Simony, the crime, in ecclesiastical law, of buying or selling holy orders and offices. The term is derived from the sin of Simon Magus (q.v.), who wished to purchase from the apostles for money the power to confer the Holy Ghost (Ac 8:19). The ancient Christian Church distinguished simony into three different kinds: 1. Buying and selling spiritual gifts; 2, Buying and selling spiritual preferments; 3. Ambitious usurpation and sacrilegious intrusion into ecclesiastical functions without legal election or ordination. Of course the first sort was that which most properly had the name of simony, resembling most closely the sin of Simon Magus. This crime was thought to be committed when money was offered or received for ordinations, and it was always punished with the severest censures of the Church. The apostolical canons (Can. Apost. 29) seem to lay a double punishment, both deposition and excommunication, upon such of the clergy as were found guilty of this crime. Among the councils which have condemned simony are Chalcedoni; second of Orleans; second of Constantinople; second of Braga; fourth, eighth, and eleventh of Toledo; second of Nice; Rheims; Placentia; and Trullo — the term of the canons being according to the various circumstances and forms of the crime prevalent. The ancients also include in this sort of crime the exacting of any reward for administering baptism, the eucharist, confirmation, burying the dead, consecration of churches, or any like spiritual offices. The second sort of simony (traffic in spiritual preferments) was denounced by both ecclesiastical and secular laws (Concil. Chalced. can. 2; Justinian, Novel. 123, c. 1), the former ordering the deposition of the bishop that "sets grace to sale, and ordains a bishop, etc., for filthy lucre;" the latter ordering every elector to make oath "that he did not choose the party elected either for any gift or promise," etc. The third sort of simony was when men by ambitious arts and undue practices, as by the favor and power of some wealthy or influential person, got themselves invested in any office or preferment to which they had no regular call or legal title; or when they intruded themselves into other men's places, already legally filled. Thus Novatian got himself secretly and simoniacally ordained to the bishopric of Rome, to which Cornelius had been legally ordained before him (Cyprian, Ep. 52, al. 55, ad Antonian.). Such ordinations were usually vacated and declared null, and both the ordained and their ordainers prosecuted as criminals by degradation and reduction to the state and communion of laymen. There were also general imperial laws made by Gratian and Honorius (Cod. Theod. lib. 16, tit. 2; "De Episc. Leg. 35 Honorii"), obliging all bishops who were censured and deposed by any synod to submit to the sentence of the synod, under the penalty of being banished a hundred miles from the city where they attempted such disturbance. See Bingham, Christian Antiq. bk. 16, ch. 6, § 28-30.
This crime became quite common in the Church during the 11th and 12th centuries, Benedict IX, when a boy of twelve years (A.D. 1033), was elected pope "intercedente thesaurorum pecunia." Guido, archbishop of Milan (A.D. 1059), lamenting the prevalency of simony in his Church, promised for himself and successors utterly to renounce it. Hildebrand, afterwards Gregory VII, was a vigorous opponent of the practice. At a council at Lyons the archbishop and forty-five bishops confessed themselves simoniacal and were deposed. The fortieth of the canons of 1603 (Church of England), is directed against simony, as being "execrable before God," and provides an oath to be taken personally by everyone admitted to a benefice that no simoniacal payment, contract, or promise has been or shall be made. While in Great Britain the cognizance of simony and punishment of simoniacal offenses appear originally to have belonged to the ecclesiastical courts alone, the courts of common law would have held simoniacal contracts void, as being contra bonos mores and against sound policy. According to English law (statutes of Eliz. and 12 Anne, c. 12; 7 and 8 George IV, c. 25; 9 George IV, c. 94; also 1 William and Mary, c. 16), it is not simony for a layman or spiritual person, not purchasing for himself, to purchase while the church is full either an advowson or next presentation, however immediate may be the prospect of a vacancy, unless that vacancy is to be occasioned by some agreement or arrangement between the parties. Nor is it simony for a spiritual person to purchase for himself an advowson, although under similar circumstances. It is, however, simony for any person to purchase the next presentation while the church is vacant; and it is simony for a spiritual person to purchase for himself the next presentation, although the church be full. See Milman, Latin Christianity, 3, 237, 244, 370 sq.; 7, 270; Willis, Hist. of Simony (Lond. 1865, 2d ed.); and the monographs cited by Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 75.