Jolly and Good-Natured, or Pugilist?

New to my blogroll is The Charcoal Fire, written by the son of one of my friends. (He’s under Catholic Dads, but that is pre-emptively – the baby is due next month.)

Since today is Saint Nicholas’ feast day, I thought I’d share his post on the beloved saint with you. It’s called “Saint Nicholas: Icon of Intolerance.”
Here’s a sample:

Since we’re well into the Christmas season by consumeristic standards, I’ve decided, by inspiration from my beautiful wife, that I should burst a big, fat, jolly, red bubble. So if you like your big, fat, jolly red bubble, hit your back arrow at the top of your browser and say, “Whew! I almost lost my big, fat, jolly, red bubble!” But if you want to know what the original Santa did to an inaugural member of the “naughty list,” please, read on. Trust me, you want this bubble burst. The real St. Nicholas is way cooler than the jolly fat man of Western lore.

St. Nicholas lived from 270 to 343 A.D. in modern-day Turkey. He lived in an era of great Christian persecution and trial. Most people have heard the following story about St. Nicholas:

A poor man had three young daughters whose dowries he could not afford. Because of this, they faced a future dark with poverty and prostitution. St. Nicholas is said to have heard of the plight of the poor father. He knew such a future was no future at all. One night under cover of darkness, he filled a bag of coins and “dropped them down the chimney” of the poor man’s house (in reality, he probably threw them in the window) to cover the eldest daughter’s dowry. The next night, he dropped another bag of coins down the chimney. The father, now realizing someone had heard of his plight knew that the “Good Samaritan” would be returning a third night in his generosity to cover the youngest daughter’s dowry. Though it is unknown whether the father prepared M&M cookies and milk, he stayed awake to discover the identity of the humble benefactor. It was Nicholas. Had the father not stayed awake, no one would have ever known it was him.

This is a very lovely story indeed! Nicholas did many very wonderful things, some of which follow.

Many might consider the following events of Nicholas’ life acts of intolerance. To get to what is relevant for our purposes, we have to know more about the man beyond the legend. Nicholas one night had a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory holding the jewel-adorned Gospels and standing beside Nicholas. On Nicholas’ other side was the Blessed Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, holding a bishop’s stole. Shortly after his vision, the Church named Nicholas bishop of Myra. Nicholas served as bishop during a difficult, but profoundly fruitful, time for Christianity. As bishop, he was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned during the oppressive Roman persecutions (much as Catholic bishops are being treated in the same manner in China at this very moment). However, when Emperor Constantine converted, he released many imprisoned bishops, including Nicholas, who returned to his people. Christianity was now legal throughout the Roman Empire.

Intolerant Santa alert! Many pagan worship practices were still observed throughout Nicholas’ diocese. Many people in Asia Minor continued to worship the Greek fertility goddess Artemis, daughter of Zeus. Nicholas knew that as bishop, he had to care for the souls of his flock, who might flock back to what he knew to be a demon-inspired fertility cult. He set out to destroy the shrines and expel the demons from the land. And so it was: through Nicholas’ life-long efforts, the once-magnificent temple of Artemis in Myra and several other temples were razed to the ground. …

And it continues on. There’s even a great picture – looks a bit like an icon, but I don’t think it is – of the good bishop sucker-punching Arius! What’s not to love?

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