Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Nicholas, Soldier

Article

Although we do not know much of the holy soldier, Nicholas, the little that we have tells us of his virtues, and gives us more than one wholesome instruction. The Emperor, Nicephorus, went against the Bulgarians with an army of valiant soldiers. Among these was Nicholas, a Christian, still young in years, but of a fearless mind. One day when he was quartered in a small town he was tempted to sin by one who thought that Nicholas, like many of his class, would easily be overcome. The wicked woman, however, was mistaken in Nicholas; and though the temptation was repeated a second and a third time, it was each time victoriously repelled.

This three-fold victory was the beginning of his holiness; he was even indebted to it for his life; for, in the following night, God revealed to him in sleep, the battle that was to take place next day. He saw how at first the Bulgarians, bravely attacked by the imperial soldiers, suffered a great defeat, but afterwards rallying, they advanced upon the imperial army with such force that they gained a complete victory. Among the slain and wounded who were lying thickly strewn around, he saw one place empty. Desiring to know why this was, his Guardian Angel, who was standing near him, said: “This place would have been occupied by thee, if you hadst consented to the temptation.” The events of the following day showed that this was no empty dream; for, all happened as Nicholas had seen in his sleep. The imperial army attacked the enemy with such bravery that they retreated and seemed to be defeated; but suddenly rallying, they fell with impetuosity upon the legions and slew the greater part of them. Nicholas was miraculously spared, while his companions to the right and left sank dead upon the ground. Seeing his dream come to pass, Nicholas learned how beneficial it is, not only for the soul, but also for the body, to abstain from offending the Most High. A still deeper impression was made on him by the thought of the danger into which man voluntary throws himself by committing a mortal sin; as he would most surely have died in the sin to which he had been tempted, and thus would have gone to eternal destruction, had he committed it. Giving most humble thanks to God, for having so graciously preserved him, he resolved to quit the army, that he might be more removed from danger. Going, therefore, to the nearest monastery, he most earnestly begged permission to enter, in order to work out his salvation. The superior granted his request, and Nicholas began his religious life with great zeal, in which he continued until his end. Satan, who had tempted him before, gave him many more trials, but the remembrance of the danger in which we place ourselves by sin, prevented him from giving way. He battled as manfully against Satan as he had before fought against the tools that Satan had employed to ruin him. To obtain Divine aid in so dangerous a fight, he used prayers, fasting and other penances. God gave him a rich measure of grace and Nicholas corresponded perfectly with it. He fought bravely until a happy death called him to receive the crown of eternal glory.

Practical Considerations

• Nicholas would have gone to destruction, soul and body, had he become guilty of the sin to which he was tempted. How he would suffer now in hell, if, having consented to it, and died in it, he would reflect that, to gratify a moment’s desire, he had cast himself into eternal ruin! Thus also would Saint Gregory have been lost for ever, had he, in order to obtain the emperor’s favor, or the promised temporal happiness, forsaken the true faith and died after so shameful an apostasy. How deep his despair would be, if he remembered, that to enjoy a short temporal happiness, he had cast himself into the most terrible and eternal pains! You have, perhaps, more than once, deserved to go to destruction, soul and body, during this year, because you have been guilty of sin, tempted either by Satan or man. How do you sup- pose that you would feel, if you were in hell, and thought of the causes that brought you to it? “I did but take a little honey,” sighed the unhappy Jonathan, and behold, I must die.” (1 Kings 19) Would you not say and sigh in like manner: “I burn in hell and must eternally burn, on account of my unchastity, or on account of a short imaginary happiness, or a not less short profit, which I sought in sin.” Take this to heart, and if you are in danger of sinning, say to yourself: “Shall I make myself unhappy for ever, in one moment?” What has not happened till now, may still happen: you may die in your first sin and go to hell. Tell me, to whom have you to give thanks, that until now you have not died in your sins, and have not gone to eternal destruction? Oh! whom but the infinitely merciful God, the same God whom you have so frequently offended? How inexpressibly great is His kindness! Can you have the heart to offend so merciful a God?

• Nicholas left the army, that he might be farther removed from the danger of sin and of eternal ruin. The life of a soldier in itself gives no necessary occasion to sin; and a soldier can live piously and go to heaven, where there are many who lived in that station. If we look only at the soldiers who have given their lives for the true faith, and thus, gone to heaven, we shall find a large number. It is not to be denied that there are, at this day, a great many pious soldiers, who, if they persevere, have reason to hope for eternal salvation. But nevertheless, Saint Nicholas acted rightly, when, considering his weakness and the many dangers to which his soul was exposed in the military state, he feared for his salvation, and hence left it. Whoever wishes truly and earnestly to save his soul, must avoid sin and the proximate occasion of committing it, or make of the proximate occasion a remote one; otherwise he lives in continual sin, and is every moment in danger of being lost. Satan seeks to hide the danger by saying to him that one may remain in the danger of sin, provided he does not fall; and that, even if he falls, confession can set all right again. How terrible a deceit is contained in this! For, only to remain in danger voluntarily is a sin. Further, to remain voluntarily in danger of sin, and yet not commit sin, is what a sinner can not expect; and what even a just man cannot hope for, were he as holy as David, as wise as Solomon, or as strong as Samson. “If you remain long at the fire,” says Saint Isidore, “you will melt, even if you were made of iron. And whoever is near the danger will not long remain free from sin.” The divine saying, that he who loves danger, will perish in it, gives us an infallible assurance of this. In regard to confession, I have already told you, on the second day of this month, that the confession of those who voluntarily remain in danger, is invalid and sacrilegious; because they have not the earnest resolution to shun not only the sin, but also its occasion. Hence their confession and communion serve only to increase their iniquities and their condemnation. I therefore entreat those who are voluntarily in danger, that they would not allow Satan to blind and deceive them with his cunning pretexts, but consider carefully the two points which I have just explained. For I sadly fear that most of those, who are in such danger, do not even think of it, but, deluded by the evil one, will go to hell, with all their confessions and communions. But who can pity them, when they rather believe the devil, than the priest, confessors, Holy Fathers, nay even the Lord Himself, and remain in proximate danger without fear? “Who will pity a charmer stung by a serpent, or any that come near wild beasts?” says the Wise Man. (Eccl. 12) Why does he go near? Why does he remain with them? Who shall have compassion on him? Who shall pity him?

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Nicholas, Soldier”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 June 2018. Web. 18 September 2018. <>