Aiden’s life journey was not just about the travelling, but how he travelled. He evangelised as he went with a message of more than just what he did and said, but of who he was in Christ. Aiden was about sharing with people: property, time and relationship with God – about being a good neighbour.
A bit of context for Aiden, who was born about AD590: the Welsh and Mercians invaded Northumbria and killed King Edwin, his household fleeing. Prince Oswald was sent to Iona for his education. Eventually he secured the throne and eagerly brought Córman as a missionary with him to Northumbria. Córman’s strict ways were rejected by the Northumbrians and he returned to Iona in despondency. At the ‘post mortem’ debate, an Irish monk called Aiden said, “Brother, it seems to me you were too severe on your ignorant healers. You should have followed the practice of the Apostles, and begun by giving them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually nourished them with the word of God.” Inevitably, the one who speaks out is the one who gets the job: Aiden was duly consecrated as a bishop and despatched to Northumbria. He met up with King Oswald at Bamburgh and established his missional base 6 miles north at what would become one of Britain’s most famous Christian sites: Lindisfarne.
Aiden brought with him much of what he had learned from Iona – each monk had a soul friend, they read and transcribed the Bible, spent time in contemplation and developed a centre for education. Drawing further inspiration from Columba, he encouraged praying the Psalms not just as Scripture but as personal prayers.
The Abbot and the King were close, but Aiden demonstrated another neighbourly quality: he visited Oswald when invited and ate frugally. Rarely would he arrive unless asked:
Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house—
too much of you, and they will hate you. (Proverbs 25:17)
Oswald (and after his early death in battle, his successor Oswin) travelled throughout Northumbria with Aiden. These could be long journeys, for Aiden would walk everywhere (unless absolutely necessary to go by horse). He would stop and talk to all he met – if they were heathen, he would evangelise and urge them to be baptised; if they were Christian, he would encourage them in their faith. He shared his possessions with those in need, whether food, money or even his horse: material wealth was not a concern for him. Aiden quite literally talked to people where they were, just as he found them, taking an active interest in their lives and communities.
Irish origins; Scottish influence; English ministry: Aiden has been proposed as a possible patron saint of the United Kingdom (apologies to the Welsh).
Aiden also founded an abbey at Melrose. Perhaps the most famous monk to have emerged from there was Cuthbert who himself went on to become prior of Lindisfarne.
In demonstrating these neighbourly qualities, Aiden showed not only an understanding but an acting out of the answer provided by the expert of the law to Jesus:
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:27-28)
[from Timothy Pitt]