Montanus was a second-century convert to the Christian faith in ancient Phrygia (now part of central Turkey). He may previously have been a priest of the popular pagan goddess, Cybele, who was worshipped in wild excitement and raving frenzy.

In about AD 170, Montanus became the leader of a movement known as the 'New Prophecy'. (It was actually opponents who called the group 'the Phrygians', and later 'the Montanisis'.) He was joined by two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla. Montanus was inspired by the belief that he was living in the age of the Holy Spirit. Christians should not look back nostalgically to the age of the apostles, but allow the Spirit to lead them in the present. Montanus normally referred to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete (the title Jesus used in John's Gospel). He was strongly influenced by Jesus' promises about the future work of the Paraclete, and sometimes claimed to be the direct mouthpiece of the Spirit, speaking in the first person, rather like the Old Testament prophets: 'I am the Father and the Son and the Paraclete'; 'I am neither angel nor envoy, but I, the Lord God, the Father, it is I who have come.'

But the Montanist prophets were attacked not for what they said, but for how they said it. They prophesied, it was claimed, in a manner unheard of among Christian prophets. They were 'filled with spiritual excitement and fell into a kind of trance and unnatural ecstasy'. This probably did not mean speaking in tongues, but rather prophesying in a state of intense excitement.

The burden of Montanus's message was that the end of the world was near. Maximilla predicted: 'After me there will be no more prophecy, but the End.' In order to prepare for the coming crisis, Montanus gathered his followers ...

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