There are a number of people in Church history that I have a lot of respect for. Some of those come from the time of the Council of Nicaea. One of those men is Athanasius, who stood firm in the doctrine of the Trinity. When it seemed all of the Roman Empire was following the heretic Arius, who denied that God was manifest in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a colleague of his told him, “The whole world is against you!” However, Athanasius declared, “Then it is Athanasius against the world.” Another is one that is rarely mentioned, even though his battle was against the same heresy and against the same heretic. His name is St. Nicholas.
In today’s modern world of excess, St. Nicholas has been transformed into a jolly fat man in a red suit, who is given God-like omniscience and omnipresence, but he is a myth. The real St. Nicholas was one who defended the very reason that many celebrate Christmas, and that is the Incarnation. As the apostle Paul wrote of Jesus the Christ:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. -1 Timothy 3:16
Nicholas, who was born in AD 270 and died in AD 343, was one of many bishops who was a part of the First Council of Nicaea. Understand that many of these same bishops had been persecuted for the Christian faith. Nicholas not only defended orthodox Christianity, but he also put his name upon the Nicene Creed, which states:
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The reference to “catholic” in the creed is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church, but rather is defined as “universal,” encompassing a people from every tribe, tongue and nation in the body of Christ.
The creed was a doctrinal statement that countered the Arian heresy. When dealing with the attacks on the Incarnation and the deity of Christ by Arius, Nicholas was so enraged with righteous indignation, that he dealt a blow to Arius. This blow was not merely rhetorical, but with his fist!
As a result, many of the bishops became alarmed and stripped Nicholas of his office of bishop. However, before judging Nicholas too harshly, consider that the prophet Elijah and the people dealt even more severely with the prophets of Baal, who attempted to lead the people after a false god (1 Kings 18:40) and Nehemiah even spoke of laying hands (dealing blows) on those who came to sell their wares on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:21).
However, Nicholas was a very rich man because when he was very young, his parents died, leaving him quite a sum of money. But he was not one who coveted money. No, he was a very kind man and shared his wealth without the force of government. In fact, his reputation was one of helping the poor and providing gifts to those in need, but he did it secretly.
While many legends exist about St. Nicholas, we can’t be sure of which ones are true and which are not, but there is at least one famous story about Nicholas’ kindness that continues.
There was a poor man who had three daughters. He was so poor, he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn’t get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the bride’s parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (This meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married.). The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.
The point I want you to see is that Nicholas defended the truth that God came to earth in the person of Jesus the Christ. He defended the truth of why people celebrate Christmas: The Incarnation. While I hate the thought of the modern day Santa Claus, in large part because people have elevated him to the status of a god, the real St. Nicholas is someone who should be remembered, especially in a day when we are not only faced with new Arianism in the form of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, but also Islamic antichrists.
May you all have a blessed and joyous Christmas and remember that Christ did not come to earth to be celebrated as a baby, but rather to give Himself as a ransom (1 Tim. 2:6) to set men free from their sin (Matt. 1:21) and reconcile them to their Creator (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20).