Saint Nicholas, Bishop
(270-343). Feast Day: 06Dec
Nicholas was born of rich and pious parents and after becoming a priest, distributed all his possessions among the poor and entered a monastery, where he became abbot. In time he became bishop of Myra, now called Mugla in southwestern Turkey.
Nicholas was a bishop who often passed the night in prayer. He was humble in his attitude toward others, persuasive in speech, forceful in counsel, and strict when reprimands were called for. He was among those who signed the document affirming the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.). During a persecution of the Church he was imprisoned and tortured.
The life of St. Nicholas was written by learned men of Argos, a town in Greece. Elsewhere we read that his legend was written in Greek by the patriarch Methodius and translated into Latin by John the Deacon, who added much to it. According to the legend, Nicholas was a great miracle worker who provided a dowry of gold for three poor girls whose father was forcing them into a life of prostitution. It is also said that he raised to life three youths who had been executed and that he also saved three sailors from shipwreck.
In the ninth century the folklore of northern Germany made St. Nicholas the Weihnachtsmann, the man of Christmas Eve; in the Anglo-Saxon world he is honored as “Santa Claus” (the name for Nicholas in German is Klaus). In the eleventh century the custom originated of distributing sweets to children on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas. Dutch settlers in the United States then transformed St. Nicholas into the Santa Claus who now helps us celebrate the birth of Christ.
From ancient times Nicholas has been among the most celebrated saints. The name Nicholas comes from nicos, which means victory, and laos, people; so Nicholas may be interpreted as meaning either victory over vices or as victory in the full sense, because Nicholas, by his way of life and his doctrine, taught the peoples to conquer sin and vice. Throughout the centuries he has also been considered a patron of difficult cases, similar to St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Rita of Cascia. Various groups such as sailors, prisoners, students, lawyers, and pharmacists have looked to him as their patron. The devotion to St. Nicholas as Santa Claus has been commercialized in modern times.
Nevertheless, he is a model of charity, especially towards children. He is also a suitable patron for the ecumenical discussions between the East and the West. For this reason the institute conducted by the Dominicans at Bari, Italy, for promoting relations between the Eastern and Latin Churches is named after St. Nicholas.
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Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.
Voragine, Jacobus de. “The Golden Legend-Readings on the Saints-Volume I.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.