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

St. Nicholas: what can I say, he was a beast. December 13, 2013

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?”

So, to review:

Santa Clause. Not real. An embodiment of our greed.
St. Nicholas. Real Person. Worth telling your kids about.
Samuel L. Jackson. No-nonsense tough guy. Like St. Nicholas (sans cursing and handgun)










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 that’s Christmas and all.

I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

[This post first appeared a year ago at this time.]



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  • Ray Valdez

    ok where can i read the story bout jolly ole st. nick bopping some guy in the face…that’s must read stuff

  • Don Bryant

    Yep, what I got from this post is “rector.” Rector? You gotta have a Rector if you’re going to hear about St. Nick in church. 🙂

    • My knowledge of American culture is too limited to understand what Rector means in that context 🙂

      Could you please enlighten me?

      • peteenns

        A rector is the Episcopal version of a Protestant pastor–in charge of the parish (church). I think what Don means is that you only hear of St. Nick in more liturgically oriented churches that values saints.

        • Thanks for the explanation Peter.

          For most French conservative Evangelicals, the history of the Church stops with the last letter of the New Testament and everything which lies between the 200 AC. and the reformation is seen as being worthless.

          German Evangelicals are a bit more open for other Christian traditions.

  • Scott Berkhimer

    I agree, Derek – you’re probably reading way too much into this.

  • Yeah, Saint Nicholas was truly an extraordinary Christian.
    In my homeland Lorraine/Lothringen Santa Claus (Saint Nicolas) is a different figure from the commerical Christmas man.
    Historically, the gifts were seen as rewards for kind kids whereas the nasty ones were punished by the so-called father-whipper.
    Now the feast has become more universal 🙂

    Oftentimes, atheist ask me if I believe in invisible splendid unicorns and Santa Claus.
    I find that Saint Nicholas is a wonderful example of the importance of definiton.
    If Santa Claus is a supernatural creature bringing all Christmas gifts to children, then it is sure he does not exist because parents know that they are the ones who did that.
    BUT if Santa Claus is defined as a loving old bearded man who anonymously distributes gifts to poor children, then I think there have been many Santa Clauses over the course of human history.
    And who knows, you and I could perhaps become one 😉

  • Kat

    Nick knows if Chuck’s been naughty or nice.

  • Dear Derek.

    The danger you mention is real, but it is possible to be a progressive Christian while being open to the possibility of the supernatural.

    In this post I made a distinction (like professor Roger Olson does) between progressive and liberal Christians, the latter ones denying the existence of the supernatural.

    I am agnostic about the miracles Jesus did and am open to the possibility He was really born from a virgin.

    Likewise I am quite open to the possibility that people of all cultures have had outlandish experiences with weird and deceptive creatures appearing to them under a lot of forms (elves, fairies and UFOs).

    I think we have normal (albeit not extraordinary) evidence for the existence of such a spiritual realm, so I disagree with liberal theologians on that point.

    Yet at the same time I deny that the apostle Paul was more inspired than C.S. Lewis as he wrote his letters.


  • He also wasn’t a white, northern European! 🙂

  • Andrew Dowling

    Arius, who St. Nick basically assaulted, is probably second to Pelagius as the most unfairly pilloried and misunderstood “heretic” in Christian history. Far from being a liberal, he was actually a conservative ascetic who saw Trinitarian theology as co-opting too much from Greek pagan philosophy and distorting the apostolic faith (which is a hard point to argue with).
    He also had a very sizable following and it took over a hundred years for the Church to finally squash Arianism to the fringe outposts.

    • Warren Crosby

      Andrew, do you have any of Arius’ writings that may exonerate him from these unfair claims?

      • Andrew Dowling

        All of his writings have been destroyed, but there are excerpts in the many screeds made against him, which we still have.

        • Jack

          Arius distorted the true faith so badly that it angered Nicholas to the point of striking him in the middle of the council. In this age of pluralism, we don’t even understand what heresy is anymore, or how terrible it is. All the other bishops threw Nicholas out of the council and took his bishop robes away from him and locked him in a cell for the act of striking Arius. That night EVERY other bishop at the council had the same dream, Nicholas receiving his robes back from the hands of Jesus and his mother. They reinstated him the next day. The council affirmed the teaching as handed down from the apostles, the co-eternal nature of the Son, Jesus, and his Divinity and humanity.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “That night EVERY other bishop at the council had the same dream,
            Nicholas receiving his robes back from the hands of Jesus and his
            mother. They reinstated him the next day.”

            Ah yes, and that really happened . . .

  • Agni Ashwin

    They don’t call him St. Nick Fury fur nuttin’.

  • James

    I hate to be a spoil sport but why not allow for a Santa figure in our ‘mythology’? A good opportunity for the kids to ask questions and the family to do a little digging. Recounting the various strands of this Christmas narrative should be of more interest than proving Santa real or not.

  • Jacob Michael

    Cute article but, “First of the Neo-reformed”? -_-

  • Bryan

    I am still shocked that Samuel Jackson could have more than one interpretation of the book of Ezekiel. He just needed to be more objective.

  • That’s by L. Frank Baum, I believe. Author of the Wizard of Oz.

  • Santa Claus is only about greed if you let him be. Just because he’s not St. Nicholas doesn’t mean he has no value as a myth. There’s a reason why the Santa Claus story has become so well known, and it’s not because he’s an embodiment of greed.