So we have the Bible, the tradition, the rule of faith, the creed, the bishops: they all together are a system of guarantees, a very impressive system created in the fight against the Gnostics. And what we can be astonished about is how early all this happened.
Now against this a reaction took place. I want to deal with this before I go on with an elaboration of the doctrines of the anti-Gnostic Fathers. It was a reaction of the Spirit against the order. This reaction was represented by a man called MONTANUS, and his group the Montanists. This reaction was very serious, so much so that one of the two greatest anti-Gnostic theologians, Tertullian, himself became a Montanist. And it is important for us because Montanistic reactions against the ecclesiastical fixation of Christianity go on through all of Church history So the fact that this group was not very successful historically doesn’t mean that it was not very important from the point of view of Christian theology.
This group had two ideas: the Spirit, and the end. The Spirit was suppressed by the organization of the Church, and the fear of Spiritual movements because of the Gnostic claims to have the Spirit. It was denied that. prophets necessarily have an ecstatic character. A churchman of that time wrote a pamphlet about the fact that it is unnecessary that a prophet speak in ecstasy. The Church couldn’t understand the prophetic Spirit any more. It was afraid of it. And understandably, because in the name of the Spirit all kinds of disruptive elements came into the Church.
The other idea is that of the end. You remember that I said that already the Apostolic Fathers, and even already Paul, to a certain extent, started to establish themselves in this world, after the expectation of Jesus and the apostles that the end was very near and would come in their generation, was disappointed. Now this disappointment led to great difficulties and to the necessity of creating a worldly church, a church which is able to live in the world. Against this also, continuously in Church history, reactions set in. But they experienced what the earliest Christians experienced: the end they expected did not come. So the Montanists had to do the same as the church did: to establish themselves. And in the moment they established themselves, they also became a church. But it was a church in which much of the sectarian types of the churches of the Reformation and the later sects, was anticipated – namely , a strict discipline. They believe that they represent the period of the Paraclete, after the period of the Father and the Son. And this is always something the sectarian revolutionary movements in the Church claims: that they represent the period of the Spirit.
But then it always happens – even to the Quakers it happened, after their first ecstatic period – that if you want to fix the content of what the Spirit has taught them, it is of extreme poverty; it is nothing new, in comparison with the Biblical message, and what is new is usually a more or less rational moralism. This happened to George Fox in his later development, and to his followers, and happens to all ecstatic sects: in the second generation they become rational, moralistic, legalistic, and the ecstatic element is gone, and not much comes out in terms of creativity as we have it in the classical period of apostolic Christianity.