Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book II/Chapter 13
Chapter XIII.—Simon Magus.
1. But faith in our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ having now been diffused among all men, the enemy of man’s salvation contrived a plan for seizing the imperial city for himself. He conducted thither the above-mentioned Simon, aided him in his deceitful arts, led many of the inhabitants of Rome astray, and thus brought them into his own power.
2. This is stated by Justin, one of our distinguished writers who lived not long after the time of the apostles. Concerning him I shall speak in the proper place. Take and read the work of this man, who in the first Apology which he addressed to Antonine in behalf of our religion writes as follows:
3. “And after the ascension of the Lord into heaven the demons put forward certain men who said they were gods, and who were not only allowed by you to go unpersecuted, but were even deemed worthy of honors. One of them was Simon, a Samaritan of the village of Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Cæsar performed in your imperial city some mighty acts of magic by the art of demons operating in him, and was considered a god, and as a god was honored by you with a statue, which was erected in the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription in the Latin tongue, Simoni Deo Sancto, that is, To Simon the Holy God.
4. And nearly all the Samaritans and a few even of other nations confess and worship him as the first God. And there went around with him at that time a certain Helena who had formerly been a prostitute in Tyre of Phœnicia; and her they call the first idea that proceeded from him.”
5. Justin relates these things, and Irenæus also agrees with him in the first book of his work, Against Heresies, where he gives an account of the man and of his profane and impure teaching. It would be superfluous to quote his account here, for it is possible for those who wish to know the origin and the lives and the false doctrines of each of the heresiarchs that have followed him, as well as the customs practiced by them all, to find them treated at length in the above-mentioned work of Irenæus.
6. We have understood that Simon was the author of all heresy. From his time down to the present those who have followed his heresy have feigned the sober philosophy of the Christians, which is celebrated among all on account of its purity of life. But they nevertheless have embraced again the superstitions of idols, which they seemed to have renounced; and they fall down before pictures and images of Simon himself and of the above-mentioned Helena who was with him; and they venture to worship them with incense and sacrifices and libations.
7. But those matters which they keep more secret than these, in regard to which they say that one upon first hearing them would be astonished, and, to use one of the written phrases in vogue among them, would be confounded, are in truth full of amazing things, and of madness and folly, being of such a sort that it is impossible not only to commit them to writing, but also for modest men even to utter them with the lips on account of their excessive baseness and lewdness.
8. For whatever could be conceived of, viler than the vilest thing—all that has been outdone by this most abominable sect, which is composed of those who make a sport of those miserable females that are literally overwhelmed with all kinds of vices.
- It is justly remarked by Reuterdahl that no chapters of Eusebius’ History are so imperfect and unsatisfactory as those which relate to heresies, but that this is to be ascribed more to the age than to the author. A right understanding of heresies and an appreciation of any truth which they might contain was utterly impossible to men who looked upon heresy as the work of the devil, and all heretics as his chosen tools. Eusebius has been condemned by some, because he gives his information about heretics only from second hand, and quotes none of them directly; but it must be remembered that this method was by no means peculiar to Eusebius, and, moreover, it is highly probable that he did not have access to any of their works. The accounts of the heretics given by Irenæus, Hippolytus, and others would of course be preserved, but the writings of heretics themselves would be piously excluded as completely as possible from all Christian libraries, and the knowledge of them cannot have remained long in the Church. The sources upon which we have to rely at the present day for a knowledge of these heresies furnish an illustration of this. We know them almost solely through their enemies, and Eusebius knew them in the same way and very likely for the same reason.
- See chap. 3, note 1.
- Simon Magus, of whom mention is first made in Acts viii. 9 sqq. (quoted above, in chap. 1), played a very prominent role in early Church history. His life has been so greatly embellished with legends that it is very difficult to extract a trustworthy account of him. Indeed the Tübingen school, as well as some other modern critics, have denied altogether the existence of such a personage, and have resolved the account of him into a Jewish Christian fiction produced in hostility to the apostle Paul, who under the mask of Simon was attacked as the real heretic. But this identification of Paul and Simon rests upon a very slender foundation, as many passages can be adduced in which the two are expressly distinguished, and indeed the thought of identifying Paul and Simon seems never to have occurred to the writer of the Recognitions. The most that can be said is that the author of the Homilies gives, and without doubt purposely, some Pauline traits to his picture of Simon, but this does not imply that he makes Simon no more than a mask for Paul (cf. the words of Salmon in his article, Clementine Literature, in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. Vol. I. p. 576). The original of Simon then is not to be found in Paul. The third century fiction is based upon a real historic person whose actual existence must be assumed to account for the early notices of him in the Acts and in Justin Martyr, as well as the common tradition of him among all parties in the Church. Salmon considers Simon of Gitton—the basis of the account of Justin Martyr and of all the later Simon legends—a second century Gnostic distinct from the Simon mentioned in the Acts (see his excellent article Simon Magus, in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. IV. p. 681 sqq.). In the Pseudo-Clementines Simon is represented as traveling widely and spreading his errors in all directions, while Peter follows him for the purpose of exposing his impostures, and refutes him repeatedly in public disputations, until at length he conquers him completely in Rome, and Simon ends his life by suicide. His death, as well as his life, is recorded in various conflicting and fabulous traditions (see note 9, below). For ancient accounts of Simon, see Justin Martyr, Apol. I. 26 and 56 and Dial. c. Trypho. CXX.; the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions; Irenæus, I. 23; Hippolytus, VI. 2 sq.; Tertullian’s Apology, On Idolatry, On the Soul, etc.; Apost. Constitutions, VII. 7 sq.; Arnobius, Adv. Gentes, II. 12, &c.; Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Am. ed. VIII. p. 477 sqq.); Epiphanius, Hær. XXI.; and Theodoret, Hær. Fab. I. 1. See also Lipsius, article in Schinkel’s Bibel-Lexicon, Vol. V.
- In his Apology, I. 26, 56.
- In Bk. IV. chaps. 8, 11, 16–18.
- On Justin’s Apology, see below, Bk. IV. chap. 18, note 2.
- Justin’s Apology, I. 26.
- Gitton was a village of Samaria, near Flavia Neapolis (the modern Nâblus), and is identified by Robinson with the present village of Kuryet Jît (see Robinson’s Biblical Researches, III. p. 144, note). Some have doubted the accuracy of Justin’s report, for the reason that Josephus (Ant. XXII. 7. 2) mentions a magician named Simon, of about the same date, who was born in Cyprus. There was a town called Κίτιον in Cyprus, and it has been thought that Justin may have mistaken this place for the Samaritan Gitton. But even if we assume the identity of the two Simons as many critics do, it is less likely that Justin, a native of Samaria, was mistaken upon a question concerning his own country, than that Josephus was. Simon’s activity may have extended to Cyprus, in which case Josephus might easily have mistaken his birthplace.
- Justin here assigns Simon’s visit to Rome to the reign of Claudius (41–54 a.d.), as Irenæus also does. Other accounts assign it to the reign of Nero, but all differ as to the details of his death; suicide, death from injuries received while trying to fly, voluntary burial in expectation of rising again on the third day, &c., are reported in different traditions. All, however, agree that he visited Rome at some time or another.
- That is, on the island which lies in the middle of the Tiber, a short distance below the Vatican, and which now bears the name Isola Tiberiana, or di S. Sebastiano.
- In 1574 a statue, bearing the inscription Semoni Sanco deo fidio, &c., was found in the place described by Justin Martyr, but this statue was erected to the Sabine divinity Semo Sancus. It is therefore highly probable that Justin mistook this statue for a statue of Simon Magus. This is now the commonly accepted view, though the translator of Justin Martyr in the Ante-Nicene Fathers ventures to dispute it (see the Am. ed. Vol. I. p. 171, note). The report is given a second time by Justin in his Apol. 56, and also by Irenæus, I. 23. 1 (who, however, simply says “It is said,” and may have drawn his knowledge only from Justin Martyr) and by Tertullian, Apol. chap. 13. The last named is in general a poor authority even if he be independent of Justin at this point, which is not probable. Hippolytus, who lived at Rome, and who gives us an account of the death of Simon (Bk. VII. chap. 15), says nothing about the statue and his silence is a strong argument against it.
- A similar story is told of this Helen by Irenæus, I. 23; by Hippolytus, VI. 15 (who adds some important particulars); by Tertullian, De Anima, 34; by Epiphanius, Hær. 21; and by Theodoret, Hær. Fab. I. 1; compare also Origen, Contra Celsum, V. 62. Simon taught that this Helen was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all things, the impersonation of the divine intelligence, &c. The Simonians, according to Irenæus (I. 23. 4), and Hippolytus (VI. 15; see chap. 14, note 8), had images of Simon and Helen whom they honored as Jupiter and Minerva. Simon’s doctrines and practice, as recorded by these Fathers, show some of the general conceptions common to all the Gnostic systems, but exhibit a crude and undeveloped form of Gnosticism. Upon Helen, see Salmon, in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. II. p. 880 sq., and all the works upon Simon Magus.
- This conception of the idea (žννοια) is thoroughly Gnostic, and plays an important part in all the Gnostic systems. Most of these systems had a dualistic element recognizing the δύναμις and the žννοιαas the original principles from whose union all beings emanated. These general conceptions appeared in all varieties of forms in the different systems.
- Irenæus adv. Hær. I. 23.
- See note 3, above.
- This was the general opinion of the early Fathers, all of whom picture Gnosticism as a wilderness of absurdities and nonsense; and Irenæus, Hippolytus, and others undertake its refutation only for the purpose of exposing these absurdities. It is treated by none of them as an intelligent speculation with a foundation in reason or sense. This thorough misunderstanding of the nature and aim of Gnosticism has been perpetuated in our day by many writers upon the subject. Neander was the first to attempt a thoroughly philosophical treatment of it (in his Genetische Entwickelung d. gnost. Systeme, Berlin, 1818), and since that time the subject has been treated intelligently and discriminatingly by many writers, e.g. Baur, Lipsius, Lightfoot, Salmon and especially Harnack who has grasped the true principle of Gnosticism perhaps more fully than any one else. See his Dogmengeschichte, I. p. 158 sqq.
- This was true of the Simonians, who were very immoral and licentious, and of some other Gnostic sects, as e.g. the Ophites, the Carpocratians, &c. But many of the Gnostics, e.g. Marcion (but see below, IV. 11, note 24), Saturninus, Tatian, &c., went to the opposite extreme, teaching a rigid and gloomy asceticism. Underlying both of these extremes we perceive the same principle—a dualism of matter and spirit, therefore of body and mind—the former considered as the work of the devil, and therefore to be despised and abused: the latter as divine, and therefore to be honored above all else. The abhorrence of the body, and of matter and nature in general, logically led to one of the two opposite results, asceticism or antinomianism, according to the character and instincts of the person himself. See Schaff, Church Hist. II. p. 457 sqq. The Fathers, in their hatred of all forms of heresy, naturally saw no good in any of them, and heretics were therefore indiscriminately accused of immorality and licentiousness in their worst forms.