Somewhere in between the jolly smiling elf Santa Claus and the Catholic FB memes of the puncher of heretics is the truth about St Nicholas of Myra. This story is based on one of the few historically recorded events of Nicholas' life, with my own take on details. The names are changed, save for Nicholas, Arius, and of course the Emperor Constantine.
"...it doesn't make sense!" Eusebius shouted at the gathered prelates, making certain he at no time turned to the enthroned figure of the Emperor above them. Arius cautiously nodded at his protege; He understood that a twinned voice is heard clearer in a crowd. "How can a Father and Son be equals in such a way? Are we not all, as sons, subservient to our fathers? Why would an Almighty God state it in such a way, were it not true?"
"You pick and choose from the Lord's words, Eusebius,", Alexander of Miletus responded. He was the man who was, by silent consensus, to carry the increasingly heated discussion with the representative of what they found a heretical viewpoint. "Did He not also tell us He was greater than David, His father, in opposition to the common logic of the day? And yet, you want to go back to that same logic."
"That logic is backed up by scripture!" the young bishop retorted. "The Lord also said the Father was greater than He..."
Off to the side, Nicholas muttered, " As well as, 'the Father and I are One'."
"The Father called out at the Lord's baptism, 'This is My beloved SON,", Eusebius continued. "What son is not created by His father?"
"He also said, 'Before Abraham was, I AM'," Alexander answered. "You and your... mentor... choose to ignore that which you cannot understand for what you can. By turning Jesus Christ into 'just a man', you turn God Himself into something less than almighty, something that must be bound by Human Understanding."
"Some things are the same, whether human or divine," Eusebius shot back. St John said Jesus was the WORD of God. A word proceeds from a speaker; does that not imply that He was spoke forth by the Father, and thus is not equal in time to the Father?"
Nicholas gritted his teeth. "What does this buffoon know of time?" he said in a low, angry tone. Nicholas was raised by faith. Faith meant, to him, that you take the revealed Word and BELIEVE it, not argue it like some pagan philosopher. Why, this whole debate was an affront to God, as if His reality could be changed by man's arguments, his philosophy. "At a certain point, you need to accept."
"Hush", a nearby prelate hissed. "If you wish to speak, a convenient time will present itself."
Alexander laughed at Eusebius' logic. "You expect to understand all the mysteries of God? Perhaps we should not be debating the equality in station of God and Christ, but of Arius and Moses, whom himself, the friend of God, faithful in all His house, was only permitted to see the back of His hand, so limited in conception is even the most holy of human minds. And yet Arius can arbit the familial relations of the Most High." A low chuckle ran through the assembly, and had any the courage to look, even Constantine allowed himself a small smile.
"Mock if you will," Eusebius said red-faced. "But you mock God by elevating His creation. You demean God by allowing the 'Firstborn of Creation' equality with Him. You teeter on the edge of blasphemy!" Now the crowd murmured, none louder than Nicholas.
"It is you who teeter," Alexander replied forcefully. "Not by elevating Christ to the Father, but by lowering God to yourself. Arius seeks to chain God in the same pagan wisdom by which the ancients framed their gods. He so loves the philosophers of the Acropolis, he fails to consider the Power of the God of Heaven!"
Arius stepped forward. "Have a care, Alexander. You know me not, nor the things I have seen and learned. A tonsure and a see does not automatically make a man an expert on God."
"Exactly my point,' Alexander said glowering as he whirled to face the leader of the heretics.
"You yourself brought up Moses," Eusebius stepped back in, hoping to allow his mentor to pick and choose his moments to strike. "Did not Moses himself say, 'The Lord Your God, the Lord is ONE? So is He one or several? We are merely trying to show you the evidence that Christ could not have been God. How, then, might He have died? If God Himself dies, does creation continue to exist?"
"And if Christ were merely man, how might He have arisen?" Alexander answered, his eyes still on the now-silent Arius. "And how might there have been ANY atonement in the death of a man? The problem here, as I have pointed out ad nauseum, is not whether Christ was man or God, but whether we are right in believing God MUST make sense to man, or His ways are unsearchable, as Paul also said? If Paul, who spent three seasons in the desert learning from the resurrected Christ, found His ways unfathomable, what hope did Plato have?"
"You overstep yourself, Alexander," Eusebius said, forcing himself to calm. "You do not fight a battle of doctrine; you fight a battle to purge the church of the knowledge of the ages. You do not want to think for yourself, you want to close your eyes and put out your hand, in hopes that whomever leads you, leads you aright. And worse, you want us all to walk over a cliff with you. I say, enough of this! God granted us minds, let us use them for thinking!"
At this, Nicholas stepped forward from the crowd on the other side of the room. "Yes, let us use them for thinking," he shouted. "Eusebius and Arius and you others, you would have us think our way to God. You would have us analyse and parse out that which we have always believed, to replace it with the 'doctrines of Man'. And yet, you have not refuted anything that Alexander has challenged you with. You have not explained why man was created 'in OUR image, after OUR likeness'. You have not explained how it is that Jesus said, 'The Father and I are One.' "
Eusebius smirked. "I have no need to refute verses that any thinking man could see HAD to have been added to the Word by Simpletons who, bereft of the ability to think for themselves, had to have a deity manufactured for them."
"Uh-oh", a prelate standing where Nicholas had been whispered.
Nicholas crossed the floor in three steps and peered into the face of Eusebius. His mouth spasming in rage, he didn't speak- instead, he slapped Eusebius hard across the mouth. "HOW DARE YOU," he spat, and shouted something about the nerve of a man who was trying to manufacture a God he could explain, but he was drowned out by the shouts of the assembled prelates, in shock that a bishop of the church would strike anyone, much less another prelate. That shouting immediately died down when a voice from above, from the human throne, shouted, "SILENCE! ENOUGH!"
Continued next time...