by Dr. Augustine Thomas, OSB
After Simon Magus’s (Sorcerer) death, people further developed his thought into various heresies that the Church spilt its blood to overcome. One of the “children” of Simon’s religion taught that Jesus only appeared to be a man, but wasn’t. He was a spirit. He only appeared to suffer on the Cross. Another version had Jesus being merely a normal man that so perfectly obeyed God that God adopted him and chose him to be the Christ and Son of God. The Holy Spirit descended upon him at his baptism and left him at his crucifixion because God cannot look upon sin. When Kenneth Copeland claims God told him he could have been chosen too, and that he is just as much an Incarnation of God as Jesus was, this is the same spirit manifesting. Classic liberalism teaches this adoptionism. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Ritschl, and John A.T. Robertson were adoptionists. Jesus is not truly God in the same way as the Father, but a man adopted by God. Of course it is easy to see the error in this thinking when looking at the Bible. Jesus was always God fully, he did not need God to choose him. He always had the Holy Spirit fully since he and the Spirit are one God along with the Father and He is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit. God did not leave Jesus on the Cross for God always looks upon sin, but not with pleasure. However, Jesus, in quoting beginning of Psalm 22, means he is applying the entire Psalm to himself. He was groaning over the fact that God was making him go through that trial instead of delivering him from it in fulfillment of that Psalm.
Another development of Simon’s religion the Church refuted taught that Man did not “fall”. Christ came to banish ignorance and the Gnostics were worthy of salvation because they had a higher knowledge so they are more spiritual than mere Christians. One thinks, today, of those who claim to have a higher “spiritual” knowledge over other Christians who have only a “natural” knowledge because they are moving in the “spirit” and have the fullness. Since the spiritual is higher and better than the natural and since you must turn off your rational mind, only those who go on their feelings have higher knowledge and are in tune with the Spirit. Remember Star Wars where Luke is told to stretch out with his feelings and let his mind go? When he does he is told he has entered a greater universe of knowledge. This Gnosticism is part of the preaching and practices of much of the Prosperity Gospel, today. Don’t let your mind trip you up, they say. And the music is purposely designed to help you do this through a mass hypnosis technique that is well known and used in other religions. St. Benedict, on the other hand, warned Christians not to sing songs repetitively in his famous Rule.
Gnosticism taught that the Old Testament was evil and that Jesus was a failure and not God. Rather than original sin this religion believed in an alien God. Christianity teaches that the original Man sinned and passed this down through all generations. For the gnostics Yahweh is a god gone wild and is not the god of heaven. He is an angry god and makes mistakes and has to repent of them. There is no grace in this god. He is responsible for the misery of mankind. Christ is not the messiah and did not fulfill the OT prophecies.
Kenneth Copeland said, “Do you know who the biggest failure in the Bible is? The biggest failure in the Bible is God.” (TBN Network, November 12, 1985)
Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light and create the darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster, I the LORD, do all these things.”
43:10 “When I act no one can reverse it.”
Another child of Simon’s is called Modalism, because there is no Trinity of Persons in the Godhead they say. Rather God is like an actor in a one person play who plays different modes or roles. When God needs to be the Father, he wears that mask. When God needs to be the Son or the Spirit, he wears one of those masks. Today, Oneness Pentecostals and Apostolic Pentecostals hold this denial of the Trinity position, as does Prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes.
A more serious threat to the Church that has seen some resurgence is called Arianism. It is named for Arius who denied that the Son of God is eternally begotten, but rather said he is the first created of the father, but did pre-exist the world in time. They used repetitive chorus songs to popularize their message. One they sang said, “There was a time when he was not.” They even used the government to forcefully take over orthodox believing parishes. There are many parishes using such repetitive choruses in which the Choruses are actually teaching false doctrine to the members, today. Organizations like Hillsong, and others, are boldly teaching a different Gospel than the one taught by the Apostles that has more to do with the occult than Christ. Remember what St. Benedict warned?
Something that is relevant for us is that Arianism held that Christ does not possess deity by nature, but develops into it by virtue of his constant and growing morality and union with God. He is our savior because he presents us with divine truth and furnishes the perfect example of commitment to the good. We have already seen that many of the hyper-faith preachers and teachers believe we are all an incarnation just as Christ was. Not only is there adoptionist thinking, but clearly Arianism, as well. They teach that we can grow, we can be good enough. Christ is our example and we become divine by following his example. This is precisely the liberal point of view and is the view of such people as Joel Osteen and the other teachers. This opens the way for them to say we can become gods or are gods as much as is Jesus.
More heretical developments taught that Christ only had one will, a divine will, and that he only had a divine nature. All of the human was displaced by the divine. But the Church rebuked those positions and affirmed that Christ was fully God and fully man in every way. Also, they went along with St. Gregory of Nazianzen, who said, “what was not assumed was not healed.”
Still another heretical development of Simon’s religion was Nestorianism, which said that there were two separate persons in Jesus, a human and a divine. Christ was a man who became God rather than God who became man. He was not a unified person. This means the atonement might not have happened as it is unsure if a mere man went to the cross or the Divine God. This is the background of the Prosperity Gospel teaching that Mary was only the mother of Jesus the man. However, this is a denial of his Divinity and unity of person. He always was God, even in the womb. He did not stop being God and upholding the universe. This is also how Prosperity Gospel teachers can claim Jesus was the first born-again man, and born-again in hell.
St. Ignatius of Antioch was born about the year Jesus was crucified. The old bishop and martyr was a direct disciple of the apostles and he said, “Our God Christ was in the womb of Mary.” The Church has always held that Jesus is always God and called Mary the God-bearer for she bore the Infinite Holy God in her finite womb. He is God eternally before Creation was made. He is God when he came to earth through the mediation of the Virgin Mary. He is God eternally when all that is passes away in fire and everything is renovated. He is God eternal and forever.
The final child of Simon’s we will look at is one that still causes us problems today, and demeans God. That Gnostic child is Pelagianism. Pelagianism is a blasphemous heresy that denies that the fall of Adam affected anyone besides Adam. There is no depravity and no original sin passed down to all humans. In a denial of the Bible, the fall only set a bad example. Humans have the ability to choose to obey the will of God and to do good all the time. Humans can become sinless, as Jesus, a man, became sinless through perfect obedience. Therefore, they can earn their way into heaven. Jesus’s life and death do not atone for sins. Jesus is merely a good example. Jesus’s death on the Cross do not atone for our sins and was just a terrible tragedy. These things are clear denials of the Bible.
Pelagianism is a real problem in the Church because it is a natural philosophy and not a spiritual theology. Many teach this error without realizing it and Joel Osteen, among others, has been quite vocal in his support of this heresy, even on national television. He admitted on national television that he did not believe Jesus’ death on the Cross atoned for sins, echoing Kenneth Copeland and other Prosperity Gospel preachers. Going along with his Gnostic religion, he said he believes Jesus’s death was a waste.
This is the ancient root of the Prosperity Gospel. We will next explore the modern beginnings and ties with the occult.