Simon Magus

Simon Magus was Christianity's first Heresarch. When the Holy Spirit comes down on a person, it is something wondrous, power within, power without, miracles, manifestations, charisms, changed lives. It was because of the profound effects produced by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the new converts, that a certain magician named Simon tries to tempt the apostles to confer upon him the power which they possessed so that he might be able to effect like results by the laying on of hands. Simon played quite an important role in primitive church history and regarded as the father of all heresy.

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which before in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one. To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying Give me also this power, that on whoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

That he actually had magical powers can be disputed but Simon Magus was a sorcerer of great reputation for his magical arts among the Samaritans. He had faith, or at least pretended to by hearing the preaching of Philip the deacon. Whatever he believed, it proved to be false. His behavior elicited a stern rebuke from Peter:

Peter said unto him, your money perish with you, because you have thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. You have neither part nor lot in this matter: for your heart is not right in the sight of God.
The term "Simony," now used for denoting the purchase for money of spiritual offices, is derived from him, it has to do with exploiting sacred things to make money. Simon would have made the money that he offered easily by exploiting his powers and asking for payment.

Simon claimed to be the Messiah and instituted a Messianic movement in Samaria, which was intended to rival and supplant Christianity. Simon Magus wanted his movement to take the place among the Samaritans of Jesus' Messianic movement among the Jews. His effort to rival and surpass Jesus probably began after his contact with the Christians in the book of Acts. His religious system was apparently a blend of Jewish and Oriental elements, and resembled very closely some forms of Gnosticism and this heresy possibly even derives from him.

Like many Christians today, Simon the Sorcerer had formally identified himself with Christianity by submitting to baptism but wasn't involved in the spirit. When he saw the phenomenon accompanying the action in the laying on of hands, he viewed it as magic superior to his own. It is Simon's offer of money that assures us that the signs and wonders wrought from the apostles actually did exist and were evident to others.

Simon did not really have the Holy Ghost or he would not have tried to buy the power. Peter assigned Simon to hell, he would not said that of a true believer. Though he believed Philip's message and was baptized, he still belonged to the devil. Simon had faith, he was baptized, but without repentance so no Holy Ghost. Simon appears as the most formidable opponent of Peter in debate in various circles and was denounced by Peter at Rome. He begs the apostles to pray for him - not that he would be forgiven but that the dreaded consequences of his sin might be averted. The impostor, after failing to raise a dead youth - a miracle which St. Peter accomplished - finally attempted to delude the people and rehabilitate himself by a superlative feat of magic and offers to fly to heaven. The experiment has fatal results. At the prayer of St. Peter and St. Paul, he was deserted by the demons who supported him, and dashed bleeding to the earth.

Simon is one of the minor characters in the book of Acts but typifies many Christians today who accept the gospel in search of a reward. There are those who join the church for business contacts, will tithe just to accept a return payment, will prophesy and then ask for money. A true ministry will have all the needs fulfilled without asking for money. There are preachers on television who will pretend to pray in tongues and have prophetic visions of money given from the flock and ask shamelessly as if it is the custom to do so. They have their reward just like Simon. Simon interests us not only because of the role he plays in the early church, but also because he keeps turning up over and over again in the history of religion. Simon, as his traditional name "the Magus" shows, is the typical wonder-working false prophet who does it for the money, and acts as foil to the true Christian prophet, in this case, Philip.

In Justin's day, about 100 years later, there were heretics called Simonians. There are always people looking for magic rather than a miracle. They follow signs instead of signs following them. They pray in order to make God do what they want Him to do, whereas true prayer is the surrender of the will of man to the will of God, so that man will do what God wants him to do.
[12, 291, 330, 356, Acts 8]

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