Part 1: Simon Magus
Hagiographies and Miracle Tales,
Written c. 400
NOW SIMON CALLED PETER and John went into the city to prepare for the Passover of the Jews, and they did as they were bid. As the Lord had instructed, they met a man carrying a jug of water who led them unto a large house. The master of the house was Nicodemus, who had been secretly a disciple of John the Baptizer as he was then of Our Lord, as was all his house. He showed them the upper room already furnished for the meal.
Nicodemus told his servants, the man Simon, later called the magician, and his wife Bernice, to assist with the preparations. Yet Bernice was lame and could not climb to the upper room. She was bitter, for Jesus would not cure her because of her spitefulness.
The master had need of his own dishes for his own guests so there were not enough for all the disciples, nor was a wash pot provided. So while Peter went to get the lamb, John went and beseeched Mary, the mother of Jesus, to borrow her own tub and other dishes. And he returned with all that was needed.
Later Jesus came with the other disciples. And the Lord himself washed their feet to show them humility before he himself was to be humbled. Together they entered the upper room and took the Passover.
Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup, and prophesied his own death and rising, though they did not understand.
And when they were done, they sang a hymn and departed for Gethsemane. While the disciples slept, including Peter, who was to keep the watch while the Lord prayed, Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord. The Temple guard seized Jesus and brought him before the council of the Jews, met secretly to plot his death.
All the disciples scattered like sheep save proud Peter, who had boasted he would never abandon the Lord, and John the most faithful.
Peter smote the servant of the high priest with his sword. He followed behind as they took Jesus to the house of the high priest. John, who was known there, led Peter in safely. But in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter was discovered. Three times he denied his master even as the Lord had said. In his shame, Peter fled, and hid from all, even his brother and the other disciples.
And Jesus was taken before Pontius Pilate, the governor, who then sent him to Herod for judgment.
That morning, Pilate sent soldiers to search the house where Jesus had taken the Passover, seeking the disciples. Under Longinus the centurion, they turned out the upper room, destroying all they could find.
But the servants had already found the pot and Bernice was bathing her lame leg in the pot. And behold, when she had done so her twisted foot straightened and was made whole and her lameness was gone. Longinus witnessed this and wondered greatly. So they seized the basin from the man Simon, but Bernice cast herself on the earth before them, begging them to leave it.
“This is our master’s basin,” Simon said, “he will beat us if you break it.”
Longinus said, “Woman, how come you to walk?”
Simon tried to take the credit with his healing art, but Bernice feared to lie.
“The man Jesus, he washed his followers’ feet last night,” she said. “It must be due to his magic.”
The centurion replied, “Surely the procurator will need to see this.” And leaving Simon, they took her and the basin to Pilate.
At that hour, Jesus was returned to Pilate, for Herod, though desirous of his death, refused to condemn him for fear of being cursed. Yet the Jews pressed for Our Lord’s death, and worked up the mob to demand his execution. They claimed falsely that he was an enemy of Caesar.
While Pilate considered the message from his wife of the dream that warned against killing Our Lord, Longinus entered with Bernice and the tub. She told him how she had been healed, and the governor too was amazed.
“What evil has this man done?” he asked the high priest.
“He is a sorcerer, lord,” Caiaphas replied, “who raises the dead and heals the sick.”
“And for doing only good, even if by magic, you would condemn him?”
“It is our duty,” the high priest replied. “This man blasphemes by doing so on the Sabbath, and worse, by the use of the ineffable Name of God that only I, of all men, may ever whisper, and that solely in the Holy Place at the peril of my life.”
“How do you know this? Have you heard him?” Pilate asked.
“Perish the thought! Mine ears would surely be blasted,” Caiaphas piously said. “But how else could such marvels be done?”
And the mob howled the more for Jesus’ blood. Scourging him did not satisfy them, and the mockery but excited them all the more.
Their desire was so great they even accepted the robber Barabbas rather than Our Lord.
So Pilate condemned Jesus. And in sight of all the Jews, Pilate summoned a pitcher of water and the basin. “I find no fault in him. May I be washed clean of his blood, be it your doing.” And standing before Jesus, Pilate washed his hands in the basin belonging to Mary.
Jesus seeing this, nodded, but said nothing. So he was led off to take up his cross. And Pilate’s heart was greatly troubled.
Only John stood by him, along with Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene. They looked on as Jesus was nailed to a cross, hung on a tree for all to see. To John’s care, Jesus commended his mother, forgave his betrayers and the faithless ones, gave up the Spirit, and died.
While the disciples hid from the Jews in fear for their lives, John along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and the women buried the Lord in a new-cut tomb. And the Romans set guards around the tomb at the request of the high priest.
And the next day, Jesus rose again from the dead, as the Scriptures had foretold. When Pilate heard this, he marveled greatly. And secretly in his heart, he was converted. So that when he returned to Rome, he dared to speak the truth about Our Lord to that mad Caesar Caligula, and was beheaded. So the man who condemned Our Lord is numbered among his saints.
In Rome, Peter also paid for his cowardice eventually by being crucified also, gladly, upside down. Of all the disciples, only John the faithful one did not die a martyr. He was preserved to care for Mary and the holy women even as Our Lord said for many years as a witness.
But the day before the resurrection, Peter was in despair. Remembering the basin, he returned to Nicodemus’ house while all the disciples were hiding from the Romans.
There he beheld Bernice, who had returned with the basin, dancing for joy. And Simon danced too with delight, but the devil had already entered him.
Seeing them, he asked, “How can you dance and laugh at such a time?” Then, remembering her lameness, he wondered at the power of the Spirit. “How can you dance at all? I sought the tub hoping that I might wash off the taint of my betrayal,” he said. “Yet I see the Lord’s grace is with us still.”
Peter beseeched them to keep it safe that it be not broken also. Thus encouraged he left to seek the other disciples once again. So they hid the basin, and when John came, and later still their master Nicodemus, they told them all that it had been smashed with the rest.
After Christ was raised, no one remembered the washtub for a long time in their joy. And Jesus forgave his disciples, blessed them, and rose to heaven to await the day of his return.
But while all these things were happening, Simon the husband of Bernice, wondered exceedingly. And he thought on the miracles that had happened, and the other signs that the apostles performed after Jesus returned to heaven. For the Spirit moved freely through them, and healings, raisings from the dead, great and mighty wonders, were commonplace. And so the devil of envy grew great in Simon, and he conceived the desire to become a mighty magician and be worshipped as a god.
So he and Bernice moved to the city of Sychar in Samaria where he had once lived. And there he began to use the basin to create signs and wonders of his own. And Bernice he displayed to her shame. But still he heeded Peter’s request and kept the basin secret.
At that time, Peter worked miracles daily to convert the people. To impress them despite their ignorance and superstitions, he regularly cured his daughter Petronilla of the paralysis along her left side. And she just as regularly and gratefully accepted the sickness once again so that she might better manifest the mercy of God. As a result, many souls were saved and great gifts given to the apostles.
When word of similar marvels that Simon had done came to the disciples in Jerusalem, Peter suspected. Taking counsel, they sent Peter and John to investigate and preach the true gospel of Christ.
There in Sychar, the apostles witnessed the doings of Simon, who now wore rich robes and had many servants and many more followers, even among those counted rich and wise. He cast off his wife Bernice and surrounded himself with prostitutes, claiming he but followed the example of Christ. And Peter confronted Simon, demanding to know why he spoke in the name of Jesus.
And Simon replied, “You know very well, for my power comes from his basin which you bade me to keep.” And Peter was afraid, knowing that Simon knew of his deceit. But John saw the basin, and said, “That is indeed the very pot the Lord used. But you have no right to it. For it first belonged to Jesus’ mother Mary, who joined my household afterwards.”
Yet still Simon refused to give it back. The serpent even tried to barter the tub in exchange for the power of blessing. But Peter rebuked him. So Simon boasted scornfully, “What need have I for your magic? I have the bowl of Jesus from whom your power comes.”
Peter, hearing this, cried out, “Alas, man of lies, the truth you speak will not save you.”
And he cursed the magician with dumbness. Finally at blessed Bernice’s urging, Simon, in fear and trembling, returned the washtub unto him. He cast himself down and with restored voice begged loudly for forgiveness and their prayers, pretending out of fear to wish to be a disciple. But Simon’s rage he kept secret and would not be appeased, and from that day on he plotted against Peter.
Peter took the basin, and kept it, and would not even return it to John out of fear that it might be used wrongly.
But Bernice followed them, weeping with repentance. Moved by her tears, the apostles let her take care of it for them.
So Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, and the good news spread across Judea and beyond. In time, Peter removed himself from Jerusalem to Antioch with Bernice and the tub. There he taught the good news and ministered unto the community. And the word of the Lord came unto Peter one day that he should go to Rome to oppose Simon.
Before he departed, unto Antioch came John and others sent by the apostles. Peter, desiring the beloved disciple’s blessing, brought out the basin. After he had washed the apostles’ feet, John asked for its return. But Peter stubbornly refused, saying he had greater need of it.
But John said, “Your authority comes not from a wash pot, but from your faith in the Lord. Leave it here; because you could not give it up, you will never profit from it.” And at that moment the washtub cracked so that it could never hold water again.
And Peter being ashamed, wept and begged forgiveness of John. And thus reconciled they parted and went forth, John to exile and Peter to Rome and the stake. But Peter left the basin safely in the care of Bernice and the holy virgins of Antioch as John had bade him.
And there the sacred basin remained in secret, until in God’s time, the whole world became Christian.