Essays & Theses

Did St Nicholas of Myra / Santa Claus Punch Arius at the Council of Nicaea

Did St Nicholas of Myra / Santa Claus Punch Arius at the Council of Nicaea
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  15 Did St Nicholas of Myra    /    Santa Claus Punch Arius at the Council of Nicaea? Posted by Roger Pearse on February 28, 2015 In many places online we can find the statement that St Nicholas of Myra – the basis for Santa Claus – was present at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD , where he punched Arius in the mouth.   So … is it true?Unfortunately we have almost no historical information at all about any St Nicholas of Myra  – our information is entirely based on Saint’s  Lives  of him, of which the earliest are 9th century, and the latest are modern compilations based on medieval collections.   All these  Lives  are really closer to folk-tales than to history, and they reflect the accumulations of popular legends.   Some of them do have Nicholas attending the Council of Nicaea; but they do not contain the story of Nicholas punching Arius. The main collection of source materials about Nicholas is by Gustav   Anrich, and in this I found what I suspect is the answer.[…]   Sometime in the middle ages, the story about his attendance at Nicaea was “improved” to show him slapping “an Arian”.   Over time, this turned into a story about him slapping Arius himself.   The story is now a standard item in Greek Orthodox tradition, and is embedded in their handbook of icon-painting. St Nicholas of Myra slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea. Icon at Soumela.   Via […] To summarise […]: there is no ancient evidence whatever that St Nicholas punched or slapped Arius at the First Council of Nicaea.   The story is not found in any text before the late 14th century, and even that one mentions only “a certain Arian”.   In the next two centuries the legend mutates into Nicholas slapping Arius; and is then disseminated in works of popular fiction, and by the paintings of icons.   It has no historical basis whatever. Note on St. Nicholas’s Slap of Bishop Arius’s Face Michael Lockwood, October 11 , 2019  16 On the previous page I have excerpted brief passages from the Roger Pearse article’sintroductory remarks, his ‘iconic’ illustration of Bishop Nicholas slapping Bishop Arius,and his final summary.Pearse’s internet article presents an authoritative discussion questioning thetruthfulness of the story that St. Nicholas of Myra was even present at the First Councilof Nicæa in 325. It’s worth reading in full.Pearse’s conclusion about the story is that: “It has no historical basis whatever.”However, in this article (one of several of his on St. Nicholas), Pearse doesn’t discussthe theological argument which prompted Nicholas’s alleged physical slap of Arius!The metaphorical and literal  burning question, which was the central issue at stakein the historical  gathering of this First Ecumenical Council, was whether Jesus was“of the same essence  ( homoousios ) of God” or only “ similar  ( homoiousios ) to God”. Burning issue:  Emperor Constantine and the Councilof Nicaea. The burning of Arian books is illustrated[above]. Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV , BibliotecaCapitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law pro-duced in northern Italy ca . 825. Courtesy of Wikipedia .  17 The spelling correction is mine (ML ). The boy’s point is well taken, even if the cartoon’s spelling of the second term,‘  Homoiousios ’, lacks the third ‘ o ’ of four. The whole force of the cartoon shouldinclude the difference between the two terms being only one small, insignificant ‘ iota ’! o ^  18 So now where do we stand? Bishop Nicholas of Myra was surely a historicalperson. But we have very little historically valid information about him.The main issue historically debated in the First Ecumenical Council involvedthe theological terms homoousios  and homoiousios . Generally, I try to keep mydistance from theological arguments. But Mythicists have a simple reaction to theabove type of debates: if Jesus was not a historical, flesh and blood person, thenboth sides fail in making any sense.Remember that Fr. Prof. Thomas L. Brodie, a respected Catholic theologian –respected at least by many non-Catholic theologian colleagues – after his thorough,detailed study of the scriptures came to the conclusion that Jesus is a fictionalcharacter.All those scholars who do agree with Brodie’s assessment will naturally concludethat the arguments on both sides  – the arguments for and those against Arianism – evaporate into mere nothingness ,   along with the slew of opposing argumentsconcerning Docetism, Antinomianism, Donatism, etc., etc. They all are reduced tothe level of the medieval arguments concerning how many angels can sit   /   stand   /dance on the head of a pin!Now, if the Mythicist reasoning above leads others to conclude that the Mythicistway of thinking is anti-Christian, I would counter that this is not necessarily so. Itis rather, perhaps, the vanguard of a possible 21st Century Reformation – foundedon the final realization that Christianity in all of its varied forms is and always hasbeen  the Western branch of Buddhism – crypto-Buddhism .* * * * * * * * *
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