Sunday, December 5, 2010

St. Nicholas

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. Back in June, I posted a commemoration of St. Anthony, and pointed out that he seemed to be the patron saint of just about everything. I still consider the breadth of his patronage to be most impressive, especially since I seldom invoke him in any capacity other than the finder of lost items. I must, however, now revise that observation. I have just looked up St. Nicholas's patronage at - a very informative and delightful site, and have discovered that he has a truly staggering patronage. Amongst other unlikely things, he is the patron saint of thieves, military intelligence, pawnbrokers, pirates, students and candle makers. You can read the complete list at the aforementioned website, by clicking on "Who is St. Nicholas?" and then selecting Patron Saint from the menu on the left hand side of the page. It is a rather fascinating list. In fact, while you are there, check out the whole site. It is well worth it.

St. Nicholas is one of my most recent favourite saints. It wasn't that I didn't have a certain amount of affection for him before. After all, the good bishop did seem to run about, doing the most extraordinary things: supplying dowries for a family of girls too poor to otherwise have been unable to marry, for example, or restoring to life the children whom a wicked butcher had cut up and pickled. Besides, St. Nicholas is the saints whose celebrated generosity has given us Santa Claus. How could anyone not like St. Nicholas for that? Still, I must admit, I always found him a bit too remote for me to want as a particular friend. A bishop, who suffered all the pains of martyrdom, except the actual death of it. A wonder-worker, whom nothing seemed ever to disturb. I admired him, but thought him (as Sam said of the Elves) rather above my likes and dislikes. However, a couple years back, I found out something about kind-hearted, generous St. Nicholas, that did more to make me like him than any of the other stories I had read of him put together.

St. Nicholas apparently had a bad temper; one might even go so far as to say a violent temper. He was present at the Counsel of Nicea, where the teaching of Arius were being examined for orthodoxy. Arius was given a fair hearing, and he went on for some length, explaining his heretical view that Jesus, God the Son, was not equal to God the Father. The rest of the bishops listened in silence, but St. Nicholas eventually lost his temper, and struck Arius in the face! (There is some debate as to whether it was a slap or a punch that Arius received. It was a good, solid blow, at any rate). From the moment I read that story, I became a life-long devotee of the good saint.

I suppose it says something about me (and not necessarily a good something either) that this particular story should have delighted me so much. I find it extremely satisfying. We live in an age of political correctness, in which everyone is expected to listen to everyone else's opinions with broad and opened minds, nor ever dare to suggest that certain things are Absolutes and not open to discussion. And heaven forbid that you mention God as something other than a vague, great Being whose existence has no bearing on our own! This is even more true around Christmas-time, when one of the greatest holy days of the year is exploited, but never mentioned, and any public display of homage to the One whose birth we are celebrating, is severely discouraged. I find this particular facet of of our age, not only frustrating, but soul-destroying as well. It makes me feel that the world would be a far better place if we all had our own strong opinions about things, and were not above having an honest fight about them once in a while - even to the point of exchanging blows. I therefore take considerable delight in the image of generous, kindhearted St. Nicholas (who, in the guise of Santa Claus, is almost as exploited as the holy day itself) rising up and belting the nasty heresiarch, as he so richly deserved. Just imagine what would happen if it were St. Nicholas himself who was confronted with the indifference of our day.

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