Simon Magus, What Did He Teach?
Although the Bible warns about various false teachers, in the New Testament there is more about one of them than the others during that time. And that was Simon the Magician, now generally called Simon Magus.
This article mainly consists of quotes from the Bible and early writers about Simon.
From the Bible
The Book of Acts shows that Simon was an apparent, but not true, convert from the preaching of Philip:
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God." And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, Who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, Saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit."
But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."
Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."
So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-25).
Hence, Simon Magus only gave the appearance of conversion. Simon was actually interested in more power and thought that through getting baptized and paying money, he could have more influence. Notice that Peter noted that Simon, even though he professed Christ and was baptized, still had need for repentance.
Although I consider that Justin Martyr was a heretic, he was one of the first post-biblical writers who recorded clear statements about Simon Magus (though sometimes in apparent error).
Justin mentions him twice. First, in his First Apology:
And, thirdly, because after Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome:--
"Simoni Deo Sancto,"
"To Simon the holy God." And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him. And a man, Meander, also a Samaritan, of the town Capparetaea, a disciple of Simon, and inspired by devils, we know to have deceived many while he was in Antioch by his magical art. He persuaded those who adhered to him that they should never die, and even now there are some living who hold this opinion of his. And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them. And whether they perpetrate those fabulous and shameful deeds--the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh--we know not; but we do know that they are neither persecuted nor put to death by you, at least on account of their opinions. But I have a treatise against all the heresies that have existed already composed, which, if you wish to read it, I will give you (Justin. First Apology, Chapter XXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Notice that Justin taught that the followers of Simon Magus claimed to be Christian, Justin claims that Simon came to Rome, and Justin claimed his followers erected a statue to him in Rome. It is possible that Justin is also saying that the followers of Simon's descendants believe that they have an immortal soul, a concept that the Bible and early Christian writers did not hold. An article of related interest may be Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?
Regarding the statue and the visit to Rome The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
Justin says further that Simon came to Rome during the reign of the Emperor Claudius and by his magic arts won many followers so that these erected on the island in the Tiber a statue to him as a divinity with the inscription "Simon the Holy God". The statue, however, that Justin took for one dedicated to Simon was undoubtedly one of the old Sabine divinity Semo Sancus. Statues of this early god with similar inscriptions have been found on the island in the Tiber and elsewhere in Rome. It is plain that the interchange of e and i in the Roman characters led Justin or the Roman Christians before him, to look upon the statue of the early Sabine deity, of whom they knew nothing, as a statue of the magician. Whether Justin's opinion that Simon Magus came to Rome rests only on the fact that he believed Roman followers had erected this statue to him, or whether he had other information on this point, cannot now be positively determined. His testimony cannot, therefore, be verified and so remains doubtful. The later anti-heretical writers who report Simon's residence at Rome, take Justin and the apocryphal Acts of Peter as their authority, so that their testimony is of no value… Simon plays an important part in the "Pseudo-Clementines". He appears here as the chief antagonist of the apostle Peter, by whom he is everywhere followed and opposed. The alleged magical arts of the magician and Peter's efforts against him are described in a way that is absolutely imaginary. The entire account lacks all historical basis (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Joseph E. O'Connor. Simon Magus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
The second mention from Justin was in his Dialogue with Trypho:
For I gave no thought to any of my people, that is, the Samaritans, when I had a communication in writing with Caesar, but stated that they were wrong in trusting to the magician Simon of their own nation, who, they say, is God above all power, and authority, and might (Justin. Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 120. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
In other words, according to Justin, part of the heresy of Simon Magus was teaching that a human leader is "God above all power, and authority, and might". Another way of saying this may be by teaching that a man is God on earth or is on earth in place of Christ.
From the Roman Clement?
There are writings from one referred to as the Roman Clement that mention Simon. These writings, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, were not written by the Clement that the Roman Catholics consider to have been the fourth bishop of Rome. Instead, the true author is not clear, and they probably were written in the late second century. Anyway, here is what they say about Simon Magus:
This Simon's father was Antonius, and his mother Rachel. By nation he is a Samaritan, from a village of the Gettones; by profession a magician yet exceedingly well trained in the Greek literature; desirous of glory, and boasting above all the human race, so that he wishes himself to be believed to be an exalted power, which is above God the Creator, and to be thought to be the Christ, and to be called the Standing One. And he uses this name as implying that he can never be dissolved, asserting that his flesh is so compacted by the power of his divinity, that it can endure to eternity. Hence, therefore, he is called the Standing One, as though he cannot fall by any corruption (Roman Clement. Recognitions, Book II, Chapter VII. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Simon grew pale; but after a little, recollecting himself, he thus answered: 'Do not think that I am a man of your race. I am neither magician, nor lover of Luna, nor son of Antonius. For before my mother Rachel and he came together, she, still a virgin, conceived me, while it was in my power to be either small or great, and to appear as a man among men. Therefore I have chosen you first as my friends, for the purpose of trying you, that I may place you first in my heavenly and unspeakable places when I shall have proved you. Therefore I have pretended to be a man, that I might more clearly ascertain if you cherish entire affection towards me.' But when I heard that, judging him indeed to be a wretch, yet wondering at his impudence; and blushing for him, and at the same thee fearing lest he should attempt some evil against us, I beckoned to Niceta to feign for a little along with me, and said to him: 'Be not angry with us, corruptible men, O thou incorruptible God, but rather accept our affection, and our mind willing to know who God is; for we did not till now know who thou art, nor did we perceive that thou art he whom we were seeking' (ibid. Chapter XIV).
So according to the above writings, Simon wanted to be considered above all regular humans and to be thought of as Christ.
An although Irenaeus held some heretical views, in the second century, he also reported about Simon Magus:
1. Simon the Samaritan was that magician of whom Luke, the disciple and follower of the apostles, says, "But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime used magical arts in that city, and led astray the people of Samaria, declaring that he himself was some great one, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This is the power of God, which is called great. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had driven them mad by his sorceries." This Simon, then -- who feigned faith, supposing that the apostles themselves performed their cures by the art of magic, and not by the power of God; and with respect to their filling with the Holy Ghost, through the imposition of hands, those that believed in God through Him who was preached by them, namely, Christ Jesus -- suspecting that even this was done through a kind of greater knowledge of magic, and offering money to the apostles, thought he, too, might receive this power of bestowing the Holy Spirit on whomsoever he would -- was addressed in these words by Peter: "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God can be purchased with money: thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not fight in the sight of God; for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." He, then, not putting faith in God a whit the more, set himself eagerly to contend against the apostles, in order that he himself might seem to be a wonderful being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Caesar, by whom also he is said to have been honoured with a statue, on account of his magical power. This man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a god; and he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son, but descended in Samaria as the Father while he came to other nations in the character of the Holy Spirit. He represented himself, in a word, as being the loftiest of all powers, that is, the Being who is the Father over all, and he allowed himself to be called by whatsoever title men were pleased to address him.
2. Now this Simon of Samaria, from whom all sorts of heresies derive their origin, formed his sect out of the following materials: -- Having redeemed from slavery at Tyre, a city of Phoenicia, a certain woman named Helena, he was in the habit of carrying her about with him, declaring that this woman was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all, by whom, in the beginning, he conceived in his mind [the thought] of forming angels and archangels. For this Ennoea leaping forth from him, and comprehending the will of her father, descended to the lower regions [of space], and generated angels and powers, by whom also he declared this word was formed. But after she had produced them, she was detained by them through motives of jealousy, because they were unwilling to be looked upon as the progeny of any other being. As to himself, they had no knowledge of him whatever; but his Ennoea was detained by those powers and angels who had been produced by her. She suffered all kinds of contumely from them, so that she could not return upwards to her father, but was even shut up in a human body, and for ages passed in succession from one female body to another, as from vessel to vessel. She was, for example, in that Helen on whose account the Trojan war was undertaken; for whose sake also Stesichorus was struck blind, because he had cursed her in his verses, but afterwards, repenting and writing what are called palinodes, in which he sang her praise, he was restored to sight. Thus she, passing from body to body, and suffering insults in every one of them, at last became a common prostitute; and she it was that was meant by the lost sheep.
3. For this purpose, then, he had come that he might win her first, and free her from slavery, while he conferred salvation upon men, by making himself known to them. For since the angels ruled the world ill because each one of them coveted the principal power for himself, he had come to amend matters, and had descended, transfigured and assimilated to powers and principalities and angels, so that he might appear among men to be a man, while yet he was not a man; and that thus he was thought to have suffered in Judaea, when he had not suffered. Moreover, the prophets uttered their predictions under the inspiration of those angels who formed the world; for which reason those who place their trust in him and Helena no longer regarded them, but, as being free, live as they please; for men are saved through his grace, and not on account of their own righteous actions. For such deeds are not righteous in the nature of things, but by mere accident, just as those angels who made the world, have thought fit to constitute them, seeking, by means of such precepts, to bring men into bondage. On this account, he pledged himself that the world should be dissolved, and that those who are his should be freed from the rule of them who made the world.
4. Thus, then, the mystic priests belonging to this sect both lead profligate lives and practise magical arts, each one to the extent of his ability. They use exorcisms and incantations. Love-potions, too, and charms, as well as those beings who are called "Paredri" (familiars) and "Oniropompi" (dream-senders), and whatever other curious arts can be had recourse to, are eagerly pressed into their service. They also have an image of Simon fashioned after the likeness of Jupiter, and another of Helena in the shape of Minerva; and these they worship. In fine, they have a name derived from Simon, the author of these most impious doctrines, being called Simonians; and from them "knowledge, falsely so called," received its beginning, as one may learn even from their own assertions.
5. The successor of this man was Menander, also a Samaritan by birth, and he, too, was a perfect adept in the practice of magic. He affirms that the primary Power continues unknown to all, but that he himself is the person who has been sent forth from the presence of the invisible beings as a saviour, for the deliverance of men. The world was made by angels, whom, like Simon, he maintains to have been produced by Ennoea. He gives, too, as he affirms, by means of that magic which he teaches, knowledge to this effect, that one may overcome those very angels that made the world; for his disciples obtain the resurrection by being baptized into him, and can die no more, but remain in the possession of immortal youth (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book 1, Chapter 23, Verses 1-5. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Notice that Simon was worshipped as if he were a god. Notice also that Simon had "mystic priests". This is a concept NOT found within the true Church of God ever, and not even in the Roman Church until at least the third century.
And Irenaeus immediately continued with:
1. Arising among these men, Saturninus (who was of that Antioch which is near Daphne) and Basilides laid hold of some favourable opportunities, and promulgated different systems of doctrine -- the one in Syria, the other at Alexandria. Saturninus, like Menander, set forth one father unknown to all, who made angels, archangels, powers, and potentates. The world, again, and all things therein, were made by a certain company of seven angels. Man, too, was the workmanship of angels, a shining image bursting forth below from the presence of the supreme power; and when they could not, he says, keep hold of this, because it immediately darted upwards again, they exhorted each other, saying, "Let us make man after our image and likeness." He was accordingly formed, yet was unable to stand erect, through the inability of the angels to convey to him that power, but wriggled [on the ground] like a worm. Then the power above taking pity upon him, since he was made after his likeness, sent forth a spark of life, which gave man an erect posture, compacted his joints, and made him live. He declares, therefore, that this spark of life, after the death of a man, returns to those things which are of the same nature with itself, and the rest of the body is decomposed into its original elements ...
5. Salvation belongs to the soul alone, for the body is by nature subject to corruption. He declares, too, that the prophecies were derived from those powers who were the makers of the world, but the law was specially given by their chief, who led the people out of the land of Egypt. He attaches no importance to [the question regarding] meats offered in sacrifice to idols, thinks them of no consequence, and makes use of them without any hesitation; he holds also the use of other things, and the practice of every kind of lust, a matter of perfect indifference. These men, moreover, practise magic; and use images, incantations, invocations, and every other kind of curious art. Coining also certain names as if they were those of the angels, they proclaim some of these as belonging to the first, and others to the second heaven; and then they strive to set forth the names, principles, angels, and powers of the three hundred and sixty-five imagined heavens. They also affirm that the barbarous name in which the Saviour ascended and descended, is Caulacau. (Book 1, Chapter 24, Verses 1,5).
Notice in the following passage Irenaeus condemns Simon Magus and those who followed them for their mysteries:
1. In the first book, which immediately precedes this, exposing "knowledge falsely so called," I showed thee, my very dear friend, that the whole system devised, in many and opposite ways, by those who are of the school of Valentinus, was false and baseless. I also set forth the tenets of their predecessors, proving that they not only differed among themselves, but had long previously swerved from the truth itself...I have also related how they think and teach that creation at large was formed after the image of their invisible Pleroma, and what they hold respecting the Demiurge, declaring at the same time the doctrine of Simon Magus of Samaria, their progenitor, and of all those who succeeded him. I mentioned, too, the multitude of those Gnostics who are sprung from him, and noticed the points of difference between them, their several doctrines, and the order of their succession, while I set forth all those heresies which have been originated by them. I showed, moreover, that all these heretics, taking their rise from Simon, have introduced impious and irreligious doctrines into this life; and I explained the nature of their "redemption," and their method of initiating those who are rendered "perfect," along with their invocations and their mysteries (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book II, Preface, Verse 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Thus it appears that the ideas of mysteries was probably introduced by this Simon the magician.
Irenaeus also wrote:
11...But if any one, "doting about questions," do imagine that what the apostles have declared about God should be allegorized, let him consider my previous statements, in which I set forth one God as the Founder and Maker of all things, and destroyed and laid bare their allegations; and he shall find them agreeable to the doctrine of the apostles, and so to maintain what they used to teach, and were persuaded of, that there is one God, the Maker of all things. And when he shall have divested his mind of such error, and of that blasphemy against God which it implies, he will of himself find reason to acknowledge that both the Mosaic law and the grace of the new covenant, as both fitted for the times [at which they were given], were bestowed by one and the same God for the benefit of the human race.
12. For all those who are of a perverse mind, having been set against the Mosaic legislation, judging it to be dissimilar and contrary to the doctrine of the Gospel, have not applied themselves to investigate the causes of the difference of each covenant. Since, therefore, they have been deserted by the paternal love, and puffed up by Satan, being brought over to the doctrine of Simon Magus, they have apostatized in their opinions from Him who is God, and imagined that they have themselves discovered more than the apostles, by finding out another god; and [maintained] that the apostles preached the Gospel still somewhat under the influence of Jewish opinions, but that they themselves are purer [in doctrine], and more intelligent, than the apostles. Wherefore also Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened.(Book III, Chapter 12, Verses 11-12).
Notice that Irenaeus is teaching that the idea that the Old Testament laws are dissimilar and contrary to the Gospel came from followers of Simon Magus. Irenaeus is teaching that Simon and his followers practiced lawlessness (see article on 2 Thesalonnians 2:7). Also, notice that he is claiming that it was from Simon's followers that the idea came forth that being under less Jewish influence is better form of Christianity. Is this not essentially a belief of most Protestants?
Irenaeus wrote about two descendants of Simon: Cerdo and Marcion:
1. Cerdo was one who took his system from the followers of Simon, and came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles downwards. He taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the former was known, but the latter unknown; while the one also was righteous, but the other benevolent.
2. Marcion of Pontus succeeded him, and developed his doctrine. In so doing, he advanced the most daring blasphemy against Him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring Him to be the author of evils, to take delight in war, to be infirm of purpose, and even to be contrary to Himself. But Jesus being derived from that father who is above the God that made the world, and coming into Judaea in the times of Pontius Pilate the governor, who was the procurator of Tiberius Caesar, was manifested in the form of a man to those who were in Judaea, abolishing the prophets and the law, and all the works of that God who made the world, whom also he calls Cosmocrator. Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us, furnishing them not with the Gospel, but merely a fragment of it. In like manner, too, he dismembered the Epistles of Paul, removing all that is said by the apostle respecting that God who made the world, to the effect that He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also those passages from the prophetical writings which the apostle quotes, in order to teach us that they announced beforehand the coming of the Lord.
3. Salvation will be the attainment only of those souls which had learned his doctrine; while the body, as having been taken from the earth, is incapable of sharing in salvation. In addition to his blasphemy against God Himself, he advanced this also, truly speaking as with the mouth of the devil, and saying all things in direct opposition to the truth -- that Cain, and those like him, and the Sodomites, and the Egyptians, and others like them, and, in fine, all the nations who walked in all sorts of abomination, were saved by the Lord, on His descending into Hades, and on their running unto Him, and that they welcomed Him into their kingdom. But the serpent which was in Marcion declared that Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and those other righteous men who sprang from the patriarch Abraham, with all the prophets, and those who were pleasing to God, did not partake in salvation. For since these men, he says, knew that their God was constantly tempting them, so now they suspected that He was tempting them, and did not run to Jesus, or believe His announcement: and for this reason he declared that their souls remained in Hades.
4. But since this man is the only one who has dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures, and unblushingly above all others to inveigh against God, I purpose specially to refute him, convicting him out of his own writings; and, with the help of God, I shall overthrow him out of those discourses of the Lord and the apostles, which are of authority with him, and of which he makes use. At present, however, I have simply been led to mention him, that thou mightest know that all those who in any way corrupt the truth, and injuriously affect the preaching of the Church, are the disciples and successors of Simon Magus of Samaria. Although they do not confess the name of their master, in order all the more to seduce others, yet they do teach his doctrines. They set forth, indeed, the name of Christ Jesus as a sort of lure, but in various ways they introduce the impieties of Simon; and thus they destroy multitudes, wickedly disseminating their own doctrines by the use of a good name, and, through means of its sweetness and beauty, extending to their hearers the bitter and malignant poison of the serpent, the great author of apostasy? (Book 1, Chapter 27, Verses 1-4).
Hence Irenaeus is teaching that among the descendants of Simon Magus are those who openly mutilate the scriptures--essentially by saying that their teachings supercede what the Bible says (those who put their own Traditions above the Bible) and by teaching that salvation is only attained by learning their doctrine (which is theirs and not the Bible.
Tertullian was a late second century, early third century apologist.
The following is from Tertullian:
Deity is struck off and farmed out to the highest bidder...when you instal in your Pantheon Simon Magus, giving him a statue and the title of Holy God; when you make an infamous court page a god of the sacred synod, although your ancient deities are in reality no better, they will still think themselves affronted by you, that the privilege antiquity conferred on them alone, has been allowed to others (Tertullian. Apology, Chapter 13. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Tertullian is teaching that some use statues of Simon and that is no better than how the ancient pagan gods were worshiped. Tertullian is also condemning the use of finances for religious favor and applying to a man a title that only belongs to God.
Tertullian also wrote:
There is the (infamous) Simon of Samaria in the Acts of the Apostles, who chaffered for the Holy Ghost: after his condemnation by Him, and a vain remorse that he and his money must perish together, he applied his energies to the destruction of the truth, as if to console himself with revenge. Besides the support with which his own magic arts furnished him, he had recourse to imposture, and purchased a Tyrian woman of the name of Helen out of a brothel, with the same money which he had offered for the Holy Spirit,--a traffic worthy of the wretched man. He actually reigned himself to be the Supreme Father, and further pretended that the woman was his own primary conception, wherewith he had purposed the creation of the angels and the archangels; that after she was possessed of this purpose she sprang forth from the Father and descended to the lower spaces, and there anticipating the Father's design had produced the angelic powers, which knew nothing of the Father, the Creator of this world; that she was detained a prisoner by these from a (rebellious) motive very like her own, lest after her departure from them they should appear to be the offspring of another being; and that, after being on this account exposed to every insult, to prevent her leaving them anywhere after her dishonour, she was degraded even to the form of man, to be confined, as it were, in the bonds of the flesh. Having during many ages wallowed about in one female shape and another, she became the notorious Helen who was so ruinous to Priam, and afterwards to the eyes of Stesichorus, whom, she blinded in revenge for his lampoons, and then restored to sight to reward him for his eulogies. After wandering about in this way from body to body, she, in her final disgrace, turned out a viler Helen still as a professional prostitute. This wench, therefore, was the lost sheep, upon whom the Supreme Father, even Simon, descended, who, after he had recovered her and brought her back--whether on his shoulders or loins I cannot tell--cast an eye on the salvation of man, in order to gratify his spleen by liberating them from the angelic powers.
Moreover, to deceive these he also himself assumed a visible shape; and reigning the appearance of a man amongst men, he acted the part of the Son in Judea, and of the Father in Samaria. O hapless Helen, what a hard fate is yours between the poets and the heretics, who have blackened your fame sometimes with adultery, sometimes with prostitution! Only her rescue from Troy is a more glorious affair than her extrication from the brothel. There were a thousand ships to remove her from Troy; a thousand pence were probably more than enough to withdraw her from the stews. Fie on you, Simon, to be so tardy in seeking her out, and so inconstant in ransoming her! How different from Menelaus! As soon as he has lost her, he goes in pursuit of her; she is no sooner ravished than he begins his search; after a ten years' conflict he boldly rescues her: there is no lurking, no deceiving, no cavilling. I am really afraid that he was a much better "Father," who laboured so much more vigilantly, bravely, and perseveringly, about the recovery of his Helen.
The opinions of Carpocrates, another offset from the Pythagorean dogmas, stated and confuted.
However, it is not for you alone, (Simon), that the transmigration philosophy has fabricated this story (Tertullian. Translated by Peter Holmes. A Treatise on the Soul, Chapters 34-35. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Tertullian appears to be condemning the transmigration of souls doctrine that most who now profess Christianity accept. He may also be saying that it is from Simon that this false concept out an immortal soul entered any form of Christianity (Tertullian himself actually taught that humans do not now possess immortality, see the article Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?, but Tertullian's own statements were sometimes contradictory).
Hippolytus, who also appeared to be a Roman supporter, in the early third century, wrote:
It seems, then, expedient likewise to explain now the opinions of Simon, a native of Gitta, a village of Samaria; and we shall also prove that his successors, taking a starting-point from him, have endeavoured (to establish) similar opinions under a change of name. This Simon being an adept in sorceries, both making a mockery of many, partly according to the art of Thrasymedes, in the manner in which we have explained above, and partly also by the assistance of demons perpetrating his villany, attempted to deify himself. (But) the man was a (mere) cheat, and full of folly, and the Apostles reproved him in the Acts. With much greater wisdom and moderation than Simon, did Apsethus the Libyan, inflamed with a similar wish, endeavour to have himself considered a god in Libya, And inasmuch as his legendary system does not present any wide divergence from the inordinate desire of that silly Simon, it seems expedient to furnish an explanation of it, as one worthy of the attempt made by this man. (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies (Book VI, Chapter II ). Translated by J. H. Machmahon. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Now Simon, both foolishly and knavishly paraphrasing the law of Moses, makes his statements (in the manner following): For when Moses asserts that "God is a burning and consuming fire," taking what is said by Moses not in its correct sense, he affirms that fire is the originating principle of the universe. (But Simon) does not consider what the statement is which is made, namely, that it is not that God is a fire, but a burning and consuming fire, (thereby) not only putting a violent sense upon the actual law of Moses, but even plagiarizing from Heraclitus the Obscure. And Simon denominates the originating principle of the universe an indefinite power, expressing himself thus: "This is the treatise of a revelation of (the) voice and name (recognisable) by means of intellectual apprehension of the Great Indefinite Power. Wherefore it will be sealed, (and) kept secret, (and) hid, (and) will repose in the habitation, at the foundation of which lies the root of all things." And he asserts that this man who is born of blood is (the aforesaid) habitation, and that in him resides an indefinite power, which he affirms to be the root of the universe. (ibid chapter IV).
Simon became confessedly a god to his silly followers (ibid Chapter XIII).
Simon then, after inventing these (tenets), not only by evil devices interpreted the writings of Moses in whatever way he wished, but even the (works) of the poets. For also he fastens an allegorical meaning on (the story of) the wooden horse and Helen with the torch, and on very many other (accounts), which he transfers to what relates to himself and to Intelligence, and (thus) furnishes a fictitious explanation of them. (ibid Chapter XIV).
Hence Hippolytus is teaching that Simon felt that allegorical interpretations were preferred to literal interpretations of the Bible. And that in his Simon's religion he was a god.
Hippolytus also wrote:
The disciples, then, of this (Magus), celebrate magical rites, and resort to incantations. And (they profess to) transmit both love-spells and charms, and the demons said to be senders of dreams, for the purpose of distracting whomsoever they please. But they also employ those denominated Paredroi. "And they have an image of Simon (fashioned) into the figure of Jupiter, and (an image) of Helen in the form of Minerva; and they pay adoration to these." But they call the one Lord and the other Lady. And if any one amongst them, on seeing the images of either Simon or Helen, would call them by name, he is cast off, as being ignorant of the mysteries. This Simon, deceiving many in Samaria by his sorceries, was reproved by the Apostles, and was laid under a curse, as it has been written in the Acts. But he afterwards abjured the faith, and attempted these (aforesaid practices). And journeying as far as Rome, he fell in with the Apostles; and to him, deceiving many by his sorceries, Peter offered repeated opposition. This man, ultimately repairing to . . . (and) sitting under a plane tree, continued to give instruction (in his doctrines). And in truth at last, when conviction was imminent, in case he delayed longer, be stated that, if he were buried alive, he would rise the third day. And accordingly, having ordered a trench to be dug by his disciples, he directed himself to be interred there. They, then, executed the injunction given; whereas he remained (in that grave) until this day, for he was not the Christ. This constitutes the legendary system advanced by Simon, and from this Valentinus derived a starting-point (for his own doctrine. This doctrine, in point of fact, was the same with the it Simonian, though Valentinus) denominated under different titles: for "Nous," and "Aletheia," and "Logos," and "Zoe," and "Anthropos," and "Ecclesia," and Aeons of Valentinus, are confessedly the six roots of Simon, viz., "Mind" and "Intelligence," "Voice" and "Name," "Ratiocination" and "Reflection." But since it seems to us that we have sufficiently explained Simon's tissue of legends, let us see what also Valentinus asserts. (ibid Chapter XV)
Notice that the religion of Simon and his followers included various incantations. And that this religion had a Lord and an important Lady. Neither incantations nor images were part of true early Christianity.
According to Hippolytus, both Simon and Valentinus kept use of the number seven, which although that number has biblical application, those heretics came up with their own seven stones, seven principles, upon which their beliefs were based:
Wherefore all the numbers are seven; so that the generation of things produced may be from the hebdomad--which is number, monad, power, cube, biquadratic, product of quadratic multiplied by cube, product of cube multiplied by cube.
Of this hebdomad Simon and Valentinus, having altered the names, detailed marvellous stories, from thence hastily adopting a system for themselves. For Simon employs his denominations thus: Mind, Intelligence, Name, Voice, Ratiocination, Reflection; and He who stood, stands, will stand. And Valentinus (enumerates them thus): Mind, Truth, Word, Life, Man, Church, and the Father, reckoned along with these, according to the same principles as those advanced by the cultivators of arithmetical philosophy. And (heresiarchs) admiring, as if unknown to the multitude, (this philosophy, and) following it, have framed heterodox doctrines devised by themselves. (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies (Book IV). Translated by J. H. Machmahon. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Hippolytus teaches that Simon teaches that there is some infinite power that is at the root of the universe (essentially a true statement), but that he (Simon) believes that he was a power above all apparently on the earth. Hippolytus reported that fire was also related to at least six of the seven stones mentioned above:
But that very sapient fellow Simon makes his statement thus, that there is an indefinite power, and that this is the root of the universe. And this indefinite power, he says, which is fire, is in itself not anything which is simple, as the gross bulk of speculators maintain, when they assert that there are four incomposite elements, and have supposed fire, as one of these, to be uncompounded. Simon, on the other hand, alleges that the nature of fire is twofold; and one portion of this twofold (nature) he calls a something secret, and another (a something) manifest. And he asserts that the secret is concealed in the manifest parts of the fire, and that the manifest parts of the fire have been produced from the secret. And he says that all the parts of the fire, visible and invisible, have been supposed to be in possession of a capacity of perception. The world, therefore, he says, that is begotten, has been produced from the unbegotten fire. And it commenced, he says, to exist thus: The Unbegotten One took six primal roots of the principle of generation from the principle of that fire. For he maintains that these roots have been generated in pairs from the fire; and these he denominates Mind and Intelligence, Voice and Name, Ratiocination and Reflection. Anti he asserts that in the six roots, at the same time, resides the indefinite power, which he affirms to be Him that stood, stands, and will stand. And when this one has been formed into a figure, He will, according to this heretic, exist in the six powers substantially and potentially. And He will be in magnitude and perfection one and the same with that unbegotten and indefinite power, possessing no attribute in any respect more deficient than that unbegotten, and unalterable, and indefinite power. If, however, He who stood, stands, and will stand, continues to exist only potentially in the six powers, and has not assumed any definite figure, He becomes, says Simon, utterly evanescent, and perishes. And this takes place in the same manner as the grammatical or geometrical capacity, which, though it has been implanted in man's soul, suffers extinction when it does not obtain (the assistance of) a master of either of these arts, who would indoctrinate that soul into its principles.
Now Simon affirms that he himself is He who stood, stands, and will stand, and that He is a power that is above all things. So far, then, for the opinions of Simon likewise. (Ibid Book X, Chapter VIII ).
More from Hippolytus:
Now after He was taken up again to the Father, there arose some, saying, "I am Christ," like Simon Magus and the rest, whose names we have not time at present to mention (Hippolytus. On the End of the World, Chapter IX. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Rome itself was influenced by Simon Magus according to Eusebius, via Justin, Simon Magus “led many people of the inhabitants of Rome astray” (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book II, Chapter XIII, Verses 1-2, pp. 31-32). And, over time, Rome did adopt many practices that Simon Magus advocated.
Most of the non-biblical sources cited so far are essentially considered to be from Roman Catholic supporters. The Paulicians were not supportive of the Roman Church nor were they supporters of Simon Magus. From the Paulicians of 1782:
But Simon himself believed and was baptized and rose up against Philip in trickery and charlanatry, in order to obtain the power of the holy spirit by deceit (Conybeare F.C. The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1898, p. 92)
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912 contained these statements:
By his magic arts, because of which he was called "Magus", and by his teachings in which he announced himself as the "great power of God", he had made a name for himself and had won adherents. He listened to Philip's sermons, was impressed by them, and like many of his countrymen was baptized and united with the community of believers in Christ. But, as was evident later, his conversion was not the result of the inner conviction of faith in Christ as the Redeemer, but rather from selfish motives, for he hoped to gain greater magical power and thus to increase his influence...Under the influence of Peter's rebuke Simon begged the Apostles to pray for him (Acts 8:9-29). However, according to the unanimous report of the authorities of the second century, he persisted in his false views. The ecclesiastical writers of the early Church universally represent him as the first heretic, the "Father of Heresies". Simon is not mentioned again in the writings of the New Testament...All these narratives belong naturally to the domain of legend. It is evident from them, however, that, according to the tradition of the second century, Simon Magus appeared as an opponent of Christian doctrine and of the Apostles, and as a heretic or rather as a false Messias of the Apostolic age...In morals Simon was probably Antinomian, an enemy of Old Testament law. Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Joseph E. O'Connor. Simon Magus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Thus even Roman Catholic authorities recognized that Simon was a false Christian and held false views.
Here are statements from the late Church of God leader Herbert W. Armstrong:
To the Thessalonians, about A.D. 54, Paul wrote, "For the Mystery of iniquity doth already work . . ." (II Thes. 2:7). It was the Babylonian mystery religion, started by Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8), a religion of iniquity - lawlessness - a religion rejecting the law of God...
During the time of Paul's ministry, these same Simon Magus ministers were troubling the Corinthians. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ [the true Church, in the resurrection, is to be married to Christ, spiritually]. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he [a minister of Simon Magus] that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit [of rebellion and disobedience] which ye have not received, or another gospel . . .” (11 Cor. 11:2-4).(More, later, about the connection with the deception of the first woman, Eve.) But notice, they were proclaiming another Jesus - as well as another gospel - and they followed another spirit - of rebellion and not obedience. That deception has continued through the centuries and is the state today. They took the NAME of Christ. They called their Babylonian religion "Christianity." But they not only presented a counterfeit gospel but a counterfeit spirit of self centeredness and a counterfeit Jesus, completely different to the Jesus of the Bible.
Of these false ministers, Paul wrote further to the Corinthians: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers. Transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness . . ." (II Cor. II: 13-15). (Armstrong HW. The Incredible Human Potential, Chapter 1)
Sincere members of that church would be shocked to learn that many of those who today call themselves Christians can trace their faith not to Peter, but to Simon Magus, mentioned in Acts 8! This Simon Magus was at the heart of the apostasy that turned much of the Apostolic Church away from Christ's teachings.
Scripture recounts that all of Samaria gave heed to Simon Magus as someone great, calling him "the great power of God" (Acts 8:9–10). That phrase represents Simon's "claim to be the bearer of divine revelation" (The New Testament Environment, Lohse, p. 269). Simon received baptism and became a nominal Christian, but the Apostle Peter recognized Simon as being "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" (Acts 8:23). Simon's Samaritan religion was also greatly influenced by Greek philosophy, and early Christian writers reviled him. Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity notes: "Early Christian writers regarded Simon as the fount of all heresies" (p. 100). The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed.) in its article on Simon Magus identifies him as the "founder of a school of Gnostics and as a father of heresy." Noted historian Edward Gibbon says the Gnostics "blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets which they derived from oriental philosophy" (The Triumph of Christendom in the Roman Empire, p. 15).
Simon Magus and others sought to create a syncretistic faith, mixing popular devotions with their philosophies, and adding a covering of Christ's words, to create a religion that could win mass acceptance. (Satan's Counterfeit Christianity. Charlotte Booklet, 2008)
Those who claim Christ really should look into whether or not they have adopted the non-biblical heresies that Simon Magus and his later followers adopted. Those wanting to learn more should also consider studying the articles at the The History of Early Christianity page.
An apostate who is believed to also have arisen in the first century and who was also believed to have been directly denounced by one of the original 12 apostles was Cerinthus (see Cerinthus: An early heretic). Other apostates and heretics, some with similarities to Simon Magus, also arose in the second and later centuries.
Sometime after his confrontation with Peter, history records that Simon Magus traveled and spread his teachings.
Since most of the statements written about Simon come from those who were his opponents, it is difficult to know for certain much about him or his teachings (it would be easiest if we had any actual writings from him). However, since Simon is clearly condemned in scripture, it would appear to be a wise decision to not participate in practices that apparently he or his followers introduced to their false brand of Christianity.
As this paper illustrates, even those now considered to be early supporters of the Roman Catholic Church condemned Simon and his followers for doctrines such as statues, revering a woman, the doctrine of the immortal soul, incantations, mysteries, mystic priests, claiming divine titles for leaders, accepting money for religious favors, preferring allegory and tradition over many aspects of scripture, having a leader who wanted to be thought of as God/Christ on earth, and divorcing themselves from Christian biblical practices considered to be Jewish. And it appears that Simon Magus directly influenced Rome. The religion of Mithraism also had some of these same practices and Rome was highly influenced by the follower of Mithras, Emperor Constantine (Do You Practice Mithraism?).
Sadly, most of the groups that now profess Christianity and condemn Simon and his followers have many of the same practices and doctrines that early writers objected to as false and heretical.
Of course, the Church of God has none of those practices, and thus is truly the Church that is most faithful to the original teachings of the Bible.
Back to early Christianity page Back to COGwriter home page
B. Thiel, Ph.D. Simon Magus, What Did He Teach? www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2011/2013/2014 0127