St. Nicholas: what can I say, he was a beast

In church today, our rector handed out a card with a icon of St. Nicholas, similar to the one on the left.

On the back of the card read the following:

Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in Asia Minor. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

OK., that’s pretty cool. He gave away his entire inheritance to those in need. I never knew that. I thought he had elves helping him or something, but I guess I got that part wrong.

The rest of the card really hit me and made me feel stupid and cheated for never having been taught this as a child.

Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from excecution, provided grain in a famine and rescued a kidnaped boy.

Nicholas was a beast. Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, and Samuel L. Jackson all rolled into one. What an absolute crushing beast.

I like the icon–his eyes. He is looking off to the side, like he’s annoyed about having to sit there for a portrait while people in need were suffering.

Can you imagine how he would react to what he has become in our contemporary society?

[Say in Samuel L. Jackson voice, preferably the diner scene from Pulp Fiction] “Let me get this straight. You want me to fly through the air, slide down your chimney and give you stuff? How about I kick down your door and take all your money and give it people who need it?”]

OK, I’m exaggerating and “totally misunderstanding Samuel L. Jackson” (to anticipate some humorless comments). But, my point still stands. For “Jolly Old St. Nick” to have pulled off things like standing between a slave owner and his property, or an executioner and his victim, or go about unkidnaping a boy, he was probably a very brave man indeed with better things on his mind than making sure nice children get an X-Box or an iPad 3.

Yes, I know, he also beat up people he had theological disagreements with, which makes him a bit too much like Samuel L. Jackson–and perhaps the first of the neo-reformed–but I’m willing to roll with that for the time being, seeing it’s Christmas and all.

I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

[This post first appeared two years ago at this time. I understand some of the stories about St. Nick might be of questionable historical value. I don’t really care.]

  • Mike H

    Add a smile and a little chub to the cheeks and this is the guy that I saw come down our chimney when I was a child. I’m sure of it!!

  • David Borger Germann

    awesome. thanks.

  • http://jewishchristianintersections.com/ lbehrendt

    This piece could become an old holiday favorite, like the Grinch and that round-headed kid with no hair.

  • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

    Yeah, I don’t really care that the stories are of questionable historical value, either. However I can’t help but remind you that you have, once again, left out the most exciting facts about Saint Nicholas, garnered from the very same sources!

    As a boy, he performed his first miracle by completely healing the withered hand of a woman he met on the road.

    A mother attended Nicholas’ consecration as a Bishop, completely forgetting that she had left her infant in a warm tub set over a fire. Running back to the house, she was overjoyed to find the baby still happy and alive, sitting in a boiling tub of water surrounded by flames and smoke. Saint Nicholas preserved him!

    Once, when an evil innkeeper beheaded three children and pickled them in a barrel of brine, Nicholas performed a miracle of resurrection and the children stepped right out of the pickling barrel.

    Once, Nicholas persuaded a group of sailors to offload a two-year supply of wheat from their ship for the starving poor of the town. When the sailors arrived at their final destination, they found that Nicholas had miraculously replaced all the donated wheat in the hold of the ship.

    Another group of sailors once found their ship dangerously grounded in shallows during a storm. After they called out to the Bishop Nicholas (already famously a friend to sailors), Nicholas miraculously appeared on the ship out of thin air. He helped the sailors maneuver the ship into deeper waters, then vanished into thin air, just as he had appeared.

    And these are only a few of the amazing tales about Nicholas during his lifetime. After he died, far more miracles were performed by him over the centuries through prayers to his relics. Sometimes his ghost would appear to lend a helping hand.

    Why, the same histories that provide the facts you cited on the card at your church also tell the fabulous tales I’ve recounted here.

    • Episteme

      Don’t forget how we got Santa’s famous flying reindeer: Nicholas defeating Artemis for the right to claim Thrace and Asia Minor for Christendom (and so driving out the spirits of Greek pagandom), and then claiming her chariot of flying deer as spoils…because BALLER!

  • http://timothyhawk.com/ Timothy Hawk

    Great post. You should design a superhero character based on him!

  • Ross

    Oh crumbs…you’ll be telling us next that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th!!!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    Megyn Kelly from Fox News got into this debate last Christmas when she said, “Jesus was a white man, too … he’s a historical figure—that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa.”

    I would’ve thought that St. Nicholas, being from Turkey, would not have been white, but she ought to know. She’s a journalist.

    • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

      Does it count if the beard on his chin was as white as the snow?

    • Acintyabedhabedhadasa

      The Turks hadn’t got there yet. Still pretty swarthy, though, probably.

    • Gregory Judas

      She’s wasn’t actually far off. He was from Turkey, yes. But Turkey hadn’t been taken by the Islamic/Arab Conquest yet. That wasn’t for another three to four hundred years. At the time he lived in Turkey, it was mostly inhabited by Greeks. I should also point out that Greece didn’t have the darker complexion it does today as a result of the Ottoman occupation. Even so, many Greeks and Turks have blonde hair and blue eyes, even now. So even if he was Turkish, it’s really hard to tell if he was white or not. But there’s a good chance that he was.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Ever since I heard of this saint (supposedly) slapping Arius in the face at the council of Nicea, the thought of taking my kids to see Santa at the mall takes on a new dimention…

    “Ho, ho, ho!”
    “What would you like for Christmas?”
    “Have you been a good boy this year?”
    “Do you affirm the Son to be true God, co-eternal, eternally begotten of yet not made by, and being of the same substance of the Father?

    “NO??”

    ***SLAP!***

    • Episteme

      I forget *which* commercial on the radio this year has Santa wishing “Happy Holidays, Mister Scrooge!,” but it always leads me into a discussion on whether Saint Nicholas would consider the other December holidays consubstantial with the secular/civic portions of Christmas, or just start punching out Black Friday shoppers without the faith that he’d deliver it down their chimney for them…

  • http://www.ravenfoundation.org/category/blogs/ Adam Ericksen

    AND he punched Arius in the face. Saint and Sinner. God I love Nicholas – a total beast.

  • http://newyorker.com/books/page-turner/science-fiction-classic-still-smolders Isaac Edward Leibowitz

    The one guy who did everything Jesus said his followers could do, and nobody believes it. It’s just Santa Claus.

    • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

      Except turn the other cheek, apparently.

  • Acintyabedhabedhadasa

    How much of this hagiography is reliable? His bullying attitude at Nicea foreshadowed centuries of Christian intolerance…

  • RossaRemy

    An evangelical writing about a saint? Applause.

  • Gina Wright Hawkins

    I keep a copy of these to pull out of my desk every Christmas. Good fun! http://scriptoriumdaily.com/saint-nicholas-santa-claus-songs/

  • http://www.nicholasthenovel.com Cody W Urban

    I had a very similar thought process when I started down the road of researching the original St. Nicholas of Myra. The only exception, where you saw Samuel L. Jackson, I saw Batman. (Wealthy orphan using his riches to make the world a better place). That’s why I wrote the novel Nicholas: The Fantastic Origin of Santa Claus. http://www.amazon.com/NICHOLAS-Fantastic-Origin-Santa-Claus/dp/1614344868/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315367813&sr=8-1

  • linmalki

    I have used the St Nicholas story in our church over the years, and wrote a kids play around it. The point I wanted to make is not only did St Nicholas help poor children, but “Santa” presents are usually given anonymously and don’t require credit or reciprocation–appropriate for giving St Nick’s name!

  • Celine

    If you have any inclination toward classical music you must check out Benjamin Britten and Eric Crozier’s cantata, Saint Nicholas. It’s quite playful, but also beautiful and moving.