Simon Magus

His rise and his claims Book 2:5. When Peter had said this to us, Niceta asked to be permitted to say something to him. Peter graciously granted the request. "I beseech you," he said, "my lord Peter, to give heed to me in my anxiety for you. I am afraid that you may give the impression of being beaten in your contest with Simon. For it often happens that the defender of truth is not continuously successful, when the audience is prejudiced in someone's favor, or when they don't have any great concern for the better opinion. But, all this aside, Simon himself is the most powerful of speakers, nurtured all his life on the art of dialectic and little syllogistic snares. More serious than this though is the fact that he is well practiced in the art of magic. This is why am frightened lest, strongly fortified on all sides as he is, he may be thought to be championing the truth through false claims by those who do not know him. Nor in fact would we ourselves have been able to escape him and be converted to the Lord, had we not realized that he was a deceiver and a mage while we were his helpers and shared in his errors."

65 Simon Magus:

Pseudo-Clement of Rome Recognitions 2.5, 7-15, 3.73 (at PG 1:1157-1474)

Latin (translated from Greek)

7. [Aquila speaks:] "This Simon was the son of Antoninus and Rachel. His race was Samaritan and he came from the town of the Gethones. He was a mage by trade, but had an excellent education in the Greek liberal arts. He was so eager for glory and opportunities for superhuman ostentation that he wished to be held to be an outstanding power, over and above God the creator, and to be thought Christ, and to be called the Stander. He uses this name as if to suggest that he is impervious to dissolution, and he claims that his flesh has been structured by the power of his divinity in such a way that it can survive forever. This is why he is called the Stander, as if subject in no way to decomposition.

8. "After John the Baptist had been killed, as you yourself know too, Dositheus had embarked upon his heresy along with thirty other of the Baptist's leading disciples, and one woman by the name of Luna ["Moon"]. These thirty men accordingly seem to have been set up to correspond to the number of days in the moon's cycle. This Simon was eager to acquire distinction for evil. He accosted Dositheus, feigned friendship, and begged him to appoint him as a substitute as soon as any of the thirty died. For they were not allowed to exceed the established number, nor to bring into it anyone unknown or not yet proven. Hence the rest of the disciples were eager to become worthy of the position and of inclusion within the number, and to be pleasing in all regards in accordance with the institutes of their sect. It is the goal of each one of those who seek inclusion within the number to be able to appear worthy to take the place of the dead man, whenever one of them, as I said, dies. So, when a place did become available within the number, Dositheus brought Simon into it, after he had pleaded with him for it at length.

9. "But not long afterward Simon fell in love with the woman they called Luna, and he told us all about it, as his friends. He told us that he was a mage, that he was in love with Luna, and that he did not wish to enjoy her in a disreputable way, desirous of repute as he was. He was waiting patiently, he said, until he could experience her in an honorable way. This he could do if we would conspire with him and help him to achieve all he wished. But he also promised to give us a reward for this service: we would be graced with the highest honors and would be held to be gods by men. But there was a condition: 'Bestow the leadership of the cult upon me, Simon, who am able to display many signs and portents by magic craft, through which I can establish either my own repute or that of our sect. For I can make myself invisible to those who wish to capture me, and I can reveal myself openly again when I wish to be seen. If I wish to escape I can tunnel through mountains and pass through rocks as if they were mud. If I were to throw myself headlong down from a high mountain, I would be carried down to the earth unharmed, as if carried in a vehicle. If I am bound I release myself, and render those that threw the bonds on me bound in turn. Confined in prison, I will make bolted doors open of their own accord. I will bring statues to life, in such a way that they will be thought by those that see them to be men. I will make new trees spring up from the earth at once, and produce instant shrubbery. I will throw myself into a fire, but I will not burn. I transform my face so that I am not recognized, but I can have two faces and show them to men. I will make myself into a sheep or a goat, I will bring beards out on the chins of little boys, I will travel into the air by flying, I will display vast quantities of gold, I will make men into kings and cast them down again. I will be prayed to as God. I will receive divine honors from states, so that men will dedicate a statue to me, and worship me and revere me as if I am God. Why need I go on? Whatever I want to do, I will be able to. For I have already achieved a great deal to test my abilities. To make the point,' he said, 'when my mother Rachel commanded me to go out to the farm to reap, I saw a sickle some one had put down, and I ordered it to go and reap, and it reaped ten times as much as the other reapers. I have already produced many new shrubs from the earth and made them thrive. I have made them appear in the blink of an eye. I successfully tunneled through the nearest mountain.'

10. "But when he began to speak about sprouting the shrubs and tunneling through the mountain, I was baffled, since he wanted to deceive even us, whom he seemed to want to impress and seemed to trust. For we knew that these things he was claiming to have done himself recently were really done of old by our ancestors. Although we heard these wicked claims from him, and others worse than these, even so we followed him in his crimes, and let others be tricked by him. We told many lies on his behalf. And this was before he had fulfilled any of his promises, with the result that even though he had yet to achieve anything, some people were already considering him God.

11. "In the meantime, and from the beginning, once he was included among the thirty disciples of Dositheus, he began to criticize Dositheus himself, as if his teaching was not whole or complete. This was, he said, done from ignorance rather than malice. But when Dositheus realized that he was being criticized by Simon, he became frightened that his reputation might become overcast among those who thought him himself to be the Stander. When they assembled, as usual at the school, he became frenzied and snatched up a rod and began to beat Simon. But all of a sudden the rod appeared to pass through his body as if through smoke. Dositheus was devastated by this. He said to him, 'Tell me, whether you are the Stander, so that I may worship you.' On Simon's response, 'I am,' Dositheus saw that he himself was not the Stander, and fell down and worshiped Simon, and ceded his leadership to him. He ordered the whole group of the thirty to obey him, removed himself to the rank that Simon had occupied, and soon after this he died.

12. "So, after the death of Dositheus Simon took Luna. He is still going around with her now, as you see, deceiving the crowds and claiming that he himself constitutes some sort of power, which is above God the creator, and that this Luna he has by his side has been drawn down from the skies above. He contends that she is wisdom, and the universal mother. The Greeks and the barbarians, in their conflict over her, were able to see a partial image of her, but they were completely ignorant of her in her true form, that is, as the woman who lived with him who was first of all men and the sole God. By publishing such claims and others similar to them in elaborate processions of words he deceived many. But I should also mention something I myself remember seeing. When his Luna was once on some tower, a huge crowd assembled to see her and surrounded the tower on all sides. But she was seen to bend forward and look down upon all the people through all the windows of the tower. He did many other marvelous things and continues to do them, so that men are amazed at them and think that he himself is God on high.

13. "Niceta and I once asked him how these things could be achieved with the craft of magic, and what the nature of this craft was. Simon began to explain it to us, since we were his intimates, in the following way: 'I have summoned up with unutterable conjurations the soul of a pure boy who was killed with violence, and made him my assistant. It is through this soul that everything I order is accomplished.' I asked, 'Is it possible for a soul to do these things?' He replied, 'I want you to understand this: a man's soul takes second place after God, once released from the darkness of its own body. As soon as it is free it possesses foreknowledge, and this is the reason it is evocated for necromancy.' And I replied, 'So why do the souls of the murdered not take revenge upon their killers?' He replied, 'Do you not recall what I just said, namely that the soul takes possession of foreknowledge on leaving the body?' 'Yes,' I said. 'Therefore,' he said, 'when it leaves the body, it immediately foresees that there will be a judgment, and that everybody will pay the penalty for the sins he has committed here. This is the reason they decline to take revenge upon their killers, because they themselves are still enduring tortures for the sins which they had committed here, and they are aware that heavier punishments await their killers in their judgment. But above and beyond all this, they are not allowed to go out or to do anything by the angels set over them.' I replied, 'If the angels don't allow them to come here or do what they want, how can the souls obey the mage evocating them?' 'They do not give special permission to those souls that are willing to come, but when the presiding angels are constrained by their superior, they have an excuse in the compulsion exerted upon them by us who conjure them, so that they do allow out the souls we evocate. For they commit no sin if subject to violent compulsion. Rather, we are the sinners, who inflict compulsion upon them.' At this Niceta, no longer able to contain himself, responded in a way I was about to do myself (although I wanted first to inquire further about some individual points). But, as I said, Niceta got in first: 'And do you,' he said, 'not fear the day of judgment, since you do violence to angels, evocate souls, deceive men, and are rewarded with divine honor from men? And how are you going to persuade us that there will be no judgment, as some of the Jews acknowledge, and that souls are not immortal, which many believe, when you see them with your very own eyes, and receive from them the assertion of divine judgment?'

14. "When he said this, Simon turned pale. However, after a short while he gathered his wits, and replied as follows: 'Do not think,' he said, 'that I am a man like you. I am not a mage, nor a lover of Luna, nor a son of Antonius. For before my mother Rachel had congress with him, she conceived me while still a virgin, since it was in my power to be either small or great, and to appear as a man among men. So it is in order to test you that I have taken you as my first friends, so that I may set you first in my heavenly and unutterable places, when I have proved you. I have made the false claim of being human, to test you more clearly, to see if you preserve your affection for me intact.' On hearing this, I decided that he was pathetic, but even so I retained some respect for his nerve, and I blushed for him. At the same time I was frightened that he might do us some harm. I nodded to Niceta, indicating that he should continue the pretence with me for a little while, and I said to Simon, 'Please do not be angry at us, who are only corruptible men, incorruptible God. Rather, receive our affection and our mind, wishing as it does to know who God is. For we did not yet know who you were, nor did we realize that you were the very one we were seeking.'

15. "As we ran through these words and others like them, trying to look sincere about them, that most conceited fellow believed we were deceived, and, buoyed up all the more by this, added, 'I look upon you benignly now, for the affection you exhibit toward me, God, for you loved me even when you did not know who I was, and, although seeking me, did not realize that you had found me. But I don't want you to doubt that this is really what it is to be God, when one can become small or great, if one wishes, for I could appear to men in any form. Now I will begin to reveal to you what is true. Using my power I once turned air into water, and the water again into blood, and solidifying the blood, I formed a new human being, a boy, and I produced a much better piece of work than God the creator. For he only made a man from earth, but I did something harder in making one from air. And I dissolved him again and returned him to the air. However I set a likeness and painted image of him in my bedroom, to be a proof and memento of my work.'

We understood that in this he was speaking of the boy killed by violence whose soul he was exploiting for the services he wanted."

Book 3:73. But in those days a letter was sent by the brothers who had gone in advance, the subject of which was Simon's crimes. It described how he was deceiving crowds from city to city and lambasting Peter for one thing or another, so that when he eventually arrived, no one was prepared to listen to him. For Simon claimed that Peter was a mage and without God, harmful, devious, without real skill and promising the impossible. Peter claimed that the dead would be resurrected, which was, Simon said, impossible. "But if anyone wishes to confute Peter, he foils the attack with hidden ambushes, carried out by his team. For this reason," he said, "I too, even though I had overcome him and triumphed, fled in fear of ambush, lest he should destroy me with his evil enchantments [maleficia], or organize my death through ambush." They revealed that he was based at Tripolis.

THE recognitions WERE COMPOSED IN GREEK between and the second and fourth century A.D. They are now preserved only in Latin, translated by Rufi-nus (fourth century A.D.), and Syriac. They were a derivative, alongside the Homilies, of a lost Clementine Romance. Clement of Rome himself, the principal subject and supposed author, flourished at the end of the first century A.D. For further texts on Simon, see: Acts 8.9-24; Acts of St. Peter; Justin Martyr Apologies 26.1-3 and Dialogue with Trypho 120; Irenaeus Adversus haereses 1.23.1-2 and 24.1-2; Epiphanius Adversus haereses 6.21; Hippolytus Refutations 6.3-20; Pseudo-Clement of Rome Recognitions 2.20-3.48, Homilies 3.30-58 and 16-19. For another reference to Simon see 112.

The Samaritan Simon, who may have been entirely fictional, was introduced to Christian teaching by the apostle Philip, according to tradition. Peter rebuked him when he attempted to buy his miraculous powers from him (Acts 8.18-25; hence "simony"). Simon went on to develop his own sect, the "Simonians." As a Samaritan Simon does not derive from a land particularly associated with magic in the Graeco-Roman tradition, for all that it is Middle Eastern.

Simon's tenets were as follows. He himself was the supreme God. Luna is elsewhere known as Helena and is said to have been a Phoenician prostitute saved by Simon from a Tyrian brothel. For Simon Helena was his own Thought (Ennoia); she had created the intermediate powers of the angels and archangels, who had in turn created the world but then enviously shut Ennoia herself into her human body. Simon had descended to the earth in order to free Helena and all mankind from the intermediate powers. He too projected himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and as virgin-born (see 14). He evidently adapted the gospel to suit himself. Christian writers repeatedly identify the performance of miracles and free love as characteristic of his priests. Christian heresiologists came to regard Simon as the founder of the heresy of gnosticism. The battle between Peter and Simon culminated in a contest of powers before Nero. Peter won this when he broke Simon's flying spell and sent him crashing to earth. He did not recover from his injuries. His resurrection, promised for three days after his death, failed to materialize.

My frequent generalization bears repetition: sorcery is often the defining characteristic of one's rivals (compare 13, 14); here Simon is projected as the rival of Peter and hence as "Mage." The corollary of this is that Simon in turn denied that he was himself a mage (2.14) while reciprocally accusing Peter of being one (3.73). Pari passu, Simon is accused of using tricky rhetoric and sorcery hand-in-hand (2.5), and he in turn makes a comparable accusation of his own against Peter (3.73). For the old association between magic and rhetoric see 12, with commentary. The lively narrative of the rise of Simon as a cynical, dedicated and conscience-free charlatan (2.7-12) is comparable to Lucian's narrative of the rise of Alexander (64).

Much of Simon's art can be understood in terms of soul- or ghost-manipulation. Simon is represented as claiming that the principal motor of his sorcery is the ghost of a boy, untimely dead and dead by violence, that he has made into a demonic assistant (2.13; see 92, 136-8). This boy he had himself, it appears, made out of thin air (2.15). Simon appeals to Platonic notions of the percipience and power of the soul unencumbered by the things of the body (2.13; see 133), and in so doing provides an important explanation for the working of necromancy. These same ideas also provide a convenient explanation as to how sorcerers can create ghosts for themselves to use by human sacrifice and then go on to exploit these ghosts for themselves, without being attacked by them. A number of Simon's miraculous claims can be associated with soul-projection: his ability to disappear and reappear, and his ability to pass through solid objects, his ability to fly (9), his ability to let objects pass through himself (2.11); see 1-9.

Once again, the compulsion of the gods or the higher powers is taken as a characteristic of magic (13). Simon's claim to have animated a sickle and sent it out to do its work alone (9) is comparable to Lucian's sorcerer's apprentice and his animated pestle (54). Simon's close involvement with Luna, "Moon," is used to associate him with the commonplace activity of ancient sorcery of drawing down the moon (especially 2.12; see 214-23).

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