AskDefine | Define simony

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simony n : traffic in ecclesiastical offices or preferments

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From Old French simonie, from late Latin simonia, named from Simon Magus, with reference to Acts VIII:18-20 (‘And when Simon saw that through laying on of hands, the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying 'Give me also this power that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost’. But Peter said unto him ‘Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.’ KJV).


  • /'sʌɪməni/


  1. The act of buying and selling ecclesiastical offices and pardons.
    • 1989: ‘There are those two,’ he then said, ‘who were recently arraigned on a charge of high simony. Fancying a monstrance and stealing it and proposing to sell it. They pleaded the usual pagan ignorance.’ — Anthony Burgess, ‘Hun’, The Devil’s Mode

Extensive Definition

Simony is the ecclesiastical crime of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church, named after Simon Magus, who appears in the Acts of the Apostles 8:18-24. Simon Magus offers the disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment so that anyone he would place his hands on would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of the term simony but it also extends to other forms of trafficking for money in "spiritual things".

Roman Catholic Church

The intertwining of temporal with spiritual authority in the Middle Ages caused endless problems with simony and accusations of simony. Secular rulers wanted to employ the educated and centrally organized clergy in their administrations, and often treated their spiritual positions as adjuncts to the secular administrative roles.
Canon Law also outlawed as simony some acts that did not involve the sale of offices, but the sale of spiritual authority: the sale of tithes, the taking of a fee for confession, absolution, marriage or burial, and the concealment of one in mortal sin or the reconcilement of an impenitent for the sake of gain. Just what was or was not simony was strenuously litigated: as one commentator notes, the widespread practice of simony is best evidenced by the number of reported ecclesiastical decisions as to what is or is not simony.
Simony did serious harm to the moral standing of the Roman Catholic Church. Dante Alighieri condemns simonists to the eighth circle of hell in his Inferno, where he encounters Pope Nicholas III buried upside down, the soles of his feet burning with oil, in a mock baptism. Nicholas goes on to predict the damnation of both Pope Boniface VIII, the Pope in office at the time the Divine Comedy is set, and Pope Clement V, his successor, for that sin. Writers in the early Renaissance, such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Erasmus, condemned the practice, while Blaise Pascal attacked the casuistic defenses offered by those accused of simony in his Lettres provinciales.

Church of England

The Church of England also struggled with the practice after its separation from Rome. While English law recognized simony as an offense, it treated it as merely an ecclesiastical matter, rather than a crime, for which the punishment was forfeiture of the office or any advantage from the offense and severance of any patronage relationship with the person who bestowed the office. The cases of Bishop of St. David's Thomas Watson in 1699 and of Dean of York William Cockburn in 1841 were particularly notable.
As of 2007, simony remains an offence. An unlawfully bestowed office can be declared void by the Crown, and the offender can be disabled from making future appointments and fined up to £100. Clergy are no longer required to make a declaration as to simony on ordination but offences are now likely to be dealt with under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, r.8.



  • Lord Mackay of Clashfern (ed.) (2002) Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th ed. Vol.14, "Ecclesiastical Law", 832 'Penalties and disability on simony'
  • — 1359 'Simony' (see also current updates)
  • Weber, N. A. (1913) "Simony", Catholic Encyclopaedia
simony in Arabic: السيمونية
simony in Bosnian: Simonija
simony in Bulgarian: Симония
simony in Catalan: Simonia
simony in Danish: Simoni
simony in German: Simonie
simony in Modern Greek (1453-): Σιμωνία
simony in Spanish: Simonía
simony in French: Simonie
simony in Korean: 독성죄
simony in Croatian: Simonija
simony in Italian: Simonia
simony in Hungarian: Szimónia
simony in Dutch: Simonie
simony in Japanese: シモニア
simony in Norwegian: Simoni
simony in Polish: Symonia
simony in Portuguese: Simonia
simony in Russian: Симония
simony in Simple English: Simony
simony in Slovenian: Simonija
simony in Finnish: Simonia
simony in Swedish: Simoni
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