When U.S. Presidents take the oath of office, most* have placed their left hand upon a Bible during that solemn moment, raised their right hand, and repeated the oath of office — adding the unofficial words “so help me God” at the end, as was first done by George Washington. On most occasions the Bible has been open to a specific verse.
For his second inauguration [in January 2013], reports a UPI website, President Obama selected three Bibles to use for his oath of office: the Robinson family Bible, the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King’s traveling Bible. The family Bible was used at the private swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, January 20, 2013, and the other two were used in the public ceremony on the following Monday. UPI reported that “both bibles were be closed, rather than open to a specific verse, when Obama took the oath of office Monday, as was the Robinson Bible on Sunday.”
Abraham Lincoln, 1861 – opened his Bible at random. In 1865 he used an open Bible, since lost, and noted 3 verses: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, Matthew 7:1; “Woe to the man by whom the offence cometh!” Matthew 18:7; and, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” Revelation 16:7.
Rutherford Hayes, 1877 – “They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Psalm 118:11-13
Theodore Roosevelt, 1905 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.” James 1:22–23
Woodrow Wilson, 1917 – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . .” Psalm 46
Franklin Roosevelt, 1933,`37,`41,`45 – “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . .” 1 Corinthians 13
Gerald Ford, 1974 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6
Jimmy Carter, 1977 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Ronald Reagan, 1981,`85 – “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
George H.W. Bush, used his Family Bible open to Matthew 5.
Bill Clinton, 1993,`97 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8 (1993). “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.” Isaiah 58:12 (1997)
George W. Bush, “Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40:31
*According to that UPI website, “Just two presidents (that we know) have chosen to use books other than a bible for their oaths: John Quincy Adams, who used a book of U.S. law, and Lyndon Johnson, who was sworn in aboard Air Force One following the assassination of Kennedy. Johnson used a missal–a book used for Catholic Mass–found on a side table in Kennedy’s Air Force One bedroom.”
The is so much to discover about the real Christian man, from the distant past, who became the impetus for the modern character of St Nick. I found this fine bit of research and writing at the blog of Kevin Deyoung. I hope you enjoy it! ~pdb
The unsatisfying answer to the title of this post is that nobody knows for sure. To quote one Nicholas scholar “We can grant a bishop of that name who had a great impact on his homeland. We can also accept December 6 as the day of his death and burial. These are all the facts we can hold to. Further we cannot go.” (Gustav Anrich quoted by Charles W. Jones in Saint Nicholas of Bari, Myra, and Manhattan).
According to the best estimates, Nicholas, was born around 280 AD in Patara, in Asia Minor. He later became bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey. Nicholas, it seems, died about 343 on or near December 6. That is the date of his Feast Day in the Catholic church.
There is no record of his existence attested in any document until the 6th century. By that time Nicholas, whoever he had been, was already famous. The emperor Justinian dedicated a church to him in Constantinople. Initially, Nicholas was most well known in the East. But by 900, a Greek wrote “The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection.” In 1087, Italian sailors stole his supposed relics and took them from Myra to Bari, Italy. This greatly increased his popularity in Europe and made Bari one of the most crowded pilgrimage sites. It is said that Nicholas was represented by medieval artists more than any other saint except Mary.
The Man and the Myth
Why was Nicholas so famous? Well, it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction, but this is some of the legend of St. Nicholas:
He was reputed to be a wonder-worker who brought children back to life, destroyed pagan temples, saved sailors from death at sea, and as an infant nursed only two days a week and fasted the other five days.
Moving from probable legend to possible history, Nicholas was honored for enduring persecution. It is said that he was imprisoned during the Empire wide persecution under Diocletian and Maximian. Upon his release and return, the people flocked around him “Nicholas! Confessor! Saint Nicholas has come home!”
Nicholas was also hailed as a defender of orthodoxy. Later sources claim he was in attendance at the council of Nicea. According to tradition, he was a staunch opponent of Arianism. Writing five centuries after his death, one biographer wrote “Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison.” Stories of his courage abound, one claiming that Nicholas traveled to Nicea and, upon arrival, promptly slapped Arius in the face. As the story goes, the rest of the council was shocked and appalled, so much so that they were going to remove Nicholas from his bishopric, that is until Jesus and Mary appeared to defend him. According to the same legend, this apparition changed the minds of the delegates who quickly recanted of their outrage.
As you might have guessed, Nicholas was also revered for being a generous gift giver. Born into a wealth family, he inherited the fortune when his parents died. Apparently he gave his vast fortune away. The most famous story involved three girls who were so destitute that they were going to be forced into a life of prostitution. But Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the window as dowries for the young woman.
Over time, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of nations like Russia and Greece, cities like Fribourg and Moscow, and of children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers (the three gold balls hung outside pawn shops are symbolic of the three bags of gold).
Christmas and St. Nicholas
In honor of St. Nicholas the gift giver, Christians began to celebrate December 6 (his feast day) by giving presents. The tradition developed over time. For good boys and girls, St. Nicholas would come in his red Bishop’s robe and fill boots with gifts on the night of December 5. For bad boys and girls St. Nicholas was to be feared. In highly catholic parts of Europe, St. Nicholas became a deterrent to erring young children. In Germany, he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (farmhand Rupert) who threatened to eat misbehaving children. In Switzerland, St. Nicholas threatened to put wicked children in a sack and bring them back to the Black Forest. In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas’ helper would tie them in a sack and bring them back to Spain. In parts of Austria, the priest, dressed up in Christmas garb, would visit the homes of naughty children and threaten them with rod-beatings. At least nowadays, he only checks his list!
Not surprisingly, the Reformers were less than friendly towards the traditions that had been built up around the saints. Luther rejected the saints’ days, believing they were built upon legends and superstitions (and a virulent strain of moralism we might add). In Germany, Luther replaced Saint Nicholas’ Day with a different holiday, Christ Child, or Christkindl. Ironically, Kriss Kringle which derived from Luther’s Christ Child holiday, has become just another name for St. Nicholas.
From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus
The cult of St. Nicholas virtually disappeared in Protestant Europe, with the exception of one country: the Netherlands. If you love Christmas with all the trappings of Santa Claus and stockings and presents, thank the Dutch. If you despise all that, try to ignore my last name for the time being. The Puritans had done away with St. Nicholas and banned Christmas altogether. But the Dutch held on to their tradition and brought it with them to the New World. In the Netherlands Sint Nicolaas was contracted to Sinterklaas. According to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas rides a horse and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. Many people figure black Pete was derived from black slaves, although others counter and say that he is black because he goes down the chimney and gets a face full of soot.
At any rate, it is easy to see how Sinterklaas evolved in America to Santa Claus. Santa Claus became the Santa we know in the United States only after the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written in 1823. Possibly the best known verses ever written by an American, the poem has greatly influenced the tradition of Santa in the English speaking world and beyond.
Jolly Old St. Nick and Jesus
How should Christians relate to the traditions of Santa Claus? C.S. Lewis embraced them and so included Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Other Christians, fearing syncretism, stay clear of Santa, reindeer, and a tree full of presents. I’ll leave it to you and your family to form you opinions on observing the Christmas holiday (see Rom. 14:1, 5-6). Personally, we try to walk in the middle of the road on this one: we don’t teach our kids about Santa, but we are happy to enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life, a couple Christmas trees, and a little Bing Crosby. And if the kids, picking up bits and pieces from other places, end of listening for flying reindeer landing on the roof, we’re not going to introduce the laws of physics to crush their anticipation. Most of all, of course, we try to press home that Christmas is about Christ.
But if you have a lot of Santa Claus around, why not use him to your benefit and talk about the real St. Nicholas. We don’t know a lot about him, but we know he lived and was revered. According to legend-one of those stories that probably isn’t true, but should be–when Nicholas was little boy he would get up early in the morning to go to church and pray. One morning, the aging priest had a vision that the first one to enter the church in the morning should be the new bishop of Myra. When Nicholas was the first to enter, the old priest, obeying the vision, made the young boy bishop right on the spot. But before he consecrated Nicholas a bishop, the priest asked him a question. “Who are you, my son?” According to tradition, the child whose legend would one day become Santa Claus replied, “Nicholas the sinner.” Not bad for a little boy.
With what little we know about St. Nicholas, it is safe to say he would not be pleased to know he had eclipsed Christ in the hearts of many as the central figure of Christmas. For the Bishop of Myra no doubt knew the angel’s words to Joseph: “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So this Christmas, give gifts if you like. We will in our family. Receive them all with thanksgiving. But do not forget what we need most–salvation through substitution. This is one gift the real St. Nicholas would not have overlooked.
Our founding fathers “were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power“ said President Calvin Coolidge on this date (July 5th) in 1926. He was in Philadelphia to a speech commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The whole text is available here. Coolidge emphasized that “in its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document.”
Such clarity of thought and understanding is near extinct in our land, so I urge you to read the speech, and breath its fresh and vital air. Here is an excerpt —
No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed.
Yes, the things of the spirit come first! May liberty yet be revived in our land.
On April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed the bill authorizing the creation of The Library of Congress in Washington D.C., which has become the world’s largest library. Bill Bennett, author of The American Patriot’s Almanac, says that it is “perhaps the greatest collection of stored knowledge in history.” Here’s the rest of his piece celebrating the LOC….
It contains more than 140 million items, including maps, photographs, films, and recordings, on 650 miles of bookshelves. About 10,000 items are added every workday.
Congress established the library on April 24, 1800, when President John Adams signed a bill appropriating $5,000 for “the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress” after it moved to Washington, the new capital city. The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801. The original collection consisted of 740 volumes and 3 maps.
The first collection was destroyed during the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol. Thomas Jefferson offered to replace it by selling Congress his personal library, one of the finest in the country. In 1815 Congress appropriated $23,950 to buy his 6,487 books. The Jefferson collection became the core of the Library of Congress.
The library serves as the research arm of Congress and the “storehouse of the national memory.” Unlike many other national libraries, its collection is not for scholars only. Anyone over high school age may use it. It also makes available, via the Internet, millions of files containing digitized versions of its collections. A library of the people, it has become a symbol of Americans’ faith in the power of learning.
Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835–1893) died in Boston 120 years ago today. It is said that Christians throughout the world mourned his death, and his funeral was “like that of a king.” Brooks has been called by some “the greatest American preacher of the 19th Century.”
Yet sorrow soon turned to songs of triumph and praise of God for Phillips Brooks’ life. Over his tomb they would erect these words: “A preacher of righteousness and hope, majestic in stature, impetuous in utterance, rejoicing in the truth, unhampered by the bonds of church or state, he brought by his life and doctrine fresh faith to a people, fresh meanings to ancient creeds.” [Dan Graves in Christianity Today online article, June, 2007]
Brooks was the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts when he died, having also served important churches in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Americans know him as the author of the popular Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” — which he wrote a couple years after visiting Palestine in 1865. While there, Brooks journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback, and there assisted with a midnight service on Christmas Eve. He would later write, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”
On his preaching, the Encyclopedia Britannica says
In Lectures on Preaching (delivered at Yale University in 1877), Brooks offered his most influential assay of his profession, defining preaching as “the bringing of truth through personality,” by which he meant a kind of radiant optimism. His own eloquence was matched by his commanding, handsome figure, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing (in his prime) 300 pounds. His charismatic preaching became so renowned that he was invited in 1880 to preach at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Royal Chapel at Windsor before Queen Victoria. In 1890 he conducted an acclaimed series of services at Trinity Church, New York City. Several volumes of his sermons were published during his lifetime and posthumously. [online EB article]
At the Trinity Church in Boston (which Brooks helped design) there was no pulpit until 1888, but Brooks preferred to preach from a modest lectern near the rector’s stall, typically only wearing his black academic gown. And later on, during communion, he would preach not from the pulpit but from the chancel steps.
It is said that he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, and championed more congregational singing. During his childhood, the Brooks family spent Sunday evenings singing hymns. He would grow-up to know over two hundred hymns by memory, and often quoted them in his sermons.
Brooks was also known for his vocal defense of the Trinity as Unitarianism was then on the rise throughout New England.
Brooks was a graduate of Harvard University and the Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia. His close ties to Harvard led to the building of the “Phillips Brooks House” in the northwest corner of old Harvard yard (facing the small Holden Chapel). It was was dedicated on January 23, 1900, to serve “the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality.” The Phillips Brooks House Association remains in operation to this day as a student-run consortium of over 80 volunteer organizations.
Phillips Brooks never married, or had children of his own. Dan Graves, in closing his Christianity Today article, observed that this famous preacher
…loved children and liked to romp on the floor and play with them. He often wrote delightful letters to his young friends. That explains why, when Brooks died on January 23, 1893, a five year old was upset because she had not seen her preacher friend for several days. Her mother told her Bishop Brooks had gone to heaven, and the child exclaimed, “Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be.”
Yes, but happier yet would the man be, for he would now see Christ. He had written that the Christian’s goal should be “To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life.”
With the opening line, ‘Fire! Fire!’ this biography of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones begins introducing a youth audience to the famous preacher. Written by Lloyd-Jones’ oldest grandson, Christopher Catherwood, in a simple, homespun-story fashion, it contains lots of wonderful, personal anecdotes and some eye-witness accounts not found in the more substantial biographies of the Doctor done by others. It follows young Martyn from his family and school days in Wales, through his education and work experiences in London, marking the major turning points of his conversion, his marriage and his call to preach the gospel.
The language is clearly aimed at younger readers, and the length of the chapters is just right. Although the overall writing style (or perhaps the editing) is sometimes rough or repetitive, the story-line and pace definitely engage the reader making it hard to put down. You cannot help but sense the warm, personal touch of a grandson writing about his beloved “Dacu” throughout the book.
The book clearly shares the hand of the Lord in the life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and makes the need for all boys and girls to likewise come to know Jesus Christ as savior and Lord. There are several passages which not only describe Martyn’s spiritual life, but which directly address the reader about their spiritual needs.
My review is based on the newly released e-reader edition which I read on my Kindle [NB: this was provided free in exchange for posting my review of the book]. I had first read this little book when I gave a printed copy to my own children years ago. Perhaps the formatting made me a bit more critical in this second read through? I love books and reading them in print, but have come to enjoy using my Kindle for reading history, biographies and the like. With many young readers gravitating to e-reading, the availability of this book, and the whole series, to these formats is most welcome news!
Additional material is included at the end of the book about the writings of Lloyd-Jones, as well as some brief subject driven comments under the title Thinking Further Topics.
Christian Focus Publications publishes books for adults and children under its four main imprints: Christian Focus, Christian Heritage, CF4K and Mentor. Their books clearly reflect that God’s word is reliable and Jesus is the way to know him, and live for ever with him. Their TRAILBLAZER SERIES, also includes books on Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, Bill Bright, Adoniram Judson, Amy Carmichael, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, Isobel Kuhn, C.S. Lewis, and George Müller.