Simony

The term is derived from Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-24) who attempted to purchase from the Apostles Peter and John the gift of conferring the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Throughout Christian history it has assumed sophisticated and nuanced definitions in both civil and ecclesiastical jurisprudence. Essentially, however, simony refers to the deliberate conferment or acquisition of anything spiritual or sacred for remuneration, monetary or otherwise. An unsolicited gratuity, therefore, is not generally considered simony. Its classic manifestation was the medieval traffic in indulgences* and sale of clerical preferments. The legal recognition of Christianity under Constantine and the church's subsequent rise to wealth and power insured the appearance of simony as a problem of some magnitude. In its several forms it was condemned by such councils as Chalcedon (451), Third Lateran (1179), Trent (1545ff.) and by such leaders as Gregory I and Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas contributed significantly to its treatment in Roman Catholic canon law. Both Wycliffe and Hus polemicized against it in major writings. Wherever discovered, simony always requires ecclesiastical restitution and in extreme forms may result in deposition from office or even in excommunication. In some countries the offense is punishable under civil statutes.