Tuesday, May 10

reflections on simony and the reading

One of the conversations I had recently was upon the need to revise and expand the lectionary we use.  I find the Canadian CCB lectionary we use to be superior in some ways to the USCCB (generally nicer, less violent and much better health care), but there are some significant problems with both.  Anyways, the USCCB lectionary this week has a set of readings from Acts 8.  What is distinctly missing is the encounter with Simon Magus.  That this tale is missing from the post-V2 lectionary I find of particular interest.

In brief, Simon Magus was a convert who truly believed.  At that point, Philip had baptized them, but the Holy Spirit had not filled them. John and Peter came to Samaria and, by laying on hands, filled the believers with the Holy Spirit.  Simon Magus wanted this power and offered the Apostles money for this authority.

The dictionary says that Simony is "the buying or selling of sacred things".  The RC church has an even broader definition:
While this definition only speaks of purchase and sale, any exchange of spiritual for temporal things is simoniacal. Nor is the giving of the temporal as the price of the spiritual required for the existence of simony; according to a proposition condemned by Innocent XI (Denzinger-Bannwart, no. 1195) it suffices that the determining motive of the action of one party be the obtaining of compensation from the other. (catholic encyclopedia, SN: Simony)
The article goes on to define the material side of simony being in three kinds - receipt of material reward of some kind (munus a manu), receipt of oral or written support (munus a lingua), and receipt of homage or subservience (munus ab obsequio) while the spiritual side of simony is "whatever is conducive to the eternal welfare of the soul".  Examples include the sacraments, sacramentals and physical objects of devotion (relics, rosaries, etc.)

Upon close reflection, it has occurred to me that this is a far more problematic and institutional sin than is initially apparent.  Consider the following examples.

In exchange for the favour of the children being allowed baptism or confirmation in the Church, a person remains in an unwanted and loveless marriage.

In exchange for the privilege of communion, a homosexual denies their innate nature as God has made them and/or denies that gift from God which is sexuality.

In exchange for the boon of reconciliation, a parishioner votes as their bishop or priest directs them.

In exchange for the promise of extreme unction, an aged pensioner gives 'generously' to the local parish.

Note that I am not arguing the merits or defects of the behaviours.  If conscience calls a person to remain married or give generously or remain celibate, there is nothing wrong with that.  If, on the other hand, one does so in exchange for the promise of a spiritual boon (or, put differently, the withholding of said boon if the actions are not performed), then that is wrong - both for the clergy who engage in such spiritual sales and the laity who are complicit in the simony. 

There's a lot more here and there is a lot of ranting and hollering which will only change people's blood pressure.  At the end of it is this : we are charged by Scripture and instructed by Tradition to listen to the Spirit within and follow our conscience.  Do so, confident that the Divine will see that your intent is pure and your actions are holy.  Against that, no priest or prelate can hold a person's soul hostage.

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