An outline of the ”Bauer thesis” – with a particular emphasis on Bauer’s treatment of the Montanist movement.



“The Bauer thesis” has become a familiar term within the subject of early church history. Its contents are in short that if one gives heed to the heretics’ own – often subdued – voices in the early church, one will find that what fourth century church dubbed heresy may have been much more widespread and early than the later church were prepared to admit. The thesis stems from the research work “Orthodoxy and heresy in the earliest church” by the German new testament and church history scholar Walter Bauer[1] (hereafter abbreviated OaH), first published in 1934.[2]


In this essay, the objective is twofold. In the first part, a general outline of the actual contents of the Bauer thesis. will be given. In the other part of the essay I will study a certain part of the work more closely, namely Bauer’s treatment of  the Montanist movement. My intention is to present Bauer’s reasoning, give an examination of the validity of his conclusions, and – lastly –  show who these conclusions are relevant for the overall frame of the Bauer thesis.. The reasons for choosing the treatment of the Montanist controversy in OaH specifically, is primarily that the issue of geographical and chronological distribution of orthodoxy and heresy has been widely discussed elsewhere.[3]


The traditional view[4]

According to what one may call a traditional, classical or “eusebian”[5] view within the subject of early church history, first and second century Christians were relatively uniform in their beliefs. The church fathers generally give the impression that these Christians put their faith in a message that was conveyed from the apostles of Jesus Christ himself.[6] In the early decades of the 4th century, these Christians called themselves called orthodox.[7] That is to say, they were devoid of fundamentally diverse opinions concerning the core truths of the Christian message. According to the traditional view, as the Christian message was being preached throughout in the world in the first centuries, it was kept inalterated and uniform. In general, heresy therefore was regarded as a deviation from an already present apostolic message[8]. The general opinion was that heretics must have been Christians of the apostolic kind at some point.[9] As we shall see, Bauer is deeply sceptical to the factual historicity of what the patristic writers set forth relating to the question of orthodoxy and heresy.[10]   


What is “orthodoxy”?

Already here at the outset one runs into a peculiar philological problem that needs to be addressed. Bauer’s book has as its subject orthodoxy and heresy. But exactly what is Bauer referring to when talking about “orthodoxy” and “heresy”? As it happens, the meanings of these words are not obvious. Bauer himself has – in my opinion rightly – been criticized for not appropriately defining these words in his treatise.[11] Bauer rejects simply equating orthodoxy with numerical majority views and heresy with numerical minority views. How then are the words defined by him? Bauer’s answer is short and ambiguous: “…’orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ will refer to what one customarily and usually understands them to mean.”[12]


Actually the term “orthodoxy” primarily came into use early in the 4. century, denoting a distinctly Christian phenomenon.[13] Synonyms of the term may however be found even earlier in the patristic literature. In the 4. century context the word generally denotes the opinion that the unity of measureable and correct theological opinions in terms of dogmatics and ethics is the condition of the unity of the church. These opinions are apostolic, that is to say, they derive from the message of the Lord and his apostles. An orthodox group is hallmarked by taking part in the common faith of all true believers, and thus partakes in truth and is a part of the true church. Thus, orthodoxy is a specific property of the teachings of the church. In the patristic literature the designation “orthodox” is also applied to exegesis, service, theological texts, bishops, or even the church as a whole.[14]


The fourth century self-designating orthodox Christians claimed that their beliefs and their faith were in a direct line from the apostles of Christ. The ones deviating – the heretics – were however not. The question is then: Were these self-designating orthodox Christians really right about this? To answer this question, it is vital to assess what the concrete nature of orthodoxy is, in a fourth century understanding. More importantly, the historian must not be content with studying the fourth century. Rather, one must naturally turn to the roots of Christianity in the first century. If one wants to know to which extent fourth century Christians really are right about their claimed orthodox, apostolic heritage, one must ask – in the words of the New Testament scholar James Dunn – “Is ‘orthodoxy’ a meaningful concept within the New Testament period?”[15]


Some preliminary remarks on Bauer’s OaH

It may seem strange to examine a book from 1934 in a 2008 essay. What is so special about OaH? Upon release OaH received more than two dozen reviews in six different languages.[16] The opinions varied widely, from high appraisal to trenchant criticism. But for the next two decades Bauer’s book was widely read on the continent. Its influence was especially bearing on contempary German followers of Bultmann.[17] In the English-speaking world, however, things were different. Here, the book seemed to pass in oblivion. But that was about to change. In 1954 H. E. W. Turner, professor at Durham university, delivered the Bampton lectures, which dealt with the relations between orthodoxy and heresy in the early church. His second lecture is in its entirety devoted to “the Bauer thesis”, and here Turner presents many critical remarks.[18] In 1963, Bauer’s work was reissued in a second edition. In 1981 Robert Wilken could refer to this happening as “The single most important factor in the study of early Christianity in the last generation in the United States.”[19] The English translation of the book in 1971 also did its considerable part in giving the book a hearing. Wilken is undoubtedly right when he says that OaH, with its main arguments, was responsible for a shift of paradigm in the study of early church history.


Bauer’s intention with his work

In the introduction to his work[20] Bauer says that he wishes to examine the origins of orthodoxy and heresy. How? By letting the heretics’ voices be heard on their own terms, not on the terms of the orthodox party. The problem for the historian, Bauer submits, is that the orthodox party eventually was the winning party – it was they that got the chance of writing the history books and shaping later generations’ understanding of the struggles between them and the heretics. Perhaps, then, if one tries to understand the heretics historically – that is, apart from the orthodox judgement of them – one will may find that they perhaps were not heretics after all. That is to say: Perhaps the groups that later were dubbed heretical by the orthodox actually were both geographically and numerically primary in a number of areas. That – in a nutshell – is the “Bauer thesis”.  


Some may be surprised to learn that Bauer, in a work titled “Orthodoxy and Heresy in the early church”, wherein he tries to examine the origins of orthodoxy and heresy, actually decides not to study the New Testament. The New Testament – being from the second half of the 1st century – is both geographically and chronologically closer to the earliest Christian groups. Bauer, however, wants to have as a point of departure the post-apostolic age.[21] In a very important passage, Bauer says: “As we turn to our task, the New Testament seems to be both too unproductive and too much disputed to be able to serve as a point of departure. The majority of its anti-heretical writings cannot be arranged with confidence either chronologically or geographically; nor can the more precise circumstances of their origin be determined with sufficient precision. It is advisable, therefore, first of all to interrogate other sources concerning the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy, so that, with the insights that may be gained there, we may try to determine the time and place of their origins.”[22]


Thomas A. Robinson’s comment is enlightening: “Believing that he [Bauer] had established that heresy was the original and dominant form of Christianity throughout much of early second-century Christianity, by extension, Bauer could feel comfortable in his conclusion that the character of first-century Christianity was not markedly dissimilar.”[23] The problem with this approach has been noted by several scholars: It is fine for the objective of locating and examining the diversity of different Christian groups in the 2nd century. But is it ideal for assessing the origins of this presumed diversity? Noting this deficiency in Bauer’s work other scholars have extended their research of the relation between orthodoxy and heresy back unto apostolic times.[24]


A brief overview of Bauer’s conclusions concerning geographical distribution of heresy

Be that as it may, Bauer tries to fulfill his task first and foremost by examining the presence orthodoxy and heresy in different geographical areas in the (late) first century and the second century. It is by no means my intention here to repeat the bulk of Bauer’s quite extensive argument. It will suffice to recount his conclusions before we later on turn to a more thorough investigation of Bauer’s treatment of the Montanist controversy.



The first area Bauer decides to embark on is Edessa, the capital of the Mesopotanian kingdom Osroene. In the centre of Bauer’s attention is the story related by Eusebius of king Abgar.[25] Eusebius here states that King Abgar of the Edessenes was “afflicted with a terrible disease”, upon which he sent a message to Jesus, asking to be healed from his sickness. Jesus, not having the time to travel to Edessa, however sent his disciple Thaddeus to heal the king. After healing Abgar, Thaddeus also publicly preached the Gospel about Jesus’ birth, mission, death and resurrection.[26] Eusebius claims that documentation of the event and the correspondence may be found in the public archives of Edessa.


As may be expected, Bauer’s has little faith in the credibility of the whole story. The account is “a pure fabrication, without any connection with reality(…)”[27] Bauer’s conclusion is, in short, that no historical confirmation of a Christian community may be adduced from Eusebius’s relations of Abgar.[28] To cut to the chase, it is Bauer’s opinion that the orthodox Christians were not the first Christians in Edessa. The pillar of this argument is made up by a testimony from Ephraem of Edessa, a fourth century bishop. Ephraem complains that the heretics call the orthodox Christians “Palutians”, after bishop Palut, flourishing around 200 AD.[29] The implication of this, Bauer submits, is that there must have been another non-orthodox group present in Edessa previous to the orthodox. This previous group then took on the designation “Christians.” The natural question to ask then, is of course: Exactly who were these earliest Christians? Bauer answers that the chronological sequence favors the Marcionites[30], of whom Justin Martyr had said there belonged “many of every nation”, and that they were called Christians.[31] Bauer’s reconstruction of the church history of Edessa has of course not remained uncontested.[32]



Next up is Egypt, an area of which Adolf von Harnack lamented about “The most serious gap in our knowledge of primitive church history(…)”[33] In general Bauer rejects the few hints that exist of orthodox Christians residing in Alexandria in the earliest times.[34] He admits that Christians must have been present early in the first century, but as was the case with Edessa, he submits that the heretics were there first. Besides mentioning witnesses of heretic groups residing in Egypt in the first centuries AD, Bauer hangs much of his argument on the existence of “The Gospel of the Egyptians”, which he dates to the beginning of the second century. The important thing about this gospel is the title: Since we do not know of a heretic group named “the Egyptians”, there must have been a time when this Gospel was the only one in use among Christians in Egypt.[35] The conclusion is then: “Thus in Egypt at the beginning of the second century – how long before that we cannot say – there were gentile Christians alongside Jewish Christians, with both movements resting on syncretistic-gnostic foundations.”[36]


Ignatius and Antioch

Bauer opens his next chapter with the following words: “Ignatius, the martyr of Antioch, is regarded as the most important and most successful ecclesiastical representative in the second-century struggle against heresy prior to Justin.”[37] Bauer starts by pointing out Ignatius’ strong recommendation of the bishop: A bishop – a strong leader to which others must submit – is needed in the event of a minority wanting control of the majority. In the case of Ignatius: An orthodox minority wanting control over a heretical majority. To support this suggestion, Bauer points to Antioch’s lack of significance and ecclesiastical tradition in the church history of the second century.[38] Of course the New Testament testifies to the apostolic influence in the city, but this influence soon died out.[39]


Moreover, the letters of Ignatius are in Bauer’s opinion a direct testimony of the relative strength and majority of the heretics.[40] Ignatius may encourage and give thanks to the congregations for being steadfast and united under the bishop, against heresy.[41] But the encouragement is not as sincere as it may seem, as Ignatius follows up with strict warnings against heresy, as if attesting heresy’s powerful presence.[42] In sum: “…his letters bear witness to his fervent desire, but not to existing reality.”[43] Again, Bauer has met criticism for his analysis of Ignatius and his context.[44]


Asia minor prior to Ignatius

Ignatius sent letters to congregations in Asia minor, and so did the Apocalypticist John. Bauer enumerates differences between Ignatius and John[45] – the real common denominator is, however, that they both fought gnostic heresy. John wrote to seven churches in his Apocalypse[46], and Bauer turns to the question of why John chose exactly these seven. His hypothesis is that John chose churches where there were hopes of achieving resound and support for his preaching, in the – presumably – same manner of Ignatius. Bauer notices that Ignatius addresses only three of the churches that John writes to: Ephesus, Smyrna and Philadelphia. As it happens, these three churches are the ones least infected with heresy, according to Revelation.[47] Could this be a coincidence? No, the reasonable inference is that the heretics had taken possession of the leadership in those churches.[48] The same thing happened with Ephesus rather quickly after Paul’s death.[49]


Bauer surveys other New Testament writings that probably have their origin in Asia minor. The epistle of Jude speaks of heresy coming from the outside of the congregation, exhorts the Christians to fight for “the faith that has been delivered once and for all to the saints” (Jude 3). But Bauer sees this last saying as a device made up to conceal the fact that heresy “had its home somewhere else in Christendom”.[50] Also, the letters of John witness the fact that docetic, presumably gnostic, heresy was widespread.[51] John says that the heretics have departed from the Christians, and he advices his congregation to maintain strict separation from them.[52] But Bauer is sceptical of this perception of the situation: “…perhaps we do more justice to the actual historical situation if we suppose that it was not the heretics who withdrew, but rather the orthodox who had retreated in order to preserve what could be protected from entanglement with ‘the world’”.[53]


Rome and Christianity outside of Rome

In the epistle 1 Clement Bauer finds the most eloquent expression of the condition of the church at Rome in the first and second century. Clement’s apparent motivation for writing the epistle was that a group of young men had usurped the leadership in the Corinth church, setting aside the older group of elders.[54] Bauer argues that Rome’s critique does not spring out of the question of principles.[55] Rather, their quarrel is with the doctrinal character of the new leadership. Taking his cue from Paul’s first letter to Corinth[56], Bauer proposes that at least one of the groups inherent at Corinth was gnostic.[57] This group, Bauer suggests, grew stronger, whereas the “Paul”- and “Cephas”-parties – which presumably fusioned and became the orthodox party[58] – gradually grew weaker. Bauer submits, then, that the new leadership in Corinth which we hear of in 1 Clement actually is a gnostic group, descending from the group present at Paul’s time. The conclusion: 1 Clement expresses Rome’s general wish to exert influence[59], but also their fear of the total isolation of their own form of Christianity.[60]


Some preliminary remarks on Montanism

After this brief overview of Bauer’s survey of early christianity in different geographical areas, we will turn to the main assignment of this essay: The examination of Bauer’s treatment of the Montanist movement. Throughout this examination, the objective will be to try to understand whether Bauer’s broader way of understanding the early church – and the relation between orthodoxy and heresy – also influences his understanding of the Montanist movement in any particular way. What Bauer has to say of the Montanists, occurs in chapter 7 and 8 of OaH.[61] Before I turn to these chapters, I will however give some general preliminary remarks on the Montanists. Who were they, and what characterized them?


In assessing the Montanist movement, one quickly turns into the problem of sources.[62] In the case of Montanism, most[63] of the sources at hand were written by Christians who were against this movement[64] and even saw it as heresy. This said, a rough sketch of the movement is fairly easily yielded.


Montanism[65] emerged as a religious movement, perhaps some time in the 160s.[66] It spread around in Asia minor in the subsequent decade, by the 170s it had reached Rome, and some time before 203 it reached Africa.[67] There it would find its most famous adherent: Tertullian. Already at the outset, the movement met fierce opposition from the Catholic church.[68] This opposition was to increase in the following decades, and by the end of the fourth century the movement was almost dead.[69] The founder of the Montanist movement was Montanus, a native Phrygian. We do not know anything about his ancestry or birth. The Anonymous[70] and Apollonius[71], quoted in length by Eusebius, are of the earliest sources we possess concerning Montanism. The Anonymous relates that Montanus was from the city of Ardabau[72] and that, in ecstacy[73], he “began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church(…)”[74] His followers, however, belived this to be a sign of the Holy Spirit. Among these followers were two women, Priscilla and Maximilla[75], who also “talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely”. But Maximilla herself is cited as saying: “I am driven away from the sheep like a wolf.[76] I am not a wolf. I am word and spirit and power.” We may also here briefly recite the most relevant parts of what Apollonius relates about Montanus: “This is he who taught the dissolution of marriage[77]; who made laws for fasting[78], who named Pepuza and Tymion, small towns in Phrygia, Jerusalem[79](…)”


Of course other features of Montanism are of great importance. Hippolytus is the first to relate the Montanist prophetesses with the Paraclete[80]: “And they assert that into these the Paraclete Spirit had departed; and antecedently to them, they in like manner consider Montanus as a prophet.”[81] Only later Montanus was accused of claiming to be the Paraclete himself.[82] “In early sources Montanus seems to be just the mouthpiece of the Spirit.”[83] Still, in the extant oracles he is speaking the Spirit’s message in the 1. person.[84] One of the chief messages of the Spirit was an imposing of a more strict and harsh moral discipline.[85] Tertullian the Montanist[86] rejected the notion that the Paraclete imparted new doctrines of any kind. But it imparted a new discipline, though Tertullian would say that this discipline actually was inherent in the Scriptures, though not yet explicated.[87] Some examples of this harsher discipline: Tertullian said that the New Discipline restricted forgiveness to the post-baptismal sinner.[88] The Montanists’ stance on fasting has already been mentioned above. Also, according to Tertullian, the Paraclete had ordained that remarriage was not allowed.[89]


Still, we have not yet touched upon what was perhaps the most controversial feature of Montanism. As we have seen, the church-fathers contested that the Montanists’ form of prophecy was proper and biblical[90]. At the heart of this matter lay the question of authority. The Montanists had no interest in rejecting the normativity of Scripture or apostolic tradition.[91] Tertullian’s opinion was rather that the New Prophecy illumined and interpreted Scripture.[92] Still, this naturally implemented an element of authority[93], and this was problematic, for several reasons.[94] The burning question was whether progressive revelation – ending with the Paraclete – was a legitimate position. That is: Whether revelation in a fundamental way[95] had ended with the Scriptures of the New Testament. Of course, this question can not be separated from the question of the economy of salvation. The self-understanding of the Montanist prophets was immense, as they saw themselves as the final and decisive part in God’s dealings with mankind.[96] Also, above, we saw how Tertullian understood the coming of the Paraclete as the final stage in a process of revelations according growth in discipline.[97]


Bauer’s treatment of the Montanist movement

After this brief overview of the Montanist movement, we will turn to Bauer’s treatment of it in his OaH. His first serious engagement with the Montanists occurs, as previously mentioned, in a chapter concerning the “General Characteristics and Operating Procedures” in the confrontation between Orthodoxy and Heresy. That is to say: He examines the New Prophecy from a specific viewpoint: He wants to find out which characteristics that are valid and general in “all” – or at least most – polemic and apologetic approaches. This way, Bauer submits, one will be enabled to better analyze the polemics – and see what of it that really pertains to reality. As we have seen above, he believes that there is a general tendency in the orthodox literature, especially that of Eusebius, of creating a biased picture of the relation between orthodoxy and heresy.[98] In his examination of Montanism, Bauer finds another confirmation of this tendency.


Bauer’s comments on “the Anonymous”

Bauer’s starting point is natural, namely Eusebius’ sources – the Anonymous and Apollonius. As the name reveals, we do not know who “The Anonymous” was.[99] All we have is his treatise, recited in Eusebius. In Bauer’s opinion this treatise has “the unmistakable style of an ecclesiastical polemic against heretics.”[100] Bauer offers a number of observations to support this claim. He first points to the slandering tone in the treatise. In addition to the hardly respectful way of describing Montanus’ manner of prophecizing (mentioned above), Bauer goes on to attack the Anonymous’ claim that the moral demands of the Montanists were only a pretence.[101] Tertullian’s description of Montanism clearly refutes this assertion, Bauer says. The Anonymous also claims that but few of the Phrygians were deceived by the movement.[102] Bauer doubts this: “On the contrary, one has the impression that the ‘new prophecy’ must have gained a strong hold in its native land.”[103] See more on this subject below.


Bauer’s criticism of the Anonymous is topped when it comes to the description of how Montanus and Maximilla presumably died. The Anonymous relates: “But by another kind of death Montanus and Maximilla are said to have died. For the report is that, incited by the spirit of frenzy they both hung themselves; not at the same time, but at the time which common report gives for the death of each. And thus they died, and ended their lives like the traitor Judas(…)They say that these things happened in this manner. But as we did not see them, O friend, we do not pretend to know. Perhaps in such a manner, perhaps not(…)”[104]


Bauer’s comment is devastating, yet also interesting: “This section is important chiefly because it permits us to evaluate correctly a considerable portion of the ever recurring polemical material, especially to the extent that this material relates to the person and life of the men who stand in an exposed place within a religious movement. Indeed, one can scarcely handle the maxim semper aliquid haeret [“something always sticks” (when mud is being thrown about)] more cynically than does this ecclesiastical protagonist, who really does not himself believe the truth of the rumours that he repeats.”[105] We will now turn to Bauer’s comments on Apollonius, a writer that he has even less sympathy for than the Anonymous.


Bauer’s comments on Apollonius[106]

Above I have recounted the most relevant part of Apollonius’ criticism of the Montanists. That is: ”This is he who taught the dissolution of marriage; who made laws for fasting, who named Pepuza and Tymion, small towns in Phrygia, Jerusalem(…)”[107] Bauer points to the fact that what Apollonius condemns also occurs – and is even praised – in the orthodox camp. Thus, the dissolution of marriage is noted with a high degree of edification in th apocryphal Acts literature.[108] Apollonius also criticises Montanus because he “appointed collectors of money” and “provided salaries for those who preached his doctrine, that its teaching might prevail through gluttony”[109]. But the orthodox nonetheless use money in their “warfare of the spirits”, Bauer says.[110] And so “something is condemned with language that can scarcely be surpassed and is exhibited in an ugly caricature, although when it takes place in the context of orthodoxy, it is worthy of the highest praise.”[111] Obviously, Bauer says, “Apollonius’ language simply betrays his annoyance at the fact that men and resources have streamed to the leaders of Montanism at such a dangerously high rate.”[112]


But Bauer has more in store. He criticises Apollonius’ inconsistencies[113], his unfairness[114], his exaggerations[115] and his maliciousness in the description of Themiso. Themiso was probably “the leading male figure in Pepuza after the death of Montanus.”[116] But Apollonius has nothing positive to say about him: “So also Themiso, who was clothed with plausible covetousness, could not endure the sign of confession, but threw aside bonds for an abundance of possessions.[117] Yet, though he should have been humble on this account, he dared to boast as a martyr, and in imitation of the apostle, he wrote a certain catholic[118] epistle to instruct those whose faith was better than his own.” Regrettably this is about all we know of Themiso.[119]


Bauer goes on to mention Apollonius’ relations of another presumed pseudo-martyr, namely Alexander.[120] Alexander – who spent much time with Maximilla[121] and was being “worshipped by many” – is also described as a pseudo-martyr. That is to say: He was condemned, but not for his faith, rather for his robberies “from rich men, but also from the poor, and orphans, and widows.” Alexander was an apostate, but in deceiving Christians in Ephesus that he was really a Christian, he somehow managed to be released from custody. Apollonius twice refers to the public archives in support this story[122]– references Bauer in any case does not have confidence in.[123] Furthermore, Bauer submits that the non-admiring comments Ap. has concerning the pseudo-martyrs of Montanism are refuted by the well attested desire for martyrdom with the Montanists.[124] All in all, Bauer’s impression is that “At best, a single case may once have been reported which is now transformed into an inadmissible generalization.”[125]


Some remarks on Bauer’s analysis of Eusebius’ sources

We have seen most of the critical points Bauer raises against both the Anonymous and Apollonius in their anti-Montanist polemics. It is hard to deny that his criticism is legitimate and fitting at most points. I therefore generally agree with his conclusion: “Taken as a whole, both of the books with which we have become acquainted here are hardly anything more than abusive satires. That of Apollonius merits the title to a higher degree than that of ‘the anonymous.’ One must reject as biased all of the judgments found in these works, even if they are delivered in the costume of historical narrative, and let the facts speak for themselves.”[126]


Bauer goes on, in typical fashion, in asserting that what we actually may learn of the realities behind the polemics, is that Montanism was a powerful movement with many followers. “The magnitude of the ecclesiastical defence corresponds to, and attests to, the amount of success realized by the movement. This defence produces discussion in which, to say the least, the church does not always emerge victorious.”[127] Bauer’s second sentence is of course attested by Eusebius’ sources.[128] The first, however, only indirectly. To endorse it, Bauer has to ignore as spurious the reports of the Montanists’ lack of success.[129] But Bauer’s conclusions on this point seem to be on rather firm ground. To a large extent the sources really do attest to success for the Montanists, even if this was not “achieved overnight, but over decades.”[130]


Even Eusebius’ sources attest the fact that the New Prophecy at least created quite a stirring and attracted crowds, cfr. HE V,16,8: “…distracting the multitude(…)” And the fact that the church endeavored to stop the prophets of the movement is undoubtedbly a witness to some success.[131] Turning to Epiphanius, we find that he relates that the Phrygians had success in converting to whole town of Thyatira over to the New Prophecy.[132] Ireneus, writing at about 180 AD, is familiar with the movement, and condemns it.[133] And of course, during the five decades after its emergence, Montanism was to make an influence in diverse areas like France[134], Rome[135], Carthage[136] and Egypt.[137]


Bauer’s comments on the signatures in Serapion of Antioch’s letter

“What Eusebius extracts from or tells us about Serapion’s letter can be of particular assistance in our attempt to achieve a suitable attitude toward general statements found in the polemical literature.”[138] This is a repetition of the sentiment expressed by Bauer above. He turns to Eusebius’ recitation of the letter, which because of its importance will be given in the following[139]:


“’That you may see that the doings of this lying band of the new prophecy, so called, are an abomination to all the brotherhood throughout the world, I have sent you writings of the most blessed Claudius Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia.’ In the same letter of Serapion the signatures of several bishops are found, one of whom subscribes himself as follows:

[I] ‘I, Aurelius Cyrenius, a witness, pray for your health.’ [II] And another in this manner: ‘Ælius Publius Julius, bishop of Debeltum, a colony of Thrace. As God liveth in the heavens, the blessed Sotas in Anchialus desired to cast the demon out of Priscilla, but the hypocrites did not permit him.’ [III] And the autograph signatures of many other bishops who agreed with them are contained in the same letter.” (HE V,19,2-4).


In the center of Bauer’s attention in this letter are the signatures that accompany the letter. Obviously these signatures play an important role for Eusebius: They show that many bishops were united against the new movement. This Bauer ventures to challenge. Signature II is of course anti-Montanist, as the text talks of Priscilla being possessed by a demon. But what about signature I and III? Number I seems to maintain neutrality, Bauer submits[140]. Aurelius Cyrenius’ self-designation as a “witness”[141] supports this sentiment, because: “Even the martyrs of Lyons favored the prophetic movement.”[142] But this sentiment of Cyrenius’ purported neutrality surely stands on shaky ground, as we shall see.  


Eusebius says that Cyrenius’ signature is in Serapion’s letter. We really do not have reasons to believe otherwise, unless we conjecture that the signature was invented by Eusebius in the service of presenting the Catholic church in a favourable light. But that would hardly seem like the historian Eusebius’ way of action. He may exaggerate, but he hardly invents. The fact that the signature does not take part in the polemics is surely not proof of neither Cyrenius’ neutrality nor his favourable position towards the New Prophecy. Rather, the actual presence of the signature in the letter points in another direction. Bauer would at this point have us believe that a persecuted witness of the church with a neutral, or even favourable, disposition towards the New Prophecy would have no qualms with putting his signature in a letter markedly hostile to the movement.[143] That would not seem consistent of Aurelius.


Bauer supports his conjecture that Aurelius was neutral or favoured the New Prophecy by yet another observation: Aurelius was probably a persecuted witness, and  his kins in suffering – the martyrs in Gaul – were sympathetic of the Montanists. But as we have already noted, there were martyrs on both sides of the Montanist conflict; being a martyr by no means automatically implied support of the Montanists. Secondly, there is doubt as to whether the martyrs of Lyon really were in favour of the New Prophecy. The critical passage in Eusebius is HE,V,3,4, where one reads the following: “…the brethren in Gaul set forth their own prudent and most orthodox judgment in the matter, and published aslso several epistles from the witnesses that had been put to death among them. These they sent, while they were still in prison, to the brethren throughout Asia and Phrygia, and also to Eleutherus[144], who was then bishop of Rome, negotiating for the peace of the churches.”


Although there is no universal agreement among scholars on the stance of the martyrs towards Montanism, I think the arguments are by far strongest in assuming that they were against it. The epistles from the martyrs to bishop Eleutherus speak of a negotiation of peace of the churches. This could, of course, be interpreted as meaning that the martyrs were exhorting Eleutherus to be mild towards the Montanists, as to keep the peace.[145] Another interpretation seems more probable, however. The Anonymous said, concerning the outbreak of the New Prophecy: “For the faithful in Asia met often in many places throughout Asia to consider this matter, and examined the novel utterances and pronounced them profane, and rejected the heresy, and thus these persons were expelled from the Church and debarred from communion.”[146] Now, if this was the Eastern church’s stance on the Montanist movement, it would seem just as plausible that an exhortation to keep the peace in the churches refers to the rejection of Montanism also in the west. The presumably conclusive argument in the favour of this interpretation is Eusebius’ designation of the letters as “prudent and most orthodox”. It seems quite unthinkable that Eusebius could have described a letter commending Montanism in this way.


Another aspect could also be mentioned. In HE V,15, a chapter placed in the section dealing with Montanism, Eusebius writes about Blastus and Florinus who “drew away many of the Church to their opinion, each striving to introduce his own innovations in respect to the truth.” According to Pacianus Epistola ad Sympronian. de catholico nomine, chap. 2, this Blastus was in fact Montanist. In HE V,20 Eusebius relates that Ireneus wrote against this Blastus, in an epistle called “On Schism”. Now, Ps.-Tert 8,1 says that this Blastus was a Quartodeciman who wanted to keep the passover according to the law of Moses. But Ireneus is quoted in HE V,24 as not regarding differing opinions in the question of the passover as being intrinsically schismatic. Probably, then, the letter to Blastus had to do with the New Prophecy. This tentative conclusion fits in well with the fact that it was Ireneus who brought the letter from the martyrs of Gaul to bishop Eleutherus. (We may also here recollect Ireneus’ general negative sentiment on the Montanist movement, cfr. Adv Haer III,11,9).


The above elaboration perhaps – although indirectly – has some bearing on how one ought to conclude on the following question: What should be thought of signature III, “the autograph signatures of many other bishops who agreed with them”? Bauer puts no faith in this kind of saying: “The statement obviously is not based on real experience, but was prompted by the apologetic need to offer proof ex consensu omnium [based on common consensus].”[147] Now, if the “signatures of many other bishops” in fact were present in the letter, as Eusebius relates, it would perhaps be no great exaggeration to say that the New Prophecy “are an abomination to all the brotherhood throughout the world”.[148] But to a certain extent Bauer’s criticism on this point seems warranted: If Eusebius knew of many other signatures in Serapion’s letter, why did he not recite the names and statements? It seems that one’s conclusion on this point will depend on the broader judgment of the trustworthiness of Eusebius as a historian. In this judgment one must also take note of the fact that Eusebius generally could be prone to exaggerations.[149]


The use of literature in the conflict

After this rather extensive treatment of the characteristics of the Montanist controversy, Bauer turns to another related area, namely “The use of literature in the conflict”[150]. He begins by stating that many works of the early church have been lost in the course of time. Also, concerning many of the works extant, we do not know the actual incentive for their writing. Bauer then turns to what Eusebius in general has to say about ecclesiastical literature, in HE V,27:


“Numerous memorials of the faithful zeal of the ancient ecclesiastical men of that time are still preserved by many. Of these we should note particularly the writings of Heraclitus(…)and those of Maximus(…)Also those of Candidus(…)and of Apion (…)likewise of Sextus(…)and another treatise of Arabianus, and writings of a multitude of others, in regard to whom, because we have no data, it is impossible to state in our work when they lived, or to give any account of their history. And works of many others have come down to us whose names we are unable to give, orthodox and ecclesiastical, as their interpretations of the Divine Scriptures show, but unknown to us, because their names are not stated in their writings.”


In connection with the names of ecclasiastical authors Eusebius also mentions some titles of works. I have left them out, as the main point in this context will be Bauer’s general interpretation of the paragraph: “What Eusebius intends by this piling up of superlatives is quite clear. It is a matter of concern to him to assert that there is in existence a body of ecclesiastical literature, as old as possible and as extensive as possible, but also treasured as much as possible in the present, and just as widely dispersed. He wants to show that the general rejection of false belief can also be found from earliest times in Christian literature.”[151] This is then another instance of Bauer’s general lack of trust in Eusebius as an unpartial historian.[152]


Bauer writes that several different ways of action were applied by both orthodox and heretics alike to give one’s own view a hearing. One might use literature, letters, personal contacts, sermons, psalms, edition of the opponents’ works and so on.[153] Finally, one could also make use of prophetic visions and messages. A natural place to turn for this phenomenon would of course be the Montanist movement. Bauer starts by quoting from Tertullian: “Again, through the holy prophetess Prisca the Gospel is thus preached(…)’For purity,’ says she, ‘is harmonious, and they see visions; and, turning their face downward, they even hear manifest voices, as salutary as they are withal secret.’”[154]


Bauer then turns to at particularly interesting and relevant chapter from Tertullian’s “On the soul”. Here Tertullian discusses the corporeality of the soul. Tertullian says: “As for ourselves, indeed, we inscribe on the soul the lineaments of corporeity, not simply from the assurance which reasoning has taught us of its corporeal nature, but also from the firm conviction which divine grace impresses on us by revelation.” He continues: “We have now amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favoured with sundry gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord’s day in the church: she converses with angels, and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men’s hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies.”[155]


Bauer stresses that both orthodox and heretics alike refer to prophetic visions and messages for support of their own position. Thus Tertullian in his “On the resurrection of the flesh” may state that Scripture itselfs gives material applicable for wrong-minded interpretations. But now, through the sending of the Paraclete, mysterious passages in Scripture are put out in the open. Scripture is illuminated and interpreted correctly: “[God] has accordingly now dispersed all the perplexities of the past, and their self-chosen allegories and parables, by the open and perspicuous explanation of the entire mystery, through the new prophecy, which descends in copious streams from the Paraclete. If you will only draw water from His fountains, you will never thirst for other doctrine: no feverish craving after subtle questions will again consume you; but by drinking in evermore the resurrection of the flesh, you will be satisfied with the refreshing draughts.”[156] Thus, in the interpretation of controversial dogmatic and ethical subjects, Tertullian relies on a source of authority outside of Scripture. But as we have seen, Tertullian would still refer to Scripture – more specifically the passages concerning prophecy – as a foundation of the claims of the New Prophecy.


Bauer points to the near futility of Tertullian’s trying to convince his opponents of the validity of the Montanist prophecies.[157] It is particularly interesting to note that Bauer also points to the Apocalypse of John as a parallel of the way the Montanists used prophecy in their self-understanding and distribution of ideas.[158] In the letter to the angel of the Church in Tyathira John attacks Jezebel, who “calls herself a prophetess”.[159] But surely, Bauer says, the attitude of Jezebel towards John would have been of the same sort.[160] In general, the link between the Apocalypse and the New Prophecy is important and should not be ignored.[161]


Brief  evaluation of Bauer’s treatment of the New Prophecy in the context of OaH

Up until now we have given an overview of the so-called Bauer thesis. Furthermore, a brief overview of Montanism was given, followed by an examination of Bauer’s treatment of the movement. In this paragraph, the object is to briefly analyze the general role Montanism plays in the broader thrust of OaH. Bauer himself says: ”The Montanist controversy of the second century has, to a certain extent, given us a glimpse of the actual causes, the forces at work, that tactics employed and the forms used in the ideological conflict within Christendom at that time.”[162]


The last, and perhaps most important, question that needs to be addressed is this: To what extent does Bauer’s valid conclusions support his thesis of the geographical and chronological primacy of the heretics[163]? Seen in the perspective of OaH  as a whole, it would seem that the chief value of his examination of the Montanists amounts to giving an example of the untrustworthiness and “dirty tricks” of the ecclesiastical opponents of the New Prophecy. This example is for Bauer a representative of what he sees as a general approach towards heretics. One will have to give Bauer the credit of having chosen a fruitful example: Several of the anti-Montanist sources, most notably The Anonymous and Apollonius, do not appear in a favourable light for the 20th century historian, slandering as they are. But it is an example nonetheless, and the representativity may not be taken as a given, excluding the survey and examination of the approaches towards heresy given in other defenders of orthodoxy in the early church.


One also senses Bauer’s wish to enhance the Montanists’ influence and growth on behalf of the size of the orthodox’ opposition. Surely, our sources amply attest the Montanist movement’s rapid growth and success in its first decades. But in my opinion Bauer is less successful in his attempt to reduce the opposition. He tries to do this for example by lessening the force – or even denying the facticity – of the signatures in Serapion’s letter. But in this last matter I do not find his arguments convincing. The noting of the role of prophecy in the battle between orthodoxy and heresy is interesting, but really does not have a direct bearing on the fundamental thesis of OaH.



Schaff, Philip (transl.) 1997 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, Eusebius Edinburgh: T&T Clark.


Adv Marc – Tertullian’s Adversus Marcionem

Adv. Prax. – Tertullian’s

1 Apol – Justin’s first Apology

Cat – Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical lectures.

Cypr. Ep. – Cyprian’s epistles

De Anima – Tertullian’s De anima

De exhort – Tertullian’s De exhortatione castitatis

De fuga – Tertullian’s  De Fuga in Persecutione.

De Jej – Tertullian’s De jejunio adversus psychicos

De monog – Tertullian’s De monogamia

De res – Tertullian’s De ressurectione carnis

De virg. vel. – Tertullian’s De virginibus velandis

EC – Eusebius’ Life of Constantine

HE – Eusebius’ church history

HE – Eusebius’ Church History

IgnPol – Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp

Refut. Omn. Haer. – Hippolytus’ Refutatio omnes haereses

Strom – Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis



– Aland, Kurt ”Bemerkungen zum Montanismus und zur frühchristlichen Eschatologie” in Aland, Kurt 1960 Kirchengeschichtliche Entwürfe Gerd Mohn: Gütersloher Verlagshaus.


– Bauer, Walter 1934 Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck)


– Bauer, Walter 1971 Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity Philadelphia: Fortress Press.


– Baasland, Ernst (red.) og Reidar Hvalvik (red.) 1984 De apostoliske fedre Oslo: Luther forlag.


– Brown, Raymond E. 1984 The epistles of John. Anchor Bible Commentaries New York: Doubleday.


– Drijvers, H. J. W. 1980 Cults and Beliefs at Edessa Leiden: E. J. Brill.


– Drijvers, H. J. W. 1982 “Facts and problems in early Syriac-speaking Christianity” in SC, vol. 2, p. 157-175.


– Drijvers, H. J. W. 1985 “Jews and Christians at Edessa” JJS vol. 36, p. 88-102.


– Dunn, James D. G. 2006 Unity and diversity in the New Testament London: SCM Press.


– Grant, Robert 1980 Eusebius as church historian Oxford: Clarendon.


– Harrington, Daniel J. 1980 “The reception of Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in the earliest Christianity during the last decade” in HTR, vol. 73, 289-298.


– Hultgren, Arland 1994 The rise of normative Christianity Oregon: Wipf & Stock.


– Koester, Helmut 1994 Trajectories through early Christianity Philadelphia: Fortress.


– Labriolle, P. de 1913 Les Sources de l’Histoire du Montanisme: textes grecs, latins, syriaques Paris: Collecteanea Friburgensia.


– Paulsen, Henning 1978 “Die Bedeutung des Montanismus für die Herausbildung des Kanons” in Vigiliae Christianae, vol. 32, no. 1, p. 19-52.


– Pearson, Birger A. 1990 Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Christianity Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


– Robeck, C. M. 1992 Prophecy in Carthage Cleveland: Pilgrim Press.


– Robinson, Thomas A. 1988 The Bauer Thesis Examined. The Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church Lewiston/Queenston: The Edwin Mellen Press.


– Tabbernee, William 1997 Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia. Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism North American Patristic Society, Patristic Monograph Series 16 Georgia: Mercer University Press.


– Trevett, Christine 1996 Montanism Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


– Turner, H. E. W. 1954 The pattern of Christian truth London: A. R. Mowbray & Co. Limited


– Wilken, Robert L. “Diversity and Unity in Early Christianity” in SC vol. 1., nr. 2, 1981.



HTR – Harvard Theological Review

JJS – Journal of Jewish Studies

SC – The Second Century

TRE – Theologische Realenzyklopädie




[1] A presentation of Walter Bauer as a scholar is given by Georg Strecker in TRE 5:317-319. Bauer is perhaps  most known for his authoring of what was to become the standard greek-english dictionary of the new testament. 

[2] Bauer 1934. The book was republished in 1964, with some minor additions and corrections by Bauer himself. Also included in this edition were two essays by Georg Strecker: “On the problem of Jewish Christianity” and “The reception of the book”. In this essay I will be using the english translation by Robert A. Kraft et al., Bauer 1971.

[3] See especially Robinson 1988.

[4] A review of the traditional view is given in Turner 1954:3-35.

[5] For a good presentation of Eusebius’ general view of heresy, see Grant 1980:84-96. Eusebius’s did not shy away from using stark and vulgar language when describing heretics. For example, when describing the heresy of Simon Magus (HE II,13), he uses words like “profane”, “impure”, “false”, “superstition”, “madness”, “folly”, “excessive baseness and lewdness”, “viler than the vilest thing”, “abominable”, “miserable”, overwhelmed with all kinds of vices”! His most used sources when presenting information about heresy, are Justin and Ireneus. Grant may say in general: “It looks as if his views about ancient heresy were shaped partly by the accident of the materials he found available, partly by the accident of the way in which he used them.(…)Eusebius’ accounts of the early heresies thus possess no value apart from that of the documents he quoted or paraphrased.” Grant 1980:86.

[6] As Robinson 1988:5 puts it: “…a similar view [as that of Eusebius] of the purity of the early church was held by every second and third-century catholic writer whose writings are known to us.” See especially 1 Clem 42,1-4. Also Hegesippus’ quote in Hist. eccl III,32,8. However, as Hultgren 1994:8 brilliantly underscores, both (a.) the image of continuity of teaching from the apostles and on to the disciples, and also (b.) the image of heretics emerging from the midst of the Christian community, are found clearly in the New Testament. Ad a. cfr. e. g. 1 Cor 7,10-11; 15,3-4; Luke 1,1-4. Ad b. cfr. e. g. Acts 20,29-30; Matt 7,15. 

[7] See below.

[8] See for example Tertullian’s prae. Haer. 29: “Were Christians found before Christ? Or heresy before true doctrine? But in everything truth precedes its counterfeit. It would be absurd to regard heresy as the prior doctrine since it is prophesied that heresy should arise.” See also Adv Marc IV,7 and V,19. Eusebius puts focus on the disappearance of the apostles. When they were present, the church was like a pure virgin. The apostle’s deaths are the definite reason of the emerging heretic errors, Hist. Eccl III,32,7-8. See also for example Strom VII,17.

[9] Cfr.  Origen’s clear sentiment in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, 3: “All heretics at first are believers; then later they swerve from the rule of faith.” (Quoted in Bauer 1971:xxiii). One may easily mention examples: Tertullian says of Marcion in Adv Marc I,1: “…Marcion has quenched the light of his faith, and so lost the God whom he had found. His disciples will not deny that his first faith he held along with ourselves…” Cfr. IV,4. Tertullian also says that the gnostic Valentinus was a believer in the doctrine of the Catholic church. (prae. Haer 30). Epiphanius says, contrary to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl IV,30,4), that Bardesanes belonged to God’s holy church (Pan 56,2).

[10] This scepticism is revealed already in the introduction, Bauer 1971:xxiv.

[11] See for example Hultgren 1994:114, who says that Bauer applies the term “orthodoxy” anachronistically and too broadly. Turner 1954:80 says that Bauer’s lack of interest in assessing the nature of orthodoxy is a fundamental problem in OaH. Harrington 1980:298 says: “…Bauer never adequately described the theology of orthodoxy and indeed seems not to have taken it very seriously.”

[12] Bauer 1971:xxii-xxiii.

[13] For the following, see TRE 25:498-507.

[14] The term ”orthodoxy” will especially be found in Eusebius’ Church history. See Hist eccl. III,23,2; IV,23,2 and 8; III,25,7; VI,18,1.

[15] Dunn 2006:1. It is perhaps relevant to mention that one of the direct motivations for the writing of this influential and thorough book actually was Bauer’s OaH. Dunn 2006:xi. Dunn himself actually prefers to switch terms: Not orthodoxy and heresy, but rather unity and diversity. As it happens, his conclusions are, in short, that even though the New Testament reflects and displays diverse emphases and individual personalities, there is a core kerygma common in the NT as a whole. This core kerygma may be summarized in three points: a. Proclamation of the risen, exalted Jesus b. The call for faith, acceptance of the proclamation and commitment to the Jesus proclaimed c. The promise of forgiveness, salvation, Spirit etc. held out to faith. Dunn 2006:30-31.

[16] See list in Bauer 1971:286-287.

[17] Bauer 1971:306. Strecker mentions an impressive list: Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen, Ernst Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm, Walther Schmithals, Helmut Koester et al.

[18] Turner 1954:37-95.

[19] Wilken 1981. Wilken wisely points to the changed sociological, cultural and theological climate in the US in the sixties as opposed to the thirties. In particular, he points to the findings of the Nag Hammadi writings, and also the renewed ecumenical sensitivity. An article by Daniel J. Harrington published in 1980 reviews the reception of OaH in the USA in the preceding decade. (Harrington 1980). His conclusion is as follows: “That so many NT and patristic scholars are still interested in Walter Bauer’s Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum nearly fifty years after its initial publication is ample testimony to its importance.” Harrington 1980:297.

[20] Bauer 1971:xxi-xxv.

[21] ”…the approximately one hundred years that follow the conclusion of the apostolic age.” Bauer 1971:130.

[22] Bauer 1971:xxv.

[23] Robinson 1988:2.

[24] The most notable follower of ”the Bauer thesis” is Helmut Koester, cfr. Koester 1971. Other examinations of the same concept are Dunn 2006 and Hultgren 1994.

[25] Hist Eccl I,13; Hist Eccl II,1,6-8.

[26] Cfr. Hist Eccl II,1,8: ”And from that time down to the present the whole city of the Edessenes has been devoted to the name of Christ(…)”

[27] Bauer 1971:11. Cfr. p. 3 and 35.

[28] Surely, Eusebius has more to say about the presence of Christians in Mesopotamia in the second century, especially in Hist. Eccl V,23,3: “And there is also a another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question [of the Passover], which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus(…)and of those in Osrhoëne and the cities there(…)” But Bauer gives reasons as to why the reference to Osrohëne in this instance is best considered as an interpolation. Bauer 1971:9.

[29] See Bauer 1971:21.

[30] Bauer 1971:22, cfr. p. 28-29: “[In Edessa] it was by no means orthodoxy, but rather heresy, that was present at the beginning. Christianity was first established in the form of Marcionism, probably imported from the West and certainly not much later than the year 150.”

[31] 1 Apol XXVI,5-6. Cfr. Adv Marc V,19.

[32] See e. g. Robinson 1988:45-59 and Turner 1954:40-46. His conclusion on p. 45 is as follows: “Bauer’s thesis is not wholly well served even by his opening witness [i. e. Edessa]. The evidence is too scanty and in many reports too flimsy to support any theory so trenchant and clear-cut as Bauer proposes. Yet his scepticism on many points of detail appears excessive, and his tendency to postpone the development of recognizably orthodox life far from conclusive. There is no satisfactory evidence that Edessene Christianity had a Marcionite origin(…)” For a more detailed account of the discussion of early Christianity at Edessa, see the works of H. J. W. Drijvers, 1980, 1982 and 1985. 

[33] Bauer 1971:44.

[34] These hints amount e. g. to the codex D of Acts 18,25, which asserts that Apollos of Alexandria actually was converted in his hometown. Furthermore Eusebius’ recounting of Mark’s proclaiming the Gospel and founding churches in Alexandria (Hist. Eccl II,16). Furthermore the assertion that the epistle of Barnabas was written in Alexandria – Bauer admits the possibility, but rejects its orthodoxy on grounds of its frequent mention of gnosis and its presumably docetic christology (Bauer 1971:47-48).

[35] Also, Bauer points to several heretical groups who are witnessed as using this gospel, see references in Bauer 1971:50, n. 28-30.

[36] Bauer 1971:53. Turner 1954:46-59 admits that various gnostic groups were particularly strong in Egypt in the second century (Turner 1954:47-49). Nevertheless he concludes: “Taken then, as a whole, the evidence of Alexandria favours the full rigour of Bauer’s hypothesis even less than that of Edessa. In both, we find the full pattern of orthodoxy develop somewhat late. In both, teachers of blemished theological reputation leapt into an early prominence. The history of both Churches suggests a certain shading off into heresy on the outer fringes of Church-life. But neither serves to establish Bauer’s further theses without a radical rehandling which the evidence refuses to support.” Turner 1954:59. For more on this particular subject, see Robinson 1988:59-69 and especially Pearson 1990.

[37] Bauer 1971:61.

[38] Bauer 1971:63. Evidence is found in Eusebius’ scanty list of bishops from the time of the apostles, Hist. Eccl IV,20.

[39] Gal 2,11-14 and Acts 18,22-23.

[40] See Bauer 1971:67-70.

[41] E. g. Ign Eph 9,1; Ign Magn 6,1.

[42] E. g. Ign Eph 7-9; 13-19; Ign Magn 6-11.

[43] Bauer 1971:70. Bauer’s treatment of Polycarp and Smyrna will not be summarized in this essay. Bauer 1971:70-76.

[44] “Nothing here supports the more daring features of Bauer’s reconstruction. If heresy arises within as well as without the Church and if at Philadelphia the grievous wolves are many, it cannot be established that the bishop in the Ignatian letters resembles a Palut rather than a Quna. The letters rather reveal the bishop as the hierarch of the whole community. If his authority does not pass unchallenged and his church is not free from danger, he is in these respects in no different case from a Catholic bishop in later ages.” Turner 1954:63. See also a thorough investigation in Robinson 1988 163-220.

[45] Ignatius is a Syrian gentile whereas John ”an unmistakably Jewish Christian”. John was in his times perhaps not as influential as Ignatius. Bauer 1971:77.

[46] Rev. 1-3, cfr. 1,10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per’gamum and to Thyati’ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice’a.’”

[47] Pergamum (Rev 2,12-17) has some members encouraging immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Also some of them are Nicolaitans. Thyatira (Rev 2,18-29) houses “Jezebel”, who also encourages immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Sardis (Rev 3,1-6) has the name of being alive, but is really dead. Many there have “soiled their garments”. Laodicea (Rev 3,14-22) is lukewarm and complacent.

[48] Bauer also infers heresy from both John’s and Ignatius’ silence concerning communities of Hierapolis (Col 4,16) and Colossae. The same reasoning is applied to 1 Peter’s silence of the districts of Lycia, Pamphylia and Cilicia.

[49] The evidence: Rom 16, which speaks of “dissensions and difficulties” is presumably addressed to the Ephesian church, Acts 20,30 and 1 Cor 16,9 speak of enemies in Ephesus, so does Apoc 2,6. The pastoral letters are, in Bauer’s opinion composed later than the apostolic times, and reveal “the desire of orthodoxy to know that the Apostle to the Gentiles…stood on their side in the struggle against heresy.” Bauer 1971:84.

[50] Bauer 1971.90.

[51] 1 Joh 2,18; 2 Joh 7.

[52] 2 Joh 10-11.

[53] Bauer 1971:92. For more on this problem, see Brown 1984:338-341.

[54] 1 Clem 1,1; 3,3.

[55] That is, e. g. ”moral indignation over the irreverence of the young people and their lack of brotherly and Christian community spirit”, Bauer 1971:98. According to Bauer, Rome’s problem with the Corinth church was not the way the young party took the leadership – the problem was the young persons themselves.

[56] 1 Cor was probably written around 57 AD, cfr. Guthrie 1990:458. 1 Clem was written in 96 AD, cfr. Baasland 1984:117.

[57] This group believed that since they possessed gnosis, they also possessed a certain freedom. Bauer cites 1 Cor 6,12-20; 8,1-13; 10,23-33 plus several verses in ch. 15.

[58] Bauer 1971:101.

[59] Ch. 6 in OaH – “Rome’s Persuasive and Polemical Tactics” – elaborates on this theme. In this essay I will however not deal with this chapter and its contents.

[60] “…the farther one travelled toward the East, the less Christianity conformed to Rome’s approach.”  Bauer 1971:102. See critique of this view of Rome, in Robinson 1988:69-84.

[61] Ch. 8 is titled: ”The Confrontation Between  Orthodoxy and Heresy: General Characteristics and Operating Procedures”, Bauer 1971:130-146. Ch. 9 is titled: “The Use of Literature in the Conflict”, Bauer 1971:147-195.

[62] For a good presentation and assessment of the sources on Montanism, see Aland 1950:105-125.

[63] Luckily we also possess sources from the Montanist side. These include Prophetic oracles (see esp. Labriolle 1913), inscriptions (see esp. Tabbernee 1997) and also some written defences of the movement, most notably by Tertullian. See Trevett 1996:3-4 and 66-76 for general references. What was the relationship of the original Montanism and the Montanism Tertullian adhered to? Aland 1960:114-115 points to the fact that in general both Epiphanius (Pan 48,2,1-3) and the Anonymous (HE V,17,4) agree that the only “real” prophets of the New Prophecy were Montanus, Maximilla and Priscilla. There are, however, other sources that point in another direction, most notably De Anim 9,4 and Cypr. Ep. LXXV,10. 

[64] As Trevett 1996:4 says, ”The bulk of the evidence is from the anti-Montanist side. At worst it is hostility of a vicious and highly imaginative kind and at best there are relatively civilized descriptions of strongly held differences of view.” The most important sources are Eusebius’ early anti-Montanist sources (Hist. Eccl V,16-18), the early source of Epiphanius (Pan 48-49) in addition to Hippolytus and Origen.

[65] As in many other cases of group designation, the Montanists did not designate themselves by their founder. It was Cyril of Jerusalem who was the first to name them “Montanists”, cfr. Cat. XVI,8, countering their claim to be called Christians. Sources in Eusebius (Hist Eccl V,16,4 and 14; V,19,2) suggest that the Montanists called their movement by the name of “The New Prophecy” or simply “Prophecy”. The most usual designation in the sources is, however, Cataphrygians.

[66] This is the dating that Trevett settles for. As she points out, the evidence for the date of Montanism’s beginnings is confused and contradictory. See her extensive discussion with references in Trevett 1996:26-46. Eusebius seems to date the beginnings to some time between 165 and 177 AD.

[67] For a discussion of these dates, see ch. 2 in Trevett 1996.

[68] See description of the tumults caused as the New Prophecy began, by the Anonymous in Hist. Eccl V,16,8-9. Bishop Serapion of Antioch also opposed the new movement in a private letter (Hist. Eccl V,19). He spoke of them as “an abomination to all the brotherhood throughout the world”, and added several signatures of bishops.

[69] See Trevett 1996:223-227. 

[70] See Trevett 1996:30 for more on this writer. He probably wrote around 192 AD, cfr. Hist. Eccl V,16,19: “For it is to-day more than thirteen years since the woman died, and there has been neither a partial nor general war in the world; but rather, through mercy of God, continued peace even to the Christians.”

[71] Trevett 1996:30-32. Apollonius states that he wrote his treatise in “the fortieth year since Montanus had begun his pretended prophecy.” Hist. Eccl V,18,12. It is, however, not easy to give an exact dating of the treatise. Eusebius seems to favor the year 172 as a beginning of the Montanist movement. Above, an earlier date is recommended, and indeed Epiphanius favors 156-157 AD (Pan 48,1-2). (But Epiphanius is hardly consistent on this matter, Trevett 1996:28-29). So – any date between 196 or 197 up unto 212 seems possible.

[72] Hist. Eccl V,16,7. The following qoutes are from this chapter.

[73] Clearly is was the opinion of the Anonymous that this kind of ecstatic prophesying was at odds with the Christian tradition’s understanding of proper prophesying. “The key question was whether prophets should be in full possession of their intellect when prophesying.” Trevett 1996:87. Cfr. Pan 48,7-8, which of course answers in the affirmative.

[74] Cfr. Hist. Eccl V,17,2: ”But the false prophet falls into an ecstasy, in which he is without shame or fear…”

[75] Cfr. Hist Eccl V,14.

[76] This is an objection – based on Matthew 7,15 – the Montanist prophets must have heard quite often, cfr. Hist. Eccl V,16,8. Maximilla replied by quoting another verse in the Gospel of Matthew, namely 23,34, cfr. Hist. Eccl V,16,12.

[77] Indeed, Apollonius tells us that Priscilla and Maximilla both left their husbands after being filled with the Spirit. Hist. Eccl V,18,3. “Whatever the truth, it seems that the Prophecy could ‘loose’ and ‘bind’ (Matt. 16:19; 18:18) in respect of marriages.” Trevett 1996:109. See p. 109-114 for a broader treatment of the issue.

[78] Hippolytus also testifies to this particular trait in the Montanists’ ethos, cfr. Refut. Omn. haer. (VII,12; X,21). See Everett 1971:105-109.

[79] Cfr. Pan 49,1,1. Trevett 1996:99 comments ”It is safe at least to say that Jerusalem was of concern to the Prophets, even though we know tantalisingly little about their expectation of Jerusalem’s descent or their perception of the relation of that descent to millennial hope.”

[80] Cfr. John 14,16; 14,26; 15,26;16,7.

[81] Refut. Omn. Haer. VIII,12.

[82] Hist Eccl V,14. See Trevett 1996:79 for more references.

[83] Trevett 1996:79.

[84] See for example: Pan 48,11,1: “I am the Lord God, the Almighty, dwelling in a man.” HE 16,17: “I am word and spirit and power.” Both listed in Aland 1960 as “Echte Orakel”.

[85] This is especially pointed out by Tertullian, cfr. De monog II. Cfr. Turner (1954):130 which points to the fact that in Tertullian’s opinion each successive stage in the divine economy made greater and more severe ethical demands. Cfr. De virg. vel. 1.

[86] Of course Tertullian was not a Montanist his entire life, he became one in 207 or perhaps some years earlier. Trevett 1996:71.

[87] See De virg. vel. I and De Monog. II.

[88] See esp. his writing De pudicitia.

[89] De monog III,1-2. See a broader discussion of this point, and also the relationship between Tertullian and early Montanism on this issue, in Trevett 1996:112-114.

[90] See references in Trevett 1996:129-132.

[91] Pointed out brilliantly in Paulsen 1978:22-32.

[92] This is documented in Robeck 1992:107-128 and 140-145. See for example Adv. Prax. II,1; XIII,5. See further especially De monog. II-III and also De jej XII,2. Tertullian actually continued to rely on Scriptural argument after becoming a Montanist, Trevett 1996:136.

[93] According to Epiphanius Montanus could say: “I am the Lord God, the almighty, dwelling in a man.” (Pan 48,11,1, cfr. also 11,9). Of interest are also the following quotes by Epiphanius: “At once this Maximilla, who belongs to these so-called Phrygians – listen to what she says, children of Christ! ‘Hearken not unto me, but hearken unto Christ!’” (Pan 48,12,4). “In turn the same Maximilla says(…)’The Lord hath sent me perforce, willing and not willing, to be votary, herald and interpreter of this burden and covenant and promise, to impart the knowledge of God.’” (Pan 48,13,1). Cfr. Maximilla’s aforementioned quote in Hist. Eccl V,16,17: “I am word and spirit and power.”

[94] Cfr. for example Hippolytus’ sentiment in Refut. Omn. Haer. VIII,12: “And they allege that they have learned something more through these [prophets], than from law, and prophets, and the Gospels. But they magnify these wretched women above the Apostles and every gift of Grace, so that some of them presume to assert that there is in them a something superior to Christ.” See also Ps.-Tert. VII: “The common blasphemy lies in their saying that the Holy Spirit was in the apostles indeed, the Paraclete was not; and in their saying that the Paraclete has spoken in Montanus more things than Christ brought forward into (the compass of) the Gospel, and not merely more, but likewise better and greater.” See also Trevett 1996:133-135.

[95] Of course, the Catholic church did not deny the Christian legitimacy of the phenomenon of prophecy (Hist Eccl III,31,2-5). Rather, it was a question both of the form of this prophecy, and of its relation to the apostolic message.

[96] This is especially evident in the Montanist oracles, cfr. Aland 1960:143-148. Maximilla is even quoted by Epiphanius as saying: “After me will be no prophet more, but the consummation.” Pan 48,2,4.

[97] It is interesting to see how Tertullian would counter the (frequent ecclesiastical) claim that the Montanist prophets may have been controlled by the devil and not God’s Spirit: “‘It follows,’ you say, ‘that by this line of argument, anything you please which is novel and burdensome may be ascribed to the Paraclete, even if it have come from the adversary spirit.’  No, of course.  For the adversary spirit would be apparent from the diversity of his preaching, beginning by adulterating the rule of faith, and so (going on to) adulterating the order of discipline; because the corruption of that which holds the first grade, (that is, of faith, which is prior to discipline,) comes first.” That is to say: The Paraclete made itself as recognizable as the Comforter by being in accord with the rule of faith. Only after that he could “reveal those “many things” which appertain to disciplines.” Cfr. De Monog II.

[98] As we shall see several times in the following, this general distrust of Eusebius shines through in OaH. See for example Bauer 1971:192: “Except where he is quoting from earlier authors, only the individual pieces of information presented by Eusebius, examined with the necessary critical attitude, are of value. If we cannot establish any firm foothold on the basis of what Eusebius himself contributes, we must proceed on the basis of what we have already been able to ascertain by inference.” (Italics mine).

[99] See some discussion of the matter in Aland 1960:109-110. He concludes that Eusebius probably did not know who the Anonymous was, except for the fact that he was an elder, cfr. HE V,16,5. 

[100] Bauer 1971:133.

[101] The Anonymous says that Montanus had “an unquenchable desire for leadership”. He also said that Montanus sometimes rebuked Maximilla and Priscilla “openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover.” Hist. Eccl V,16.

[102] Hist. Eccl V,16,9.

[103] Bauer 1971:134. Bauer’s aquires support of this assertion by pointing to the incidents that are told of churchmen trying to stop Maximilla. The Anonymous says that the bishops Zoticus and Julian “attempted to refute the spirit in Maximilla, but were prevented” (Hist. Eccl V,16,16). Later on Apollonius gives his version of the story, and he also says that it happened in Pepuza. (Hist. Eccl V,18,13). The incident “shows anew how little truth there is to the assertion that only a few Phrygians were ensnared in the false illusion of Montanism.” Bauer 1971:135.

[104] Hist Eccl V,16,13-15.

[105] Bauer 1971:134-135. Bauer sees the Anonymous’ report as a special ”form” of polemic, derived from the style of “de mortibus persecutorum” – “on the death of the persecutors”. The Anonymous form may be called “de mortibus haeresiarcharum” – “on the death of heretical leaders”.

[106] Bauer also briefly comments om Hist. Eccl V,17, “Miltiades and his works”, which deals with Miltiades anti-Montanist polemics. But Bauer’s comments on this chapter does not yield much that is relevant for a broader understanding of the Bauer thesis.

[107] HE XVIII,2.

[108] Bauer does not say exactly which writings he has in mind. But one may think of “The Acts of Paul and Thecla”, ch. 2, where it is said that: “[Paul] deprives young men of their intended wives, and virgins of their intended husbands, by teaching, There can be no future resurrection, unless you continue in chastity and do not defile your flesh.”

[109] HE V,18,2.

[110] It is highly interesting to look closer at the examples Bauer summons to support this claim (Bauer 1971:121-124). He speaks of how the church at Rome is said to be beneficent to other churches, both in teaching and in giving gifts. “If we ask to what degree donations of money could be of importance in the warfare of the spirits, our imagination would have no difficulty in suggesting all kinds of ways.” Bauer 1971:122-123. Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp speaks of freeing slaves with private money: “Let them not long to be set free [from slavery] at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.” (IgnPol 4,3). Certainly Bauer has a point when stating that this willingness to buy Christian slaves in itself very well could function as a way of mission. But one should be clear one what the source says and what it does not. Furthermore: In his epistle to the Romans, Dionysius says: “For from the beginning it has been your practice to do good to all the brethren in various ways, and to send contributions to many churches in every city. Thus relieving the want of the needy(…)” (HE IV,23,10). But Bauer replies that certainly Dionysius cannot intend that these words “be understood to mean that Roman abundance indiscriminately blessed all poverty-stricken souls, provided only they were baptized.” (Bauer 1971:123). Again, this is Bauer’s interpretation of the source. Bauer also mentions Marcion’s gift of 200 000 sesterces (Prae. Haer 30, Adv Marc IV,4) to the church at Rome to support his claim. The reference with clearest support of Bauer’s claim is Eusebius’ EC III,58 which says that the emperor bestowed abundant provision for the necessities of the poor in order that “as many as possible might be won to the truth”.

[111] Bauer 1971:137.

[112] Bauer 1971:137.

[113] The Montanists are fasting. Still, they’re gluttons. HE V,18,2.

[114] Maximilla should not be called a virgin, since she once was married. HE V,18,3. But Ignatius says that virgins are called “widows” in the church, IgnSmyr 13,1.

[115] Ap. asks: ”Does not all Scripture seem to you to forbid a prophet to receive gifts and money?” HE V,18,4.

[116] Trevett 1996:48-49.

[117] An action condemned by Tertullian in De fuga 12.

[118] Probably meaning an epistle with no particular addressee, cfr. Schaff 1997:235 n. 11.

[119] He is also mentioned in the passing, by the Anonymous: “[the holy bishops] whose mouths the followers of Themiso muzzled, refusing to permit the false and seductive spirit to be refuted by them.” HE V,16,17.

[120] All we know of this Alexander is contained in Eusebius’ source, HE V,18,6-10 – perhaps also in addition to HE V,16,22: “…among those who suffered martyrdom with Gaius and Alexander of Eumenia(…)”

[121] That Maximilla probably must have known the nature of this man, is a fact not in her favour: ”Exposing him, through him we expose also the pretense of the prophet.” Apollonius continues: “We could show the same thing of many others.” (HE V,16,9-10).

[122] HE V,18,7 and 9.

[123] He refers to his own investigations on the role of public archives in defending the details of the life of Jesus, Bauer 1971:139-140.

[124] See e. g. HE V,16,20: ”…they try to take refuge in their martyrs and that this is sure evidence of the power of the so-called prophetic spirit that is with them.” and 18,5: “[Themiso] dared to boast as martyr(…)” Though this is true, then, there is no reason to suppose that the desire for martyrdom was particularly stronger with the Montanists than with the Catholics. In both camps martyrdom was seen as an honoured and godly way to die. Cfr. the extensive discussion in Trevett 1996:121-129.

[125] Bauer 1971:140.

[126] Bauer 1971:141. Cfr. also his conclusion on p. 145 which, at least pertaining to the Anonymous and Apollinaris, seems valid: “Defamation of the enemy perhaps plays a greater role in these circles than proof from scripture.”

[127] Bauer 1971:142.

[128] HE V,16,9 and 17.

[129] E. g. HE V,16,4: “…those of the opposite side were for the time confounded, and the adversaries were grieved.” 9: ”But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number.”

[130] Trevett 1996:50.

[131] Cfr. HE V,16,8; 18,13 and 19,3.

[132] Pan LI,33,2-3: ”For since these Phrygians settled [in Thyatira], snatched the simple believers’ minds like wolves, and converted the whole town to their sect(…)

[133] Adv Haer III,11,9.

[134] HE V,3,4.

[135] HE II,25,6.

[136] Where Tertullian resided.

[137] See e. g. Strom IV,13 and VII,17.  

[138] Bauer 1971:142.

[139] The captioned roman numbers are added by me.

[140] Bauer 1971:144.

[141] Which probably means ”witness under persecution”, cfr. Schaff 1997:237 n. 8.

[142] Bauer 1971:144.

[143] This is even more so if the signatures in Serapion’s letter were derived from Apollinaris’ treatise, as Bauer says is possible, Bauer 1971:143 n.25.

[144] Eleutherus was bishop of Rome probably from 174 to 189, cfr. Schaff 1997:211 n. 2. He is probably not the bishop in question in Adv Prax 1, where Tertullian speaks of a Roman bishop who acknowledged Montanism but later retracted his views. This bishop was probably Eleutherus’ successor Victor I (189-198 or 199), though this is disputed. 

[145] Cfr. For example Grant 1980:90: “Though Eusebius calls the judgement of the brothers in Gaul ‘pious and most orthodox’, we must infer that since it promoted peace it cannot have included denunciation of the Phrygians as heretics.”

[146] HE V,16,10.

[147] Bauer 1971:144.

[148] HE V,19,2.

[149] On numerous occasions in OaH Bauer criticises Eusebius for being biased and exaggerating in favour of the Catholic church. See for example Bauer 1971:149-151; 158 and 191-192. Cfr. Grant 1980:37-38: “It seems likely, however, that readers were used to this kind of exaggeration. It is fairly common in Josephus and other historians(…)All [Eusebius’ emphasis on the quantitative] actually indicates is one more way in which rhetoric influenced him.”

[150] Bauer 1971:147-195.

[151] Bauer 1971:150.

[152] The instance is followed and supported by some other observations, i. e. Eusebius’ bishop-lists, more statements of orthodox works being preserved ”to this day”, the claim of Melito’s extensive authorship etc.

[153] Bauer 1971:175-176.

[154] De exhort 10. Bauer also quotes from Pan 49,1.

[155] De anima 9.

[156] De res 63.

[157] Bauer 1971:181. The answering polemics have been duly referenced above and need no repetition here.

[158] Bauer also mentions some other examples of reliance on prophecies in the fight against Christian groups with differing opinions, Simon and Cleobius in “Acts of Paul”, Basilides (HE IV,7,7), Isidore (Strom VI,6), Archontics (Pan 40,7) et. al.

[159] Rev 2,20.

[160] Bauer 1971:179.

[161] Strongly pointed out by Aland 1960:139.

[162] Cfr. his summary in Bauer 1971:147:

[163] Assuming here that the Montanists may aptly be described as heretics in the “Bauer-sense”, on terms of their being opposed by the Catholic church.


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