I often imagine attending the Council of Nicea. Don’t you? Well, not often, but I have, once or twice. It would be a splendid occasion, I’m sure. Everyone there from the Emperor Constantine on down looking just like their own Byzantine icon…all gold leaf with serene expressions, mitres, robes, and requisite accessories. And there in the midst of them their confrere–the patron of Greece, Switzerland, various bits of Italy, Belgium, Germany, and divers other countries, as well as sailors, coopers, children, apothecaries, shoeshine men and pretty much most of the population– small Bishop Nicholas of Myra: a right jolly old elf, with twinkling blue eyes, a tummy that wiggled like a bowl full of jelly, white beard, red wool suit trimmed with ermine, and a glowing pipe that he rapped against the side of his long black boots after a lengthy session on the filioquequestion, before stepping outside to check on his reindeer.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he was at the Council of Nicea.
What he did, or said, is lost to us. He was almost certainly Trinitarian; Arians, those who followed the teaching of Arius, Bishop of Alexandria, that Christ was a divinely anointed human, not God–certainly had their saints, but those were removed from the calendar after the Trinitarians prevailed. If Nicholas had been one of those Arians, we wouldn’t be celebrating his feast day.
It’s tempting to invent stories….Hey, did you know that Santa Claus had the whip before the reindeer? Yep, that’s right; Nicholas, Scourge of the Arians, always shown with a whip due to the way he beat up on heretics. The reindeer got grandfathered in later on to explain the whip, dontcha know. (See how easy that was? A story designed to explain a story, and it’s even based on a legend that Nicholas once slapped Arius in the face for his blasphemy. Don’t do this kind of thing at home, kids!)
But, to return the question at hand, no, Virginia, don’t know anything of Nicholas’ trinitarian views, or whether he delivered a stemwinder of a speech at the Council, or anything. But it’s good to emphasize that Nicholas was an actual, historical figure, who did incredibly boring things like (probably) attending church conferences. Even though this was one of the most important church conferences of two thousand years, I am sure Nicholas wished that Coca-Cola had been invented before 325. And tobacco, come to that.
Despite, or perhaps because of Nicholas’s presence in Nicea, he became one of the most popular saints on the calendar. As his generosity and love of children were both legendary, his holiday is celebrated with great vim and vigor by many children, even the very small.