As we approach this Santa Clausey time of year, a few well-shared memes remind us how jolly ol’ St. Nick also might not have been so jolly. One story of a more strident Santa, true or not, highlights that the truth about baby Jesus is certainly worth fighting for.
Good legend, better doctrine
According to legend, St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. This was, of course, the monumental council which upheld the divinity of Christ and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It was here that the unitarian Arius expounded his view that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, was not divine, was not God, but was in fact merely a creation of God.
Arius eventually lost that debate, and the divinity of Christ, of the same substance as God the Father, was upheld. But Arius did succeed in getting under the skin of a good many people, and a rise out of at least one. At some point of that Council, during Arius’ prolonged and vehement protests, one of the bishops could no longer stand it. Aggravated at the strident defense of blasphemy, he bolted across the floor and belted Arius in the face!
That bishop, according to the legend, was jolly old Saint Nicholas. Yes, that right: Santa Claus punched (or perhaps backhanded) Arius in the face.
The legend is almost certainly apocryphal, and if true, the interpersonal violence is inexcusable. It does, however, attest to the heightened, indeed vital, concern for the doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation and the State
We should hold it so high today as well. What was decided at Nicea (and later more fully at Chalcedon, AD 451), was the doctrine which allowed for the rise of liberty in western civilization. It is the belief that the man Christ Jesus is fully God, and he is the only absolute King and Priest over all men and all institutions of men. That doctrine flies in the face of the entire history of paganism and the pagan State, including all humanism. It is the end of all statism. Despite being presided over by Constantine himself, the Council of Nicea was an implicit critique of his empire, and imperialism in general.
By understanding Christ alone as fully God and yet fully man, entered into history, we deny that either divinity or true, perfected humanity can be found in mere human institutions. No individual and no institution—State, school, or church—can therefore claim ultimate authority in the earth.
Christ rules all of heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18), and His Incarnation makes this possible. Where mysticism leaves open the question of God to each individual—of who shall be God incarnate, or who represents God—Christianity claims that Christ is God Incarnate and He represents God. If man answers the question on his own authority, then some collective agent of man will eventually triumph. It will be either the power of the mob, or the power of a tyrannical state. There will be a higher man, but he will likely be in a black suit with a tax invoice, or in a blue suit with handcuffs and a gun.
The State then becomes the ultimate representative of man, the highest appeal in the earth, and therefore an incarnate deity. When this happens, the State grows to assume the role. It seeks the attributes of God for itself. It seeks omnipotence with greater power, arms, force. It seeks omniscience with greater surveillance, cameras, total control of information, etc. It seeks sovereignty to control life through its spoken law. It seeks the power of creation by fiat, speaking money into existence by fiat. It seeks invincibility, declaring immunity from law and consequence for itself and its agents. It takes on a messianic role, claiming to provide for the welfare and safety of its people. Men become subjects to the care of the State, rather than free men under God.
God provided a way out of such human tyranny in the Incarnation of Christ: no man, no State has a legitimate claim to ultimate authority, because Christ is the true King of kings in the earth. When tyrants and states seek the power of the attributes of God, they declare themselves at war with both God and humanity.
True freedom can only be found in the shadow of God’s wings. Likewise, true safety, welfare and salvation. All the things modern man desires but denies in principle through his self-centered humanism, God has provided through Jesus and His teachings. Only when the State bows beneath the rule of the King of kings will men begin again to experience a free society; for only when the power of both individual and collective man is checked by the ethical rule of law will man be free from the haunt of his tyrannous fellows. The Incarnation lays the foundation of this liberty, for only there is man seen as a new creature, able to follow God’s ethics, and only there is God manifest in history so that no other ruler has ultimate authority in the earth.
To neglect this in any way is to invite tyranny. The doctrine of the incarnation is vital to true social liberty.
Put Christ back in America
This is what irks me so much when the old “Christian America” mentality appeals to the vacuous statements about “providence,” “morality,” and “religion” found sprinkled throughout the writings of the Constitutional framers—as if this proved proper Christian worldview. It does not. It proves Arianism at best, and Arianism proves tyranny. The substance is more important that the rhetoric, and we have reaped the benefits.
Some of the statesmen of that era were fine Christian men, and in some cases that reality comes through in their writings. Many of the most important men, however, are at best questionable in their orthodoxy, and this is well known and admitted by nearly all scholars involved, Christian or not. Some are downright unorthodox, and this is unquestioned as well.
John Adams, for example, was a unitarian. He did not believe Jesus is God and he ridiculed the idea of the Trinity. Oh well, many people say, he was still a fine man who believed in Christian morals. Perhaps he was a little “unorthodox,” but we can tolerate a little difference in doctrine, right? Perhaps, but this is exactly where the trouble starts.
I know what John Adams said about our Constitution requiring a “moral and religious people,” and about the country being founded upon “the general principles of Christianity.” But without the foundational truths of Christianity, it’s “general principles” are not safely secured. This is the doctrine of the Incarnation itself. There is hardly any doctrine more foundational or which has greater consequences than this.
Adams was not just a little confused or disinterested in “abstract” theology on the point—he was actively hostile to it. In a letter congratulating Thomas Jefferson on his Univerisity, Adams advised him not to seek any professors who believed in the “prejudice” of the Incarnation or Trinity! He wrote,
I do believe there are sufficient scholars in America, to fill your professorships and tutorships with more active ingenuity and independent minds than you can bring from Europe. The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices, both ecclesiastical and temporal, which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds, and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Herschell’s universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world. (to Thomas Jefferson, January 22, 1825.)
This is utter blasphemy. He is not only hostile to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, he wants it eradicated from society. He believes there can be no true progress of knowledge in the world unless it is Christ-free.
Sure, he can appeal to the morals of Jesus in other places, but look what a Jesus he has made for himself! He has made him a mere enlightened man. Arius would be proud. As described above, this thinking opens to door to statism and tyranny. Sure enough, we will later see Adams being very selective in which morals of Jesus he thinks should apply, and turning to open statist tyrannies and completely avoiding the Laws of God in various ways.
All of this is why I believe that if they were both here today, Santa Claus may strike John Adams in the face. He would give such a statesman the same treatment he gave Arius. You can talk all you want about God, religion, and morality—just like Arius did—but everything hinges upon how you define the terms and the substance with which you fill them.
I’ll dare say that no one who dissents with the Incarnation should be trusted with law and government, let alone Constitutions. They don’t know what freedom is; and surely no one who wants to eradicate that doctrine from society should be anywhere near the halls of power. They not only are ignorant of those foundations, they are unwittingly trying to blow them up. They may sing Christmas carols while they do it, but the fuse has been lit.