In the quest for the real Santa Claus, what is discovered more often than not is that he can assume any shape. He can accommodate anyone… (191)
There are many discussions floating around about the “real” Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas. I have a bit of a side interest in the topic because I was never a believer in Santa Claus and so I’ve always been interested in the reality behind the myth. So, when I received The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus
for Christmas last year, I was excited to dive in for the season this year
Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work is English’s discussion of the historiographical difficulties related to unearthing the historical Nicholas of Myra. The difficulty with discovering the “real Santa Claus”–Saint Nicholas–is compounded by the fact that Nicholas of Myra (the Nicholas in question) is often confused with Nicholas of Sion (10; 80; 120; 174). Historical accounts of the life of Nicholas have often conflated these two persons, which means historians must extract them from each other in order to make an account of either. English confronts the possibility that Nicholas did not exist–a possibility put forth by some scholars, in fact–head-on by noting the multiple, independent sources for his life. Although Nicholas did not leave behind a legacy of his own writings, the extant evidence, argues English, is enough to acknowledge his existence as well as a historical core of stories about his life (11ff).
English does a great job of reflecting upon the apparently historical narrative while also drawing out the legends and apologetic tales which grew up around the narratives. Throughout the book, he reports a number of stories related to the life of Nicholas of Myra. He reports these stories seemingly in order of legendary development. For example, the famous story of Nicholas’ gift of gold to three women in need (about to be sold into prostitution) received more embellishment as time went on (57ff). However, English does not always do a great job of making the distinctions clear when these various types of tales are discussed. Part of this is probably due to the historiographical difficulties noted above, but it would have been nice for English to at least offer his opinion regarding the stories he related as to which he felt might be accurate as opposed to inaccurate. At some points he does, but at others he simply offers a series of increasingly surprising accounts without any commentary as to the possible historicity of the accounts.
A central part of the work focuses upon the council of Nicaea and the famous incident of Nicholas’ alleged slapping or punching of Arius or a different heretic (Arian) at the event. English argues that it is unlikely that it would have been Arius, because Arius was not a bishop and so likely would not have been present at the council itself (101-107). Moreover, English believes that a different story, in which Nicholas reasons with an avowed Arian to change his view, is more likely the historical background for the story (107-109). Nicholas’ own place at the council is disputed, but his orthodoxy is acknowledged by all his biographers, and it is likely that he defended the orthodox position at the council itself (107ff).
Apart from his participation at Nicaea, Nicholas also, of course, performed the basic functions of a bishop, which at his time included helping to resolve issues in Myra and the surrounding area (115ff). He helped with the struggle against pagan belief and practice, and at this point some of the stories and legends of Nicholas of Sion were often intermixed with those stories of Nicholas of Myra (120-125).
English’s work also draws out the way that Nicholas of Myra has been adapted for multiple purposes and occasions. Whether this is through the adaptation of his apparently real, historical life to various theological discussions (including Aquinas) or legends which were developed to supplement his legacy and individual viewpoints, Nicholas’ story continues to have widespread appeal.
The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus is an interesting read on a compelling man. Perhaps the most interesting part is the frequent fusion of myth and legend with the historical account. Those interested in the life of the “real Santa Claus” should immediately grab the book for their collection.
Adam English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).
Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told- I wrote about the interplay between myth and reality in the stories about Nicholas. I wrote about how the myth of Nicholas actually bolsters the Christian worldview by pointing toward our longing for the ideal.
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Brian Auten over at Apologetics 315 has an excellent post which outlines some great gift choices for Christian apologists. I thought it was an great idea and wanted to expand on it. Thus, welcome to the inaugural, annual Christmas Christian Apologetics and Philosophy Book Gift List! That is a mouthful!
The following list suggests several books for beginner and intermediate readers, a couple for advanced readers, and 2 books I think that anyone interested in apologetics or philosophy of religion will enjoy.
Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus- This book is, in my opinion, the best introductory work on apologetic issues related to the historicity of the New Testament. I can’t recommend it highly enough–it covers gnosticism, the canon, the Gospels, etc. It’s simply phenomenal.
Gary Habermas, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus- Habermas’ defense of the historicity of the resurrection is top-notch, easy to understand, and, I’ve found, irrefutable. The best part about it is that it focuses on three easy-to-remember facts about Jesus.
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith- An intermediate-level book on natural theology, Craig here presents a convincing, reasoned defense of theism generally and Christianity specifically. This was the book which got me into apologetics. I highly recommend it. Beginners will be happy to know Craig has distilled his work here into his readable On Guard.
Paul Copan, True for You But Not For Me- I read this book for a class and admit I went into it with some skepticism, but it quickly astonished me with how well Copan explains all kinds of issues related to Christian apologetics. The
Greg Koukl, Tactics- This book provides a background for apologetic method. Koukl’s insight will quickly train readers to analyze arguments, find fallacies, and point them out, all with a kind of gentleness and respect which is fitting for the Christian Apologist. I recommend this book very highly. No collection is complete without it.
Stephen Parrish, God and Necessity- Parrish’s phenomenal work of philosophy of religion surveys the notions of contingency and necessity. He analyzes various theistic arguments, offers an ontological argument, and finds that only in the necessity of deity can we explain the existence of all things. The scope of this work is immense–it covers a broad array of metaphysical issues. I recommend it highly.
Linda Zagzebski, Divine Motivation Theory- Zagzebski explores a range of issues regarding metaethical systems and finds that divine command theory needs modification. She offers her own theory for the grounding of morality in the divine, which is backed by motivations, not commands. There’s a reason Zagzebski is getting recognition and causing stirs in the world of philosophy of religion. Check out my review of the book.
The Top 2
Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics- I believe this book will quickly become the definitive work on Christian Apologetics. It’s comprehensive, eminently readable, and convincing. Beginners might be scared off by the sheer size of the book, but it provides enough background to appeal to any reader. The succinct nature of the arguments, the reasoned defenses of the premises, and the immense ground the book covers will make it appealing to all.
Edgar Andrews, Who Made God?- I have to agree with Brian Auten (see the article linked above)–this book is simply phenomenal. Readers at any level will find new ideas of great interest. Andrews covers a wide range of issues, all of which are of interest to Christian apologists and philosophers. See my review.
One argument I have heard is that the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 is inaccurate. The charge is made because it seems unfathomable culturally that Joseph could have gone to his hometown and found no family who would accommodate he and his betrothed. Luke 2:7 says “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The latter part of the verse is that to which the objector points, saying that surely one of Joseph’s family members would have provided a bed for them.
There are a few important points to be made here. First, the text actually provides for the possibility of Joseph’s family providing lodging. The Greek word translated “inn” in this verse can also be translated as “guest room” which implies that Joseph did seek lodging with family, but all of their guest rooms were full. This is reflected in the NIV translation, which states that “there was no guest room available to them.”
Second, while those who make this objection focus on the cultural significance of hospitality, they also ignore the cultural significance of adultery. That Mary was pregnant was a pretty big deal. She would have been seen as an adulterer–possibly with Joseph (though some anti-Christian literature from the second century suggested that Jesus was the illegitimate child of Mary and a Roman soldier named Panthera). The penalty for adultery was death by stoning. Joseph had stayed with Mary and protected her. It doesn’t seem unlikely that this could have incurred his family’s wrath to the point where they simply didn’t allow him to stay with them for the census. Treated like the family member no one talks about, everyone’s door was shut when Joseph came knocking with his pregnant bride-to-be.
It should be noted that this later theory is just that; a theory. The textual evidence could easily support my first point (that all the guest rooms were full). I think that my own theory is plausible. Either way, the objection fails.
This is part of a series I’ve entitled “Jesus: the Living God,” which explores Jesus from Biblical, theological, and apologetic levels. View other posts in the series here.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.