This is part 3 of Heresy and Orthodoxy. I’ve been listening to class 5 from the Covenant Theological Seminary on Ancient and Medieval Church History. They have talked about Gnosticism and Marcionism. I’d like to talk about a little known movement in early church history called Montanism and compare this to Mormonism.
Montanism began in Phrygia, Turkey around 170 AD. It was quite different from Gnosticism and Marcionism. It had a huge emphasis on the Holy Spirit. By this time the miracles and prophecies that are so familiar in the NT period had disappeared . A man by the name of Montanus said miracles had ceased because of the worldliness of the church. He said the ‘Dispensation of the Fulness of the Son’ had been replaced by the ‘Dispensation of the Holy Spirit.’
Now, doesn’t this sound very similar to Joseph Smith and his ideas? Joseph referred to the ‘Dispensation of the Fulness of Times’. Joseph said that miracles were occurring once again through him, as evidenced by all the visions, miracles, and the golden plates.
Montanus claimed that the Holy Spirit still speaks, just as it did to Paul; that it’s speaking through Montanus, and that it also speaks to a couple of his associates; female prophetesses, Prisca (or Priscilla), and Maximilla.
Montanus is said to have been quoted to say, ‘I am the Lord God Omnipotent’ but in reality, he wasn’t claiming to be God, but rather speaking for God. Joseph Smith would have prefaced similar remarks with ‘thus saith the Lord.’
Montanus also believed that Christ was imminently returning, similar to Joseph Smith. Montanus also believed that the New Jerusalem was going to be in Phrygia. Joseph Smith made similar claims about the New Jerusalem being on the American continent. Montanus also stressed holiness and asceticism.
In Turkey, many congregations entirely converted to Montanism, and the movement spread to North Africa. It lasted through at least through at least the 7th century AD. His most famous convert was Tertullian, who coined the term trinity. It is interesting to note that both men were later termed heretics. Bible scholar FF Bruce referred to a conversation with a dominican scholar who remarks that it was amazing that such an intelligent man as Tertullian would allow himself to be led astray be Montanus. The instructor notes that there must have been something of more solid worth to Montanism than has generally been supposed to have attracted such an intelligent man as Tertullian.
Additionally, the pope in Rome endorsed Montanus for a time, but later recanted. Of course, the pope was much more of a pastor than head of the entire church at this time.
Ok, now you see some differences. Of course mormons don’t support women having the priesthood, but there is some evidence that women were teachers in the early church. The PBS series called The First Christians talks about women in the early church. It appears that there were many influential women in the early church, punctuated by Mary Magdalene, who was known as ‘the apostle of the apostles’, and holds the distinction of being the first person to see the resurrected Lord. There is a book called ‘the Gospel of Mary Magdalene which venerates Mary Magdalene.
The church was just beginning to embrace the concept of the trinity, though it was far from universal at the early period, especially when one considers the strange views of the Gnostics. It is unclear if Montanus shared Tertullian’s views on this concept.
Speaking of Gnostics, one author has compared the New Age movement to the Gnostics belief in self-deification. While this is not perfectly compatible with mormons beliefs of eternal progression, there are obvious similarities.
Montanus also claimed that his revelations superceded the apostles and that his words should be considered scripture. Of course mormons have the D&C, and hold similar views about Joseph Smith. This all leads to the question, should mormons be called non-Christians or rather Christian heretics? I’m not sure which term is better, but obviously the term heretic has some appeal to me.