SIMON MAGUS

    The Fathers of the Church regarded Simon Magus as the father of all heresy. He was a contemporary of the apostles and a Samaritan, and Samaria was notoriously unruly in matters of religion and regarded with suspicion by the orthodox. When the apostle Philip came there to preach the gospel, he found the movement of Simon in full swing, with Simon saying of himself, and the people concurring with him, that he was "the Power of God that is called the great" (Acts 8:10). This means that he preached not as an apostle but as himself a messiah. The story of his subsequent conversion, although not necessarily that of his baptism, must be wrong (if indeed the Simon of the Acts and the hereiarch of the Fathers are one and the same person, which has been seriously doubted) as in none of the heresiological accounts of the Simonian teaching from the second and third centuries is there an indication that the position of Jesus was granted by the sect, except for his having been a percursory incarnation of Simon himself. By all accounts - even if we discount the story in the Acts as relating to a different person, and date the gnostic prophet of the same name one or two generations later - Simonianism was from the start and remained strictly a rival message of obviously independent origin; that is to say, Simon was not a dissident Christian, and if the Church father cast him in the role of the arch-heretic, they implicitly admitted that Gnosticism was not an inner-Christian phenomenon. On the other hand, the terms in which Simon is said to have spoken of himself are testified by the pagan writer Celsus to have been current with the pseudo-messiahs still swarming in Phoenicia and Palestine at his time about the middle of the second century. He hass heard a number of them himself, and records thus a typical sermon of theirs:

    I am God (or a son of God, or a divine Spirit). And I have come. Already the world is being destroyed. And you. O men, are to perish because of your iniquities. But I wish to save you. As you see me returning again with heavenly power. Blessed is he who has worshipped me now! But I will cast everlasting fire upon all the rest, both on cities and on country places. And men who fail to reize the penalties in store for them will in vain repent and groan. But I will preserve for ever those who have been convinced by me.
A singular feature of Simon's terrestrial journey was that he took about with him a woman called Helena whom he said he had found in a brothel in Tyre and who according to him was the latest and lowliest incarnation of the fallen "Thought" of God, redeemed by him and a means of redemption for all who believed in them both.

    Like Apollonius of Tyana, Simon traveled around as a prophet, miracle-worker, and magician, apparently with a great deal of showmanship. The extant sources, of course, being Christian, draw a none too sympathetic picture of his person and doings. According to them he performed also at the imperial court of Rome and met a bad end there while attempting to fly. It is of interest to psychic investigators that in Latin surroundings Simon used the cognomen Faustus ("the favored one"): This in connection with his permanent cognomen "the Magician" and the fact that he was accompanied by a Helena whom he claimed to be the reborn Helen of Troy shows clearly that we have here one of the sources of the Faust legend of the early Renaissance. Surely few admirers of Marlowe's and Goethe's plays have an inkling that their hero is the descendant of a gnostic sectary, and that the beautiful Helen called up by his art was once the fallen Thought of God through whose raising mankind was to be saved.