Editor’s Reflections -- By: William David Spencer

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 25:2 (Spring 2011)
Article: Editor’s Reflections
Author: William David Spencer


Editor’s Reflections

William David Spencer

In his classic study The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, the great archaeologist William M. Ramsay noted that “women-prophets were a feature of the Christianity of Anatolia”—the ancient name for what is generally Turkey today, but which, in New Testament times, included so many of the churches we read about, including the seven churches of Revelation. In fact, so prominent were women with this gift that the name “Prophetilla” was found on an inscription from this region and may actually be a unique Christian term created to designate a female prophet. Since “there is nothing to mark this inscription as later than 200,” one wonders what happened to this flourishing and noted “feature” of early Christianity. Ramsay’s next observation explains that prophesying women were “in the Catholic church before the latter part of the second century, and in the Montanist Church even after that time.”1

Montanism—this is what silenced the Phrygian women. Somewhere between AD 156 and 172,2 “a fresh crop of heretical sects” suddenly appeared “to injure the church,” notes Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, writing in the early 300s the first extensive history of our faith, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. As he put it, “some members of these crawled like poisonous reptiles over Asia and Phrygia, boasting of Montanus ‘the Paraclete’ and his female adherents Priscilla and Maximilla, alleged to have been his prophetesses.”3 A new convert, Montanus suddenly announced that he himself was the Holy Spirit. In ecstatic states, he and the women made all sorts of outrageous claims—that Christ was about to return to Pepuza in Phrygia (which Montanus now called “Jerusalem”), that everyone should look forward eagerly to be martyred (and until that time severe fasting would be in order), that second marriages were banned and marriage itself was frowned upon (Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld point out that Maximilla and Priscilla, who was by no means the Priscilla of the New Testament, who lived more than a century before, “were accused of leaving their husbands to follow Montanus”).4 Despite all this and more, the apocalyptic fervor of Montanism exerted its impact everywhere. With no streaming news or email or Facebook to check out Montanus and his colleagues’ actual message, many thought the movement was orthodox and simply insisting on an austerity they found a refreshing reform movement reacting against what they considered the worldliness that had been polluting the church. Even the great...

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