Simon Magus

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The fall of Simon Magus (unknown artist), Hildesheim, 1170

Simon Magus (also Simon the Magician , Simon of Samaria or Simon of Gitta ; † 65, Rome) is regarded as the first heretic of the church . What little is known about him comes from Christian sources, mostly polemics against Gnostics . As a result, he was a Samaritan who was worshiped by his followers as "the great power of God" or God in human form ( theios aner ). The term simony for purchase of offices is derived from his name .

The sources

The figure of Simon appears in the Acts of the Apostles, with the Church Fathers ( Irenaeus , Justin the Martyr , Hippolytus of Rome ) as well as in the apocryphal Acts of Peter and the pseudo-Clementines . There are so very different images of him that it is questionable whether all mean the same person or whether his name only forms the projection screen for the condemnation of different theological directions. The large church literature is primarily interested in delimitation, so that its presentation is probably descriptive and polemical .

Acts of the Apostles

The earliest reference to Simon can be found in the Acts of the Apostles, probably written after 70 ( Acts 8,9-25  EU ), which reports on a Simon Magus in Sebaste in Samaria . He is said to have triggered ecstatic effects and to have been worshiped by his followers as a "power of God that ... great". Impressed by the apostle Philip , he was baptized. When Peter and John came to Samaria and prayed over the believer for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, Simon offered them money for the power to call the Holy Spirit down on others. This is followed by the term “ simony” for trading in church offices.


Justin the Martyr († 165) describes Simon as a man who was religiously revered by his followers at the time of Claudius (41–54). He was on the road with a Helena whom he freed from a brothel and who is worshiped by his followers as a divine entity called "First Thought". Justin reports on Simon's Roman community consisting mainly of Samaritans. He also knows of a statue dedicated to Simon on the Tiber Island. In 1574 a statue was discovered on the island, but this was dedicated to the Roman oath god Semo Sancus , who was probably identified with Jupiter . It could well be the picture of Simon mentioned by Justin.

Irenaeus of Lyon

While the Acts of the Apostles only knows about the magician Simon, but not about any system of teaching, according to Irenaeus of Lyon the "wrongly so-called" gnosis began with Simon. In Against the Heretics (Book 1 from the Pseudo-Clementines ) he wrote that Simon claimed to be a Messiah (Christ) and to have come to redeem the (female) “first thought” Ennoia from matter. This “First Thought” descended into lower regions and created angels and powers. They would have rebelled against Ennoia-Helena out of envy and created the world for them as a prison in which they would have to lie trapped in a female body. She remained trapped in the world through several reincarnations , took a. a. in Helen from Troy until she was redeemed as a prostitute in the Phoenician city ​​of Tire by God, who had descended in the form of Simon Magus. Let this world, created by the angels, be destroyed. Only those who believe in Simon and Helena can return to the higher regions with them.

The apocryphal Acts of Peter

Fall of Simon Magus, fresco (1768) in Söll (Tyrol)

The apocryphal Acts of Peter , presumably composed in Asia Minor at the end of the second century, describe a legend about the death of Simon Magus. Simon practices sorcery in front of the Roman Emperor Claudius at the Forum. To prove his divinity, Simon rises into the air. The apostle Peter prays that God should stop what is happening:

“But may he not die, just be made harmless and his thigh broken in three places. And Simon fell from the sky and broke his thigh in three places. So all the stones threw at him and went home and from now on they trusted Peter. "

- Acts of Peter 32

Apparently, the authors of the Acts of Peter were not aware that the custom of stoning in Rome in ancient Greece and Israel was unimaginable. The dramatic image of Simon levitated and falling over Rome, however, had a great impact and was often depicted in medieval art.

Hippolytus of Rome

In the Philosophumena, Hippolytus of Rome provides a complex exposition of Simonianism, including its system of divine emanations and interpretations of the Old Testament. This representation is likely based on a later figure of Simonianism, while its original teachings were simpler and more similar to the representation of Justin and Irenaeus.


In the anti-Gnostic pseudo-Cementine novel, which was written around the 4th century, Simon Magus is the embodiment of the Gnostic heresy and the "false prophet " as an opponent of Peter and his young student Clement .

It is reported that Simon came from Samaria and that he acquired Greek education and magic in Alexandria after he had been a pupil of John the Baptist . Helena accompanied him as "Sophia", d. H. as wisdom personified . Simon's disputations with Peter largely determine the plot. In them, Simon represents the dualistic doctrine of “inner light” that prevails in Gnosis and the world created by an evil and unjust God as its prison, from which only he, the “supreme power of God”, can free. Peter, on the other hand, maintains that creation, because it was created by the good, righteous God, is very good and that man as the image of God can freely choose. With quotations from the Bible he convicts Simon as a false prophet. When Simon realizes that he cannot defeat Peter, he flees.

The figure of Simon in the pseudo-clementines is less a historical person than the cliché of a heretic . His story is constructed as a counter-image to the true prophet Jesus Christ and his disciple Peter, in keeping with the theology of the book that everything has its “syzygy”, i.e. its opposite.

The historical Simon Magus and Simonianism

Almost nothing is known about the historical Simon as well as about his teachings and followers. The sources indicate that he was a Gnostic magician . The earliest source, the Acts of the Apostles, reports nothing of his Gnostic claim of a savior , who was able to free the world soul , which had fallen into bondage (with Simon the "mother of all") through his "call" and proves it with the liberation of Helena.

The system of Simonian gnosis, as it is documented at the end of the 2nd century, shows itself to be in competition with the beginning Christianity, which fits the exclusion reported in the Acts of the Apostles and the news about Simon's stay in Rome. It was addressed to Christians and non-Christians, influences took the Vulgärplatonismus (prisoners, wandering soul of the world) on integrated Roman religious practices (worship of a statue - the head of Zeus sprung - Athena as Helena) and divine contains the idea of personalized feminine wisdom of Hellenistic Judaism ( Book of Wisdom , AT).


  • AHB Logan: Simon Magus. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . Volume 31, De Gruyter, Berlin 1999, pp. 272-276, ISBN 3-11-002218-4 .
  • Karlmann Beyschlag : Simon Magus and the Christian Gnosis . Scientific research on the New Testament. Vol. 16. Mohr, Tübingen 1974. ISBN 3-16-135872-4 .
  • Gerd Lüdemann : Investigations on the Simonian Gnosis . Göttingen theological works, Volume 1, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-525-87351-4 .
  • Alfred Pfabigan (editor): The Other Bible. Apocrypha AT, NT. Frankfurt am Main, Eichborn 1990, ISBN 3-8218-4068-4 .
  • Christoph Schmitt:  Simon Magus. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 10, Bautz, Herzberg 1995, ISBN 3-88309-062-X , Sp. 410-413.
  • Florent Heintz: Simon "le magicien". Actes 8, 5–25 et l'accusation de magie contre les prophètes thaumaturges dans l'antiquité . Cahiers de la Revue Biblique , Volume 39, Gabalda, Paris 1997, ISBN 2-85021-104-4 .
  • Gerd Theißen : Simon Magus. The development of his image from charismatic to Gnostic redeemer. A contribution to the early history of Gnosis. In: Axel von Dobbeler (editor): Religious history of the New Testament. Festschrift for Klaus Berger on his 60th birthday . Francke, Tübingen u. a. 2000, pp. 407-433, ISBN 3-7720-2756-3 .
  • Jürgen Zangenberg : Dynamis tou theou. The religious history profile of Simon Magus from Sebaste. In: Axel von Dobbeler (Hrsg.): Religious history of the New Testament. Festschrift for Klaus Berger on his 60th birthday . Francke, Tübingen u. a. 2000, pp. 519-541, ISBN 3-7720-2756-3 .
  • Roland Bergmeier: The figure of Simon Magus in Act 8 and in the Simeonian Gnosis. Aporias for an overall interpretation. In: Roland Bergmeier: The law in Romans and other studies on the New Testament . WUNT , Volume 121, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2000, ISBN 3-16-147196-2 .
  • Dominique Côté: Le thème de l'opposition entre Pierre et Simon dans les Pseudo-Clémentines . Collection des Études Augustiniennes. Série Antiquité, Volume 167, Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, Paris 2001, ISBN 2-85121-188-9 .
  • Stephen Haar: Simon Magus - The First Gnostic? . Supplements to the journal for the New Testament science and the customer of the older church, Volume 119, de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-11-017689-0 .
  • Alberto Ferreiro: Simon Magus in Patristic, Medieval and Early Modern Traditions . Studies in the History of Christian Traditions. Vol. 125. Brill, Leiden et al. a. 2005, ISBN 90-04-14495-1 .

Web links

Commons : Simon Magus  - collection of images, videos and audio files