Santa Claus, Confessor

St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra back in the 4th century.  He has become one of the most popular saints among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the patron saint of sailors, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, to name just a few.  He also mutated into the emblem of Christmas, Santa Claus.  (Say “Saint Nicholas” real fast.)

But what is the connection between the bishop of Myra and Christmas?  Stories about the saint supplying poor women’s dowries by putting money in stockings drying by the fire give us an explanation of the custom of hanging stockings for Santa to fill, but they don’t have a connection to Christmas, as such.

I think the connection is that the bishop was reportedly a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and authored the Nicene Creed.  A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for World Magazine about the role that St. Nicholas reportedly played at the Council of Nicaea, including slapping the heretic Arius who insisted that Jesus Christ was merely human and not divine.

The St. Nicholas Center has posted that column on its website, along with other supporting material and everything else you might like to know about St. Nicholas, including a forensic reconstruction of what he looked like. I also need to report that the St. Nicholas center has also posted the song parodies written by you Cranach commenters when we discussed my World column here.  Those songs, playing on the image of Santa Claus slapping heretics, were quite creative and funny.

After the jump is a fuller account of St. Nicholas at Nicaea, which I will then discuss in terms of our need to recast Santa Claus as a Confessor of the church. [Read more…]

Who proceeds from the Father and the Son

Happy Pentecost yesterday!  May the Holy Spirit pour out His richest blessings on you.  May the Holy Spirit work in your heart as you hear God’s Word.

Here is a  question about the Holy Spirit that I would like to submit to the collective theological knowledge manifested in the readership of this blog:   In Western Christianity, both among Roman Catholics and creedal Protestants, the Nicene Creed that we confess says that we believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

In Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, the Orthodox rendition of the Nicene Creed says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. [Read more…]

Lyle Lovett confesses his faith with his church

Three generations–all members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, Texas–confess their faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, which itself goes back through generation after generation in the church of Jesus Christ. First we hear from Erich Klenk, 97 years old. Then we hear from singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett (of whom I am a big fan). Then we hear from fourth-grader Erin Pali. The effect of hearing the creed from these very different and yet very united Christians is deeply moving, as I think you will agree.


HT: Paul McCain, who tells the whole story of the video

I believe in the “holy Catholic church” or “holy Christian church”?

The great Lutheran blogger Anthony Sacramone–remember Luther at the Movies?–goes from posting whole handfuls of entries a day at Strange Herring to going months without posting a thing (and now to keeping the public from reading it, for some reason).  But he sometimes puts something up at the First Things site.   He has a characteristically humorous, provocative, and instructive post there now:  What’s in a Name? Plenty. » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

After riffing on how Campus Crusade has changed its name to “Cru,” he complains about how his fellow Lutherans in the Missouri Synod and other confessional churches translate the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds as “I believe in the Holy Christian Church,” instead of the more direct rendition of the Latin, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church” like everybody else does (only sometimes with an asterix).

He does cite the fact that this comes from the German translation that predates even the Reformation, but he makes the case that today in English we should  show that we are “catholic” in the sense that we claim to be by using “catholic” like the rest of the universal church.   He points out that all kinds of sects and heretics claim to be “Christian.”  We need to affirm that we part of the historical universal Body of Christ, which is what “catholic” does.

In the course of the discussion, he gives some interesting biographical tidbits about his own spiritual pilgrimage  that I have always wondered about. But doesn’t he have a good point?  In the Athanasian Creed, which I’d be glad to confess every week, we do use “catholic.”   It’s a good word, like “evangelical,” and we shouldn’t cede it just to the Church of Rome.  Or are there reasons to change it?