Today is the Feast of St Nicholas, C4th bishop and inspiration for Santa Claus. There are many stories told of Nicholas, which ought to make him a hero for these times:
The one where he brought back from the dead three boys killed by a butcher to be sold for meat. Children are still abused by adults, some killed literally, some condemned to a living death; and Nicholas ought to be the patron of all those who stand against such abuse and work to shield children from murder and redeem children from living death.
The one where he rescued the three teenage daughters of a desperately poor widower from a life of prostitution, by throwing bags of gold through the window and into their shoes while they slept a last night before, so they feared, entering into another living death; and Nicholas ought to be the patron of all those who stand against human trafficking. (It is ironic that, in Nicholas’ name, retailers lure parents into greater debt each year at Christmas.)
And then there is the one where Nicholas, attending the (First) Council of Nicea, slaps a heretic in the face. Arius claimed that Jesus was the first and most perfect of God’s creation (as Jehovah’s Witnesses do today). At Nicea, the Church confirmed this as heresy. The debate was heated, and, so it is said, Nicholas gave Arius a slapping.
At present there are some within the Church of England who are claiming that women are, by God’s intention, subservient to men. This is a grotesque misrepresentation of Scripture, and one which is causing a great deal of damage to many and to the reputation of the church. In this heated debate, some wise and good people are urging us to respect one another, claiming that Christian love and charity requires this of us. But neither John the Baptist nor Jesus showed respect for the stance taken by Pharisees who did not enter into the kingdom of heaven themselves and, moreover, prevented others from doing so. Paul did not show respect for the views of those who claimed that Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to be Christians. John and Jesus and Paul are decidedly aggressive. And in their footsteps, Nicholas opposes Arius and backs his words with an open palm.
I have no respect for those who claim that women are subservient to men; for those who are now arguing that the Son is eternally subservient to the Father (well, hello Arius: back for another slap?) in order to argue that women are made in the image of God but subservient to men made in the image of God. I have no respect for them at all. But Nicholas is one of my heroes.
All I want for Christmas is a rightful recognition of women and children. Bishop Nicola, anyone?