What is Simony?

This is the most frequently asked question on the part of visitors to Dalserf Church who read on the board listing ministers of Dalserf that a previous incumbent of Dalserf Church John Hamilton was deposed for the sin of simony and are puzzled to know what the word means.

Webster’s Dictionary defines simony as “The buying or selling of a church office or ecclesiastical preferment”. Andrew Cunningham refers to the “crime” of simony.

The word derives from one Simon the Sorcerer (sometimes referred to as Simon Magus) who is mentioned in Acts 8:9-24.

On witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the apostles he was “astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw” (v.13) in spite of the fact that he himself “had amazed [people] for a long time with his magic” (v.11). In particular he was impressed when he “saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands” with the result that “he offered them money and said give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (vv.19,20). This approach was soundly condemned by Peter who replied “may your money perish with you because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money (v.20).

The sin (or crime as it was) of simony consisted then in the presumption that spiritual benefit (which should depend only on the will of God) could be procured by the paying of a sum of money. The temptation arises of course where spiritual office happens also to involve temporal benefits so that those who are somewhat less single-minded with regard to spiritual matters than they ought to be fall prey to the attractions of mammon.

What particular form simony took in the case of John Hamilton unfortunately we do not know.