St. Nicholas vs. the Heretic

Every year as Christmas comes around, I’m reminded of that great story about jolly old St. Nick, who gave a heretic a punch in the face.

As the story goes, during the Council of Nicea, while the church fathers were hammering out the creed that states Jesus Christ is “of one Being with the Father,” Arius stood up and gave a speech in which he denied this statement. His position was that Jesus is a created being, not co-eternal with the Creator, and therefore subordinate to him.

St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, grabbed Arius by the beard and punched him.

St nicholas

As Christians, we must take care to understand the principles of our faith. I admit this is difficult when it comes to the Trinity. On the one hand, we understand that Jesus Christ is of one Being with the Father, as Jesus tells us in John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.” Yet there is also distinction between them, otherwise how could Jesus say of the day of his return, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Note also that when Jesus speaks of sending the Holy Spirit, he does not say “I will be your Advocate.”

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.—John 14:16–17

One of the most common doctrinal errors I see Christian writers make is the confusion of the persons of the Trinity. They have taken St. Nicholas’s lesson perhaps too much to heart. They interpret Jesus’ statement “The Father and I are one” so literally that they no longer distinguish between them. I have seen writers put things like Jesus is your Father, and he loves you, which is an error.

Yes, Jesus loves me, but no, he is not my Father. Jesus can properly be called Savior, brother, friend, even groom, as the church is his bride. But he cannot rightly be called Father.

Only the Creator is the Father, and Jesus is the Son. To confuse the two is to commit a doctrinal error opposite to that of Arius. Creator and Redeemer and Counselor are one in the fullness of the Godhead, but each is a distinct person with a unique role.

I am vigilant with my clients about preserving this distinction. But I promise not to punch anyone over it.

Happy Christmas, my dear speckies. Keep keeping the faith.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

5 comments on “St. Nicholas vs. the Heretic

  1. This story makes me appreciate St. Nick even more than I did! LOL

  2. The meme is great church humor.

    As for Jesus not being called “Father”, I still wonder about that scripture in Isaiah 9:6 that says,

    “For unto us a Child is born,
    Unto us a Son is given;
    And the government will be upon His shoulder.
    And His name will be called
    Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

    As I thought about it more, I saw other scriptures that supported this concept of Jesus as “Father”. 1 Peter 1:23 says we are “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God”. If the Word of God is the seed (commonly equated with the male’s sperm in the human conception process), and John’s gospel tells us that Jesus was the Word made flesh… then maybe in that way Jesus is the Father of all believers, the one whose seed conceives us as a child of God.

    Of course, Romans 8:14-19 and 29 calls us children of God and joint heirs with Christ, and calls Him the firstborn of many brethren. So He can also be called our brother.

    I’d be interested if you’ve heard this take on it or not — not in the interests of debate or quarreling over it, but to understand if there’s room in your perspective for “Father” to be a scriptural title of Jesus or if you think these scriptures don’t actually say that.

    • Teddi — I have not heard your take on this before. I see John’s description of the Word made flesh as an expression of the incarnation, but Peter’s “seed…through the word of God” as an agricultural metaphor akin to Jesus’ saying that he is the vine and we are the branches. I can’t in good conscience extend that to “father.”

      As for Isaiah, the NIV Study Bible Notes take pains to point out that “Everlasting Father” is also a metaphor: “Everlasting Father. He will be an enduring, compassionate provider and protector (cf. 40:9–11). This does not mean that God the Father and God the Son are one and the same (a heresy called modalism…).” In other words, one might say Jesus is “like a father,” but that’s a different thing from saying is “is the Father.” Yes, that’s sophistry and hair-splitting, but I’m an editor. That’s my job. 😉

      What I see in Isaiah’s fourfold name is the fullness of the Trinity. Counselor, Creator, and Redeemer are all represented there.

      As I said, I am vigilant with my clients, which isn’t to say that I’m that way with everyone. You laid out a reasonable scriptural case for your position. When I see clients make this error, they have not done so. They simply throw the word Father out there without explanation, which could be misleading to a new believer. But if after careful consideration you don’t see a problem with addressing Jesus that way, I won’t deny it to you if it brings you comfort.

      • Interesting take on the Isaiah scripture. It doesn’t add up for me that it’s talking about the Trinity, given its specific reference to someone being born (only Jesus was born as a man, of the persons of the Trinity).

        I did consider that the Hebrew word translated as “Father” could be incorrect (which it does not seem to be, after checking the concordance) or more generally referring to someone as a provider (which it could be… but the other four descriptors make sense at face value, which makes me think that the title of father is somehow to be taken similarly).

        Personally, it brings me no “comfort” one way or another. It’s not how I address Jesus, myself. It just keeps me from getting too riled when a Christian calls Jesus “Father” (which honestly I haven’t seen very often), because I figure they have some small case for it.

        I’m content to leave much of the specifics of God as a mystery that will be revealed when I meet Him face to face. He seems fond of paradoxes, and the Bible seems designed to keep us seeking Him directly for answers rather than to answer them all unequivocally. It’s a fascinating choice on His part, and rather effective. Effective not only at driving us closer to Him but also giving us opportunities to choose whether we’ll value doctrine (our understanding of the scriptural truth) over the love that is His primary and “new” command to us.

        I appreciate your gracious approach, Kristen!

  3. You’ve touched on one of the great mysteries here. In John 1:1 we have the mind-boggling statement that this Logos has always existed (“was”), that this Logos “was” face to face, distinct from God (you’ve got two there!) and then, “The Logos was GOD” meaning everything you can say about God you can say about the Logos, the Logos shares. You have two distinct beings here, yet somehow in a way beyond all human understanding, they are one. The errors lie in trying to understand this, trying to explain it in human terms. Arius tried by making the Logos a created thing, a creature, which violates the “was” (Greek eyn, continuous existence). Oneness people in their zeal violate the “face to face” distinct from part of the same verse. Tertullian tried to explain it when he coined the term trinitas, which is not found in the Bible as a word (though the concept behind the word certainly is). I appreciate your desire to maintain the distinction and not call Jesus “Father,” though I do think Isaiah does in some sense. The point is, the “trinity” cannot be explained in rational human terms. We maintain by faith in the witness of the scriptures that God the Father is a person, God the Son is a person, and God the Spirit is a person. Not three “gods” nor “manifestations” of a single being but somehow three distinct persons in one in a way we’ll never comprehend this side of heaven — if ever. Thank you for maintaining these distinctions in an era where ancient heresies have taken on a strange and sad new life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: