The whole unhappy business of the allegations against the Governor of Illinois reminded me: I haven’t read St. Thomas on simony in a long time.
“Simony” is named after Simon the Magician who offered the Apostles money if they would lay hands on him and give him the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18). St. Peter rebuked Simon and said to him: “Thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast no part nor lot in this matter. For thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Do penance therefore for this thy wickedness: and pray to God, that perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee.”
St. Thomas quotes Pope St. Gregory VII’s definition of simony: “Buying or selling spiritual things.”
Two notable aspects of Question 100 of the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologica:
1) St. Thomas distinguishes between the sin of simony and the support of the bodily needs of priests. It is wrong for a priest to sell something that does not belong to him, namely the grace of God. On the other hand, a priest is within his rights to accept offerings intended to keep him warm, fed, and healthy.
2) Question 100 is very long and full of references to particular Church rules against simony. We can gather that simony has always been a temptation.
May justice be done in Illinois. Let’s remember: “Innocent until proven guilty.” If the Governor is guilty, may he repent, and may the Lord be merciful to him.
In the meantime, reading Question 100 gives me the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that the allegations against Governor Blagojevich give to all of us:
It is a terrible thing to forget that some things are bigger than you.