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Simon Magus

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Simon Magus, also known as Simon the Magician, Simon the Sorcerer and Simon of Gitta, was a Samaritan (Proto-)Gnostic. The ancient Gnostic sect of Simonianism believed that he was God in human form. Almost all of the surviving sources for the life and thought of Simon Magus are contained in Christian works, in the Acts of the Apostles, in patristic works (Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus) and in the apocryphal Acts of Peter. 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, the earliest reference to him is the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8. This tells of Simon Magus practicing magic in the city of Sebaste in Samaria, being converted to Christianity by Philip the Evangelist and working as a missionary, but then trying to buy from the Apostles the power of conveying the Holy Spirit. (This led to the word "simony".) Many scholars have questioned whether this Simon is the Simon intended to be refered to in legends concocted later, or a different one. Some believe that the story of Simon Magus here is actually a coded Ebionite attack on Paul of Tarsus, with Simon used to represent Paul.

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. This Simon was also the founder of witchcraft in old asia in which he was proclaimed as a god in his own way. He is specifically said to have possessed the ability to levitate and fly at will. Simon Magus was the preacher of ancient metaphysical teachings according to his own ideas of occult matters. There were accusations that Simon was a demon in human form, with the story of Simon the wizard as the cultural equivalent of Merlin during the medieval times.

The apocryphal Acts of Peter gives a legendary tale of Simon Magus' death. Simon is performing magic for the Roman Emperor Claudius Caesar in the forum. In order to prove himself to be a god, he flies up into the air. Peter and Paul pray to God to stop his flying, and he stops mid-air and falls to his death.

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, 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.

Hippolytus (in his Philospohumena) 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 latter 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.

The Catholic Church named the sin of exchanging spiritual for temporal goods simony after the story of Simon Magus in Acts.


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