Kirk Ambrose

title.none: Ferreiro, Simon Magus (Kirk Ambrose)

identifier.other: baj9928.0701.006 07.01.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kirk Ambrose, University of Colorando, Boulder,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Ferreiro, Alberto. Simon Magus in Patristic, Medieval, and Early Modern Traditions. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, 125. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005. Pp. xii, 372. $115.00 90-04-14495-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.01.06

Ferreiro, Alberto. Simon Magus in Patristic, Medieval, and Early Modern Traditions. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, 125. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005. Pp. xii, 372. $115.00 90-04-14495-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Kirk Ambrose
University of Colorando, Boulder

It does not matter whether or not Simon Magus has any historical basis, the figure featured prominently in the art and thought of the medieval and early modern periods. Often identified with the magician who offers the Apostle Peter money for his magical secrets (Acts 8), Simon was the subject of many colorful legends. Among these the Passio Petri et Pauli circulated most widely in the West. This text culminates in a contest of miracles between the magician and the apostles, including Simon Magus's flight from a wooden tower on the Campus Martius. Fearing that the citizens of Rome are deceived by Simon's flight, which actually is the work of demons, Peter and Paul beseech God to manifest His will. Simon immediately plummets to his death. An enraged Nero, who counted the magician among his favored courtiers, then orders the execution of the two apostles.

Rather than directly considering the complex interrelations among various apocryphal accounts of Simon Magus's life, penned in multiple languages, Alberto Ferreira primarily focuses on how writers represented the magician to advance specific agendas. Of central concern is what role interpretations of the magician played in shaping orthodoxy and, in the case of Irish tonsure debates, orthopraxy. In the second century Justin Martyr established many of the traditions that subsequent authors developed. For example, Justin identified Helena as Simon's illicit consort, which buttressed subsequent claims concerning the couple's sexual depravity. Ireneaus of Lyon counted Simon as the first heretic, a claim taken up in Jerome's invective against Priscillianism. The tradition of associating enemies with Simon Magus in the Patristic era was taken up by later authors in their polemics against Islam and simony. Simon emerges as a figure that was metamorphosed to suit a remarkable number of rhetorical ends.

Chapters are arranged in roughly chronological order, but this book does not offer a comprehensive survey. It contains some inaccuracies and omissions. The final chapter, for example, essentially transcribes information catalogued by the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University and uncritically accepts some problematic identifications. A capital from Neuilly-en-Donjon more closely resembles medieval images of the Fall of Pride than the Fall of Simon Magus. Some explanation for this identification would have been welcome. The Romanesque frescos of Mustair are listed among examples of Simon Peter, Simon Magus, and Dogs (an episode discussed at length in an earlier chapter), but absent is any reference to the church's other paintings, which represent additional episodes, including the magician's Fall.

The author frankly admits that this survey is not exhaustive and he indicates that he in now at work on expanding the artistic and textual dossier relating to Simon Magus. Unfortunately the book reads very much like a work in progress, lacking any compelling overarching structure. Of the fifteen chapters that comprise this study, only one has not been published elsewhere. The brief introduction fails to synthesize these disparate parts; redundancies and confusing statements result. The first page of the first chapter oddly signals the author's intention to write a book-length study on Simon Magus. Chapter two offers an overview of apocrypha scholarship, but only briefly mentions works related to Simon Magus. As this article was originally published in 1997, the bibliography is now woefully out of date in this burgeoning field. Chapter six mentions Simon Magus only once, an aside in a discussion centered on the relationship between Priscillian and Nicolaitism. In short, one often must wade through many pages that have little bearing on the core subject of this book. Ferreiro has collected ample and fascinating material on Simon Magus, but a reader should not be obliged to rely so heavily on an index in order to find it.