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As you probably know Santa Claus was based on the historical man, St. Nicholas of Myra, who lived from a.d. 270 to 343. He was the bishop of a church in Myra, not far from Nicea when the first council was held there in a.d. 325. Although we cannot be sure Bishop Nicholas attended the council, it certainly is likely. Several later accounts or legends report that Nicholas not only attended the council but at one moment flew into a rage and slapped Arius across his face. Here is a version that I found on the Lutheran Witness:

Supposedly, Bishop Nicholas of Myra was so incensed when he heard Arius tearing down the divinity of Christ that he went up to the heretic and slapped him in the face. Some accounts have jolly old St. Nicholas slugging Arius with his fist!

The Emperor Constantine (who sympathized with the Arians) was present and demanded that Nicholas be thrown into prison. His fellow bishops, shocked at the impropriety, voted to strip him of his office and removed his bishop’s stole.

That night, according to the legend, as Nicholas was languishing in his cell, he had a vision of Jesus and Mary. The Lord asked him, “Why are you here?” Nicholas replied, “Because I love you.” Jesus gave him a golden book of the Gospels, and Mary gave him a new bishop’s stole. The next day, the other bishops woke up with a conviction that they should restore Nicholas, which they did.

I was not able to locate any primary sources for this legend, so I cannot really investigate the matter. So far as I know, Arius was not allowed to speak at the council because he was only a presbyter (not a bishop). Furthermore, why would Jesus approve an outburst of anger and an act of humiliation when he taught his followers to love their enemies? In addition, why was Mary there if she is dead?

Regardless of the historical and theological problems with the legend, what interests me even more about it is how Christians respond to it today. Poking around on the web, I cam across the following comments and snippets:

Pastor Spomer:

If Arius wasn’t slapped in this life, he is certainly being slapped in the next, over and over and over again.


If true, I assume that Arius’ jowls shook like a bowl full of jelly.

Gene Veith:

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap. Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas.

Dave Wilkinson:

In fact, at one point in the Nicean debate, Nicholas became so passionate that he actually walked over and slapped Arius across the face. He was almost kicked out of the conference for that but Constantine allowed him to apologize and stay. Not bad for a jolly old elf—”Hey Arius, Ho, ho this!” He slapped and he shook him in spite of himself.

I have to say, as a side note, that I’m somewhat sorry that this aspect of Nicholas’ character didn’t get included in our modern celebration of Christmas. We could use the Christmas slap. School principals who insist that no songs be sung that have a message true to the actual events in Bethlehem—slap. Mega-church pastors who cancel worship when Christmas falls on Sunday because it’s “inconvenient”—slap. Merchants who only allow their employees to say “happy holidays”—slap, slap, slap.

Okay, I agree, it’s probable just as well that the tradition of the Christmas slap didn’t catch on. But the point behind the slap—as inappropriate as that was—is that Nicholas was one of the faithful. He stood for the truth at Nicea and the truth prevailed. The Council developed the creed we will share as we come to the Lord’s Table—the creed that is so clear about who Jesus is: “God of God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

Nicholas never even slapped Arius, but look at what lengths Nicene Christians find themselves going to to excuse or even endorse such an action! After looking into the Trinitarian controversy and writing about it some, I can’t help but be amazed at the calloused and misinformed view of most Christians. It’s like nobody even knows that the Trinity was what caused the controversy, not Arius’ belief. Why don’t we ever hear about those 60 years between 325 and 381 when council after ecumenical council found in favor of a non-trinitarian creed? I was already leery of the quasi-divine Santa Claus character for other reasons, but this legendary account gives me one more reason to reject rather than try to redeem the fat man who delivers presents.

24 Responses to “Did Santa Claus Slap Arius at Nicea?”

  1. on 06 Dec 2012 at 1:30 amRon S.

    Sean, great minds seem to think alike!

    Dale Tuggy covered this too today over on his blog.


  2. on 06 Dec 2012 at 2:22 amGeorge

    Intence,I never was informed of any of this in my 52 years I always
    thought of santa as a fictional gent who snorted magic dust to
    be able to get everything done so quickly.I do not do christmas I
    do not like the pagan tree,the pagan lights the whole thing gives
    me a feeling that God is forgotten and we are somewhat worsihipping pagan gods that we need not worship.I find it sad that people even cut down trees for this purpose.People tell me to enjoy it,I am sorry but I can not.It is a day that is a wolve with sheeps clothing,I get sick to the point I would rather be alone with my bible and praising God for His lovingkindness and mercy to have
    given His son for a sinner like me.God bless you in Christ Jesus name.Love everlasting,george

  3. on 06 Dec 2012 at 10:08 amSarah

    Wow, Sean. Who knew St. Nick himself was entangled in the Arian Controversy? That puts Santa in a whole new light.

    Arius has been a posthumous punching bag for far too long. The smear campaign against this man seems to have reached a new level, but perhaps this is because they realize there is no censor wide enough to silence the Internet. People are eventually going to learn the truth about men like Athanasius. And then the jig is up.

  4. on 06 Dec 2012 at 10:21 amSean


    Thanks for letting me know about Dale’s post. BTW, today is St. Nick’s feast day!


    I like that…”the jig is up.” In this case the question is how do we popularize the facts of history? Hanson and Rubenstein have already written it out in their books. Maybe we need a youtube campaign? not sure.

  5. on 06 Dec 2012 at 11:05 amSarah

    Sean – yes, I’m thinking video. With the short attention spans out there, we need something visual and succint. Maybe a series of videos, each 3-5 min, using a combination of pictures, quotes, and dramatic background music.

    I am looking into a software program called PowerDirector. It looks like a relatively inexpensive yet powerful tool for creating this kind of YouTube video. As soon I have the time and $$ I plan to buy this and learn how to use it. Then maybe I could contribute something to fill the void.

  6. on 06 Dec 2012 at 5:32 pmSean


    This sounds great. Let me know if I can do anything to collaborate.

  7. on 09 Dec 2012 at 8:26 pmDoubting Thomas

    Hi Sean,
    I notice that the quote from your article said that Constantine had sympathy with the Arians. There is a Roman Catholic that I talk to that is also always saying that Constantine was an Arian. I had thought that Constantine’s mother and sister were Trinitarians and that Constantine was a Trinitarian. From what I understand he was later baptized on his death bed by an Arian Bishop showing they he did have a change of heart at some point…

  8. on 12 Dec 2012 at 3:33 pmDoubting Thomas

    Hi Sean,
    Did you see my question above about Constantine being a Trinitarian???

  9. on 12 Dec 2012 at 6:22 pmSean

    Hey DT,

    Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I’m not sure if Constantine really had a side. He originally thought the whole matter was insignificant, but then later, probably under Hosius’ prompting, chose the side of the bishop Alexander. However, he vacillated quite a bit. I’ll look into it further and try to include what I learn in my next article in this series.

  10. on 12 Dec 2012 at 6:58 pmTim (aka Antioch)

    I got the same sense about Constantine after reading Rubinstein’s book. Constantine was first and foremost a politician. I get the sense that he didn’t really care all that much about the debate itself, just in seeing the various bishops come to a consensus so he could have unity within the church. He probably had his leanings, but that was secondary. His waffling on first siding with the anti-arians and then with the arians seemed to be his reading of the politics going on in the church and being persuaded by the few powerful bishops that had his ear.

  11. on 12 Dec 2012 at 11:14 pmDoubting Thomas

    Thank you Sean (and Tim),
    I’m looking forward to reading the next article on this subject… 🙂

  12. on 22 Dec 2014 at 2:59 pmWhomdphd

    “Why would Jesus approve an outburst of anger and an act of humiliation when he taught his followers to love their enemies? In addition, why was Mary there if she is dead?” — a “why’s” man

    Why would Jesus over-turn tables at the Temple, and use a stinging cord on those profiting from the poor souls attending worship? Why was mary there? Because the imprisoned old man was having a vision. A “vision” is not necessarily something to be taken literally, although many “Christians” make plenty of profits off of a literal interpretation of St. John’s beautiful and meaningful “Apocalypse.” Why do we continually force God to ever heel to our reasoning brains, with our “Why this; why that?”

  13. on 24 Dec 2014 at 9:27 amRay

    So I wonder if the Trinity doctrine causes some to “tear down the divinity” of Christ, or if that’s simply something they always go about doing anyway, and the promotion of the Trinity doctrine has nothing to do with it.

    I think of Romans 14.

    Rather than hearing debates where one party works to support, establish, promote, and build up the doctrine of the Trinity, and the other party works to demote it, tear it down, and deconstruct it, I would rather hear of something quite different.

    I would rather hear about a conversation or debate about the practical use of the Trinity doctrine, How and when it should be used, examples of it being used, and whether or not it properly illumines scripture so people can see things more clearly. Are they wrong ways to use the doctrine? Is there ever a proper time to use the doctrine?
    What are it’s benefits, and what are the problems it causes? What practical use is it?

  14. on 29 Dec 2014 at 8:18 pmTimoteo

    Hello Ray,

    Here is a pre Happy New Year greeting for you.

    Happy New Year Ray!

    I was thinking about the trinity debating and thought of this verse and did a study of several words that may apply to the stuborness of trinity supporters.

    1 Samuel 15: (kjv)

    23 For rebellion[mer-ee’] is as the sin of witchcraft[keh’-sem], and stubbornness[paw-tsar’] is as iniquity[aw-ven’] and
    Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

    Using BibleStudyTools.com

    mer-ee’ =
    rebellious (in construct)

    divination, witchcraft
    of the nations, Balaam
    of false prophets
    in a good sense (king’s lips as oracles)

    paw-tsar’ =
    to press, push
    (Qal) to push, press
    (Hiphil) be insolent, display pushing (arrogance, presumption)

    trouble, wickedness, sorrow
    trouble, sorrow
    trouble of iniquity, wickedness

    idolatry, idols, image(s), teraphim, family idol
    a kind of idol used in household shrine or worship

    As followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, he continues to teach us to love and worship one GOD, his and our GOD, heavenly father and personal friend YAHWEH. The devil has trapped and captured some to worship three gods: the father, Jesus Christ and holy spirit.

    These are rebellious and with their stubbornness are being continually blinded by the god of this world while not comprehending their practice of idolatrous worshiping two other gods, Jesus Christ and holy spirit.

    2 Corinthians 4: (kjv)
    4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

    GOD teaches us in his word that he will not tolerate anything being put before his being worshiped. Jesus taught and continues to teach his church that there is only one, the only one true GOD, YAHWEH.

  15. on 29 Dec 2014 at 9:04 pmTimoteo

    Dear Mr/Ms Whomdphd,

    You have asked:

    “Why would Jesus approve an outburst of anger and an act of humiliation……..”

    “Why would Jesus over-turn tables at the Temple, and use a ……….”

    Jesus was a human man and now is a resurrected human man. Then he ran on blood and now he lives on holy spirit.

    Jesus got angry…..

    Mark3: (kjv)

    1 And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.

    2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.

    3 And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.

    4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

    5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

    1 Corinthians 10: (kjv)

    13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

    Jesus, being a full red blooded human being was then subject to the same emotions as we are today. GOD provided a way for him to escape and not sin.

    Hebrews 4: (kjv)

    15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

    The important thing is experiencing and knowing that he Jesus, is willing and able…..

    Hebrews 2: (kjv)

    18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

  16. on 31 Dec 2014 at 3:56 pmRay

    Should we find it odd when some proponents of the Trinity doctrine, stand in opposition to the Catholic doctrine that Mary is the mother of God, while Trinitarians are often heard to say that Jesus is God?

    Or, should we not find it a bit odd at all?

  17. on 31 Dec 2014 at 3:58 pmRay

    Romans 2:1,3?

  18. on 31 Dec 2014 at 4:09 pmRay

    Oh but it’s so confusing they say (about Mary being the mother of God) and is the cause of so much trouble, as if they should just give it up…..UHHUH!

  19. on 31 Dec 2014 at 7:35 pmRay

    What’s more important than anything about a questionable doctrine, rather than the doctrine itself, is what is often done with it. Even a right doctrine can be taken too far, too much can be made of it, or it can be given too much of a priority, or be taught too restrictively.

    EVERYONE needs to be careful about doing that. One can be as bad as another.

    I suppose that’s why I always find myself going back to Romans 14.
    It’s where I belong on some matters, especially.

    We who are under grace ought not to put any kind of law on others, even as they who do some things BY LAW, during a time of grace.

  20. on 31 Dec 2014 at 7:38 pmRay

    Witchcraft is often a lot about controlling, or exercising some crafty manipulative thing on others through craft or force of some kind.

  21. on 02 Jan 2015 at 1:29 pmTimoteo


    Here are some scriptures about a time shortly after Pentecost:

    Acts 8: (kjv)

    9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

    10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

    11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

    12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

    13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

    14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

    15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

    16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

    17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

    18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

    19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

    20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

    21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

    22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

    23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

    24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

  22. on 07 Jan 2015 at 9:50 amRay

    So what about this Nicea meeting? Was it like a plane hijacking, where somebody reorganizes things and takes it where they want it to go?

    Was it just a small amount of reorganizing?

    Was it just an insignificant matter?

  23. on 07 Jan 2015 at 3:41 pmRay

    I looked up the word witchcraft in my dictionary, and there’s not a lot on it there, though there are two basic definitions of it, the second being “bewitching attraction or charm.”

    I believe people may get into things by being bewitched or charmed.
    I think of the used car salesman that might come to mind or any kind of salesman if his only or main interest is to manipulate, charm, or otherwise gain some influence or control over his prey, for monetary gain.

    I think too there is such a thing as big giant’Swords, which may be akin to swelling words of vanity, and that could be misapplied scripture even.

  24. on 12 Jan 2015 at 4:28 amTimoteo


    Soloman said:

    Proverbs 25: (kjv)

    25 As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.

    Hank Wiliams sings:


    YAHWEH says to Jeremiah:

    Jeremiah 2: (kjv)

    13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

    Jesus tells humanity:

    Matthew 5: (kjv) RED LETTERS

    6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.


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