Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Simony Definition:

The selling of miracles or the promise of some other alleged form of Divine service in exchange for money.

Originally, to quote from William Blackstone's Commentaries:

"... the corrupt presentation of anyone to an ecclesiastical benefice for gift or reward... by reason of the sacredness of the charge which is thus profanely bought and sold."

More generally, to receive or give money or an item of property to a Church officer, in exchange for a religious, holy or spiritual benefit or preference.

In Jowitt's 1959 Dictionary of the English Law, the term simony was defined as:Miracles For Sale movie poster

"A corrupt presentation or agreement to present to an ecclesiastical benefit; a deliberate act or a premeditated will and desire, of selling such things as are spiritual, or of anything annexed thereto, by giving something of a temporal nature for the purchase thereof....

"All Simoniacal contracts ... are void and the persons guilty of the offence are subject to penalties."

In 1894, Justice Ryan of the Supreme Court of Nebraska wrote this in State v Buswell:

"The universal reprobation in which the conduct of Simon (The Bible, Acts, 8-9) has ever been held has crystallized in the Latin word Simonia, the English Simony; the derivative in each instance signifying either the crime of buying or selling ecclesiastical preferment, or the corrupt presentation of any one to an ecclesiastic benefice for money or reward."

In Wright v Davies, Justice Coleridge wrote:

"I am of the opinion that the replication shews neither simony nor ground for equitable relief. Now, in the first place, it does not shew that the contract was simoniacal. It in effect alleges that there was a mistake. And this alone is sufficient to establish that there was no simony for that requires a corrupt intent."

Given the longstanding origin of the word, there are, of course, the de rigeur assortment of Latin maxims, which formed the basis of law in regards to simony:

Simonia est voluntas sive desiderium emendi vel vendendi spiritualia vel spiritualibus adhaerentia. Contractus ex turpi causa et contra bonos mores.

Simony is the will or desire of buying or selling spiritualities, or things pertaining thereto. It is a contract founded on a bad cause, and against morality.

Simonia est vox ecclesiastica, a Simone, illo Mago, deducta qui donum Spiritus Sancti pecuna emi putavit. Simony is an ecclesiastical word derived from that Simon Magus who thought to buy the gifts of the Holy Ghost with money.


  • Anon, Latin For Lawyers (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1915), pages 243-244
  • State v Buswell, 58 N.W. 728 at page 731
  • Wright v Davies, 46 Q.B. 41 (1876)

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