Marie-Louise von Franz: Niklaus Von Flüe And Saint Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Their Visions

Chapter 15

Problem of the Orthodoxy of Martyrs

183 Theologians have always differed on whether or not the martyrs belonged to the sect of the Montanists, which Tertullian himself joined about A.D. 205-207, a step which led to his break with the Church.1

184 Indeed, the author of the text appears to have had fairly strong Montanist leanings, but we do not know if the martyrs were of the same persuasion.

The Montanist movement, which was by no means unimportant in Africa at that time, goes back to Lucius Montanus, a Phrygian from Pepuza who had presumably been a priest of Cybele before his conversion to Christianity.2

We hear of him first about the middle of the second century.

In fits of frenzied ecstasy accompanied by ravings and convulsions ( as was customary in the Great Mother

cults of Asia Minor), he poured forth new revelations in the name of the Paraclete or even in the names of God the Father and God the Son.

He proclaimed himself to be the founder of a new “Church of the Spirit:’

18s Among his female followers, Maximilla and Prisca were particularly conspicuous, chiefly for spreading prophecies concerning the coming end of the world.

In fact, the whole attitude of Montanism was closely bound up with this expectation.

The movement was called ”New Prophecy” and claimed that its oracles (imparted by the Spirit) marked a new era of revelation comparable to those of the Old and New Testaments.

The Montanists divided history into three periods corresponding to the three hypostases of the Trinity-that of the Father, that of the Son, and that of the Holy Ghost.

Tertullian, for instance, says:

137 So too, righteousness-for the God of righteousness and of creation is the same-was first in a rudimentary state, having a natural fear of God; from that stage it advanced, through the Law and the Prophets, to infancy; from that stage it passed, through the Gospel, to the fervor of youth; now, through the Paraclete, it is settling into maturity.

188 Thus, the new revelation takes place through the Paraclete, whose coming after his death Christ had promised:

189 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [Paraclitum], that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither know him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14: 16-17)3

190 The author of the “Passio Perpetuae” also emphasizes the approaching end, inasmuch as he refers to the Acts of the Apostles:

191 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. (Acts 2: 17)

192 He further admits that he recognizes later visions besides the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments as sources of revelation, by which he proves himself to be a Montanist.

In view of the approaching second coming of Christ, the Montanists urged the observance of unusually severe penitential exercises and rigorously strict habits, and in this also, Tertullian supported them.

They called themselves Pneumatikoi, in contrast to the Catholic Psychikoi, and claimed, in opposition to the Catholic bishops, that they constituted

the true spiritual Church of which only those who accepted the Paraclete could be members.

193 There were already Montanists in Rome about the year A.D. 200 (Their principal representatives were Prod us and Aeschines.)

Judging by the papal decrees issued against the Montanists, the sect must have survived well into the eighth century.

In spite of the movement’s dogmatic orthodoxy, the Church opposed it on account of its wildly ecstatic and all too rigorous elements, its complete denial of the world, and the consequent danger that, on the ground of individual revelations, it might destroy the unity and temporal order of the Church-but above all, because it recognized the right of women to teach.

There is obviously a connection here with the orgiastic Great Mother cults of Asia Minor, and it would seem that

the spirit of the latter must unconsciously have found its way into Montanism.

194 The Church itself, it is true, has never denied the possibility of divine Revelation through dreams and visions, but these acquired far greater importance with the Montanists, for they regarded them as the most evident manifestation of the Paraclete.

In their religious ardor, and true to the spiritual attitude which led them to shun the world, they often sought a martyr’s death of their own accord.

We are inclined, therefore, to assume that the martyrs whose ecstatic behavior is particularly striking must have belonged to the Montanists, but it is just as probable that they had only been influenced by them and had not yet gone far enough in this direction to be in conflict with the Church.

195 The psychological importance of the visions recorded in the ((Passio Perpetuae:’ which is our chief concern, lies above all in the fact that they enable us to gain a deep insight into the unconscious spiritual situation of the time.

We find archetypal images constellated in them which we also encounter in the literature of that epoch, when the Weltanschauung of antiquity was dissolving and the Christian conception of the world was breaking through.

They appear here spontaneously in an unusual person, at an unusually tragic moment of her life, and lay bare the whole deep conflict of that time.

196 This record of an ancient series of four visions or dreams, occurring within a relatively short space of time (about 14 days), is also quite exceptional.

Usually, the dreams handed down to us from antiquity-for instance by Artemidorus and Synesius-contain only

single examples, and if there is any account of the conscious situation of the dreamer, it is always insufficient. ~Marie Louise von Franz, Niklaus von Flue and Saint Perpetua, Page 135-138