The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra

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Overview

With his rosy cheeks and matching red suit--and ever-present elf and reindeer companions--Santa Claus may be the most identifiable of fantastical characters. But what do we really know of jolly old Saint Nicholas, "patron saint" of Christmastime? Ask about the human behind the suit, and the tale we know so well quickly fades into myth and folklore.

In The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, religious historian Adam English tells the true and compelling tale of Saint Nicholas, bishop...

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Overview

With his rosy cheeks and matching red suit--and ever-present elf and reindeer companions--Santa Claus may be the most identifiable of fantastical characters. But what do we really know of jolly old Saint Nicholas, "patron saint" of Christmastime? Ask about the human behind the suit, and the tale we know so well quickly fades into myth and folklore.

In The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, religious historian Adam English tells the true and compelling tale of Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Around the fourth century in what is now Turkey, a boy of humble circumstance became a man revered for his many virtues. Chief among them was dealing generously with his possessions, once lifting an entire family out of poverty with a single--and secret--gift of gold, so legend tells. Yet he was much more than virtuous. As English reveals, Saint Nicholas was of integral influence in events that would significantly impact the history and development of the Christian church, including the Council of Nicaea, the destruction of the temple to Artemis in Myra, and a miraculous rescue of three falsely accused military officers. And Nicholas became the patron saint of children and sailors, merchants and thieves, as well as France, Russia, Greece, and myriad others.

Weaving together the best historical and archaeological evidence available with the folklore and legends handed down through generations, English creates a stunning image of this much venerated Christian saint. With prose as enjoyable as it is informative, he shows why the life--and death--of Nicholas of Myra so radically influenced the formation of Western history and Christian thought, and did so in ways many have never realized.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. But there was a St. Nick: Nicholas of Myra, that is. More than 1,500 years have passed since Nicholas, a religious rebel and social reformer, embarked on a life journey that led him to devote himself to serving the poor and suffering, and to give away much of the inheritance left to him by wealthy parents. Bishop Nicholas soon became a legendary figure, whose exploits—real and imaginary—live on in the jolly old man we call Santa Claus. But unlike Santa, Bishop Nicholas, understanding Christianity’s responsibilities in a hurting world, jeopardized his own security in the service of his fellows. Never safe from his enemies nor understood by his friends, “Nicholas’ life testified to God’s gracious hand protecting and providing.” The author, an associate professor of religion at Campbell University, contends that this mythohistorical figure can best be understood when studied in the context of his milieu, the volatile political and religious atmosphere of 4th-century Greece. He presents this understanding very well. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

"No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. But there was a St. Nick: Nicholas of Myra, that is. More than 1,500 years have passed since Nicholas, a religious rebel and social reformer, embarked on a life journey that led him to devote himself to serving the poor and suffering, and to give away much of the inheritance left to him by wealthy parents. Bishop Nicholas soon became a legendary figure, whose exploits--real and imaginary--live on in the jolly old man we call Santa Claus. But unlike Santa, Bishop Nicholas, understanding Christianity's responsibilities in a hurting world, jeopardized his own security in the service of his fellows. Never safe from his enemies nor understood by his friends, 'Nicholas' life testified to God's gracious hand protecting and providing.' The author, an associate professor of religion at Campbell University, contends that this mythohistorical figure can best be understood when studied in the context of his milieu, the volatile political and religious atmosphere of 4th-century Greece. He presents this understanding very well. (Nov.)"
--Publishers Weekly (September 10, 2012)

"[English] ... contends that this mythohistorical figure can best be understood when studied in the context of his milieu, the volatile political and religious atmosphere of 4th-century Greece. He presents this understanding very well."
--Publishers Weekly (September 10, 2012)

"The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus is the best of hagiography combined with the best of secular history, all liberally spiced with the passion and verve of a good biographer in thrall to his subject. Thanks to English, we have tantalizing glimpses of what actually shaped the man into the saint, and both into an icon."
--Phyllis Tickle, bestselling author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why and The Words of Jesus

"... a fresh look at St. Nicholas.... English does an excellent job of fleshing out the life and ministry of this man who became a saint who still inspires today."
--Library Journal (Sept. 15, 2012)

"Adam English convinces us that the St. Nicholas we know is a cultural icon, as much Coca-Cola as Christian saint. But his real gift is in resurrecting through his painstaking historical detective work a flesh and blood St. Nicholas, whose courage and Christian generosity are worthy of emulation."
--Greg Garrett, author of One Fine Potion

"A sensitive, erudite, and accessibly written introduction to the life and times of St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey. Having devoted his life to serving Jesus Christ, the real St. Nicholas invites us to a truer and more joyful celebration of Christmas."
--Matthew Levering, Professor of Theology, University of Dayton

Library Journal
Serving up a fresh look at St. Nicholas of Myra—of Santa Claus fame—English, (religion, Campbell Univ.; Theology Remixed: Christianity as Story, Game, Language, Culture) reexamines new evidence about the personal life and ministry of the saint whose acts of charity led to the legend of St. Nick. While joining other recent books on the subject, e.g., Joe L. Wheeler's Saint Nicholas, English's work includes copious notes and illustrations which separate it from the others because of his substantial scholarly focus. Although the generosity of Nicholas's famous gifts are explored, English focuses more on the struggles Nicholas of Myra faced as a bishop, and his service on the Council of Nicaea. VERDICT Expertly weaving through the web of historical facts and legend, English does a solid job of fleshing out the life and ministry of this man who became a saint who still inspires today. This academic work is best suited for those who have knowledge of early church history. A worthy addition to any religion collection that focuses on early church leaders in Christianity.—Holly S. Hebert, Brentwood Lib., TN
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781602586345
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2012
  • Pages: 242
  • Sales rank: 960,484
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Adam C. English is Associate Professor of Religion at Campbell University where he teaches on the philosophy of religion, constructive theology, and the history of Christian thought. He lives near Raleigh, North Carolina.
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Read an Excerpt

"The history of Nicholas presents a tantalizing riddle. At first, there is nothing--no writings, disciples, or major acts. Then, curiously, story fragments and rumors begin to surface like driftwood in the water. A church is built in his honor at Constantinople and the next thing you know, he's an international symbol of holiday cheer and goodwill, an absolutely essential part of the Christmas tradition, and the joy of boys and girls everywhere ...."
--from the Introduction

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Table of Contents


1. Finding St. Nicholas

2. Out of a Dying World Comes a Light

3. Three Gifts and One Election

4. The Work of Victory

5. Riots, Beheadings, and Other Near Misfortunes

6. Death Is Only the Beginning

Notes

Recommended Readings

Index

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2013

    The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus by Adam C. English is a hagio

    The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus by Adam C. English is a hagiography of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Byzantine Saint who lived through the Christian persecutions, and the reign of Emperor Constantine, a Christian ruler who mandated Christianity to be the state religion of the Roman Empire. He is also said to have been in attendance during the first Catholic conferences at Nicea, wherein the tenants of the faith were solidified, and where the Nicene Creed was established (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 B.C.). It may come as a surprise to many that the Jolly Old Elf of Coca-Cola commercial fame, was actually a staunch defender of justice, and had no fear of the occasional brawl with fellow Bishops when there was a theological disagreement.

    The biography covers the many myths and the best available histories of this beloved Saint. Saint Nicholas is known throughout the world by many names, and is beloved for many reasons. He is not just the benefactor of children, or the merry old elf of Christmas tales but is the patron of mariners, soldiers, knights, dock workers, seminarians, brewers, and lawyers, just to name a few.

    Adam English writes that the legends surrounding Santa Claus may well stem from the confusion between two Saints with the same names, living in close proximity to each other, and almost in the same historical time frames: Nicholas of Myra and Nicholas of Sion.

    Nicholas of Myra is said to have rescued three young maidens from being sold into a brothel by their father, because he was poor and could not afford them dowries. On three separate occasions, Nicholas went to the man’s home in the dead of night, and three bags of coins were dropped, thrown and hurled through an window, down a chimney, and lastly, landing in a sock placed on the mantle to dry. On the third time, the man was waiting, and to his surprise found their secret benefactor to be none other than their Bishop.

    Another occasion Nicholas is said to have interceded for three young soldiers, “innocents” as they were called, which lead to other myths of three young murdered children being miraculously resurrected.

    Nicholas lived through the transition from a pagan society to a Christian one. He is said to have personally toppled the great local shrine to the deity Artemis (Diana) that had held sway in the minds of local popular superstition for centuries.

    When Nicholas’ body was laid to rest in Myra, it exuded the most fragrant odor of sanctity that could be smelled for miles, even across the ocean. Every year monks would open tomb to collect the “myrrh” of Saint Nicholas, said to heal all manner of illness. In 1087, the shrine was in danger of desecration by Seljuk Turks. A company of seafaring Barian Venetians, entered the shrine, broke open the reliquary, and bore off the bones of the beloved Saint to their home town of Bari, where it remains today.

    Nicholas comes down us as Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, and a wealth of other affectionate names. He is the first Saint to achieve such merit. His is a worldwide fame engendering the great charity of the Christmas Season. He single-handedly created the mold for Christmas cheer, charity, and gift giving. It is also a model for the world to hold such charity in our hearts for all other seasons of the year.

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  • Posted December 31, 2012

    A good synthesis of the life of St Nicholas. Even with all of th

    A good synthesis of the life of St Nicholas. Even with all of the research and historical context that Mr. English brings together in this book much of what is known of St Nicholas is still legend (not necessarily untrue, just unverifiable by today's standards). However, because of all the information I gained about 3rd and 4th Century Asia Minor from reading this book, I would give it a strong recommendation. It has always been difficult for me to reconcile Santa Claus and all of the consumerism associated with him with anything good and holy. Learning more about Nicholas of Myra from this reading served only to strengthen those sentiments.

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