A man named Simon brought money to the apostles in Acts 8, trying to purchase spiritual power. Peter, ever blunt, replied, “You and your money will both end up in hell if you think you can buy God’s gift!” We aren’t sure of Simon’s outcome, but he unwittingly lent his name to church history. A deplorable practice arose during the Middle Ages — the buying of church offices and positions — and it was called simony.

Simony was so widespread by the eleventh century that the 22-year-old German king, Henry III, grieved for the church. On December 20, 1046, he called a synod in Sutri, 25 miles from Rome, to discuss the problem. Pope Gregory VI chaired the proceedings. But Gregory was among the worst simonites, having “bought” the papacy. When Henry reminded the churchmen of the need for integrity and purity among God’s leaders, Pope Gregory spoke these remarkable words to the synod: I, Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, do hereby adjudge myself to be removed from the pontificate of the Holy Roman Church, because of the enormous error which by simoniacal impurity has crept into and vitiated my election.

He asked, “Is it your pleasure that it be so?” The assembled clergymen answered unanimously: “Your pleasure is our pleasure; therefore so let it be.” Gregory descended from his throne, removed his pontifical robes, fell to his knees, begged forgiveness, and fled the country.

But now another problem arose: None of the assembled bishops was unstained by simony. They had all bought their positions. After searching the land, an honest man named Suidger, bishop of Bamberg, was elected pope, but he lived less than a year. The next two popes also died quickly. Then Bruno was found, a good-looking, well-educated man of unblemished character and sincerity. Summoned to Rome, he arrived barefoot, dressed as a pilgrim and weeping. The people sang hymns of praise and consecrated him Pope Leo IX on February 12, 1049. He battled simony all his days, paving the way for the reforms later enacted under his associate and successor, Hildebrand (Pope Gregory VII).

Simon noticed that the Spirit was given only when the apostles placed their hands on the people. So he brought money and said to Peter and John, “Let me have this power too!” … Peter said to him, “You and your money will both end up in hell if you think you can buy God’s gift! Get rid of these evil thoughts and ask God to forgive you.” (Acts 8:18-20,22)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 12.

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