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Montanism and the Synod of Synodality – March 7, 2023

Have the Montanists returned?  

Montanism was a 2nd century heresy and sect begun by their leader Montanus.  The Montanists believed in a “New Prophecy,” as it was known, centered on the prophetic revelations of its founder.  Montanus, and two other female oracles, Prisca and Maximilla, would go into ecstatic visions to reveal “new things” from the Holy Spirit.  

Eusebius relays the manner of these new revelations, “and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning.”  

To the New Prophecy movement, the living gift of the Holy Spirit mediated the Church, not the episcopate, or Scripture and Tradition.  It was the spontaneity of the spirit for their unique times. Their heresies are murky and not entirely clear from history.  But eventually, the Montanists descended into believing Montanus’ and the priestesses’ prophetic utterances superseded even the Gospel. 

Are we witnessing a New Prophecy in our day?  

The Synod of Synodality is the Church’s ongoing three-phase dialogue begun in 2021 that will finish in its final phase in October 2024 in order to discern the universal voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the Church. The Jesuit publication, America Magazine, assures us that, “The Holy Spirit is guiding the process.” Some of the issues they highlight coming from the synodal process concern female ordination, “LGBT issues,” and clericalism.  It remains to be seen if these are the ways they are seeking to “enlarge the space of your tent” for the Church.    

The late Cardinal Pell before his sudden death in January 2023 penned an article for the Spectator critiquing the Synod, “The Catholic Synod of Bishops is now busy constructing what they think of as ‘God’s dream’ of synodality. Unfortunately this divine dream has developed into a toxic nightmare despite the bishops’ professed good intentions.”

There is possible reason for concern. 

Some worry the Synod is democratizing the Church and making majority rule a new structure for discerning Church teaching.  There is a basis in truth for this in that the sensus fidelium of the whole body of the Church can reach a universal assent on matters of faith and morals. 

However, in a time of great ignorance of the faith and a lack of supernatural belief in the Eucharist and the sacraments, will the sensus fidelium be confused with the zeitgeist of our age?  Is the zeitgeist guiding the Synod to soften the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, contraception, a female diaconate, divorce and remarriage, and priestly celibacy?  This liberalization is being pushed by certain elements within the Church amidst the festering clerical sex abuse scandals, cover-ups, and the ongoing crackdown on traditional Catholics in restricting the Latin-rite Mass.  It’s not exactly the Golden Age of Christendom under Charlemagne.    

Only time will tell—and that time may be October 2024—if new Montanists are in our midst, and if they may try to declare a “New Prophecy” overturning the age-old truths of the Church.  Do pray for the success of the Synod.  Pray that they will adhere to the divinely revealed truths of the Church.