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The struggle lasted more than half a century; but the victory was never doubtful. The Phrygians, as they were called, had but one fault; it was grave; it was to do what the apostles did; and that when, for a hundred years back, the freedom of the charismas had been nothing but an inconvenience. The Church was already too strongly constituted for the undisciplined character of the Phrygians to do her real harm. While admiring the saints who produced this grand school of asceticism, the immense majority of the faithful refused to leave their pastors to follow wandering masters. Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla died without leaving any successors. What assured the triumph of the orthodox Church was the talent of its polemics. 127Apollinaris of Hierapolis led all who were not blinded by fanaticism. Miltiades developed the theory that “a prophet ought not to speak in ecstasy of a book which was held to be one of the bases of Christian theology.” Serapion of Antioch collected, about 195, the evidences which condemned the innovators. Clement of Alexandria betook himself to refute them.

The most complete among the works which kept up the controversy was that of a certain Apollonius, unknown elsewhere, who wrote forty years after the appearance of Montanus (that is to say between 200 and 400). It is by extracts from this that Eusebius has preserved to us what we know of the origins of the sect. Another bishop, whose name has not been preserved to us, composed a kind of history of this singular movement, fifteen years after the death of Maximilla, under the Severuses. To the same literature probably belongs the writing of which the fragment known under the name of the Canon of Muratori makes a part, directed at the same time, it would appear, against the Gnostic dreams. The Montanists, indeed, could not look for less than to have admitted to the body of the New Testament the prophecies of Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla. The conference which took place about 210 between Proclus, become the chief of the sect, and the Roman priest Caïus, turned on this point. Generally, the Church of Rome, up to Zephyrin, held very strongly against these innovations.

Animosity was great on both sides; they excommunicated each other reciprocally. When the confessors of the two parties were drawn together by martyrdom, they separated from each other, and would have nothing in common. The orthodox redoubled calumnies and sophistries to prove that the Montanist martyrs (and no church had 128more) were all miscreants or impostors, and especially to establish that the authors of this sect had perished miserably, by suicide, as madmen, out of their minds, having become the dupes or the prey of the devil.

The infatuation of certain towns in Asia Minor for these pious follies knew no bounds. The Church of Ancyra, at a special moment, was quite drawn with its elders towards the dangerous novelties. It needed the close reasoning of the nameless bishop and of Zoticus of Otre to open their eyes, and even their conversion was not lasting. Ancyra, in the fourth century, continued to be the scene of the same aberrations. The Church of Thyatira was attacked in a still deeper manner. Phrygianism had established its stronghold there, and for a long time this old church was considered lost to Christendom. The councils of Iconium and of Synnade, about 231, realised the evil without being able to cure it. The extreme credulity of these honest populations of the centre of Asia Minor, Phrygians, Galatians, &c., had been the cause of their prompt conversion to Christianity, and now this credulity placed them at the mercy of all illusions. Phrygian became nearly synonymous with heretic. About 235, a new prophetess rose from the fields of Cappadocia, going with naked feet among the mountains, announcing the end of the world, administering the sacraments and desiring to draw her disciples to Jerusalem. Under Decius, the Montanists furnished a considerable contingent to martyrdom.

We shall see the perplexity of conscience which the sectaries of Phrygia will cause to the confessors of Lyons, in the very height of their struggle. Divided between admiration for so much holiness and the astonishment which these oddities caused to their right minds, our heroic and sensible compatriots 129tried in vain to stifle the discussion. For a moment even the Church of Rome was surprised. Bishop Zephyrin had already almost recognised the prophecies of Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla, when an ardent Asian, a confessor of the faith, Epigones, called Praxeas, who knew the sectaries better than the elders at Rome, unveiled the weaknesses of the pretended prophets, and showed the pope that he could not approve of these dreams without giving the lie to his predecessors who had condemned them.

The debate complicated the question of penitence and reconciliation. The bishops claimed the right to absolve, and used it with a freedom which offended the Puritans. The illuminated pretended that they alone could replace the soul into favour with God, and they showed themselves as very severe. Every mortal sin (homicide, idolatry, blasphemy, adultery, fornication) shut, according to them, the avenue to repentance. If these extraordinary principles had remained confined in the remote provinces of Catacecaumena, the evil would have been a small matter. Unfortunately, the little sect of Phrygia served as the nucleus to a considerable party, who presented some real dangers, since it was capable of drawing away from the orthodox Church its most illustrious apologist, Tertullian.

This party, which dreamed of an immaculate Church, and only obtained a strict conventicle, succeeded, in spite of its very exaggerations, in recruiting from the Church all the austere and excessive. It had so much of the logic of Christianity. We have already seen the same thing happen in the case of the Encratites and Tatian. With its unnatural abstinences, its disesteem of marriage, its condemnation of second marriage, Montanism was nothing else than a consequent 130millenarianism, and millenarianism was Christianity itself. “Who would mix up,” said Tertullian, “cares of nurselings with the last judgment? It will be beautiful to see flowing bosoms, the nauseas of an accouched woman, and squalling brats mingled with the appearance of the Judge and the sounds of the trumpet. Oh! good, wise women—the executioners of the Antichrist!” The enthusiasts related how, during forty years, they had seen every morning, hanging in the sky in Judea, a city which vanished when one drew near it. They invoked, to prove the reality of this vision, the evidence of the Pagans, and each one imagined the delights he should enjoy in this heavenly dwelling as compensation for the sacrifices he had made here below.

Africa especially, by its ardour and harshness, fell into this snare. Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, innumerable are the different names under which was produced the spirit of undiscipline, the unhealthy ardour of the martyr, hatred to the Episcopate, millenarian dreams, which always were classic ground to the Berber races. These rigorists who revolted against being called a sect, but who in every church gave themselves out as the elect, as Christian souls worthy of that name, these Puritans, implacable towards those who wished to repent, became the worst scourge of Christianity. Tertullian treats the general church as a cave of adulterers and prostitutes. The bishops, not having either the gift of prophecy nor of miracles, would, in the eyes of the enthusiasts, be lower than pneumatics. It is by them, and not by the official hierarchy, that the transmission of the sacramental graces, the movement of the Church and progress are accomplished. The true Christian, only living in prospect of the last judgment and of martyrdom, passes his life in contemplation. 131Not only should he not flee from persecution, but he is commanded to seek it. He must prepare without ceasing for martyrdom as for a necessary complement of the Christian life. The natural end of the Christian is to die in torture. An unbridled credulousness, a faith to the uttermost in the spiritualistic charismas, made of Montanism one of the most extraordinary types of fanaticism which the history of humanity records.

What it has of weight about it is that this frightful dream seduced the imagination of the only man of grand literary talent whom the Church had counted in its bosom for three centuries. An incorrect writer, but with a strong energy, an ardent sophist, wielding by turns irony, blame, the lowest triviality, the plaything of an ardent conviction even in his most manifest contradictions, Tertullian found means to give some chefs d’œuvres to the half-dead Latin tongue, by applying to this wild idea an eloquence which had hitherto remained unknown to the ascetic bigots of Phrygia.

The victory of the Episcopate was, in these circumstances, the victory of leniency and humanity. With rare good sense the general church looked on the exaggerated abstinences as a sort of partial anathema cast on the creation and as an injury to the work of God. The question of the admission of women to ecclesiastical functions and to the administration of the sacraments, a question that certain precedents of the apostolic history left undecided, were determined for ever. The bold pretence of the sectaries of Phrygia to insert some new prophecies into the biblical canon led the Church to declare, more distinctly than she had ever done before, the New Bible closed for ever. Finally the rash seeking for martyrdom became a sort of offence, and alongside the legend which exalted the true martyr there was the legend 132intended to show that he was culpable who anticipated penalties, and infringed without being compelled the laws of his country.

The flock of believers, necessarily of average virtue, followed the pastors. Mediocrity founded authority. Catholicity began. For it the future! The principle of a kind of Christian yoguism is suppressed for a time. There was here the first victory of the Episcopate, and perhaps the most important; for it was obtained over a sincere piety. The ecstasies, the prophecy, the speaking with tongues had texts and history for them. But they had become a danger; the Episcopate put them in good order; it suppressed all these manifestations of individual faith. How far are we from the time so much admired by the author of the Acts? Already in the bosom of Christianity existed this party of moderate good sense, who have always gained in the struggles of Church history. The hierarchical authority, at its origin, was strong enough to quell the enthusiasm of the undisciplined, to put the laity into guardianship, and to cause this principle to triumph, that the bishops alone are concerned in theology and are the sole judges of revelations. It was, indeed, the death of Christianity, by the destruction of the Episcopate, which these good fools of Phrygia devised. If individual inspiration, the doctrine of individual revelation and of its change as to permanence had been carried, Christianity would have perished in little conventicles of epileptics! Those puerile macerations which could not be suitable for the wide world would have arrested the propaganda. All the faithful, having the same right to the priesthood, to spiritual gifts, and power to administer the sacraments, would have fallen into a complete anarchy. The charisma would have abolished the sacrament; the sacrament gained the day, and the 133foundation-stone of Catholicism was irrevocably established.

In fact, the triumph of the ecclesiastical hierarchy was complete. Under Callixtus (217-222) moderate maxims prevailed in the Church of Rome, to the great scandal of the rigorists, who revenged themselves by atrocious calumnies. The council of Iconium closed the debate for the Church without bringing back the wanderers. The sect died, but very slowly; it continued up to the fourth century in the condition of Christian democracy, especially in Asia Minor, under the names of Phrygians, Phrygasts, Cataphryges, Pepuzians, Tascodrugites, Quintellians, Priscillians, and Artotyrites. They called themselves the pure ones or spiritualists. For some centuries Phrygia and Galatia were devoured by certain pietistic and Gnostic heresies, dreaming of clouds and angels and Æons. Pepuza was destroyed; we do not know in what circumstances or at what date, but the district remained sacred. This desert became a place of pilgrimage. The initiated gathered from all Asia Minor and celebrated there secret worship, as to which popular rumour had fine scope for exercise. They affirmed positively that it was there the celestial vision was to be revealed. They remained there for days and nights in a mystic waiting, and at the end of that time they saw Christ personally coming to respond to the ardour which consumed them.

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