Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

Byzantine Catholic Mission of Montgomery County (MD), 2000

At least that's the Catholic answer. But he doesn't go by that name.

Nicholas was bishop of Myra, a city in Asia Minor, in the fourth century. The Catholic Encyclopedia has an entry on him, as well as the online edition of St Anthony Messenger, and, of course, Stories of his good works and miracles abound. One apocryphal account related to me by a Russian Orthodox priest is my favorite.

At the Council of Nicea, Nicholas was among the few who defended the orthodox teaching of the divinity of Christ against the Arians. At one point, he became so enraged with Arius that he smacked him right across the face. (That's right, boys and girls; jolly old Saint Nick decked a heretic.) The emperor was sympathetic toward the Arians, and had Nicholas imprisoned and held in chains. That night, the emperor had a dream. He saw Nicholas resplendent in his episcopal robes, seated on his throne, holding the book of the Gospels in one hand. Awakened with a freight, the emperor called for his guards to accompany him to the dungeon where Nicholas was being held. There he found Nicholas... you know the rest.

Pretty good story, really. But today, in many Catholic parishes, including schools, there will appear the same impostor as in our department stores. The idea of a jolly old man dressed as a bishop seems to be more than some Catholics can handle.

Is it because they have a hard time seeing St Nicholas that way, or a hard time seeing a bishop that way?


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