Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Simonians

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A Gnostic, Antinomian sect of the second century which regarded Simon Magus as its founder and which traced its doctrines back to him. The Simonians are mentioned by Hegesippus (in Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", IV, xxii); their doctrines are quoted and opposed in connection with Simon Magus by Irenaeus ("Adv. haer.", I, xxiii), by the "Philosophumena" (VI, ix-xx; X, xii), and later by Epiphanius ("Haer.", xxii). In the "Philosophumena" Simon's doctrine is described according to his reputed work, "The Great Declaration"; it is evident that we have here the doctrinal opinions of the Simonians as they had developed in the second century. According to these there was a perfect, eternal ungenerated being (fire), that contained an invisible, hidden element and a visible, manifest element; the hidden is concealed in the manifest; the action of both is similar to that of the intelligible and the sensible in Plato. From that which remains concealed of the ungenerated being six roots (powers) emanated in pairs and these pairs correspond at the same time to heaven and earth, sun and moon, air and water. In their potentiality is contained the entire power. This unlimited power is the "Standing One" (estos), the seventh root (power) corresponding to the seventh day after the six days of creation. This seventh power existed before the world, it is the Spirit of God that moved upon the face of the waters (Gen., i, 2). When it does not remain in the six roots (in potentiality), but is actually developed in the world, it is then in substance, magnitude, and perfection the same as the unlimited power of the ungenerated being (pantheistic emanation). As the female side of the original being appears the "thought" or "conception" (ennoia), which is the mother of the aeons. The "Standing One" is regarded as containing both sexes. The first six "powers" are followed by other less important emanations: archangels, angels, the demiurge who fashions the world, who is also the God of the Jews. The jealousy of the inferior spirits seems to have forced the "Ennoia" to take female forms and to migrate from one body into another, until Simon Magus, the great power sent forth by the original being, discovered her in Helena and released her. The deliverance was wrought by his being recognized as the highest power of God, the "Standing One". Men are also saved by accepting Simon's doctrine, by recognizing him as the great power of God. The Old Testament and its law, by which mankind was only brought into bondage, was opposed (antinomianism) as the work of the inferior god of the Jews (the Demiurge). The Simonians used magic and theurgy, incantations, and love-potions; they declared idolatry a matter of indifference that was neither good nor bad, proclaimed fornication to be perfect love, and led very disorderly, immoral lives. In general, they regarded nothing in itself as good or bad by nature. It was not good works that made men blessed, in the next world, but the grace bestowed by Simon and Helena on those who united with them. The Simonians venerated and worshiped Simon under the image of Zeus, and Helena under that of Athene. The sect flourished in Syria, in various districts of Asia Minor and at Rome. In the third century remnants of it still existed (Origen, "Contra Cels.", I, 57; VI, 11), which survived until the fourth century. Eusebius ("Hist. eccl.", II, xiii) calls the Simonians the most immoral and depraved of mankind. Closely connected with them were the Dositheans and Menandrians, who should be regarded probably as branches of the Simonians. Their names came from Dositheus and Meander, of whom the first, a Samaritan, was originally the teacher and then the pupil of Simon Magus, while Menander was a pupil and, after Simon's death, his most important successor. Dositheus is said to have opposed antinomianism, that is, the rejection of Old Testament law. As late as the beginning of the seventh century Eulogius of Alexandria (in Photius, "Bibliotheca cod.", 230) opposed Dositheans who regarded Dositheus as the great prophet foretold by Moses. Dositheus died a tragic death from starvation ("Pseudo-Clemen. Recognitions," I, 57, 72; II, 11; Origen, "Contra Cels.", I, 57; VI, 11; "De principiis", IV, 17; "In Matth. Comm.", XXXII, P.L., XIII, 1643; "In Luc. Hom.", XXV, ibid., 1866; Epiphanius, "Haer.", XX). Like Simon, Menander also proclaimed himself to be the one sent of God, the Messias. In the same way he taught the creation of the world by angels who were sent by the Ennoia. He asserted that men received immortality and the resurrection by his baptism and practiced magical arts. The sect named after him, the Menandrians, continued to exist for a considerable length of time.

See the bibliography to SIMON MAGUS.

J.P. KIRSCH