Simon Magus in Acts
St. Justin writes in his First Apology, xxvi that Simon is from Gitta in the country of the Samaritans. He is mentioned in Acts 8:9ff as a practicing magician who became impressed with Philip’s ability to perform miracles. Wanting that type of power for himself, he offered the apostles money if they’d teach him. Angrily, Peter rebuked him.
Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. Even Simon himself believed and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” – Acts 8:9-24
Simon vs. Peter in the Acts of Peter
According to the Acts of Peter, Simon did not repent as Peter suggested, but continued in his deceitful ways.
Now after a few days there was a great commotion in the midst of the church, for some said that they had seen wonderful works done by a certain man whose name was Simon, and that he was at Aricia, and they added further that he said he was a great power of God and without God he did nothing. – Acts of Peter IV
Peter confronts Simon in Rome and performs a number of magical feats. In one event, Peter goes to the home where Simon is staying, but Simon refuses to come out. Peter decides to use the opportunity to show the people the power of God and commands a large dog to go inside to Simon. The dog does and starts rebuking Simon.
The crowd is impressed at the talking dog, but demands another sign, so Peter takes a smoked fish and throws it into a pond. The fish regains life and starts swimming and eating the bread that members of the crowd toss in. In another miracle, Peter tells a woman with a 7 month old baby to meet Simon. The child then starts speaking with a grown man’s voice, making it clear that Christ is speaking through him.
Showdown Between Simon and Peter
Finally, Simon goes to confront Peter on the Sabbath and the two have a magical showdown. Simon is asked to kill a man, while Peter is asked to bring him back to life. Simon kills him by whispering something in his ear. Peter than raises him by asking the Prefect to shake the boy’s hand. A woman in the crowd sees this and asks Peter to bring her own dead son back to life. He does. Simon wants a chance of his own to prove that he too can raise the dead. He uses trickery to give the illusion that he is able to do so, but Peter sees through it and reveals Simon for the fraud he is.
And Peter lifted up his eyes unto heaven and stretched forth his hands and said: O holy Father of thy Son Jesus Christ. who hast granted us thy power, that we may through thee ask and obtain, and despise all that is in the world, and follow thee only, who art seen of few and wouldest be known of many: shine thou about us, Lord, enlighten us, appear thou, raise up the son of this aged widow, which cannot help herself without her son. And I, repeating the word of Christ my Lord, say unto thee: Young man, arise and walk with thy mother so long as thou canst do her good and thereafter shalt thou serve me after a higher sort, ministering in the lot of a deacon of the bishop (or, and of a bishop). And immediately the dead man rose up, and the multitudes saw it and marvelled, and the people cried out: Thou art God the Saviour, thou, the God of Peter, the invisible God, the Saviour. And they spake among themselves, marvelling indeed at the power of a man that called upon his Lord with a word and they received it unto sanctification. – Acts of Peter XXVII
- Luck, Georg. “Witches and Sorcerers in Classical Literature.” Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Pennsylvania Press (November 1999) ISBN: 0812217055
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Simon Magus