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Simon Magus

The Life of the Samaritan Who Converted to Christianity and Confronted Peter the Apostle in the 1st Century
Narrated by: Colin Fluxman
Length: 1 hr and 32 mins

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Publisher's Summary

“Simon, the Samaritan magician, was the first minister of the demon's evil practices who arose. Who having rushed to the height of sorcery, at first persuaded many, by the wonder-working he wrought, to attend his school, and call him some divine Power.” (Theodoretus, Hæreticarum Fabularum Compendium)

He appears once in the New Testament, mentioned only in passing in the Acts of the Apostles; only a few verses in the canon, but for the primitive Church, there is a whole corpus about Simon Magus, its most formidable antagonist, an enemy of such colossal proportions that he deserved to be called "the father of all heresies." His only mention in the Bible occurs at the beginning of the second volume of Luke the Evangelist where he had a minor confrontation with Saint Peter which nonetheless had a happy ending. Simon recants and asks Peter to pray for him. Nothing else about the miracle maker of Samaria who called himself “A Great Power” could penetrate the authorized scriptures. But unlike many other characters who, once the canon was closed, vanished forever, never to be mentioned again by the ancient sources - Pilate being the archetypical example, Simon Magus survived in the treatises against heresies and popular legend to become the greatest apostate of all times, evil personified, a sorcerer responsible for the greatest corruption in the Church, a kind of demon with powers so spectacular that, according to the apocryphal Passion of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the joint prayer of the two pillars of Christianity was required in order to defeat him because Simon was surrounded by demons. It was without a doubt the most spectacular exorcism of all time. 

This was not, however, the end of Simon Magus. After the first three to four centuries of Christianity, when many theologians of antiquity devoted pages to disapprove and refute his doctrines - which they often do not even mention, his figure and legend continued to grow. In the Middle Ages, stories were still circulating about his life, as a companion of the Prophet Muhammad; with a powerful Irish druid named Mug Ruith, who was responsible for a curse falling on the Irish, not to mention images of how he was suffering for all eternity in hell, buried upside down with the legs in the air. Although the final confrontation in Rome between the apostles Peter and Paul against Simon Magus, who flew over the eternal city aided by demons, is not narrated in the Bible, the battle was represented in countless works of art. This is a sign that the episode was well known and practically enjoyed a canonical status. Numerous illustrations in ancient manuscripts, paintings and reliefs can be seen in the Old World, and one church, with a stain on the floor, claims to be the exact place where this powerful magician fell to his death and found his end. 

If there is something worth noticing in ancient sources about Simon Magus, it is the virulence the Church Fathers display - bordering on fear - when they refer to him. Simon's doctrine does not survive, nor his follower's treaties, if there ever was any; what little we know about him is thanks to Origen, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and other Church Fathers who quote his teachings, if only to ridicule them, to intimate about non mentioned crimes, and charge him with all kinds of moral perversions. This unanimity in painting Simon Magus with the darkest colors is precisely what leads one to wonder what exactly the Christian heresiologists saw and were attacking; what was on the other side, the side we can no longer hear; what his followers would respond to the epithets, and above all, it leads us to imagine what formidable figure could have provoked such repulsion to the old theologians. Possibly the historic Simon would offer us another version.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2019 Charles River Editors

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