresponds with the Gospel of John in which the Lord promised to send the Paraclete; but they reject the Gospel and with it the prophetic Spirit. Unhappy, indeed, in that, wishing to have no false prophets [reading with Zahn pseudoprophetas esse nolunt for pseudoprophetoe esse volunt], they drive away the grace of prophecy from the Church; resembling persons who, to avoid those who come in hypocrisy, withdraw from communion even with brethren." The old notion that the Alogi were an Asiatic sect (see ALOGI) is no longer tenable; they were the Roman Gaius and his followers, if he had any. But Gaius evidently did not venture to reject the Gospel in his dispute before Zephyrinus, the account of which was known to Dionysius of Alexandria as well as to Eusebius (cf. Eusebius, III, xx, 1, 4). It is to be noted that Gaius is a witness to the sojourn of St. John in Asia, since he considers the Johannine writings to be forgeries, attributed by their author Cerinthus to St. John; hence he thinks St. John is represented by Cerinthus as the ruler of the Asiatic Churches. Another Montanist (about 200), who seems to have separated from Proclus, was Æschines, who taught that "the Father is the Son", and is counted as a Monarchian of the type of Noetus or Sabellius.

But Tertullian is the most famous of the Montanists. He was born about 150-5, and became a Christian about 190-5. His excessive nature led him to adopt the Montanist teaching as soon as he knew it (about 202-3). His writings from this date onwards grow more and more bitter against the Catholic Church, from which he definitively broke away about 207. He died about 223, or not much later. His first Montanist work was a defense of the new prophecy in six books, "De Ecstasi", written probably in Greek; he added a seventh book in reply to Apollonius. The work is lost, but a sentence preserved by Prædestinatus (xxvi) is important: "In this alone we differ, in that we do not receive second marriage, and that we do not refuse the prophecy of Montanus concerning the future judgment." In fact Tertullian holds as an absolute law the recommendations of Montanus to eschew second marriages and flight from persecution. He denies the possibility of forgiveness of sins by the Church; he insists upon the newly ordained fasts and abstinences. Catholics are the Psychici as opposed to the "spiritual" followers of the Paraclete; the Catholic Church consists of gluttons and adulterers, who hate to fast and love to remarry. Tertullian evidently exaggerated those parts of the Montanist teaching which appealed to himself, caring little for the rest. He has no idea of making a pilgrimage to Pepuza, but he speaks of joining in spirit with the celebration of the Montanist feasts in Asia Minor. The Acts of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas are by some thought to reflect a period a Carthage when the Montanist teaching was arousing interest and sympathy but had not yet formed a schism.

The following of Tertullian cannot have been large; but a Tertullianist sect survived him and its remnants were reconciled to the Church by St. Augustine (Hær., lxxxvi). About 392-4 an African lady, Octaviana, wife of Hesperius, a favorite of the Duke Arbogastes and the usurper Maximus, brought to Rome a Tertullianist priest who raved as if possessed. He obtained the use of the church of Sts. Processus and Martinianus on the Via Aurelia, but was turned out by Theodosius, and he and Octaviana were heard of no more. Epiphanius distinguished a sect of Montanists as Pepuzians or Quintillians (he calls Priscilla also Quintilla). He says they had some foolish sayings which gave thanks to Eve for eating of the tree of knowledge. They used to sleep at Pepuza in order to see Christ as Priscilla had done. Often in their church seven virgins would enter with lamps, dressed in white, to prophesy to the people, whom by their excited action they would move to tears; this reminds us of some modern missions rather than of the Irvingite "speaking with tongues", with which the Montanist ecstasies have often been compared. These heretics were said to have women for their bishops and priests, in honor of Eve. They were called "Artotyrites", because their sacrament was of bread and cheese. Prædestinatus says the Pepuzians did not really differ from other Montanists, but despised all who did not actually dwell at the "new Jerusalem". There is a well-known story that the Montanists (or at least the Pepuzians) on a certain feast took a baby child whom they stuck all over with brazen pins. They used the blood to make cakes for sacrifice. If the child died it was looked upon as a martyr; if it lived, as a high-priest. This story was no doubt a pure invention, and was especially denied in the "De Ecstasi" of Tertullian. An absurd nickname for the sect was Tascodrugitoe, from Phrygian words meaning peg and nose, because they were said to put their forefinger up their nose when praying "in order to appear dejected and pious" (Epiphanius, Hær., xlviii, 14).

It is interesting to take St. Jerome's account, written in 384, of the doctrines of Montanism as he believed them to be in his own time (Ep., xli). He describes them as Sabellians in their idea of the Trinity, as forbidding second marriage, as observing three Lents "as though three Saviours had suffered". Above bishops they have "Cenones" (probably not koinonoi, but a Phrygian word) and patriarchs above these at Pepuza. They close the door of the Church to almost every sin. They say that God, not being able to save the world by Moses and the Prophets, took flesh of the Virgin Mary, and in Christ, His Son, preached and died for us. And because He could not accomplish the salvation of the world by this second method, the Holy Spirit descended upon Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, giving them the plenitude which St. Paul had not (I Cor., xiii, 9). St. Jerome refuses to believe the story of the blood of a baby; but his account is already exaggerated beyond what the Montanists would have admitted that they held. Origen ("Ep. ad Titum" in "Pamph. Apol.", I fin.) is uncertain whether they are schismatics or heretics. St. Basil is amazed that Dionysius of Alexandria admitted their baptism to be valid (Ep., clxxxii). According to Philastrius (Hær., xlix) they baptized the dead. Sozomen (xviii) tells us that they observed Easter on 6 April or on the following Sunday. Germanus of Constantinople (P.G., XCVIII, 44) says they taught eight heavens and eight degrees of damnation. The Christian emperors from Constantine onwards made laws against them, which were scarcely put into execution in Phrygia (Sozomen, II, xxxii). But gradually they became a small and secret sect. The bones of Montanus were dug up in 861. The numerous Montanist writings (bibloi apeiroi, "Philosophumena", VIII, xix) are all lost. It seems that a certain Asterius Urbanus made a collection of the prophecies (Euseb., V, xvi, 17).

A theory of the origin of Montanism, originated by Ritschl, has been followed by Harnack, Bonwetsch, and other German critics. The secularizing in the second century of the Church by her very success and the disappearance of the primitive "Enthusiasmus" made a difficulty for "those believers of the old school who protested in the name of the Gospel against this secular Church, and who wished to gather together a people prepared for their God regardless alike of numbers an circumstances". Some of these "joined an enthusiastic movement which had originated amongst a small circle in a remote province, and had at first a merely local importance. Then, in Phrygia, the cry for a strict Christian life was reinforced by the belief in a new and final outpouring of the Spirit. . .The wish was, as usual, father to the thought; and thus societies of 'spiritual' Christians were formed, which served, especially in times of persecution, as rallying points for all those, far and near, who sighed for the end of the world and the excessus e soeculo, and who wished in these last days to lead a holy life. These zealots hailed the appearance of the Paraclete in Phrygia, and surrendered themselves to his guidance" (Harnack in "Encycl. Brit.", London, 1878, s.v. Montanism). This ingenious theory has its basis only in the imagination, nor have any facts ever been advanced in its favor.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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