This book was slow going for me in the beginning, but I stuck with it and it was worth it. Elie manages to bring together the lives of these four AmerThis book was slow going for me in the beginning, but I stuck with it and it was worth it. Elie manages to bring together the lives of these four American Catholics into a compelling and even surprising narrative. There are moments when Elie allows too much of his own voice and opinions to come out, but mostly he is content to recede into the background. What I appreciate most about this book, in the end, is how the author brings out the humanity of his main cast of characters. All of them struggle, all of them fail time and again, and all of them ultimately find solace in faith alone.
This book suffers from two enormous errors made by its author: (1) he wrongly assumes that his own person is interesting enough to be inserted into thThis book suffers from two enormous errors made by its author: (1) he wrongly assumes that his own person is interesting enough to be inserted into the narrative; (2) he wrongly decides to resurrect Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, and turn him into a fame seeking opportunist, hell bent on securing his rightful place in a secular world (this latter move is so grotesque it isn't even worth the time it would take to explain it).
Nevertheless, as its topic is intrinsically fascinating, I was glad that I read it. Here is what I learned that intrigued me most, so as to spare others the need to read this book.
Nicholas died on Dec 6 (hence the date of his feast day) in Myra, which is now southwestern Turkey but was then a part of Lycia. He was renown for his charity, particularly towards children. Although there is no evidence of it, it is a part of his hagiography that he played a crucial role at the council of Nicea. The cult of St. Nicholas spreads all over Europe (East and West), in large part due to the devotion to him among seamen, and his presence in famous port cities. By the time the reformation hits Europe, there is an enormous Church dedicated to St. Nicholas in every important city of every country across Europe, which is no small feat.
The most interesting question for me was how St. Nicholas survived in European Protestant's imagination after the Reformation. The reformers, at least in Britain and Holland, had been extremely thorough in purging all relics, images, and any other traces of the Saints that might have held meaning for the faithful. For an answer we must look to the Dutch, and the character of Sinterklaas.
The panoply of Saints in Holland had been rigorously suppressed since 1578. But Nicholas, to the irritation of the Calvinist authorities, proved uniquely resilient to the purges. They might have removed his every last statue and painting from the Churches and Chapels, but they had not reckoned with the fact that Nicholas was well established beyond the obvious places of worship. For the feast of St. Nicholas was observed in Utrecht as early as 1163, and by the time of the Reformers his feast day had become one of the most beloved celebrations in Holland. Old habits die hard, apparently, and when Reformers tried to ban the image of St. Nicholas in candy and cookie form in 1607, and again in 1622, but to no avail. The Dutch tradition of celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas (or Sinterklaas, as they call him) has survived until present day, though of course it is far more commercialized now, and thus the gifts that the Saint leaves for children go far beyond the original cookies and fruit of tradition.
With the failure of Catholics to establish supremacy in North America, it would remain for Protestants to take up his cause there. And, of course, this begins with the Dutch who settled the island-strewn harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River, and proclaimed it to be New Amsterdam. The continued to celebrate the December 6th Feast Day, but the idea of St. Nicholas did not catch on until a few key American authors and illustrators decided to champion him. There was no Anglican recognition of St. Nicholas, and gifts were not exchanged on Christmas Day, but rather on New Year's Eve (though Christmas tide, or the 12 days of Christmas, were celebrated). Neither did the Germans recognize his feast; Luther did away with that in the mid sixteenth century. Not even the Roman Catholic communities associated St. Nicholas with gift-giving; the Italians that settled in early Manhattan gave gifts on the feast of the Epiphany.
Fast forward to 1809, when Washington Irving (under the pseudonym of Dietrich Knickerbocker) publishes the History of New York From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Irving's book prominently featured Saint Nicholas, though not of course as a Saint in Heaven, but as a jolly man of good cheer, who dropped presents down chimneys. Then Irving's good friend, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a little poem intended to amuse his children. It was called "Ann account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" (though now recognized as "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Now Nicholas's move from December 6th to Christmas was officially complete.
Once Santa's date and role were set, it was left to illustrator's to define his image. The first canonical images of Santa were drawn by Thomas Nast for Harper's between 1862 and 1886. It wasn't long before Santa made his way into stores; Macy's of New York had him there in 1862, but a Brockton Massachusetts Macy's was the first to have him visit with children exclusively. Of course, in the twentieth century there was Norman Rockwell. But perhaps the most iconic depictions of Santa were drawn by Haddon Sundblom, who was hired by the Coca-Cola company to depict Santa drinking their product. It was through the Coca-Cola company that Santa was spread throughout the US and the globe. ...more
I am falling in love with Chesterton, and I can't figure out if I should be surprised by this fact. At any rate, this is a brilliant book, full of remI am falling in love with Chesterton, and I can't figure out if I should be surprised by this fact. At any rate, this is a brilliant book, full of remarkable philosophical and historical insight. I think that if one didn't already know quite a bit about the lives and works of these two saints it might be hard to follow, since the book is not written like a straightforward biography.
Chesterton is a joy to read. I wish I could devote the summer to him.
I suspect that most people, like me, know almost nothing about this Pope. I'm not sure, after having read this book, that this fact reflects more on tI suspect that most people, like me, know almost nothing about this Pope. I'm not sure, after having read this book, that this fact reflects more on the man or the precarious position of the institution he began to lead in 1914. It's not that BXV didn't try; it's quite obvious he did and his inability to broker any real influence was clearly a personal tragedy for him and in some ways for Europe. In the end we are left to wonder whether a more aggressive or revolutionary figure could have done better.
I certainly don't think one needs to be religious, and especially not Catholic (although it wouldn't hurt!) to see the depth of Merton's spiritualityI certainly don't think one needs to be religious, and especially not Catholic (although it wouldn't hurt!) to see the depth of Merton's spirituality and calling. This book chronicles Merton's journey from his frat boy days at Columbia to his prolonged period of absolute silence at a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. ...more