My Take: The Christmas message of the real St. Nicholas
The figure of Santa Claus is based on a fourth-century saint, the original St. Nicholas.
December 22nd, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: The Christmas message of the real St. Nicholas

Editor’s note: Adam C. English is author of "The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of St. Nicholas of Myra" (Baylor University Press, 2012) and associate professor of religion at Campbell University.

By Adam C. English, Special to CNN

Four years ago, I embarked on a quest to discover the truth about Santa Claus and the original St. Nicholas. My search took me many places, sending me finally across the Atlantic to Bari, on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

The old town of Bari is a brambly, medieval maze of streets and alleyways that cross and crisscross. It is said that the city was intentionally constructed in a topsy-turvy way so that anyone trying to raid it would get swallowed and lost in its labyrinth. If you keep wandering, though, eventually you pop out onto a plaza and see the Basilica di San Nicola.

And there, in a gray tomb, lies the “real” Santa Claus. The basilica housing that tomb dates to the 11th century. You can go into the basilica and pray, rest or just gawk, but the real show lies below.

Down dark steps you will enter a candle-lit crypt, built in 1089, supported by 26 marble columns. Through a grate you will see a large marble and concrete tomb, St Nicholas’ final resting place.

Little is known for certain about the life of Nicholas, whose name means “the people’s champion.” He was born sometime after the year 260 and died sometime after 333.

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He was bishop of the church in Myra in what was then the Roman province of Lycia, Asia Minor. He attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 with the other bishops of the Christian empire, where he would have seen the Emperor Constantine.

Perhaps he would have slipped into obscurity as nothing more than a minor saint - originally he was a patron saint of sailors - except for one unique story that circulated about him shortly after his death.

It’s such a strange and surprising tale that historians assume it must be based to a large degree on fact. It is the tale of three poor daughters.

Nicholas had been aware of a certain citizen of Patara - in Lycia, modern-day Turkey - who had once been an important and wealthy man of the city but who had fallen on hard times and into extreme poverty. The man grew so desperate that he lacked the very essentials of life.

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The poor man reasoned that it was impossible to marry off his three beautiful daughters because they lacked dowries for proper marriages to respectable noblemen. He feared they would each in turn be forced into prostitution to support themselves.

Nicholas heard this heartbreaking news and resolved to do something about it. He bagged a sum of gold and in the dead of night, tossed it through the man’s window. The money was used as a dowry for the first daughter.

Sometime later, Nicholas made a second nighttime visit so that the second daughter might marry. Later tradition reported that, finding the windows closed, he dropped the bag of gold down the chimney, where it landed into one of the girl’s stockings that was hanging to dry.

When Nicholas returned to deliver anonymously the third bag of gold for the last daughter, the curious father was ready. When he heard a bag hit the floor, the father leapt to his feet and raced outside, where he caught the mysterious benefactor.

Nicholas revealed his identity to the father but made him swear never to tell anyone what he’d done. He did not want praise or recognition for his generosity.

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More impressive than its connection with modern-day Santa Claus traditions is the tale’s historical uniqueness. The vast majority of saint stories that circulated in the early church involved extraordinary miracles and healings or dramatic martyrdoms and confessions of Christ.

They involved monks who went into the desert and experienced the tempting of the devil and the burning of the sun, mothers who’d had their entrails spilled onto the Colosseum floor for Christ, mystics who saw the heavens open in their visions.

But the Nicholas story was about a regular family facing a familiar crisis to which ordinary people could relate. Those in the pews had never heard anything like it.

When medieval Christians looked at the great church frescoes, basilica mosaics and cathedral stained glass pictures of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, the apostles and saints of old, there was little to distinguish one saint from another.

But St. Nicholas was easy to spot. He was always pictured carrying three bags of gold. The story of his helping the three sisters jumped off the dry page of history and into the minds and imaginations of young girls and boys and adults.

Indeed, Nicholas would become the most popular nonbiblical saint in the pre-modern church. More churches would be dedicated to him than to any other person except Mary, the mother of Jesus. The first medieval drama that was not intended as a worship ritual and that was written in the vernacular was about Nicholas.

No wonder, then, that sailors from Bari wanted his bones. In the 1080s, Seljuk Turks invaded Lycia and Asia Minor (what is now Turkey). It seemed only a matter of time before they would plunder the tomb of St. Nicholas.

The Barians resolved that his bones be moved, or “translated,” to use the expression of the day. Under the nose of the Turkish overlords in control of the area 47 Barian sailors disembarked at Myra disguised as pilgrims.

They quietly made their way to the church of St. Nicholas, hiding swords and shovels under their clothes. As soon as they entered the church, they barred the doors, smashed the marble cover and looked inside.

They found more than they had bargained for: Nicholas’ bones were floating in a sweet-smelling liquid like oil or water. Known as the myrrh or manna of St. Nicholas, the liquid was highly valued for its purported miraculous and therapeutic qualities.

The bones were taken back to Italy and a basilica was erected in Bari to house them. To this day, Nicholas’ tomb continues to excrete a small amount of watery liquid.

Every year on May 9, one of the Dominican friars charged with the upkeep and care of the Basilica di San Nicola squats down in front of a small opening in the tomb and slowly collects a vile of the myrrh of St. Nicholas. It is then diluted in holy water and bottled for pilgrims and visitors.

So there is a lot more to the story of St. Nick than meets the eye. His bold initiative to help three poor girls in need sparked a tradition of gift-giving that has carried into modern times. The magical Christmas Eve visits from Santa Claus represent the vestige of this old story. Instead of fixating on the commercialization and greed that plague the modern Santa Claus, I chose to see in it the lasting power of a simple act of kindness.

More than a footnote to the legend of Santa Claus, Nicholas is a model of Christian kindness, an inspiration for charity and a saint to be remembered. He challenges us at this time of year to give not only to those we know and love, but also to those we do not know and especially to those who find themselves in need.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Adam C. English.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Christmas • Opinion

soundoff (465 Responses)
  1. Chiniquy

    The main reason why many Christians are turning away from their faith is because of 'Santa Claus.' When they were still mentally undeveloped, their loved ones told them about a man who lived "up" in the North Pole. This man knew when they were sleeping; he knew when they were awake. He knew when they were good or bad so they had better be good for goodness sake. If they were good on a certain night of the year he rode through the skies on a flying vehicle and came into their homes through a chimney, with all types of wonderful gifts for the children who were good. These young undeveloped minds were also told about a G-D who lived "up" in the sky with HIS angels. This G-D knew if they did bad things or if they were good. If they were good G-D would take them to Heaven that that was up in the sky. If they were bad then they would go to Hell that was a fiery place under the Earth. When they became older and met other children who ridiculed them for believing in Santa Claus; they went to their parents or some older adult to get the facts. And, once again they were lied to. Then later on in life when it finally sinks in that this Santa story was a load of dung, they start wondering if this Christian story about a G-D living "up" in the sky with HIS angels and the story about Heaven and Hell was also a lie. Thus began the doubt about everything they have ever been taught in Christianity. Stop feeding young and accepting minds falsehood.

    December 23, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Elliot Carlin

      Let's dispense with your autobiography.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Chiniquy

      Elliot Carlin, I was not told fantasies by my parents.

      December 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Yes, Chin, you were, if they told you that god was real.

      December 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  2. Chiniquy

    So who invented the image of the fat man with the red suit and black belt and black shoes? Who gave him the name Satan Claws, I mean Santa Claus?

    December 23, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • JJ

      I think that later image was created by Coca Cola actually.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  3. jojo

    Happy Festivus

    December 23, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • JWT

      And to you as well.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • PJ

      for the rest of us.

      December 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  4. Laurie

    And the real St. Nick was a follower of Christ and this is where the spirit of charity and love comes from.

    December 23, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Too funny...love and charity were around LONG before christianity and they will be around long after the world has completely woken up to the delusions and lies that fall within the belief or christianity.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • JJ

      Oh...so charity and love didn't exist prior to this ancient peasant rabbi?

      December 23, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  5. Canadian Jack

    Subatomic particles are strange. They pop up from nowhere. One such particle will move at the same speed and direction as a subatomic particle at the other end of universe. This makes no scientific sense. They have published their findings in peer reviewed journals. Neurologists are unable to account for the enormous data stored in the human brain. Far more data than any brain should be able to hold. They too have published their finding in peer reviewed articles. In each publication the same conclusion was reached.It is all based on perspective because creation is a hologram. Scientists will be conducting a test on this theory soon. If reality is not as real as it seems, then what are we? What or who generated the hologram? Why was it created? Look to science to pose the most interesting theological questions.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Leonard

      Thank you, Sheldon.

      December 23, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  6. Apple Bush

    Santa lives through all who give generously. That is how one stays immortal.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  7. Canadian Jack

    Feeling the pain of an unmarried woman in the 4th century. That takes masculine smarts. St. Nick had emotional smarts. That is something most of us have a degree of. Psychotics do not have it. But we can teach them to pretend that they do. Those of us who reject empathy are making a bad choice. Curious, even animals have empathy. That in not demeans its importance. It proves how important it is.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  8. Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

    Hmmm – a guy with a giant bag who comes only once a year? Geez – no wonder he was the patron saint of seamen.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • NClaw441

      What is your motivation for taking the time to write that sort of comment?

      December 23, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      What "kind" of comment are you referring to ?

      December 23, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • JWT

      Funny comments – maybe some people have no sense of humour. Or at least that kind of humour.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  9. gregguevara

    Very nice story, Adam. Thanks for sharing your research and perspective. I love the fact that the legend of Santa Clause is not grounded in materialism, but in generosity toward the poor and those in need. And more so, that it was done in anonymity. I'd say that St. Nicholas had a good sense of the heart of God. Merry Christmas.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  10. Keksi

    Gift-giving is Satanic ritual from Roman holiday called Saturnalia.Got nothing to do with Jesus Christ and Christianity.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • DrKnow

      Just keep deceiving yourself with ignorance. It fits you well.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • NClaw441

      Now why would you say that? Whether it is true or not is kind of beside the point. What inspired you to go to the trouble to make that comment? Is it your belief that giving to others is a bad thing? Or are you just interested in insulting those of the Christian faith? And if that is your reason, why? Do you think you may convince someone to give up their faith? Do you believe this sort of comment is likely to further that goal? Truly wondering.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Pagans don't believe in satan...satan is purely christian and like their god (and every other god very much fictional). Christians stole the holiday from the pagan's.

      "The Roman pagans introduced into their law December 17-25 as Saturnalia. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the week long celebration. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering the innocent man or woman who they chose to represent “the forces of darkness”.
      In the 4th century The Roman Catholic Church adopted the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it. Chatolic leaders succeeded in converting to “Christianity” large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate their Saturnalia as “Christmas”.Christians had little success, however, refining the practices of Saturnalia. As Stephen Nissenbaum, professor history at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.” The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc."

      December 23, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  11. 2357

    "Father, glorify me now in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.".
    -Jesus Christ on the night of his arrest.
    Jesus does not care who throws him a birthday party every December.
    Jesus does not want you to show up at the empty tomb in spring.
    Jesus wants you at the terrible stake on skull hill, where he died a sinner's death, as a beast in slaughter.

    December 23, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Reality

      From Professor JD Crossan in his book, Who is Jesus-

      "Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us."

      December 23, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • 2357

      "Divine child abuse"
      Catchy but false, as all satanic lies go.

      The Son volunteered and the Father consented. The very worst of all possible pain befalls both the Father and the Son. There is no violation, no conflict, just a perfect Shabbat peace restored, even when all of Creation is swept into judgement.
      That is why the good news is good news. The wrath of God is satisfied and justified, for all of eternity, at the cross of Christ.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Reality

      The New Testament has only one major atrocity, that of god committing filicide (allowing his son to be crucified) assuming you believe in this Christian mumbo jumbo. Said atrocity should be enough to vitiate all of Christianity.

      December 23, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  12. PaPilot

    The real message of Saint Nick:

    Go to Walmart, right now, and spend money you don't have on things someone doesn't need, and leave the debt to be paid by everyone else after you die from eating too many twinkies.

    December 23, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • Mike

      It is funny how some people will lie to their kids and tell them Santa is real and delivers presents to them on Christmas day. Then they compensate by lying to their kids and telling them that God does not exist. Actually it is not funny when they find out their parents are liars. It does teach them that lying is OK though.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • JWT

      Parents are lying if they tell their kids that god does not exist ? Which god for starters? God does not exist to me thus saying so would never be a lie. God may exists to you but that is your reality and so you may tell your children something else.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      "compensate by lying to their kids and telling them that God does not exist. Actually it is not funny when they find out their parents are liars."

      Lying to their kids is what christians do. Actually it is more brainwashing than anything-believe in my version of god or you'll burn in hell. When you provide substantial evidence that your god is real, then you can call it lying until then consider yourself the liar!! I'd rather children live in a reality based world than one where making mistakes causes fear of going to some fictional place in the end.

      December 23, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  13. Rev. Sushanta Das

    The message from the story of st. Nicholas should be the center of our christmas celebration.

    December 23, 2012 at 3:41 am |
    • NClaw441

      Agreed. Our Sunday School lesson for today includes Ephesians 5:1– Imitate God. There is more, of course, but how much more do we need? Observe, then try to be like God: Create, love, give, forgive, heal, sacrifice...

      December 23, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @NC – agreed: Observe, and then try to be more like god: Kill, murder, genocide, ra-pe, human, sacrifice, slavery. Yes – please try to be just like god! Swell fella that good old god is – a real peach!

      December 23, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  14. Brampt

    The New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The gospels indicate neither the day nor the month . . . According to the hypothesis suggested by H. Usener . . . and accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian Calendar, January 6 in the Egyptian), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun). On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.”
    M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopœdia says: “The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of N[ew] T[estament] origin. The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N[ew] T[estament], or, indeed, from any other source.”
    The apostle Paul warned at Colossians 2:8: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.”

    December 23, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • PaPilot

      They don't know when Christ was born because he is a fictional diety invented by a tyrant for the express purpose of controlling a people.

      All religion is simply a means of control. There is no such thing as God. He's made-up.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Reality

      Christmas, the embellished story of the birth of a simple, preacher man named Jesus.

      As per most contemporary NT exegetes, his parents were Mary and Joseph although some say Jesus was a mamzer, the result of a pre-marital relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier.

      http:// http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

      Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at least the one we are familiar with and there were no pretty wingie thingies singing/talking from on high, no slaughter of the innocents by Herod, no visiting wise men and no escape to Egypt.

      "Mark's gospel, the most historical of the four gospels, does not even mention the event.

      And from Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 269-272, "The historical yield of the Lukan infancy narrative in respect to the birth of Jesus is virtually nil.

      Matt 1:18-25: , pp. 123-124, "The fathering of Jesus from the Holy Spirit and his birth from the virgin Mary are unhistorical". Ludemann gives a very detailed analysis to support his conclusions. One part being the lack of attestations to these events and the late time strata of said story.

      "Lüdemann [pp. 261-63) discounts Luke's account as a legend deriving from Jewish Hellenistic circles that were concerned to hold together the procreation of the Spirit, the authentic sonship of the Messiah and the virginal conception. "

      Then there are these additional conclusions:

      Professor Bruce Chilton

      "In [Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography] (2000), Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a mamzer; someone whose irregular birth circu-mstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the community. He argues for the natural pa-ternity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous conception. In his subsequent reconstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-ident-ity, his concept of God and his spiritual quest.

      Professor John Dominic Crossan

      "In [Historical Jesus] (p. 371) Crossan treats this cluster, like 007 Of Davids Lineage, as an example of the interplay of prophecy and history in the development of the Jesus traditions.

      "In [Birth of Christianity] (pp. 26-29) Crossan uses Luke's account of Jesus' conception and birth to explore ethical issues concerning the public interpretation of the past. He notes the tendency of Christian scholars to disregard "pagan" birth legends while investing great effort in the defence of biblical birth narratives. He concludes:

      I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus. "

      "The following ancient parallels to Jesus' miraculous conception should be noted:

      Birth of Moses (Exod 2:1-10)
      Birth of Plato (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.45) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 507]
      Birth of Alexander the Great (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, 2.1-3.5) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 502f]
      Birth of Apollonius (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, I.4) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 505]"

      And some final words from Thomas Jefferson, not a contemporary NT scholar, but indeed a very learned man:

      "And the day will come,
      when the mystical generation of Jesus,
      by the Supreme Being as His Father,
      in the womb of a virgin,
      will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva”

      Letter to John Adams, from Monticello, April 11, 1823.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  15. divorced dad

    Great read! Always love hearing about legends and where the root of modern era practices originated. So much we don't know about our society. Makes me want to go visit.

    December 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Ken

      Yup, ordinary good men having so many legendary things added to their lives they end up becoming mythical. That's the Christian way! Just ask Jesus.

      December 23, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • NClaw441

      Even history has to be taken on faith, to some extent. My faith and my mind lead me to follow One whose own followers, having seen what He did on earth, were willing to suffer cruel, barbaric deaths that they could have avoided by recanting. Surely, if anyone knew that Christ were not all that He claimed to be, these men did. Yet, even after His resurrection they remained faithful to death. Proof positive? No, but evidence.

      December 23, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • Reality

      Only for the new members of this blog:

      Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers.

      The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,


      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      p.168. by Ted Peters:

      Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

      So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  16. Chick-a-dee

    St. Nicholas

    The great veneration with which this saint has been honoured, both in the Greek and Latin churches for many ages, and the great number of altars and churches which have been everywhere erected in his memory, are proofs of his extraordinary sancti.ty and of the glory which he enjoys with God. The Emperor Justinian built a church in his honour at Constantinople, in the quarter called Blaquernae, about the year 430, and he was ti.tular saint of four churches in Constantanople. All accounts agree that he was a native of Patara, in Lycia. We are told that in his infancy he observed the fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays, refusing to suck the breasts on those days. Happy are they who, from their infancy and innocent age, are inured to the exercises of devotion, penance, and perfect obedience. St. Nicholas increased his fervour in these and all other virtues with his years, especially when he had devoted himself to a religious life in the monastery of Holy Sion, near Myra, of which house he was made abbot by the archbishop, its founder. Charity in comforting and relieving the distressed seemed his characteristical virtue. Amongst many other instances, it is related that when three young virgins were exposed through distress to the danger of falling into vicious courses, he, for three successive nights, conveyed to them through the window a competent sum of money for a fortune for one of them, so that they were all portioned and afterwards happily married. Lycia was a large ancient province of Asia, in which St. Paul had planted the faith. Myra, the capital, three miles from Patara and from the sea, was an archiepi.scopal see, founded by St. Nicander, of so great dignity that in later ages, thirty-six suffragan bishoprics were subject to it. This metropolitan church falling vacant, the holy abbot Nicholas was chosen archbishop, and in that exalted station became famous by his extraordinary piety and zeal, and an incredible number of stupendous miracles. The Greek histories of his life agree that he suffered imprisonment for the faith, and made a glorious confession in the latter part of the persecution raised by Diocletian: and that he was present at the great council of Nice, and there condemned Arianism. The silence of other authors make many justly suspect these circu.mstances.

    The history of the translation of his relics place his death in 342. He died at Myra and was buried in his own cathedral. The relics of St. Nicholas were kept with great honour at Myra, till they were translated into Italy. Certain merchants of Bari, a seaport in the kingdom of Naples situated on the Adriatic Gulf, sailed in three ships to the coast of Lycia; and watching an opportunity when no Mohammedans were near the place, went to the church in which the relics of St. Nicholas were kept, which stood in a desert place three miles from the sea, and was guarded by a small community of monks. They broke open the marble coffin in which the sacred bones lay, and carried them off to their ships; the inhabitants, upon the alarm given, pursued them to the shore with horrible outcries, but the Europeans were got safe on board. They landed at Bari on the 9th of May 1087, and the sacred treasure was deposited by the archbishop in the Church of St. Stephen. On the first day, thirty persons were cured of various distempers, imploring the intercession of St. Nicholas, and from that time the tomb of St. Nicholas of Bari has been famous for pilgrimages. The authentic history of this translation, written by John, at that time archdeacon of Bari, by order of the archbishop, is extant in Surius.

    St. Nicholas is esteemed a patron of children, because he was from his infancy a model of innocence and virtue, and to form that tender age to sincere piety was always his first care and delight. To impress on the minds of children perfect sentiments of devotion, religion, and all virtues, with an earnestness in all duties, is a task often as delicate as it is important. Instructions must be made sensible and adapted by similes, parables, and examples, to the weakness of their capacities. Above all, they are to be enforced by the conduct of those with whom children converse. They learn their maxims, imbibe their spirit, and are moulded upon their example. A child which sees those who are about him love their own ease and ever seek what best pleases their senses; still more, if he observes them to be choleric, peevish, vain, slothful, or impatient, will naturally cherish these pas.sions and yield up the government of himself to them, instead of learning by tractableness, humility, meekness, and self-denial, to subdue and govern them. And so in all other points. Precepts and exhortations lose their force when contradicted by example; and whilst the infant sees everyone study to please himself in everything, in flat opposition to the rules of the gospel which he hears preached from their mouths, he seems tacitly persuaded that such a conduct is reconcilable with those very maxims which condemn it.

    Read more: http://www.ewtn.com/saintsholy/saints/N/stnicholas.asp#ixzz2FqYcPQaZ

    Feast Day: December 6
    Born: 270, Patara, Lycia
    Died: 6 December 343, Myra, Lycia
    Major Shrine: Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy.
    Patron of: Children, sailors, fishermen, merchants, the falsely accused, pawnbrokers, prosti.tutes, repentant thieves, many cities.

    December 22, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Reality

      For some reality about St. Nick, see the well-researched review at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

      An excerpt:

      "Legends and folklore

      Another legend[26] tells how a terrible famine struck the island and a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he slaughtered and butchered them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher's horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers. Another version of this story, possibly formed around the eleventh century, claims that the butcher's victims were instead three clerks who wished to stay the night. The man murdered them, and was advised by his wife to dispose of them by turning them into meat pies. The Saint saw through this and brought the men back to life."

      In his most famous exploit,[27] a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prost-itutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him, but being too modest to help the man in public (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house.[citation needed]

      One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identi-ty of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking. "

      December 23, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  17. Reality

    Happy Holidays from Saturn and her rings:


    December 22, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  18. 2357

    Sounds very much like the beginning of cargo Christianity. Add some education and you've got liberation theology. Then take away the theology, and you've got the Bolsheviks. St. Nicholas is an early type of the Antichrist.

    December 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  19. Correctlycenter

    The real story of St. Nicholas was admirable to read. However, the true meaning of Christmas is not about St. Nick with his goodwill, patron saint, winter holiday, spoiling children with over-commercialized expectations, it's about JESUS CHRIST...

    December 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • apostate

      He was trying to base it on a real figure.

      December 22, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • NClaw441

      It is always uplifting to read about those who follow Christ's example. St. Nick certainly did that. We would do well to imitate St. Nick... and Christ.

      December 23, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • Mr. Morden

      Correctlycenter – Your point is 100% correct.
      Our culture focuses on anything but the Truth.
      Jesus is not only the reason for this season, but He is the only reason.
      He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
      Disregard Him at your own peril.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • JWT

      Morden – Believe or else ?? Sounds like your (not my) god is unworthy of worship let alone existance.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • ddrew78

      That's why, if you go overseas, St. Nicholas' day is December 6th. In most of Europe, he has (almost) nothing to do with Christmas. Of course the affiliation is there, but nobody tells their kids that he's the one that brings presents on Christmas.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • NClaw441

      JWT– God is who God is. That is my faith, and I understand that you don't agree. I can't claim to know in the traditional sense just what the attributes of God are. I believe, based in part on my experiences, my (admittedly limited) study of history and things I cannot adequately express. Is that enough of a basis for faith? For me, it is. I don't believe that we get to invent God, any more than we can decide our own self is like. God could be mean and vengeful. If He is, He is. I'd still worship Him if that is what I believed, because I believe it is my place as a human to worship God. However, I believe that God is a loving yet just God. I also am confident that I don't know everything about Him.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Reality

      A prayer for all the new members of this blog:

      The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      (references used are available upon request)

      December 23, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • Reality

      Hmmm, "I am the Truth........" i.e. John 14:6. This passage was not said by the historical Jesus but was wishful thinking and an another embellishment by John to make Jesus more like the ancient and local gods of first century Palestine. Said passage is a single attestation found no where else in the NT making it historically unreliable. e.g. http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?ti-tle=210_Place_of_Life

      See also Professor Gerd Ludemann conclusions in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 535-540.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • JWT

      God means different things to different people – which is as it should be. If you are willing to accept a god that says believe in me or else then fine for you. Many christians (but certainly not all) seem to have that belief. I personally don;t consider that a positive attribute in people.

      December 23, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  20. apostate

    You forgot Krampus.

    December 22, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.