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Helena, Companion of Simon Magus
Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Helena (1), said to have been the companion of SIMON Magus. According to Justin Martyr ( Apol. i. 26) and Irenaeus (i. 23, p. 99), who possibly makes use of a lost work of Justin's, she was a prostitute whom Simon had purchased from a brothel at Tyre and led about, holding her up to the veneration of his disciples. Giving himself out to be the Supreme Power and the Father above all, he taught, says Irenaeus, that "she was the first conception of his mind, the mother of all things, by whom in the beginning he conceived the thought of making the angels and archangels; for that this Conception proceeded forth from him and, knowing her father's wishes, descended to the lower world, and produced the angels and powers, by whom also he said that this world was made. But after she had produced them, she was detained by them through envy . . . and . . . confined in a human body, and for ages passed into other female bodies, as if from one vessel into another. He said, also, that she was that Helen on account of whom the Trojan war was fought; . . . that after passing from one body to another, and constantly meeting with insult, at last she became a public prostitute, and that she was 'the lost sheep.' On this account he had come that he might first of all reclaim her and free her from her chains, and then give salvation to men through the knowledge of himself." The same story is told by Hippolytus ( Ref. vi. 19, p. 174), Tertullian ( de Anima , 34), Epiphanius (Haer. 21), Philaster ( Haer. 29), Theodoret ( Haer. Fab. i. 1). Tertullian evidently knows no more than he read in Irenaeus; but Hippolytus, who had read the Μεγάλη Ἀποφάσις , gives some additional particulars, e.g. that Simon allegorized the story of the wooden horse and of Helen and her torch. The wooden horse must also have been mentioned in the earlier treatise against heresies, used by Epiphanius and Philaster, both of whom state that Simon expounded it as representing the ignorance of the nations. Epiphanius, then, it may be believed, did not invent some other particulars, in which he differs from or goes beyond Irenaeus. He states that Simon called this conception (Ennoea) Prunicus and Holy Spirit; and he gives a different account, in some respects, of the reasons for her descent into the lower world. According to this account, she was sent in order to rob the Archons, the framers of this world, of their power, by enticing them to desire her beauty, and setting them in hostility to one another.
The honour paid to Helena by the followers of Simon was known to Celsus, who says (v. 62) that certain Simonians were also called Heleniani, from Helena, or else from a teacher Helenus. We are told also by Irenaeus and Hippolytus that the Simonians had images of Simon as Jupiter and of Helen as Minerva, which they honoured, calling the former lord, the latter lady. This adaptation of the myth of Athene springing from the head of Zeus to the alleged relation of Ennoea to the first Father is of a piece with the appropriation of other Grecian myths by these heretics.
The doctrine thus attributed to Simon has close amity with that of other Gnostic systems, more especially that of the Ophites, described at the end of bk. i. of Irenaeus, except that in the Simonian system one female personage fills parts which in other systems are distributed among more than one. But in several systems we have the association with the First Cause of a female principle, his thought or conception; and we have the myth of the descent of a Sophia into the lower material regions, her sufferings from the hostility of the powers who rule there, her struggles with them, and her ultimate redemption. Peculiar to Simon is his doctrine of the transmigration of souls and his identification, by means of it, of himself and his female companion with the two principal personages of the Gnostic mythology. Simon, moreover, persuaded his followers not only to condone his connexion with a degraded person, but to accept the fact of her degradation fully admitted as only a greater proof of his redemptive power. We find it easier to believe, therefore, that the story had a foundation in fact than that it was imagined without any. On the other hand, it does not seem likely that Simon could have been the first Gnostic, it being more credible that he turned to his account a mythology already current than that he could have obtained acceptance for his tale of Ennoea, if invented for the first time for his own justification.
Baur has suggested (Christliche Gnosis , p. 308) that Justin in his account of the honours paid at Samaria to Simon and Helena may have been misled by the honours there paid to Phoenician sun and moon divinities of similar names. On this and other cognate questions see SIMON. Suffice it here to say that one strong fact in support of his theory, viz. that in the Clementine Recognitions (ii. 14, preserved in the Latin of Rufinus) the companion of Simon is called Luna, may have originated in an early error of transcription. She is Helena in the corresponding passage of the Clementine Homilies, ii. 23; and we find elsewhere the false reading Selene for Helene, e.g. in Augustine ( de Haer. 1).
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Helena, Companion of Simon Magus'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​h/helena-companion-of-simon-magus.html. 1911.