views updated May 29 2018


The term simony is derived from Simon Magus, who tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles (Acts 8.1824).

Theology. Modern authors usually adopt the definition of thomas aquinas: "A deliberate design of selling or buying something spiritual or annexed to the spiritual" (Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 100 ad 1). This definition covers simony of divine law but not of ecclesiastical law (1917 Codex iuris canonici c. 727). We are concerned here with the former, which constitutes a real sacrilege. The gravity of the offense lies in equating spiritual with temporal goods. Also, insofar as an element of belief is involved, those who commit simony become suspect of heresy.

To commit the sin of simony, the intention alone suffices. However, for the delict of simony (a crime subject to ecclesiastical penalties) there must be some external agreement with one or more persons (1917 Codex iuris canonici cc. 2195, 2218, 2228), although this may be tacit or implied. The temporal price can be other than money. The traditional definition originated with gregory i (cf. Corpus iuris canonici c.1 q.1 c. 114): munus a manu, i.e., a monetary gift or one that is calculable in monetary

terms; munus a lingua, i.e., praise, promises, recommendations; munus ab obsequio, i.e., the rendering of undue services. "Spiritual" refers to those things that exist for the good of the soul, such as grace, the Sacraments, prayer, sacramentals, indulgences, ecclesiastical authority and jurisdiction. "Annexed" objects are such things as church benefices, sacred vessels, relics, and the right of patronage. To sell these things is simony of divine law. Slightness of matter is not admittedexcept in simony of ecclesiastical law; thus the sin is mortal in every instance.

There are numerous practices that are not simoniacal (Iorio, 3739). Thus it is lawful and proper for a priest to receive a stipend or offering on the occasion of performing his sacred duties, e.g., Mass offerings, marriage and burial fees, and he may demand such where permitted (Lk 10.7; 1 Cor 9.13). Blessed objects, such as rosaries, chalices, and crucifixes, may be sold provided the price is not increased on that account. Nor is it simony to give someone a gift to persuade him to accept some spiritual advantage. However, scandal should be avoided.

History. In the first three centuries simony was uncommon. But after the Edict of Milan (313), when the Church began to accumulate wealth and power, positions were eagerly sought. Despite attempts at suppressing this abuse, it continued throughout the Middle Ages. The worst period was from the 9th to the 11th century when simony pervaded the monasteries, the lower clergy, the episcopacy, and even the papacy. Thus gregory vi (104546) was accused of simony and nicholas ii's famous decree on papal election (1059) was directed at simony principally. In the later Middle Ages the abuse, especially the traffic in indulgences and relics, was attacked by wyclif and other reformers. Lay princes as well as churchmen were responsible for these practices.

Simony did not go unchallenged. Countermeasures consisted of theological tracts and conciliar, papal, and synodal legislation, much of which passed into the canonical collections. An important canon was chalcedon (451), cap. 2, which ordered bishops who ordained for money to be deposed (Jedin, Conc. Oec. Dec. 63; Corpus iuris canonici C.1 q. 1 c.8). Papal letters, especially of leo i (P. Jaffé, Regesta pontificum romanorum ab condita ecclesia ad annum post Christum hatum 1198, ed. F. Kaltenbrunner 410, 544), innocent i (the famous Ventum est, ibid. 303), and Gregory I (ibid., ed. P. Ewald, 1743, 1744, 1747, 1859), imposed deposition and excommunication, but with little success.

The commonest form of simony was the buying and selling of Holy Orders. From Gregory I onward this was referred to as the heresy of simony (simoni aca haeresis ) but simony was not held to be a heresy simpliciter, certainly not in the 11th century when the phrase was most used. Yet this discussion raised the question of whether simoniacal orders and sacraments were valid. Some modern authorities have argued that the doctrine was defective from the 10th to the 12th century. The opinion of the author is that simoniacal orders were regarded as valid but illicit. Some of the gregorian reformers may have followed the extreme views of humbert of silva candida, but not the majority. The orthodox view was expressed by peter damian and generally adopted (see reordination).

Although the theological and canonical treatment of simony (the Paris school) continued on sound lines down to Aquinas, we should note that the Bolognese school taught differently about simoniacal ordinations, that is, debating whether they were valid or not. The disputes were generally settled by the 13th century.

Elimination of the abuse, however, was not so successful. Injunctions and prohibitions continued. Thus in 1464 paul ii in his bull Cum detestabile decreed excommunication latae sententiae against those guilty of simony in granting benefices, together with their mediators. Yet simony remained a major abuse down to and after the Council of trent. However, the council legislated against the worst of the simoniacal transactions that had been common (cf. Session 21, De Reform. can. 1, 9; Session 24, De Reform. can. 14, 18). This together with the renewal of the inner life and the increasing separation of Church and State made possible the eventual elimination of all simony.

Bibliography: n. a. weber, A History of Simony in the Christian Church (Baltimore 1909). r. a. ryder, Simony (Washington 1931). h. noldin and a. schmitt, Summa theologiae moralis, v. 2 De Praeceptis (28th ed. Heidelberg 1944). j. leclercq, "Simoniaca Heresis," Studi Gregoriani 1 (1947) 523530. d. m. rosati, La teologia sacramentaria nella lotta contro la simonia e l'investitura laica del secolo XI (Tolentino 1951). t. a. iorio, Theologia moralis (5th ed. Naples 1960) v.2. h. g. krause, "Das Papstwahldekret von 1059 und seine Rolle im Investiturstreit," Studi Gregoriani 7 (1960). j. gilchrist, "Simoniaca Haeresis and the Problem of Orders from Leo IX to Gratian," Proceedings of the Second International Conference of Medieval Canon Law Held at Boston, August 1963 (Vatican City 1964).

[j. gilchrist]


views updated Jun 11 2018

si·mo·ny / ˈsīmənē; ˈsi-/ • n. chiefly hist. the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, for example pardons or benefices.DERIVATIVES: si·mo·ni·ac / sīˈmōnēˌak; si-/ adj. &·mo·ni·a·cal / ˌsīməˈnīəkəl; si-/ adj.


views updated Jun 08 2018

simony XIII. — (O)F. simonie — late L. simōnia, f. name of Simon Magus in allusion to his offer of money to the Apostles Peter and John for the gift of conferring the Holy Ghost (Acts 8: 18, 19); see -Y2.
So simoniac XIV (sb.; adj. XVII). — (O)F. simoniaque or medL. simoniacus. simoniacal (-AL1) XVI.


views updated May 21 2018

simony the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, for example pardons or benefices, from the name of Simon Magus, in reference to his attempt to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter and Paul.


views updated Jun 27 2018

simony. Although particularly associated with the purchase of preferment or office in the church, simony is strictly the acquisition by financial means of any spiritual benefit. The name comes from that of Simon Magus, recorded in Acts 8. Consistently denounced by councils of the church throughout the centuries, it has remained a temptation not universally resisted.

Revd Dr John R. Guy


views updated May 29 2018

Simony. From the action of Simon Magus in Acts 8. 18–24, the purchase or sale of spiritual things, and specifically of an ecclesiastical benefice or preferment.