Mike Aquilina

Jolly Old St. Nick — a Brawler?

Wednesday December 06th 2006, 3:04 am

Among those who were imprisoned for the faith during Diocletian’s purge was the beloved bishop of Myra, a poor diocese in Asia Minor. His name was Nicholas.

Bishop Nicholas was a holy man, an articulate teacher, and a staunch defender of orthodoxy against Arianism. Having survived his imprisonment, he lived to see the triumph of the true faith at the Council of Nicaea, where he was an active participant. There, according to later histories, he denounced Arius forcefully. Indeed, some sources (though not entirely reliable) claim that St. Nicholas punched Arius in the nose and brought forth a “profusion of blood.”

At home, Nicholas was best known for his generosity. After his death, the stories of his kindness spread far and wide. On his feast day, December 6, Christians would try to imitate his generous giving. Over time, his name, St. Nicholas, would be slurred into “Santa Claus” and, in some countries at least, the feast of giving transferred (along with “Santa”) to Christmas.

He is the patron saint of children, and my house is full of them.

Christie’s is tomorrow auctioning a tenth-century image of Nicholas carved in a gem. Lovely. (Hat tip on the auction: PhDiva.)