The man we often refer to as the “jolly old elf,” wasn’t always so jolly. There is a real historical moment where Saint Nicholas wasn’t only NOT laughing, he actually became rather belligerent. What could have upset this man known for great generosity and kindness so much, that he would snap?
The year was AD 323 when Constantine – at the height of his power – received a very disturbing letter concerning a dispute that had broken out in the Christian Church. After many years of great suffering and persecution at the hands of Nero, Diocletian and others, the Church had finally found peace and even favor, under the first Christian Emperor. Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus would later write, “for us all was joy and gladness.” The historian Eusebius called the period, “a bright and most profound peace.”
Unfortunately, the destruction of the Church, that persecution had failed to achieve, nearly occurred from an internal struggle. Theodoret wrote, “the devil, full of all envy and wickedness, the destroyer of mankind, unable to bear the sight of the Church sailing on with favorable winds, stirred up plans of evil counsel, eager to sink the vessel steered by the Creator and Lord of the Universe.”
A pastor from Alexandria named Arius had begun to preach and advocate that Jesus (the Son) was not co-eternal with the Father, that He was of a similar but different “substance”, and that there was a time when God was not Father. Though the doctrine seemed trivial to many, including Constantine, it sent a shock-wave through the Bishops, Pastors and Saints who had suffered greatly to defend the truth.
When Constantine called for a Council of Bishops from all over the Empire to resolve the matter, about 300 of the 1800 invitees traveled – many a great and treacherous distance – to the small town of Nicaea. Instead of an assembly of well-groomed, good-looking holy men, Theodoret wrote, “the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs.” One came straight from caves where he ate roots and leaves, another limped from his time of torture, another could not use his hands which had been mutilated with a hot iron, and another was missing an eye.
One small man – five and a half-foot, frail, slight-frame, with a broken nose, and showing the effects of many years of dank prisons – was known for his great generosity and love for others including putting coins in the shoes of the needy that were left outside at night. His name was Bishop Nicholas.
At one point in the heated discussion, Arius is said to have presented his cleverly written poetry that promoted his unorthodox doctrine to common folk. He had written using a meter that was generally reserved for erotica. As Arius recited and danced wildly, the bishops closed their eyes and ears in horror. One version of the story says, that when he recited, “God was not always Father,” Bishop Nicholas had apparently had enough. He moved to Arius and struck him in the face. He was not about to stand silently by while the Lord, he had suffered so greatly for, was defamed.
About a month after the proceedings began, the Council affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity – One God, in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) – in what became the Nicaean Creed, which is still recited in many churches today. The creed would become known as the “rampart and wall or orthodoxy”. It has defended the church against numerous attacks on the nature of Jesus Christ for nearly two-millennia.
While some, such as Dan Brown, author of “The Di Vinci Code,” have claimed that the Nicaean Council was the time and place when Jesus was imbued with divinity, the truth is that it was the time and place when the Divinity of Christ – as stated by Jesus, the Apostles and Scripture (John 10:30, John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1) was affirmed. And Santa, helped make it happen.