The Origin of the Name.THERE is no reason to suppose that the Gnostics whom the Church Fathers call "Simonians" would have themselves answered to the name, or have recognized the line of descent imagined for them by their opponents as founded on any basis in fact. As early as Justin Martyr (c. 150 A.D.), "Simon" assumed a prominence out of all proportion to his place in history. Evidently Justin regarded him with great detestation, and accused the Romans of worshipping him as a god, on the strength of an inscription on a statue at Rome. Justin gives the inscription as "Simoni Deo Sancto"--"To Simon, the holy God." But (alas! for the reputation of Justin's accuracy when engaged in controversy) archæology has discovered the statue--and finds it dedicated to a Sabine deity, "Semo Sancus"! Justin's assertion, however, was received without question by subsequent hæresiologists, as all such assertions were in that uncritical age.
Now it is very probable that Justin, in his innumerable controversies in defence of his particular view of Christianity, was met with some argument in which Simon was quoted as an example. It may have been that Justin argued that the
miracles of Jesus proved all that Justin claimed on His behalf, and was met by the counter-argument that Simon also was a great wonder-worker, and made great claims, so that miracles did not prove Justin's contentions. Thus it may have been that Justin grew to detest the memory of Simon, and saw him and his supporters everywhere, even at Rome in a statue to a Sabine godling.
It may well have been that some wonder-worker called Simon may have astonished people in Samaria with his psychological tricks, and that stories were still in Justin's time told of him among the people. But what did most to stereotype the legend that Simon was the first heretic, was the insertion of his name in one of the stories included in the subsequently canonical Acts of the Apostles. This took place later than Justin, and so we have the first moments in the evolution of the legend of the origin of heresy (and therefore, according to the Fathers, of Gnosticism). What then is told us about "Simon" and the "Simonians," is only of interest for a recovery of some of the ideas which the subsequently Catholic party was striving to controvert; it has no value as history.