St. Aidan: Praxis
Among other lessons in holy living, Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practice in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whom he met whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world.
St. Aidan's life was one marked with care and devotion towards the poor. He not only proclaimed the Gospel; he lived the Gospel. He demonstrated the virtue of self-giving in very practical ways: he gave to others what he had come to possess. He was in the favour of King Oswald and others, and so had recourse to comforts and wealth, but instead of developing these for his own interests, he gave freely of all that he recieved. This charity is the result of having been given to: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (II Corinthians 8.9)
Never, through fear or respect of persons, did he keep silence with regard to the sins of the rich; but was wont to correct them with a severe rebuke. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only food, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed, as has been said, for the use of the poor, or bestowed in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to priest’s orders.
He was not bound by the fear of the powerful of the world's opinions: rather, he freely spoke the truth, regardless of the position or power of the person. This is no easy task, for we are so deeply bound in our minds to the opinions and regard of others, particularly those we deem powerful and important in our world. We seek to court their favour and good opinion, and hope to gain some benifit from it. Or we are simply afraid to speak the truth to some because of the position they hold. I find myself doing it quite often- I am content to shut up and go along, because it is far more comfortable.
St. Aidan also actively worked to free captives, both in spirit and in body. Or, as in the case mentioned above, he ransomed those who were slaves to men and also led them to the ransom from sin and death. He recognized that justice is not limited to man's outward social position- though that is certainly important- but that it is most importantly a matter of the whole man, body and soul, in his unjust captivity to Satan and sin. The Gospel calls us to rectify both. And so St. Aidan did: he sought to meet the needs of the people, both physical and spiritual.
Again we see that Aidan was not content to ignore the people he met. It is very easy- much easier in fact- to simply walk past the hurting and suffering we meet, every day. They are not our concern, we tell ourselves. Certainly there are people enslaved and oppressed and poor in our world, and even if we try to ignore them, they are still there. It is our task to not ignore them, to not genuflect to our comfort and convience, but to actually notice others in their troubles and seek to offer them the one hope that we have come to know: Jesus Christ our God. St. Aidan's life overflowed with the love and compassion that he had come to know in Christ.
Finally, St. Bede relates to us a story of St. Aidan's genorisity, which in this instance was rather heady, so to speak. In it I think Aidan reflected very much the love of God, His manikos eros- "crazy love" that Nicholas Cabasilas spoke of. For God's love is seemingly irrational and wasteful, bestowing the riches of His glory upon sinful, nasty humans who most rarely if ever offer any gratefulness at all. We are beggars all, and not only that, but beggars who spit in the face of our Benefactor. He gives us what we in no way deserve. But He gives because of His love for his creation, fallen and unworthy as we have become. St. Aidan, having come to know this love, sought to imitate it in his life. May we do the same.
He had given a beautiful horse to Bishop Aidan, to use either in crossing rivers, or in performing a journey upon any urgent necessity, though the Bishop was wont to travel ordinarily on foot. Some short time after, a poor man meeting the Bishop, and asking alms, he immediately dismounted, and ordered the horse, with all his royal trappings, to be given to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and, in a manner, the father of the wretched. This being told to the king, when they were going in to dinner, he said to the Bishop, "What did you mean, my lord Bishop, by giving the poor man that royal horse, which it was fitting that you should have for your own use? Had not we many other horses of less value, or things of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, instead of giving that horse, which I had chosen and set apart for your own use?" Thereupon the Bishop answered, "What do you say, O king? Is that son of a mare more dear to you than that son of God?" Upon this they went in to dinner, and the Bishop sat in his place; but the king, who had come in from hunting, stood warming himself, with his attendants, at the fire. Then, on a sudden, whilst he was warming himself, calling to mind what the bishop had said to him, he ungirt his sword, and gave it to a servant, and hastened to the Bishop and fell down at his feet,’ beseeching him to forgive him; "For from this time forward," said he, "I will never speak any more of this, nor will. I judge of what or how much of our money you shall give to the sons of God." The bishop was much moved at this sight, and starting up, raised him, saying that he was entirely reconciled to him, if he would but sit down to his meat, and lay aside all sorrow. The king, at the bishop’s command and request, was comforted, but the bishop, on the other hand, grew sad and was moved even to tears. His priest then asking him, in the language of his country, which the king and his servants did not understand, why he wept, "I know," said he, "that the king will not live long; for I never before saw a humble king; whence I perceive that he will soon be snatched out of this life, because this nation is not worthy of such a ruler." Not long after, the bishop’s gloomy foreboding was fulfilled by the king’s sad death, as has been said above. But Bishop Aidan himself was also taken out of this world, not more than twelve days after the death of the king he loved, on the 31st of August, to receive the eternal reward of his labours from the Lord.