Chapter XXXIV.—These Vagaries Stimulated Some Profane Corruptions of Christianity. The Profanity of Simon Magus Condemned.
No tenet, indeed, under cover of any heresy has as yet burst upon us, embodying any such extravagant fiction as that the souls of human beings pass into the bodies of wild beasts; but yet we have deemed it necessary to attack and refute this conceit, as a consistent sequel to the preceding opinions, in order that Homer in the peacock might be got rid of as effectually as Pythagoras in Euphorbus; and in order that, by the demolition of the metempsychosis and metensomatosis by the same blow, the ground might be cut away which has furnished no inconsiderable support to our heretics. There is the (infamous) Simon of Samaria in the Acts of the Apostles, who chaffered for the Holy Ghost: after his condemnation by Him, and a vain remorse that he and his money must perish together, 1726 he applied his energies to the destruction of the truth, as if to console himself with revenge. Besides the support with which his own magic arts furnished him, he had recourse to imposture, and purchased a Tyrian woman of the name of Helen out of a brothel, with the same money which he had offered for the Holy Spirit,—a traffic worthy of the wretched man. He actually feigned himself to be the Supreme Father, and further pretended that the woman was his own primary conception, wherewith he had purposed the creation of the angels and the archangels; that after she was possessed of this purpose she sprang forth from the Father and descended to the lower spaces, and there anticipating the Fathers design had produced the angelic powers, which knew nothing of the Father, the Creator of this world; that she was detained a prisoner by these from a (rebellious) motive very like her own, lest after her departure from them they should appear to be the offspring of another being; and that, after being on this account exposed to every insult, to prevent her leaving them anywhere after her dishonour, she was degraded even to the form of man, to be confined, as it were, in the bonds of the flesh. Having during many ages wallowed about in one female shape and another, she became the notorious Helen who was so ruinous to Priam, and afterwards to the eyes of Stesichorus, whom, she blinded in revenge for his lampoons, and then restored to sight to reward him for his eulogies. After wandering about in this way from body to body, she, in her final disgrace, turned out a viler Helen still as a professional prostitute. This wench, therefore, was the lost sheep, upon whom the Supreme Father, even Simon, descended, who, after he had recovered her and brought her back—whether on his shoulders or loins I cannot tell—cast an eye on the salvation of man, in order to gratify his spleen by liberating them from the angelic powers. Moreover, to deceive these he also himself assumed a visible shape; and feigning the appearance of a man amongst men, he acted the part of the Son in Judea, and of the Father in Samaria. O hapless Helen, what a hard fate is yours between the poets and the heretics, who have blackened your fame sometimes with adultery, sometimes with prostitution! Only her rescue from Troy is a more glorious affair than her extrication from the brothel. There were a thousand ships to remove her from Troy; a thousand pence were probably more than enough to withdraw her from the stews. Fie on you, Simon, to be so tardy in seeking her out, and so inconstant in ransoming her! How different from Menelaus! As soon as he has lost her, he goes in pursuit of her; she is no sooner ravished than he begins his search; after a ten years conflict he boldly p. 216 rescues her: there is no lurking, no deceiving, no cavilling. I am really afraid that he was a much better “Father,” who laboured so much more vigilantly, bravely, and perseveringly, about the recovery of his Helen.
Acts viii. 18-21. [Vol. I. pp. 171, 182, 193, 347.]