Jolly Old St. Nick — a Brawler?
Wednesday December 06th 2006, 3:04 am
Filed under: Patristics

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.)


7 Comments so far
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…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.”

Ever since I heard that story, part of me has wanted to use an icon or cartoon of this event as a Christmas card.

I don’t think it’s the best part of me.

Comment by Jason Sims 12.06.06 @ 9:33 am

Where is the story told about Arius’ “profusion of blood”?

Comment by Scott 12.06.06 @ 7:42 pm

I notice that both of the above responses from males comment on the violence and blood. Being female, I am going to comment on the beautiful jewel with St. Nicholas carved into it. :D

Actually, I love that story about St. Nicholas punching Arius and hope it’s true. I wish we had more bishops like that today. But alas, even in St. Nicholas’s time, most bishops followed Arius.

Comment by kitty 12.06.06 @ 10:54 pm

The nose incident is late and most folks don’t put much stock in it — only those scrooges (heh heh) who relish the thought of Santa smacking heretics. (“Happy holidays, infidel.”) I’m not in the office, so I don’t have the sources at hand. They’re late. Here are some Web references:

http://www.istrianet.org/istria/customs/winter/st-nick1.htm#story

http://www.byzantines.net/epiphany/nicholas.htm

Comment by Mike Aquilina 12.07.06 @ 12:29 pm

Well, I rooted through all my sources on St. Nicholas, and here’s what I have to report. Without exception, the modern lives of the saints report the punching incident, attributing it to “other traditions” (other than Epiphanius), but they don’t name the source. My suspicion is that it’s quite late. I put it up for its entertainment value more than its historical value. If anyone else out there knows the source, let us know.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 12.10.06 @ 7:19 pm

My view has always been that if history doesn’t entertain then it’s valuable only to the historians, whoever they are. I’m probably mistaken about this and it most likely proves that I’m a cultural Philistine. But as far as St. N goes, you have to admit, a sock in the nose generally goes along with being tortured, imprisoned and throwing bags of gold through people’s windows.

As for gore value, compared to the accounts of the death of the Arch-heretic Arius, getting socked in the schnozola is mild. I guess his guts supposedly exploded and went everywhere.

Comment by Pauli 12.11.06 @ 2:07 pm

Yep, and that little explosion is better attested — by no less than Athanasius, and immediately after the blast.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 12.11.06 @ 2:15 pm



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