The History Of Heresies and Their Refutation – Heresies of the 1st Century, Simon Magus

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Saint Alphonsus Liguori explains one of the very first heresies to encounter Christianity, the heresy of Simon Magus. Simon attempted to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from Saints Peter and John. Thus, as St. Alphonsus Liguori describes "the detestable crime of selling holy things is called Simony".

1. Simon Magus (1), the first heretic who disturbed the Church, was born in a part of Samaria called Githon or Gitthis. He was called Magus, or the Magician, because he made use of spells to deceive the multitude; and hence he acquired among his countrymen the extraordinary name of "The Great Power of God" (Acts, viii. 10). "This man is the power of God which is called great." Seeing that those on whom the Apostles Peter and John laid hands received the Holy Ghost, he offered them money to give to him the power of communicating the Holy Ghost in like manner; and on that account the detestable crime of selling holy things is called Simony.

He went to Rome, and there was a statue erected to him in that city, a fact which St. Justin, in his first Apology, flings in the face of the Romans: " In your royal city," he says, "he (Simon) was esteemed a god, and a statue was erected to him in the Island of the Tyber, between the two bridges, bearing this Latin inscription — Simoni, Deo Sancto." Samuel Basnage, Petavius, Valesius, and many others, deny this fact; but Tillemont, Grotius, Fleury, and Cardinal Orsi defend it, and adduce in favour of it the authority of Tertullian, St. Irenaeus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Augustin, Eusebius, and Theodoret, who even says the statue was a bronze one. Simon broached many errors, which Noel Alexander enumerates and refutes (2).


One heresy Simon preached was that "the world was created by angels". In other words, worship the creation and not the creator.

The principal ones were that the world was created by angels ; that when the soul leaves the body it enters into another body, which, if true, says St. Irenaeus (3), it would recollect all that happened when it inhabited the former body, for memory, being a spiritual quality, it could not be separated from the soul. Another of his errors was one which has been brought to light by the heretics of our own days, that man had no free will, and, consequently, that good works are not necessary for salvation. Baronius and Fleury relate (4), that, by force of magic spells, he one day caused the devil to elevate him in the air; but St. Peter and St. Paul being present, and invoking the name of Jesus Christ, he fell down and broke both his legs.

He was carried away by his friends; but his corporeal and mental sufferings preyed so much on him, that, in despair, he cast himself out of a high window; and thus perished the first heretic who ever disturbed the Church of Christ (5).


One take away is how St. Alphonsus Liguori mentions "Another of his errors was one which has been brought to light by the heretics of our own days, that man had no free will." Think Martin Luther. Another take away is how Magus ended his life. He ended it by not receiving Christ but ultimately rejecting Him and his Mercy entirely. Therefore, heresy and those who perpetuate it have a fate that does not end well.

Basnage, who endeavours to prove that St. Peter never was in Rome, and never filled the pontifical chair of that city, says that this is all a fabrication; but we have the testimony of St. Ambrose, St. Isidore of Pelusium, St. Augustin, St. Maximus, St. Philastrius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Severus Sulpicius, Theodoret, and many others, in our favour. We have, besides, a passage in Suetonius, which corroborates their testimony, for he says (lib. VI., cap. xii.), that, while Nero assisted at the public sports, a man endeavoured to fly, but, after elevating himself for a while, he fell down, and the Emperor's pavilion was sprinkled with his blood.
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