Adam C. English is Associate Professor of Religion at Campbell University where he teaches on the philosophy of religion, constructive theology, and the history of Christian thought. His new book is The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra.
From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at The Christian Science Monitor:
Q: Who was Saint Nicholas in real life?--Marshal Zeringue
A: The historical Saint Nicholas was born around the late third century or early fourth century. He lived his life in what is now the southwest shores of Turkey. He served as a bishop, a Christian pastor of the church in Myra, doing good works of gift-giving and generosity, serving the people as a true civil servant. There are stories of him bartering with grain ships to get grain to save the starving people of Myra, going to the capitol to appeal for lower taxes, interfering in court cases and saving three men from beheading.
As a young man, he inherits gold from his parents, and he hears of a man in town who's become desperately poor and is thinking about selling off his own daughters. Nicholas bags up some of that gold and throws it through his window. It's used as a dowry for one of the daughters. He returns two times so the other daughters might be able to marry.
Q: What did it mean then to sell off one's daughters?
A: Prostitution. We have decrees dating back to the early days of the Roman empire trying to curb that activity and try to prevent parents from selling daughters into prostitution and children into slavery.
While it seems inhumane, those options become very live and real when...[read on]