The veneration with which this saint has been honored in both East and West, the number of altars and churches erected in his memory, and the countless stories associated with his name all bear witness to something extraordinary about him. Yet the one fact concerning the life of Nicholas of which we can be absolutely certain is that he was bishop of Myra in the fourth century. According to tradition, he was born at Patara, Lycia, a province of southern Asia Minor where St. Paul had planted the faith. Myra, the capital, was the seat of a bishopric founded by St. Nicander. The accounts of Nicholas given us by the Greek Church all say that he was imprisoned in the reign of Diocletian, whose persecutions, while they lasted, were waged with great severity. Some twenty years after this he appeared at the Council of Nicaea, to join in the condemnation of Arianism. We are also informed that he died at Myra and was buried in his cathedral. Such a wealth of literature has accumulated around Nicholas that we are justified in giving a brief account of some of the popular traditions, which in the main date from medieval times. St. Methodius, patriarch of Constantinople towards the middle of the ninth century, wrote a life of the saint in which he declares that “up to the present the life of the distinguished shepherd has been unknown to the majority of the faithful.” Nearly five hundred years had passed since the death of the good St. Nicholas, and Methodius’ account, therefore, had to be based more on legend than actual fact.
He was very well brought up, we are told, by pious and virtuous parents, who set him to studying the sacred books at the age of five. His parents died while he was still young, leaving him with a comfortable fortune, which he resolved to use for works of charity. Soon an opportunity came. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty. In despair their wretched father was about to commit them to a life of shame. When Nicholas heard of this, he took a bag of gold and at night tossed it through an open window of the man’s house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl, and she was quickly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and then for the third daughter. On the last occasion the father was watching by the window, and overwhelmed his young benefactor with gratitude.
It happened that Nicholas was in the city of Myra when the clergy and people were meeting together to elect a new bishop, and God directed them to choose him. This was at the time of Diocletian’s persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century. The Greek writers go on to say that now, as leader, “the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with other Christians. But when the great and religious Constantine, chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas.” St. Methodius adds that “thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison.” He does not speak of Nicholas’ presence at the Council of Nicaea, but according to other traditions he was not only there but went so far in his indignation as to slap the arch-heretic Arius in the face! At this, they say, he was deprived of his episcopal insignia and imprisoned, but Our Lord and His Mother appeared and restored to him both his liberty and his office. Nicholas also took strong measures against paganism. He tore down many temples, among them one to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was the chief pagan shrine of the district.
Nicholas was also the guardian of his people in temporal affairs. The governor had been bribed to condemn three innocent men to death. On the day fixed for their execution Nicholas stayed the hand of the executioner and released them. Then he turned to the governor and reproved him so sternly that he repented. There happened to be present that day three imperial officers, Nepotian, Ursus, and Herpylion, on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, after their return, they were imprisoned on false charges of treason by the prefect and an order was procured from the Emperor Constantine for their death. In their extremity they remembered the bishop of Myra’s passion for justice and prayed to God for his intercession. That night Nicholas appeared to Constantine in a dream, ordering him to release the three innocent officers. The prefect had the same dream, and in the morning the two men compared their dreams, then questioned the accused officers. On learning that they had prayed for the intervention of Nicholas, Constantine freed them and sent them to the bishop with a letter asking him to pray for the peace of the world. In the West the story took on more and more fantastic forms; in one version the three officers eventually became three boys murdered by an innkeeper and put into a brine tub from which Nicholas rescued them and restored them to life.
The traditions all agree that Nicholas was buried in his episcopal city of Myra. By the time of Justinian, some two centuries later, his feast was celebrated and there was a church built over his tomb. The ruins of this domed basilica, which stood in the plain where the city was built, were excavated in the nineteenth century. The tremendous popularity of the saint is indicated by an anonymous writer of the tenth century who declares: “The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the farthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are erected in his honor.” In 1034 Myra was taken by the Saracens. Several Italian cities made plans to get possession of the relics of the famous Nicholas. The citizens of Bari finally in 1087 carried them off from the lawful Greek custodians and their Moslem masters. A new church was quickly built at Bari and Pope Urban II was present at the enshrining of the relics. Devotion to St. Nicholas now increased and many miracles were attributed to his intercession.
The image of St. Nicholas appeared often on Byzantine seals. Artists painted him usually with the three boys in a tub or else tossing a bag of gold through a window. In the West he has often been invoked by prisoners, and in the East by sailors. One legend has it that during his life-time he appeared off the coast of Lycia to some storm-tossed mariners who invoked his aid, and he brought them safely to port. Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas had their “star of St. Nicholas” and wished one another safe voyages with the words, “May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.”
From the legend of the three boys may have come the tradition of his love for children, celebrated in both secular and religious observances. In many places there was once a year a ceremonious installation of a “boy bishop.” In Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands gifts were bestowed on children at Christmas time in St. Nicholas’ name. The Dutch Protestant settlers of New Amsterdam made the custom popular on this side of the Atlantic. The Eastern saint was converted into a Nordic magician (Saint Nicholas—Sint Klaes—Santa Claus). His popularity was greatest of all in Russia, where he and St. Andrew were joint national patrons. There was not a church that did not have some sort of shrine in honor of St. Nicholas and the Russian Orthodox Church observes even the feast of the translation of his relics. So many Russian pilgrims came to Bari in Czarist times that the Russian government maintained a church, a hospital, and a hospice there. St. Nicholas is also patron of Greece, Apulia, Sicily, and Lorraine, of many cities and dioceses. At Rome the basilica of St. Nicholas was founded as early as the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. In the later Middle Ages four hundred churches were dedicated to him in England alone. St. Nicholas’ emblems are children, a mitre, a vessel.
1 Nicaea was a city in Bithynia, now northwestern Turkey, a short distance south of Constantinople. The Council of Nicaea, in 325, was the first ecumenical church council, and was called by the Emperor Constantine to bring about agreement on matters of creed. For more on Arianism, see below, St. Athanasius, n. 6.
This was taken from “Lives of Saints”, Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.
The English translation of The Liturgy of the Hours (Four Volumes) ©1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission by Surgeworks, Inc for the Divine Office Catholic Ministry. DivineOffice.org website, podcast, apps and all related media is © 2006-2011 Surgeworks, Inc. All rights reserved.
Sorry, if this is too much Chaput for you, but the man/bishop has a message America and American Catholics need to hear. I intend to follow his lead and spread the message.
“Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.”
Offering a sober evaluation of the state of American Catholicism, he added:
“We need to stop over-counting our numbers, our influence, our institutions and our resources, because they’re not real. We can’t talk about following St. Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and get honest about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves and to God by claiming to ‘personally oppose’ some homicidal evil — but then allowing it to be legal at the same time.”
Commenting on society’s attitude towards Catholic beliefs, Archbishop Chaput said, “we have to make ourselves stupid to believe some of the things American Catholics are now expected to accept.”
“There’s nothing more empty-headed in a pluralist democracy than telling citizens to keep quiet about their beliefs. A healthy democracy requires exactly the opposite.”
More Archbishop Charles J. Chaput from his speech in Toronto. He is speaking as an American, a Catholic and a bishop about “Rending Unto Casaer”
Excerpt from speech:
Here’s the second point, and it’s a place where the Canadian and American experiences may diverge. America is not a secular state. As historian Paul Johnson once said, America was “born Protestant.” It has uniquely and deeply religious roots. Obviously it has no established Church, and it has non-sectarian public institutions. It also has plenty of room for both believers and non-believers. But the United States was never intended to be a “secular” country in the radical modern sense. Nearly all the Founders were either Christian or at least religion-friendly. And all of our public institutions and all of our ideas about the human person are based in a religiously shaped vocabulary. So if we cut God out of our public life, we also cut the foundation out from under our national ideals.
Here’s the third point. We need to be very forceful in clarifying what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions. When we subvert the meaning of words like “the common good” or “conscience” or “community” or “family,” we undermine the language that sustains our thinking about the law. Dishonest language leads to dishonest debate and bad laws.
Here’s an example. We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square — peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.
Here’s the fourth point. When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to “render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God — and then put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.
So having said all this, what does a book like “Render Unto Caesar” mean, in practice, for each of us as individual Catholics? It means that we each have a duty to study and grow in our faith, guided by the teaching of the Church. It also means that we have a duty to be politically engaged. Why? Because politics is the exercise of power, and the use of power always has moral content and human consequences.
THE ORDINATION OF JEFFREY NEILL STEENSON TO THE SACRED PRIESTHOOD
SATURDAY,THE TWENTY-FIRST OF FEBRUARY,TWO THOUSAND AND NINE
At SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS CATHOLIC CHURCH, RIO RANCHO, NEW MEXICO
Procession of the Cross
The Candidate for the Sacred Priesthood – Jeffrey Neill Steenson
Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan
Calling and Presentation of the Candidate for the Priesthood Jeffrey Neill Steenson
Prostration and Litany of the Saints
Ordained and Invested
Kiss of Peace
Greeting by Rev. Fr. Scott Mansield
Presentation of the Gifts by the Steenson Family
A Few Words
Recessional – Rev. Fr. Jeffrey Neill Steenson
Recessional and Blessing by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan
Thanks Be To God!
Update: Old Bishop, New Priest
I’ll be off in a bit to attend the ordination of Jeffrey Steenson. I can only imagine what is going on in his heart and head at this moment. Please say a prayer for Jeff, his family, and his church family, both Anglican and Catholic.
New directions bring mixed blessings for partings are hard. For Jeff, the need to explain his conscientious decision is an integral part of moving forward. “Forward” in God’s grace and plan means continuing to put your hands to the plow and looking back only with gratitude for the gift of the past. Friends, mentors, and teachers, all helped to prepare Jeff for this day. Now is a time of celebration. Now, with the Laying on of Hands, Jeffrey becomes a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. He enters on a new path on the road home. God bless you, soon-to-be, Rev. Fr. Jeffrey Neil Steenson!
WITH PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING TO
THE ARCHDIOCESE OF SANTA FE
THE ORDINATION TO THE
SACRED PRIESTHOOD OF
JEFFREY N. STEENSON
THOUGH THE IMPOSITION OF HANDS AND THE INVOCATION OF THE
BY HIS EXCELLENCY
MICHAEL J. SHEEHAN
ARCHBISHOP OF SANTA FE
SATURDAY,THE TWENTY-FIRST OF FEBRUARY,TWO THOUSAND AND NINE
AT TEN-THIRTY O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING AT ST.THOMAS AQUINAS CATHOLIC CHURCH, RIO RANCHO, NM
Jeffrey M. Steenson will be new to the Roman Catholic priesthood, but not new to our Lord’s vineyard. When ordained February 21, 2009 by Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of the Santa Fe Diocese of New Mexico, Steenson will continue a faith adventure that still astounds him.
It was much more than the divisions within the Anglican Church over issues such as the affirmation of the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop, and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female presiding bishop, that coaxed the then Bishop Steenson onto a new path. These issues were monumentally troubling to his church and he was himself, “deeply troubled about where the Episcopal Church is heading.” Bishop Schori had also blessed same-sex unions. Though grave, still more important issues than these motivated his faith journey to the Roman Catholic Church. No less than the Fathers of the Church held great sway in this matter of faith, conscience and desire.
Before he even entered the ministry, Jeff thought about entering the Roman Catholic Church. One of his professors, a nun, did a very good job showing him that the early Church looked and was as it continues to be very Roman Catholic. She also pointed out that she thought he might have a vocation to the priesthood but he was married and so that was then not to be. Years passed, Jeff became an priest and then a bishop in the Anglican Church .
The Church Fathers still sounded Roman Catholic but life got very complicated. It took the powerful personage of the inimitable Pope John Paul II to re-ignite his Catholic leanings. He made a promise to himself that he would revisit his Catholic inclinations and act if that meant becoming a Roman Catholic. Acting on the promise was tougher and so a bit late in being fulfilled. He meant to act while JPII was still alive, and not doing so troubled him, but life as Rt. Rev Steenson of the Rio Grande Diocese of the Anglican Church made serious decisions too serious to rush. Prayer, study, meetings and mentors, more prayer and more study, soon demanded that conscience be honored. The promise he made to himself ended with his resignation as bishop. This was not without pain. There were explanations to be given and loose ends, at all ends. In his customary gentle manner, Jeff reached out as best he could to make clear with persuasive reason and Patristic history the underpinnings of his choice.
Happily, eventually the sun did shine on the road ahead for Jeff and his wife, who shared these dilemmas and discoveries. Soon came his entry into the Roman Catholic Church. and now, more promises to be made, the promises of the sacred priesthood. Jeff goes forward carrying his faith-filled past in his heart, grateful for loved ones in his Anglican Church family and his beloved deep Anglican roots. At this, a new beginning on a continuing faith journey, may God bless Jeffrey Steenson and his family.