Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Real Face of St. Nicholas

An article entitled “Have You Seen St. Nick? I Have” showed photographs of a forensic reconstruction of the face of Saint Nicholas of Myra based upon the dear saint’s skull. A link was provided to Anthropology Update: A Visage of Saint Nicholas where some additional information was available.

These are the photographs on that site:

These were compared to one of the ancient icons of Nicholas:

When I first read the comments of “Cool” and the like as well as some of the brief explanations concerning the handling and examination of Nicholas’ skull and bones, I was appalled. But then I thought that perhaps I should learn more on the subject before reacting.

I performed a search for “reconstructed face of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” and found a web site with the following article: The Real Face of St. Nicholas. This site gives additional information as well as additional icons of St. Nicholas. Among the information shared was this statement:

The image and the process to create it were featured on a one-hour television documentary, The Real Face of Santa, produced by Atlantic Productions for BBC 2 and also shown on the Discovery Channel.

So I searched for The Real Face of Santa and found the following three part YouTube movies (about 15 minutes each):




In the third part the statement is made: “If the sixty-two sailors had not stolen the bones of Saint Nicholas, we would not have Santa Claus.”

While the doctor seems to have meant this in a positive perspective, the perversion of the notoriety of the dear saint and his gracious ministry is a travesty. It began with idolatry and greedy grasping for prosperity through desecration of the bones of saints. Worship of relics and of the saints replaced the grace of Christ that the saints proclaimed. This is the worst desecration of all. And eventually the Church becomes a house for tradition and sentimentalism and fantasy. The merits of Christ become secondary and even tertiary and finally entirely buried while works-righteousness is raised up as the way of salvation. Then such horrid doctrines as purgatory are invented and propagated so as to feign relief for those who realize the hopelessness of works-righteousness.

I find myself wondering how much of my investigation into this matter was morbid curiosity. I know that I wanted to know more about the history of the saint.

Does it matter what he looked like? Shall I put confidence in the arrogance of those who imagine themselves able to reconstruct even the hair and skin color with nothing but the shape of a skull and their presumptions regarding the people of that era and locale?

More importantly, should a saint today follow the idolatrous practices of those who save bones and other relics and direct people to pay homage to them, while stealing the pure Gospel and Sacraments from the saints?

If we want to honor the saints, why do we not listen to them regarding what is the right and holy way? Why do we make gift giving equal to the “Christmas spirit” while neglecting the doctrine by which the one true and necessary gift to mankind is received? St. Nicholas reportedly reacted violently to the theft of the true faith that Arius perpetrated among those gathered for the pure proclamation of the Gospel. The Lord Jesus acted similarly in the temple courts on two occasions. Should those professing to be of this faith today take notice of this?

What is more in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” or “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”? Whose face is the face of Christmas anyway? Whose face did St. Nicholas direct people to seek?

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JohnS said...

St. Nick would not agree with your Protestant views. He was Catholic and as such venerated (not worshiped) the Saints as God's special friends. Veneration of relics is part of the honor due to Saints. Also there is merit in our good works when we are living in God's grace. Both grace and works are necessary. Good works that are not connected to the vine of Christ will not last and bear fruit into eternity. And as St. James says "Faith without works is dead." Our Lord says, "not everyone who calls out to me Lord Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he who DOES THE WORK of my Father.

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Dear John,

If by Catholic you mean the Church of Rome and the papacy, that usurpation of the term did not occur during the life of Nicholas. Regarding veneration of dead bodies and bones, the entire corpus of the Scriptures of the Old Testament stand against it. According to the old ceremonial law, it made a person unclean and in need of being baptized. (Numbers 19) In the New Testament the Lord Jesus says to let the dead handle the dead. (Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60)

Regarding the works of God, how did Jesus define them?

Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:28-29)

The quote from James is worthless if divorced from the context in which he writes it. St. Paul says the same as James when he writes:

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:1-5)

Our works justify, but not before God. Only His work of faith, which He works in us as a gift, which is not of ourselves, saves us. (Ephesians 2) Our works justify in the sense that they show both us and others that our faith is truly of God and not of ourselves, as it produces in us that we do the will of the Father in our regenerated lives. (Matthew 7:21; 12:50 & Mark 3:35)

Now I realize that as a son of the RCC you will almost surely ignore all the Scriptural assertions listed above and shout “Works are necessary!” without any concern for what the Scriptures teach that this means. But if you actually believe the Scriptures listed above to be by the Holy Spirit, then chew on them and struggle with what they mean. As the Lord Jesus promises: The truth sets us free.

James Carlson said...

I love how you've justified many of your opinions in regard to Christianity in accordance with Old Testament scriptures dictating primarily the beliefs and customs of Judaic society. Given that in many cases such justifications have been arguably dismissed by New Testament scriptures, it's a little difficult to determine whether or not your attempts to formulate an ethical point of view reflect your actual beliefs, or merely an appropriate response to someone holding opinions that are contrary to the arguments you've set forth in your original article. You seem to suggest that Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60 uphold Judaic customs regarding the dead, but the actual texts simply don't go this far. Christ's assessment in those paragraphs seems to be dismissive of the dead entirely. He certainly doesn't validate "ceremonial law", and many of His pronouncements in regard to the entirety of "ceremonial law" have been interpreted as equally dismissive, only one of the reasons that so many of those upholding Judaic law were so strongly opposed to His ministry.

More to the point, your insistence that ceremonial law asserts that veneration of the dead "made a person unclean and in need of being baptized" is simply wrong. Ceremonial law speaks only of handling of the dead, not veneration, and the two are quite different. According to Leviticus, anyone who comes into contact with the dead made themselves unclean by doing so, and therefore was compelled to be ritually cleansed. This was held true for any dead creature, not simply man. The rule has nothing to do with any form of veneration, and isn't, for that reason, a valid argument. There are, in fact, no explicit regulations expressed in the bible concerning the treatment of a corpse itself, so your supposition that "the entire corpus of the Scriptures of the Old Testament stand against" the veneration of dead bodies and bones is complete nonsense. If we examine Judaic rabbinical sources, we find almost immediately that the corpse of a man should be cleansed carefully, including the ears and fingers, with nails pared and hair combed, so that it could be laid to rest in the manner that the person had visited the synagogue during life. If that isn't a form of veneration, that what other purpose would it have? There is an even more elaborate ceremony prescribed, known as the grand washing (rehizah gedolah), that is available for the corpses of the more significant individuals, including the wise men and rabbis most venerated during their lifetimes. In accordance with this ceremony, the water used for washing was perfumed by rose, myrtle, or aromatic spices, the use of spices being an ancient practice. The Mishnah especially mentions the washing ceremonies using myrtle. All of this is and has always been related to veneration of the dead.

In addition, the veneration of relics, particularly those of men considered holy throughout their lives, was indeed typical during the lifetime of St. Nicholas, and should not be dismissed from discussion merely because you think Judaic law holds such veneration as improper (which isn't even true, as the above discussion establishes). From the early apostolic times, the Church considered veneration of the dead to be completely appropriate, and often reported witnessing miracles in connection with such veneration, including the healing of those suffering under injury or disease, or the noting of sweet-smelling myrrh exuding from their bones. This, in combination with their belief in the Resurrection of Jesus and the future Resurrection of the Dead, was the direct cause of such veneration.

James Carlson said...

Early accounts of the martyrs often include Christian witnesses making great efforts to obtain the remains of the martyrs, even when the Romans tried to prevent it. Christians of the second century reverently gathered the remains of martyrs — Ignatius the God-bearer, Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus of Lyons — and they often built churches over them when given the freedom to do so, even celebrating the Eucharist over their graves. Even the bones alone were honored, since the executioners often cut into many pieces the martyrs they had slaughtered, throwing them to wild beasts to be devoured. Whatever remains could be collected were gathered with profound reverence and with hymns of prayer, often by those given leave to do so by guards who had been bribed with gold so that such veneration could be properly conducted in accordance with Christian belief.

The veneration of relics from the second century on also came about because it was common for early Christians to ask Christian leaders to pray for them, even after these leaders, often called "The Friends of Christ", had died. They believed, as many Christians still do, that those most holy amongst them and most deserving of their veneration could still pray on their behalf after they had died and that their prayers would still be effective. It certainly isn't idolatry, nor does it reflect an unhealthy relationship with the dead. The fact that it represents a response to belief that is different from your own does not make it worthy of your contempt.

In any case, your apparent aversion to the attempts of some to use forensic science in order to make our considerations of those long dead more accessible seems to be based entirely on your opinion that such attempts somehow demean the religious authority or air of respectability that great men deserve, and yet there's nothing at all to suggest that those conducting such an assessment did so without respect or appropriate veneration of the subject matter. In fact, they didn't even need to exhume the remains to do so, since all of the data they used in the course of this experiment had been acquired many years earlier. St. Nicholas' remains are buried in the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy. These bones were temporarily removed when the crypt was repaired during the 1950s. At this time, and at the Vatican's request, anatomy professor Luigi Martino from the University of Bari, took thousands of minutely-detailed measurements and x-ray photographs (roentgenography) of the skull and other bones. Years later, when the forensic experiment that was conducted as chronicled in the documentary feature "The Real Face of Santa" that you've decided to criticize, it was these materials and measurements that were used. All they have done was to apply modern scientific principles of forensic examination that have been repeatedly proven to have great value as tools of anthropological investigation throughout the past 30-40 years to a subject many centuries old. It was a valid experiment that was conducted on its own merit, and has no real application to religious belief. I hardly think that objections to either the pursuit or the application of such knowledge for its own sake have any real or valid purpose, especially when those objections are made on the basis of absolutely nothing, as you've tried to apply here. While it's understandable that you might consider the preservation of relics inappropriate to your belief or the established assessment of your own culture, referring to the practice of veneration as "worship" is just insulting and nothing else. It serves no purpose beyond the conceited communication of your own contempt. It has no basis in fact, and merely places that same unfounded contempt on a pedestal, as if it was deserving of such "veneration".

James Carlson said...

It's only my opinion, of course, but I would think that your attempt to construct an argument in answer to JohnS purely on the basis of your own contempt for the Roman Catholic Church would probably be better received if you were to do so without getting your facts completely wrong. JohnS was correct to conclude that St. Nicholas' beliefs and his teachings do not stand well in comparison with yours, and this is a cultural divide that you have done nothing to bridge aside from the adoption of insulting rhetoric and the insistence on invalid conclusions in order to make a point that has no real or desirable purpose. It's a point of well-established fact that Protestant thought and belief was developed from the seeds of Roman Catholic doctrine. It did not come about on its own as if it were some sort of parallel system of belief that developed alongside the Catholic Church. If you wish to dwell on the differences between the two faiths, you will accomplish absolutely nothing indicative of Christian goodwill, and may even reveal a harbor within that "grace" of yours that denies in full any contemporary usefulness of cooperative intent between faiths. On the other hand, should you find within yourself the means to reach some form of aggressive accord that uses the well-established similarities between your faith and that espoused by JohnS, you could possibly become the author of great works used to engender great faith. While you may very well disagree in regard to whether good works or great faith are most necessary for one's recovery of grace, I doubt very seriously either of you would willingly insist that good works or great faith should be done away with as useless to the good health of one's soul and its desire to improve the lives and the morality of all men.

Of course, you can also just do as you have been: create discord and contempt by treating another man's faith as a wasted effort, and referring to his cherished beliefs in terms calculated to insult him while refining within yourself the intent to raise the value of your own beliefs by diminishing the worth of anothers'.