Category Archives: Merrie Theologiane
The Merrie Theologiane loves the odd bit of art. In this Christmas card for the Skinny Magazine, artist Nick Cocozza imagines the greatest head to head “in all history” – the patron saint of Xmas, who leads his devotees in a pilgrimage of Coca Cola consumerism each ‘winter holiday’, against baby Jesus (now grown up), the one who bangs on about the real meaning of Christmas (virgins, mangers, angels, wise men, asses, etc.). Just do a bit of letter jiggling, and it’s clear that Santa is Jesus’ sworn enemy! Right? Wrong!
If Santa and Jesus met (and most surely they already have!), Santa would be very much on Jesus’ side! The real Santa, is a great Hebrews 11 style witness to help us celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the world at Christmas time. Santa Claus/Sinterklaas/Saint Nicholas was a bishop in south eastern Turkey in the fourth century. Gift-giving, stockings, generosity, chimneys, being nice to children, bags of chocolate coins, all have their origins in the life and legends of old St. Nick.
The stories surrounding St. Nicholas – of selfless generosity and care for the poor (and the odd miracle!) – give us a glimpse of a man who was a great example of love for Jesus producing love for neighbour. So Claus and Christ are no enemies. But there was another occasion on which Santa Nicholas gave evidence of his great love for Jesus – and this one did involve some boxing…
Bishop Nicholas was one of the 318 in attendance at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325AD, from which we get our Nicene Creed. There was great controversy because Arius, a priest from Alexandria, was arguing that, though Jesus was fully human, he was not fully divine. On hearing Arius’ denigrating of Christ, ‘jolly old St. Nick’ got up and gave him a good slap round the chops! The rest of the council agreed with Nicholas, and Arius was condemned a heretic, but Father Christmas found himself behind bars for the night!
So you see Christ vs. Claus is really very far from reality – and we should reclaim this great prize fighter of the faith for the Lord he loved! Gene Edward Veith suggests we need to tweak the Lapland mythology to suit this end: “Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean.” And maybe we need some new songs and TV shows too: "’Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,’ ‘Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,’ ‘Frosty the Gnostic,’ ‘How the Arian Stole Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus.’"
So when you’re writing your letters to Santa this year, remember that a very very long time ago, he wrote one to you:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth;
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.
But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
[Translation of the original text of the 325AD Nicene Creed from Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom]
For most of us, the classic image of the theologian is the delightfully backward ageing gent. He’s obviously a very clever chap, but he’s socially rather awkward and needs more than a little personal grooming advice. Clothed in tweed, his socks are odd, and his hair is a mess. His shirt buttons are in the wrong holes, and his v-neck is inside out.
Well the Merrie Theologiane would like to present to you a lineup of theologians with their heads so much in the game, that even their threads prophetically anticipated the popular culture of many years to come.
Take the Cappodocian Fathers whose attire quite obviously inspired urban streetwear brand Bape, modelled here by Lil Wayne.
Or imagine the Puritan great John Owen prancing around Oxford, ‘hair powdered, cambric band with large costly band strings, velvet jacket, breeches set round at knees with ribbons pointed, and Spanish leather boots with cambric tops.’ He wore enough powder his hair, some said, to discharge eight cannons. Indeed, perhaps enough to nominate him father of the metrosexual movement.
A more modern approach to ‘theological’ clothing is yet to catch on in the divinity schools of the world, but there’s potential…
Okay, there’s no potential. For a much better approach to clothing have a read of Zechariah’s vision:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”
Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by. (Zech. 3:1-5)
Everybody knows that toilet humour is a no no. Even in the least polite company it’s a bad business to joke about flatulence or to sound off about the delicate details of one’s ‘personal life’. Oddly enough, the Bible writers generally did not share our embarrassment about these things. One of the most famous examples is undoubtedly Elijah’s potty-mouthed attack on the god Baal in 1 Kings 18. Having set-up a showdown between Baal and the LORD, he invites the prophets of Baal to call down fire from their god on a sacrifice. When Ball does nothing, Elijah suggests with more than a hint of sarcasm that perhaps Baal is ‘relieving himself’ and so unable to answer.
Molech: name-calling is positively encouraged
Elijah’s cheeky low blow is far from just a politically incorrect gaff at an interfaith prayer meeting. He’s getting at something quite deep in a biblical understanding of false gods, and it’s something that is covered-up with blushes and swoons in our English translations. Whenever we read about ‘the detestable god Molech’ or ‘the detestable god Chemosh’, the Hebrew is literally referring to these gods as ‘turds’. Look them up and you will see why they are singled out for such name-calling. They’re foul, filthy, useless, and fit only to be expelled and flushed away. In the face of the Living God, so are all our idols.
The greatest false god is of course the one who set himself up against the LORD at the very beginning, and for him is reserved the title ‘Beelzebub’ (2 Kings 1; Mark 3:22). It means ‘lord of the flies’, and the implication is fairly obvious. Beezebub, the prince of demons, is the most ‘detestable’ of all and therefore attracts the most flies! Next time you are ‘driving out a demon’, you may want to meditate on the wastefulness and shame of all that steals our love from the LORD God of heaven, and on the glory and goodness we find in Jesus.
Merriment is always at its best when shared. A good joke usually benefits from an audience, and unfortunate (but amusing) accidents beg to be spied upon unintentionally. Chuckling with a friend is indeed good medicine. So this month we are inviting readers to share in the mirth by taking part in our first ever caption competition. Three pictures below await the wit and wordplay of Theology Network readers.
To submit your captions, click on ‘comments’ below and give us a caption for ‘Whitefield’, ‘Aquinas’ and ‘Piper’.
The best entry will receive a copy of that book of most merrie theologie, The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves.
Let the banter begin!
Some of the best theology, praying, and writing has been the result of writers of on the run. The pressures of foes giving chase, persecutions on the horizon, or even the provocations of the devil himself have, more often than not, brought-forth gold from the furnace so that the Church of Christ is built up and encouraged.
Athanasius was bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century, and though he was wildly popular with his people, influential enemies were often on his case. Athanasius fled Alexandria no less than five times and often for his life. Yet it was during these times, laying low in deserts and even as far afield as France, that he produced some of the most wonderful literature that the early post-apostolic Church has to offer. He famously escaped a group of imperial guards on the river by turning his boat around to face his pursuers and telling them he had just passed ‘Athanasius’ and suggesting that he was ‘not far off’. Sometimes it takes a moment of pressure to trigger a stroke of genius.
Charles Wesley: You could often find hymn in a tight spot
Another fugitive theologian, Charles Wesley, being run out of an Irish village by an angry mob, was led to escape through a farm house, and to hide under a hedge by a brook. Breathless, and with the shouts of his attackers around him, he penned the words,
Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.
Like her Saviour, the Church will be hated by the world for His sake. But it is from the middle of the strife and violence that the beauty and grace of Jesus may be seen and enjoyed. And His promise to be with us always will sustain us to the end.