Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


St. Aidan: Prayer and Scripture

Another notable miracle of the same father is related by many such as were likely to have knowledge thereof; for during the time that he was bishop, the hostile army of the Mercians, under the command of Penda, cruelly ravaged the country of the Northumbrians far and near, even to the royal city,which has its name from Bebba, formerly its queen. Not being able to take it by storm or by siege, he endeavoured to burn it down; and having pulled down all the villages in the neighbourhood of the city, he brought thither an immense quantity of beams, rafters, partitions, wattles and thatch, wherewith he encompassed the place to a great height on the land side, and when he found the wind favourable, he set fire to it and attempted to burn the town.

At that time, the most reverend Bishop Aidan was dwelling in the Isle of Fame,which is about two miles from the city; for thither he was wont often to retire to pray in solitude and silence; and, indeed, this lonely dwelling of his is to this day shown in that island. When he saw the flames of fire and the smoke carried by the wind rising above the city walls, he is said to have lifted up his eyes and hands to heaven, and cried with tears, "Behold, Lord, how great evil is wrought by Penda!" These words were hardly uttered, when the wind immediately veering from the city, drove back the flames upon those who had kindled them, so that some being hurt, and all afraid, they forebore any further attempts against the city, which they perceived to be protected by the hand of God.

St. Aidan lived and breathed prayer and Scripture and spiritual contemplation. He serves as a model of one living and active in the world- fulfilling his role as a bishop- yet also deeply devoted to the cultuvation of the inner life. For St. Aidan prayer was bound to praxis. In this story we see him at prayer on a little island near Lindisfarne. The miracle related is tied directly to the fact of his devotion to prayer: for true prayer is a means of reliance upon God. He was careful to seek out God in intense, prolonged prayer. And not only in these times of retreat, but in all of his life. Bede records that the bishop was wont to pray and study the Scriptures vigirously even while on his travels:

His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to the king’s table, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a little food, made haste to be gone, either to read with his brethren or to pray.
He engaged in a life of prayer and Scripture, and encouraged others to do so. For we may be sure that the strength of every great saint lies precisely in his life of prayer, of the constant remembrance of God that the Fathers of the Philokalia speak so constantly of. He was also a man of Scripture, ingesting it as often as he could, and establishing deep within the memory. It is this trait that I consistently find so remarkable about the great Saints of the Faith: they absorbed Scripture into the very fibre of their thought. It is one of the most distinctive things about the writings of the Fathers, the way they weave Scripture into whatever they are writing, and draw upon it as needed. This from men without the convience of printing presses and computers, or even electrical lighting! Yet they made Scripture part of their very thought and imagination. It is one of the things I wish I had. My literary imagination, if you will, contains snipets of Scripture and Scriptural narrative, but not the extent that the Fathers do. My conversations- well, they all seem to tend towards the categeory of 'idle talk' that the Philokalia speaks of in warning. Scripture hardly informs the way I talk or think, at least not as it should. And as for prayer, well... It is at best an accessory element to my life, and not the central vital principle that it was for St. Aidan.

So in conclusion, St. Aidan's life is a beautiful picture of a man who served God vigirously and devoutly, leaving his native country to preach the Gospel to those in deep need of it, and who prayed and practised what he proclaimed. I will let the Venerable Bede give the last word:

I have written thus much concerning the character and works of the aforesaid Aidan, in no way commending or approving his lack of wisdom with regard to the observance of Easter; nay, heartily detesting it, as I have most manifestly proved in the book I have written, "De Temporibus"; but, like an impartial historian, unreservedly relating what was done by or through him, and commending such things as are praiseworthy in his actions, and preserving the memory thereof for the benefit of the readers; to wit, his love of peace and charity; of continence and humility; his mind superior to anger and avarice, and despising pride and vainglory; his industry in keeping and teaching the Divine commandments, his power of study and keeping vigil; his priestly authority in reproving the haughty and powerful, and at the same time his tenderness in comforting the afflicted, and relieving or defending the poor. To be brief, so far as I have learnt from those that knew him, he took care to neglect none of those things which he found in the Gospels and the writings of Apostles and prophets, but to the utmost of his power endeavoured to fulfil them all in his deeds.

These things I greatly admire and love in the aforesaid bishop, because I do not doubt that they were pleasing to God; but I do not approve or praise his observance of Easter at the wrong time, either through ignorance of the canonical time appointed, or, if he knew it, being prevailed on by the authority of his nation not to adopt it. Yet this I approve in him, that in the celebration of his Easter, the object which he had at heart and reverenced and preached was the same as ours, to wit, the redemption of mankind, through the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven of the Man Christ Jesus, who is the mediator between God and man.


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