Sunday, December 6, 2015

What You Never Knew about: St Nicholas



 I figured I'd do another list of things people don't know about  a particular figure, with this one being the subject of today's feast day: St Nicholas.

1. He's actually Greek.
That's right: his parents were both Greek and he was raised in Greece. Some may think he was Turkish but that's only because he was a bishop of a Turkish area. This also explains why St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors.

So come Christmas Eve, you might want to leave ouzo more than cookies.

2. He got the name Santa Claus because the English misheard a version of his name.

It may shock some people today, but when America was being colonized, the English settlers didn't celebrate Christmas.
Why? Because they were mostly Puritans who viewed Christmas as too Catholic or too "popish." As more people started settling in the area, more traditions and customs came over as well. One such group were the Dutch who brought their tradition of a gift giver. The English children were intrigued by this but neither they nor their parents were used to hearing Dutch words, so when they heard the name Sinterklaas, they thought the name was Santa Claus.

3. He once saved three young women from prostitution.

In life, Nicholas knew a man with three daughters. At one point, he wanted to marry them off but had no money to do so. Desperate because of his situation, he was getting ready to sell his daughters into prostitution.
Nicholas, not wanting to have the young women go into a life of sin but knowing full well the man was too proud to ask for help, came by his house late in the night and put three bags of gold coins down the man's chimney.
This is why some depictions of Nicholas has him holding three coin bags (sometimes three gold balls; they stand for the same thing).

4. He signed off on one of the key creeds of Christianity.

That creed is called the Nicene Creed, one of the oldest and most widely used creeds in Christianity. I'll get to the need for writing it in a moment, but for now, I'll say the creed is used to clarify the relationship between Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Apostle's Creed, it does address Jesus' divinity but it does not say one needs the Catholic faith to be saved. This is why some Protestants use the creed, like Lutherans and Baptists but not used by Mormons or Jehovah's Witness (then again those last two aren't real Christians anyway so what difference does it make?)

5. He is a Catholic bishop.

This is the reason why he is portrayed with red robes, as that's the garment of the bishop office---unless someone is from an area with a more Eastern Rite or Eastern Orthodox influence. In that case, he wears purple robes.

7. One of the key parts of his life has long been misunderstood.

This is going back to the Nicene Creed mentioned earlier. What I did not bring up was why the creed was written in the first place.
At the time, a bishop named Arius was promoting the idea that Jesus was less than the Father, even going so far as to extend the teaching to saying Jesus is a created being. This became so rampant in the Church a special meeting of bishops was called by none other than Constantine. Nicholas, being a bishop himself, went to the meeting to settle the issue. He with the other bishops sat back while Arius presented his case for this stand.

Now pretty much everyone gets that part right; this is the part people get wrong.

According to the ignorant, Nicholas got up, punched Arius right in the face, sat back down and suffered no consequences for his actions and since Nicholas is a saint, this supposedly shows hypocrisy in Christianity.

This is of course NOT what actually happened.

Here's what it did happen: Nicholas did go up and strike Arius but it was a slap, not a punch.
Second of all, while a bishop arguing with another bishop wasn't frowned upon (as long as it was in the spirit of fraternal correction), a bishop striking another bishop was looked down on…especially considering he did it right in front of the emperor.
Third, he in fact did not get away with it. The other bishops were so shocked and horrified, they banned him from the remainder of the council, stripped him of his bishop authority and vestments, and confined him to a make-shift quarters wrapped in chains.
When the jailer checked on him the next mourning, he found the chains unwrapped and Nicholas back in his vestments.
This was taken as a sign to give Nicholas his office back..which they did and ruled against Arius.

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