Simon Magus

Simon Magus

Simon Magus (Greek Σίμων ό μάγος), also known as Simon the Sorcerer and Simon of Gitta, is the name used by early Christian writers to refer to a person identified as a Samaritan proto-Gnostic. The name was also used generically by early Christian writers to refer to a person who founded his own religious sect.

Christian tradition

The figure appeared prominently in several apocryphal accounts by early Christian authors, who regarded him as the first heretic. He appears in the canonical Acts of the Apostles, verses , where he tries to offer money to the Apostles in exchange for miraculous abilities, specifically the power of laying on of hands. The sin of simony, or paying for position and influence in the church, is named for Simon. Verse 6.19 of the Apostolic Constitutions accuse him of antinomianism. [ [ ANF07. Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily | Christian Classics Ethereal Library ] ]

According to reports by ancient Christian writers, the Gnostic sect of Simonianism believed that Simon Magus was God (as conceived by the Gnostics) in human form. Almost all of the surviving sources for the life and thought of Simon Magus are contained in works from ancient Christian writers: in the Acts of the Apostles, in patristic works (Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus of Rome), and in the apocryphal "Acts of Peter", early Clementine literature, and the Epistle of the Apostles.

There are small fragments of a work written by him (or by one of his later followers using his name), the "Apophasis Megale", or "Great Pronouncement". He is also supposed to have written several treatises, two of which allegedly bear the titles "The Four Quarters of the World" and "The Sermons of the Refuter", but are lost to us. Simon is specifically said to have possessed the ability to levitate and fly at will. There were accusations by Christians that he was a demon in human form, with the story of Simon the wizard as the cultural equivalent of Merlin during the Middle Ages.

The apocryphal "Acts of Peter" gives a legendary tale of Simon Magus' death. Simon is performing magic in the Forum, and in order to prove himself to be a god, he levitates up into the air above the Forum. The apostle Peter prays to God to stop his flying, and he stops mid-air and falls into a place called the "Sacra Via" (meaning, Holy Way), breaking his legs "in three parts". The previously non-hostile crowd then stones him. Now gravely injured, he had some people carry him on a bed at night from Rome to Ariccia, and was brought from there to Terracina to a person named Castor, who on accusations of sorcery was banished from Rome. The Acts then continue that he died "while being sorely cut by two physicians". [ [ The Acts of Peter ] ]

Another apocryphal document, the "Acts of Peter and Paul" gives a slightly different version of the above incident, which was shown in the context of a debate in front of the Emperor Nero. In this version, Paul the Apostle is present along with Peter, Simon levitates from a high wooden tower made upon his request, and dies "divided into four parts" due to the fall. Peter and Paul were then put in prison by Nero while ordering Simon's body be kept carefully for three days (thinking he would rise again). [ [ CHURCH FATHERS: The Acts of Peter and Paul ] ]

The church of Santa Francesca Romana claims to have been built on the spot in question (thus claiming that Simon Magus could indeed fly). Within the Church is a dented slab of marble that purports to bear the imprints of the knees of Peter and Paul during their prayer.

Conflicting points of view

The different sources for information on Simon contain quite different pictures of him, so much so that it has been questioned whether they all refer to the same person. Assuming all references are to the same person, as some (but by no means all) of the Church fathers did, the earliest reference to him is the "Acts of the Apostles", chapter 8. This tells of a person named "Simon Magus" practicing magic in the city of Sebaste in Samaria, being converted to Christianity by Philip the Evangelist, but then trying to buy from the Apostles the power of conveying the Holy Spirit.

Writings of Justin and Irenaeus

Justin Martyr (in his "Apologies", and in a lost work against heresies, which Irenaeus used as his main source) and Irenaeus ("Adversus Haereses") recount the myth of Simon and Helene. According to this myth, which was the center of Simonian religion, in the beginning God had his first thought, his "Ennoia" (see Sophia), which was female, and that thought was to create the angels. The First Thought then descended into the lower regions and created the angels. But the angels rebelled against her out of jealousy and created the world as her prison, imprisoning her in a female body. Thereafter, she was reincarnated many times, each time being shamed. Her many reincarnations included Helen of Troy; among others, and she finally was reincarnated as Helene, a slave and prostitute in the Phoenician city of Tyre. God then descended in the form of Simon Magus, to rescue his Ennoia. Having redeemed her from slavery, he travelled about with her, proclaiming himself to be God and her to be the Ennoia, promising that he would dissolve this world the angels had made, but that those who trusted in him and Helene could return with them to the higher regions.

Justin and Irenaeus record several other pieces of information, including: that Simon came from the Samaritan village of Gitta and that the Simonians worshipped Simon in the form of Zeus and Helene in the form of Athena. They also say that a statue to Simon was erected by Claudius Caesar on the island in the Tiber which the two bridges cross, with the inscription "Simoni Deo Sancto", "To Simon the Holy God". However, in the 1500s, a statue was unearthed on the island in question, inscribed to Semo Sancus, a Sabine deity, leading most scholars to believe that Justin Martyr confused "Semoni Sancus" with Simon.

Writings of Hippolytus

Hippolytus (in his "Philosophumena") gives a much more doctrinally detailed account of Simonianism, including a system of divine emanations and interpretations of the Old Testament. Some believe that Hippolytus' account is of a later, more developed form of Simonianism, and that the original doctrines of the group were simpler, close to the account given by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (this account however is also included in Hippolytus' work.) Hippolytus also quotes extensively from the "Apophasis Megale".

Radical criticism

According to radical critic Hermann Detering, Simon Magus may be a cypher for Paul of Tarsus, [ [ Hermann Detering, The Dutch Radical Approach to the Pauline Epistles ] ] Paul having originally been detested by the church, and his name changed when Paul was rehabilitated by virtue of forged Epistles "correcting" the genuine ones.



* [ Jewish Encyclopedia: Simon Magus]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia: Simon Magus]
* [ Simon Magus] in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
* David R. Cartlidge, "The Fall and Rise of Simon Magus", "Bible Review", Vol 21, No. 4, Fall 2005, Pages 24-36.
* Francis Legge, "Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. " (1914), reprinted in two volumes bound as one, University Books New York, 1964. LC Catalog 64-24125.
* G. R. S. Mead, " [ Simon Magus] "
* Canto XIX of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Simon is in the third ditch of the eighth circle of the Inferno (Hell).
* Ported, J.R., "The Lost Bible"
* Detering, H., "The Falsified Paul" (1995/2003)

ee also

*Flying Saints
*Simon Magus in popular culture

External links

* [ Apophasis Megalê of Simon Magus]
* [ Schaff's History of the Christian Church, volume II, chapter XI: THE HERESIES OF THE ANTE-NICENE AGE] section 121: Simon Magus and the Simonians
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia: Simon Magus]
* [ Jewish Encyclopedia: Simon Magus]
* [ Encyclopedia Britannica: Simon Magus]

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  • Simon Magus — noun Date: circa 1548 a Samaritan sorcerer converted by the apostle Philip and severely rebuked by Peter for offering money for the gifts of the Holy Spirit …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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