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Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery. —President Calvin CoolidgeSt. Nick and Taxes
Once upon a time, there was an original St. Nicholas. It's true; he was Nickolas of Myra (now southern Turkey), and he was a very devout Christian and generous man. As a young man, he secretly gave gold to three young girls, providing a dowry for marriage and preventing them from being sold into slavery and prostitution. Later, he became an important leader of his community. As a bishop in the Christian church, his people were starving, and ships filled with grain were anchored in a nearby harbor. Bishop Nickolas convinced the sailors that divine intervention would replace the siphoned off grain before it reached its destination.
"Father, we dare not because our cargo was measured at Alexandria and we must deliver all of it to the Emperor Constantine!"
Bishop Nickolas answered, "Do what I tell you, and upon your return, the Emperor's Officers will not find the cargo short!" Legend claims Constantine received the entire cargo as originally shipped.
To those of us who know excessive taxation destroys freedom, it is interesting to learn about St. Nicholas' negotiations with Emperor Constantine to lower his cruel and excessive taxes on the people of Myra.
Bishop Nickolas went to the capitol, pleaded with Constantine to lower the taxes on the people of Myra, and Constantine greatly reduced the taxes. Bishop Nickolas asked to have the imperial decree be made in writing. And legend claims, Bishop Nickolas tied the decree to a stick and threw the decree in the ocean, which was received by the people of Myra.
A few days later, Constantine was persuaded by his finance minister that the tax rate was too low and the empire needed more revenue. Bishop Nickolas was called back to the imperial palace and was told by Constantine of a revised higher rate. Bishop Nickolas told Constantine that lower tax rate was already in effect. Constantine sent a runner to Myra, and lo-and-behold the lower rate was indeed the law. According to historical claims, the people of Myra enjoyed the low tax rates for about a century.
Okay, this is about year 320 A.D., and legends and myths abound. But, what is a constant fact? The amount and form of taxation defines and controls a society. It was true in ancient times and is still holds true today.
Constantine ruthlessly taxed as much as could be tolerated to consolidate his imperial power. The citizens of Myra knew the heavy tax burden was confiscating their time, work and entrepreneurial advancement. They formed a special-interest group and appointed Bishop Nickolas to make their case for lower taxes before the mighty Emperor Constantine. Early on, Constantine accepted Christianity as his church, and, during his reign, Constantine consolidated his power primarily through two forces: enormous taxes and the church. Hence, Bishop Nickolas was the perfect envoy to reduce the taxes for the people of Myra. Constantine granted a favor to a powerful church leader – lower taxes - in exchange for the Bishop's loyalty.
Ah... politics where power and taxation are always present, and special-interest politics always lurks. The Saint protected his people. The Emperor expanded his power. Good people, even Saints, are often ruthlessly used by men of power.
Enough about politics, power and taxation. The life and legend of St. Nickolas morphed over time into a jolly, gift-giving man called Santa Claus! Read the article on Adam English, an associate professor of religion at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., and his book, “The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus.”