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The New Prophecy or "Montanism" Angelo, Camille Leon


The New Prophecy refers to the Christian prophetic movement led by the prophets Montanus, Maximilla, and Priscilla. Later known as "Montanism," the movement began in the second half of the second century CE in Roman Phrygia, which is in the west-central part of Anatolia, present-day Turkey. It quickly spread beyond Phrygia and, by the mid-third century, had reached Rome, Carthage, Thrace, and Gaul. By the early fifth century, no adherents of the New Prophecy movement remained in North Africa (Optatus of Milevis, Against the Donatists 1.9; Augustine Letter 118.12) or Rome (Praedestinatus, 1.86). In the mid-sixth century, Emperor Justinian I's forces, led by John of Ephesus, attacked Pepouza and burned the group's literature, bringing a decisive end to the already dwindling New Prophecy in Asia Minor. The New Prophecy was controversial. Critics took issue with the movement's ascetic rigor, eschatological beliefs, and the prominent role women played in leading it. However, the most significant source of controversy was the ecstatic prophecies the group's adherents claimed to receive from the Holy Spirit. The movement proclaimed their prophecies constituted supplementary divine revelations with equal or greater authority than those of the previous apostolic traditions. Like the apostle Paul, the New Prophecy, thus, appealed to divine visions as the source of their familiarity with and authorization from Christ. As such, the prophetic movement posed an aggravating challenge to contemporaneous Christian groups whose authority rested entirely upon apostolic succession. In the late third century, the movement was condemned as a heresy. The term "Montanism" was bestowed by fourth-century heresiologists. Later commentators also called adherents of the New Prophecy Cataphrygians, Pepouzians, Quintillianists, and Priscillianists. Scholars have traditionally referred to the New Prophecy movement of the second and third centuries as "Montanism," despite the fact that it is a fourth-century neologism and imbues connotations of heresy not associated with the movement until the late third century. The New Prophecy is known almost exclusively through the third- and fourth-century heresiological accounts of the movement's opponents. These sources also provide fourteen oracles, which scholars believe are genuine expressions of the New Prophecy. A few inscriptions and Tertullian's early third-century writings constitute the only evidence for New Prophecy that survives independently of heresiological texts. Identifying specific texts from Tertullian's corpus as "Montanist" has prompted scholars to take Tertullian's views as representative of the broader New Prophecy movement. However, scholars have debated the extent to which Tertullian's early third-century writings represent the New Prophecy movement and its teachings. Several of Tertullian's so-called "Montanist" works convey idiosyncratic thoughts that are not consistent with the other evidence for the movement. As such, Tertullian must be treated exclusively as a witness to the New Prophecy's Carthaginian reception in the first decades of the third century and not representative of Montanism elsewhere or at other times.

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