SIMONY, an offence, defined below, against the law of the church. The name is taken from Simon Magus (q.v.). In the canon law the word bears a more extended meaning than in English law. " Simony according to the canonists," says Ayliffe in his Parergon, " is defined to be a deliberate act or a premeditated will and desire of selling such things as are spiritual, or of anything annexed unto spirituals, by giving something of a temporal nature for the purchase thereof; or in other terms it is defined to be a commutation of a thing spiritual or annexed unto spirituals by giving something that is temporal." An example of the offence occurs as early as the 3rd century in the purchase of the bishopric of Carthage by a wealthy matron for her servant, if the note to Gibbon (vol. ii. p. 457) is to be believed. The offence was prohibited by many councils, both in the East and in the West, from the 4th century onwards. In the Corpus juris canonici the Decretum (pt. ii. cause i. quest. 3) and the Decretals (bk. v. tit. 3) deal with the subject. The offender, whether simoniacus (one who had bought his orders) or simoniace promotus (one who had bought his promotion), was liable to deprivation of his benefice and deposition from orders if a secular priest, to confinement in a stricter monastery if a regular. No distinction seems to have been drawn between the sale of an immediate and of a reversionary interest. The innocent simoniace promotus was, apart from dispensation, liable to the same penalties as though he were guilty. Certain matters were simoniacal by the canon law which would not be so regarded in English law, e.g. the sale of tithes, the taking of a fee for confession, absolution, marriage or burial, the concealment of one in mortal sin or the reconcilement of an impenitent for the sake of gain, and the doing homage for spiritualities. So grave was the crime of simony considered that even infamous persons could accuse of it. English provincial and legatine constitutions continually assailed simony. Thus one of the heads in Lyndewode (bk. v.) is, " Ne quis ecclesiam nomine dotalitatis transferal vel pro praesentatione aliquid accipiat." In spite of all the provisions of the canon law it is well established that simony was deeply rooted in the medieval church. Dante places persons guilty of simony in the third bolgia of the eighth circle of the Inferno:
" O Simon mago, O miseri seguaci, Che le cose di Dio che di bontate Deono esser spose, voi rapaci Per oro e per argento adulterate." Inf. xix. I.
The popes themselves were 'notorious offenders. In the canto just cited Pope Nicholas III. is made by the poet the mouthpiece of the simoniacs. He is supposed to mistake the poet for Boniface VIII., whose simoniacal practices, as well as those of Clement V., are again alluded to in Par. xxx. 147. At a later period there was an open and continuous sale of spiritual offices by the Roman curia which contemporary writers attacked in the spirit of Dante. A pasquinade against Alexander VI. begins with the lines " Vendit Alexander claves, altaria, Christum. Emerat ille prius; vendere jure potest."
Machiavelli calls luxury, simony and cruelty the three dear friends and handmaids of the same pope. 1 The colloquy of Erasmus De sacerdotiis captandis bears witness to the same state of things. And, best proof of all, numerous decisions as to what is or is not simony are to be found in the reported decisions of the Roman rota. 2 That part of the papal revenue which consisted of first-fruits (primitiae or annates) and tenths (decimae) must have been theoretically simoniacal in its origin. In England this revenue was annexed to the crown by Henry VIII. and restored to the church by Queen Anne (see QUEEN ANNE'S BOUNTY).
For the purposes of English law simony is defined by Blackstone as the corrupt presentation of any person to an ecclesiastical benefice for money, gift or reward. The offence is one of purely ecclesiastical cognizance, and not punishable by the criminal law. The penalty is forfeiture by the offender of any advantage from the simoniacal transaction, of his patronage by the patron, of his benefice by the presentee; and now by the Benefices Act 1892, a person guilty of simony is guilty of an offence for which he may be proceeded against under the Clergy Discipline Act 1892. An innocent clerk is under no disability, as he might be by the canon law. Simony may be committed in three ways in promotion to orders, in presentation to a benefice, and in resignation of a benefice. The common law (with which the canon law is incorporated, as far as it is not contrary to the common or statute law or the prerogative of the crown) has been considerably modified by statute. Where no statute applies to the case, the doctrines of the canon law may still be of authority. Both Edward VI. and Elizabeth promulgated advertisements against simony. The Act of 31 Eliz. c. 6 was intended to reach the corrupt patron as well as the corrupt clerk, the ecclesiastical censures apart from the statute not extending to the case of a patron. _ The first part of the act deals with the penalties for election or resignation of officers of churches, colleges, schools, hospitals, halls and societies for reward. The second part of the act provides that if any person or persons, bodies politic and corporate, for any sum of money, reward, -gift, profit or benefit, directly or indirectly, or for or by reason of any promise, agreement, grant, bond, covenant or other assurances, of or for any sum of money, etc., directly or indirectly present or collate any person to any benefice with cure of souls, dignity, prebend or living ecclesiastical, or give or bestow the same for or in respect of 1 See Roscoe, Life of Leo X., vol. i. p. 463.
z Compare the fine distinctions drawn by the casuists and attacked by Pascal in the twelfth of the Provincial Letters.
any such corrupt cause or consideration, every such presentation, collation, gift and bestowing, and every admission, institution, investiture and induction shall be void, frustrate and of none effect in law; and it shall be lawful for the queen to present, collate unto, or give and bestow every such benefice, dignity, prebend and living ecclesiastical for that one time or turn only; and all and every person or persons, bodies politic and corporate, that shall give or take any such sum of money, etc., directly or indirectly, or that shall take or make any such promise, etc., shall forfeit and lose the double value of one year's profit of every such benefice, etc., and the person so corruptly taking, procuring, seeking or accepting any such benefice, etc., shall be adjudged a disabled person in law to have or enjoy the same benefice, etc. Admission, institution, installation or induction of any person to a benefice, etc., for any sum of money, etc., renders the offender liable to the penalty already mentioned. But in this case the presentation reverts to the patron and not to the crown. The penalty for corrupt resigning or exchanging of a benefice with cure of souls is that the giver as well as the taker shall lose double the value of the sum so given or taken, half the sum to go to the crown and half to a common informer. The penalty for taking money, etc., to procure ordination or to give orders or licence to preach is a fine of 40; the party so corruptly ordained forfeits 10; acceptance of any benefice within seven years after such corrupt entering into the ministry makes such benefice merely void, and the patron may present as on a vacancy; the penalties are divided as in the last case. The act is cumulative only, and does not take away or restrain any punishment prescribed by ecclesiastical law. The Act of I Will. & M. sess. I, c. 16, guards the rights of an innocent successor in certain cases. It enacts that after the death of a person simoniacally presented the offence or contract of simony shall not be alleged or pleaded to the prejudice of any other patron innocent of simony, or of his clerk by him presented, unless the person simoniac or simoniacally presented was convicted of such offence at common law or in some ecclesiastical court in the lifetime of the person simoniac or simoniacally presented. The act also declares the validity of leases made by a simoniac or simoniacallypresented person, if bonafide and for valuable consideration to a lessee ignorant of the simony. By the Simony Act 1713 if any person shall for money, reward, gift, profit or advantage, or for any promise, agreement, grant, bond, covenant, or other assurance for any money, etc., take, procure or accept the next avoidance of or presentation to any benefice, dignity, prebend or living ecclesiastical, and shall be presented or collated thereupon, such presentation or collation and every admission, institution, investiture and induction upon the same shall be utterly void; and such agreement shall be deemed a simoniacal contract, and the queen may present for that one turn only; and the person so_ corruptly taking, etc., shall be adjudged disabled to have and enjoy the same benefice, etc., and shall be subject to any punishment limited by ecclesiastical law. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840, 42, provides that no spiritual person may sell or assign any patronage or presentation belonging to him by virtue of any dignity or spiritual office held by him; such sale or assignment is null and void. This selection has been construed to take away the old archbishop's " option, " i.e. the right to present to a benefice in a newly appointed bishop's patronage at the option of the archbishop. By canon 40 of the canons of 1603 an oath against simony was to be administered to every person admitted to any spiritual or ecclesiastical function, dignity or benefice. By the Clerical Subscription Act 1865 a declaration was substituted for the oath, and a new canon incorporating the alteration was ratified by the crown in 1866. By the canon law all resignation bonds were simoniacal, and in 1826 the House of Lords held that all resignation bonds, general or special, were illegal. Special bonds have since, however, been to a limited extent sanctioned by law. The Clerical Resignation Bonds Act 1828 makes a written promise to resign valid if made in favour of some particular nominee or one of two nominees, subject to the conditions that, where there are two nominees, each of them must be either by blood or marriage an uncle, son, grandson, brother, nephew or grand-nephew of the patron, that the writing be deposited with the registrar of the diocese open to public inspection, and that the resignation be followed by presentation within six months of the person for whose benefit the bond is made. The Benefices Act 1898 substitutes and makes obligatory on every person about to be instituted to a benefice a simpler and more stringent form of declaration against simony. The declaration is to the effect that the clergyman has" not received the presentation in consideration of any sum of money, reward, gift, profit or benefit directly or indirectly given or promised by him or any one for him to any one; that he has not made any promise of resignation other than that allowed by the Clerical Resignation Bonds Act 1828; that he has not for any money or benefit procured the avoidance of the benefice ; and that he has not been party to any agreement invalidated by sec. 3 sub-sec. 3 of the act which invalidates any agreement for the exercise of a right of patronage in favour or on the nomination of any particular person, and any agreement on the transfer of a right of patronage (a) for the retransfer of the right, or (b) for postponing payment of any part of the consideration for the transfer until a vacancy or for more than three months, or (c) for payment of interest until a vacancy or for more than three months, or (d) for any payment in respect of the date at which a vacancy occurs, or for the resignation of a benefice in favour of any person. Cases of simony have come before the courts in which clergy of the highest rank have been implicated. In 1695, in the case of Lucy v. The Bishop of St David s, the bishop was deprived for simony. The queen's bench refused a prohibition (l Lord Raymond's Rep. 447). In 1841 the dean of York was deprived by the archbishop for simony, but in this case the queen's bench granted a prohibition on the ground of informality in the proceedings (In Re the Dean of York, 2 Q.B.R. i). The general result of the law previous to the Benefices Act 1898, as gathered from the statutes and decisions, may be exhibited as follows: (i) it was not simony for a layman or spiritual person not purchasing for himself to purchase, while the church was full, as advowson or next presentation, however immediate the prospect of a vacancy; (2) it was not simony for a spiritual person to purchase for himself a life or any greater estate in an advowson, and to present himself thereto ; (3) it was not simony to exchange benefices under an agreement that no payment was to be made for dilapidations on either side; (4) it was not simony to make certain assignments of patronage under the Church Building and New Parishes Acts (9 & 10 Viet. c. 88, 32 & 33 Viet. c. 94) ; (5) it was simony for any person to purchase the next presentation while the church was vacant ; (6) it was simony for a spiritual person to purchase for himself the next presentation, though the church be full ; (7) it was simony for any person to purchase the next presentation, or in the case of purchase of an advowson the next presentation by the purchaser would be simoniacal if there was any arrangement for causing a vacancy to be made ; (8) it was simony for the purchaser of an advowson while the church was vacant to present on the next presentation; (9) it was simony to exchange otherwise than simpliciter-, no compensation in money might be made to the person receiving the less valuable benefice. The law on the subject of simony was long regarded as unsatisfactory by the authorities of the church. In 1879 a royal commission reported on the law and existing practice as to the sale, exchange and resignation of benefices. Many endeavours were made in parliament to give effect to the recommendations of the commission, but it was not until 1 898 that any important change was made in the law. The Benefices Act of that year absolutely invalidates any transfer of a right of patronage unless (a) it is registered in the diocesan registry, (b) unless more than twelve months have elapsed since the last institution or admission to the benefice, and (c) unless " it transfers the whole interest of the transferor in the right " with certain reservations; in other words, the act abolished the sale of next presentations, but it expressly reserved from its operation (a) a transmission on marriage, death or bankruptcy or otherwise by operation of law, or (6) a transfer on the appointment of a new trustee where no beneficial interest passes. It also substituted another form of declaration for that required under the Clerical Subscription Act 1865 (see above). It abolished the sale by auction of an advowson in gross, and empowered a bishop to refuse to institute or admit a presentee to a benefice on a number of specified grounds: among others, on the ground of possible corrupt presentation through a year not having elapsed since the last transfer of the right of patronage, and constituted a new court to hear appeals against a bishop's refusal to institute. This court consists of a judge of the Supreme Court, who shall decide all questions of law and of fact, and of the archbishop, who gives judgment.
In Scotland simony is an offence both by civil and ecclesiastical law. The rules are generally those of the canon law. There are few decisions of Scottish courts on the subject. By the Act of 1584, c. 5, ministers, readers and others guilty of simony provided to benefices were to be deprived. An Act of Assembly of 1753 declares pactions simoniacal whereby a minister or probationer before presentation and as a means of obtaining it bargains not to raise a process of augmentation of stipend or demand reparation or enlargement of his manse or glebe after induction.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)