a Saint Nicholas Day sermon

srnicholasHappy St. Nicholas Day!

Most of my readers know I have an academic as well as personal interest in St. Nicholas, and have recently published a book about his life: the Santa Papers: the unauthorized autobiography of Nicholas of Myra.

If you would like to order it from my e-store today, you can get 25% off using this code:BG3HAAQQ

I’ve written about him on my blog before, and will, I’m sure, again. And next Monday, December 10, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll be reading from the book at the Prop Shop on the campus of Spring Arbor University where I teach. $5 admission includes a free copy of the paperback or the new audio book.

But since I have so much to say about him, and there are so many ways for you to read or hear what I’ve said, today I’m reposting a guest blogger, St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s a sermon on the Feast of Saint Nicholas from around 1270 A.D. You can find the sermon here.

The text is Psalm 88:21-22: I have discovered David my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand will help him, and my arm will strengthen him.

Aquinas compares the way God discovered, anointed and helped David to his selection, elevation and ministry through Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century pastor.

And remember to get your Saint Nicholas / Santa fix today. Christmas is about Someone Else.

Let us then look at what it [the text from Psalm 88:21-22] says: I have discovered David my servant; and here we can consider four ways of understanding a discovery. A discovery implies rarity, investigation, disclosure, and conviction from experience.

First, I say that a discovery implies rarity, because rare things are said to be discovered. It would be laughable to say: “I discovered people on the Little Bridge.” But what is rare is said to be discovered, as we see in Proverbs (31:10) where it is asked: Who shall discover a strong woman? as if to say, only with difficulty is a strong woman to be found because a woman is naturally delicate and frail.

Secondly, things sought for are said to be discovered, as it says in Proverbs (2:4): If you will seek for it as [other men seek for] money, you will find it, namely divine knowledge. Moreover, the Gospel speaks about a woman searching for a lost coin, until she finds it (Lk. 15:8).

Thirdly, a discovery implies disclosure, as we read in the Gospel: The kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household searching for a treasure hidden in a field; when he finds it, he goes and sells all that he has, etc. (Mt. 13:44). When a treasure is brought forth from the earth and shown to others, then it is said to have been discovered.

Fourthly, a discovery implies conviction from experience. When a person doubts something and afterwards comes to know it with certainty, he declares: “I have discovered this to be so.”

The Lord discovered blessed Nicholas in these ways.

First, He discovered in him something very rare, namely, virtue in the prime of his youth, which is rare among youths; hence it says in Proverbs: Youth and pleasure are vain. This is a rara avis, namely, that as a youth he was not subject to vanity; and because blessed Nicholas preserved his holiness from childhood, he is said to have been discovered. For he himself “while still a little boy used to afflict his body with much fasting.” Also the saying in Hosea (9:10) [comes to mind]: I discovered Israel like grapes in the desert, I discovered the sons of Israel as first fruits of the fig tree. The fig ripens later than other fruits, but if it ripens in prime season it is said to be discovered.

Likewise, children who preserve their holiness from childhood are called the first fruits of a fig tree and are said to be discovered, and this is pleasing to God; thus in Micah [we read] (7:1): My soul desired the first ripe figs. Fish and fruit in season are very much desired; so, too, very desirable to God is the man who carries the Lord’s yoke from his youth, as is said in Lamentations (3:27): It will be good for a man, when he has borne the Lord’s yoke from his youth, because a young man shall walk according to his way, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6). At the same time, if such as these should depart from the path of holiness, they return to it more easily.

Secondly, the Lord discovers in blessed Nicholas what He seeks. And what does the Lord seek? Surely, He seeks a faithful soul, hence [we read] in John (4:24): God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And why does God seek out the man with a faithful soul? I say: whoever takes delight in dwelling with another person seeks out that person. So it is with God, because it gives Him delight to dwell with a faithful soul. Hence He says: My delights are to be with the children of men (Prov. 8:31). And God discovered in blessed Nicholas a faithful soul, because he was frequently in church, faithfully at his prayers; so, what is said in Hosea (12:4) is suitably said of him: He wept and made supplication to Him, and He discovered him in Bethel. Bethel means “the house of God.” Notice how rightly it is said that He discovered David, for David possessed great virtues from his youth: he slew a bear and a lion, he was preferred over all his brothers, and he was also most devout. The Psalmist says: As with the marrow and fat, that is, of devotion, let my soul be filled (Ps. 62:6)30; and Sirach (47:1): As the fat taken away from the flesh, thus was David separated from among the children of Israel. And blessed Nicholas was eminently holy.

Thirdly, the Lord discovered in blessed Nicholas something outstanding, namely a pious affection. What makes a person stand out? I say that nothing makes a person so outstanding as piety and a ready will to do good for others. God is hidden in Himself, yet He is revealed to us through the benefits He grants. So, in Sirach it is said about those who show pity toward others: These were men of mercy, whose pious deeds have not failed (44:10), and the church declares their praise (44:15). And in another place it says: The lips of many will praise him who gives freely of his bread (Sir. 31:28).

Blessed Nicholas was especially “sympathizing with and showing pity from his heart toward the afflicted,” and indeed having given them gold, he relieved the poverty of virgins. Thus, what Hosea (14:9) says can be applied to him: From me is his fruit discovered. And this is why the Lord says rightly: I discovered David, my servant. A servant is one who carries out his lord’s work; and the principal work of the Lord is mercy, as the Psalmist says: And His tender mercies are over all His works (Ps. 144:9). Therefore, the Lord’s servant is the one who exercises mercy toward the poor. As the Apostle says: We are servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 4:5).

Fourthly, the Lord discovered in blessed Nicholas something tested by experience, namely faithfulness, which is greatly sought after; thus the Apostle says: Now what is sought after in stewards, except that a man be found faithful? (1 Cor. 4:2); and the Book of Wisdom (3:5) says: He tested them, and found them worthy of Himself. A faithful man must be a servant, so that he refers all that is his to God.

You pray, you perform works of mercy, whatever kind of good you do, it is necessary that you should refer it to God. Hence it is said: He has been tested in this, and was found perfect (Sir. 31:10). Blessed Nicholas is such a man, and for that reason he is called my servant (Ps. 88:21). Many people, on the other hand, do not serve the Lord but themselves; as the Apostle puts it: They that are such serve not Christ but their own belly (Rom. 16:18). If you are doing good in order to get prebends, you are serving yourself, not God.

A good bishop ought not to be like these sorts of people, but rather he ought to be upright [innocens] in his own person, devout before God, merciful to his neighbor, faithful in all things in respect to everyone.

1 thought on “a Saint Nicholas Day sermon”

  1. Emily and I held a St Nicholas Eve party last night for the first time, for some friends from the seminary. Thanks for the inspiration. Happy St Nicholas Day!

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