Wednesday, March 09, 2005
This particular painting, "The Fall of Simon Magus," is by Bennozo Gozzoli from the 1400's. I've been shamelessly updating this one post all day as I had different thoughts from different readings of different authors. That's St. Peter on his knees in the painting and St. Paul making the sign of the cross. Nero is on the throne and Simon Magus has fallen. Of course none of this happens in the Bible, it is Philip and Peter and John who dealt with Simon Magus in Acts, but I find the fictional story useful and . . . fetching.
I was reading a little New Testament fan fiction last night (The Twelve, by C. Bernard Ruffin), and ran across the story of Simon Magus dueling magic with the Apostle Peter. Most of the story comes from the early Christian Writing "The Acts of Peter," but the basics of the story are from Acts 8:9-25. Simon Magus (Magus means Magician) was a known magician in Samaria and when the Apostles came through the area full of the Spirit, curing people and making miracles, the Magus, amazed, made Peter a proposition, offering big bucks for Peter to lay hands on him and give him the Spirit, too. Peter rebuked him. That's where Acts ends and the fan fiction begins. You can read The Acts of Peter yourself, but I'll rob the ending from you. Simon Magus, known for his ability to levitate, launches himself up above the city and challenges Peter to display the Magic of Jesus. Instead, Peter drops to his knees and prays to Jesus to put a stop to the magician's display, to make him fall so the people would not be confused and all their hard work to convert them destroyed. The magician then fell to earth and broke his leg and was stoned by the people.
I've long been a fan of "Acts" and don't think I've ever heard the whole book preached... perhaps that's impossible. Ministers and readings take little pieces of the Acts of the Apostles and fold them into sermons and homilies, but read the whole book and you begin to understand how Christianity could have grown so rapidly while being persecuted so horribly. The Holy Spirit was poured out, resulting in healings and miracles attracting hordes of people from all over the Middle East, Jew and Gentile alike. Visions and Angels (and their opposite from the darkness) were rampant across the land. It must have been a most amazing time and place.
Wishing I was there, then, is perhaps like Simon Magus offering to pay Peter for the gift of the Holy Spirit... it is missing the forest for the trees. Sometimes good children become jealous of the attention troubled children receive from their parents. Later in life, perhaps, they come to see their parents' trust and joy in their own goodness and the need for the time and effort and prayer for the troubled child. God created His Church around the Apostles back then. Today, the Church is here; the desire for the miraculous is what led Tom Cruise (dyslexia), Kirstie Alley (cocaine addiction), John Travolta (desire for fame) and others to Scientology. The desire for the miraculous shouldn't outweigh the desire for God... that's my take, anyway.
Afterthought: Kirstie Alley talked about Scientology in this week's TV Guide. She said she was addicted to cocaine, walked into the Scientology office and was cured in one session. Tom Cruise, also, says he walked into Scientology with lifelong dyslexia and was cured in one session. John Travolta has said that right after his initial foray into Scientology, he got the role in Welcome Back Kotter that made him famous. All three were Catholics. All three, offered their heart's desire, turned their back immediately on God and took the prize. All three now use their star power to turn more people away from God and into Scientology, in fact, Tom Cruise has sucked his entire family away from their faith. So what? So what have we to do with any of that? We play the part of Peter. If Peter had ignored Simon Magus and just walked away, how many souls would he have lost? How many souls are lost to Scientology by ignoring it? What can we do? Perhaps only what Peter did in the face of the Magus: drop to our knees and pray for God to make the cost of magic clear to the onlookers.