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The purchase or sale of an ecclesiastical or ecclesiastical office , benefices , sacraments , relics or the like is called simony . In connection with the investiture controversy in the Middle Ages , the term was temporarily extended to each assignment of a church office by a layperson (lay investiture), whether for money or without consideration. The sale of ecclesiastical offices, which was common in the Middle Ages, was finally forbidden by canon law, as it saw spiritual values ​​degraded.


Fall of Simon Magus , Hildesheim, 1170

The term "simony" is derived from the biblical figure of Simon Magus ( Acts 8,5-24  EU ):

“But Philip went down to a city of Samaria and preached the Christ to them. The crowds with one accord listened to what was said of Philip, listening and seeing the signs he was doing. […] But a man by the name of Simon was in the city beforehand, who practiced magic and upset the people of Samaria by saying of himself that he was something great. […] When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When these came down, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. But when Simon saw that the Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles' hands, he brought them money and said: Give me this power too, so that he on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said to him, Your money will go to ruin with you, because you believed that the gift of God could be obtained through money. You are neither part nor right in this matter because your heart is not sincere before God. Now repent of this wickedness of yours and ask the Lord whether the attack of your heart will be forgiven you; for I see that you are full of bitter bile and in bonds of injustice. But Simon answered and said: Ask the Lord for me, so that nothing of what you have said come to me. "

Historical aspects

After the Edict of Tolerance of Milan in 313 under Emperor Constantine I and his Eastern Roman co-emperor Licinius , which ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire , Christianity was confronted with new challenges. With the state approval as a religion, an ecclesiastical office could become part of a career. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, ordinations to priests for a fee were expressly and officially prohibited. Pope Nicholas II called the simony at the Synod of 1059/1060 as a "triple simonistic heresy ", which was based on his division into simonistic or non-simonistic purchase of offices as well as in participating simonists and non-simonists. Any consecration that came about in a simonistic way should be punished with the removal of the office holder from office. Even if this prohibition was confirmed at other councils - such as the Council in Lateran II (1139), the Council in Lateran III (1179) and the Council of Trent (1545–1563) - the purchase of offices was still widespread.

The high point of buying and selling offices was towards the end of the Middle Ages . According to anecdotes, Alexander VI. In 1492 he bought his election as Pope by beating the bidding of the French King Charles VIII and the Republic of Genoa  - 300,000 gold ducats for their own favorite - by four mule loads of silver . Even more cautious historians admit that buying an office was “not unlikely” in this case.

Simony today

With the separation of church and state , the problem has been significantly defused today.

However, the fact of simony was reassessed in the context of the papal election . According to Can. 149 § 3 of the Roman Catholic Codex Iuris Canonici, a transfer of office carried out through simony is fundamentally ineffective. Pope John Paul II expressly affirmed in 1996 that the election of a new Pope remains valid even in the case of bribery:

“Assuming that in the election of the Pope the crime of simony - God save us from it! - should have been committed, I resolve and declare that all those who are guilty will incur the excommunication latae sententiae [as a punishment] ; However, I declare that the nullity or the invalidity is repealed in the case of simonist elections, so that the validity of the Pope's election for this reason - as already decreed by my predecessors - is not challenged. "

Web links

Wiktionary: Simony  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Karl Hörmann : Simony. In: Lexicon of Christian Morals. Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck / Vienna / Munich, 1969, pp. 1061-1065 (published on the website of the community of St. Joseph).;
  • Jan Hus : Heresy and buying offices. In: Writings on the reform of the faith and letters from the years 1414-1415. Pp. 70–74 (reproduced on;

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (1996), VI, § 78.