My son is due to be born in February. Charity and I have named him Aidan James, after Aidan of Lindisfarne, 7th century missionary to Nortumbria.
By the early 7th century, England was swarming with the pagan Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. They pushed the Celtic Britons out of their territories into Western England and Wales. The Britons both feared and despised their pagan foes, and certainly did not understand that God would call many of their foes to Himself.
And so it was that the Gospel would come to Northumbria from the Irish. Corman was sent from the monastery of Iona, but returned saying that these people were too stubborn and hard-hearted. Aidan stood up among them and stated that Corman was too hard on the people and ought to have given them first the pure milk of the Word before they could learn “the more perfect lessons.” It was determined that Aidan was the one to go to the people of England. His patience, humility, and wisdom were what was needed for the task.
Aidan established his monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, and from there traveled throughout Northumbria. King Oswyn often traveled with him as his translator, Aidan walking almost everywhere he went, establishing churches, monasteries, and schools and helping the poor. It is said that he used his time while journeying to study the Scriptures and meditate on Christ, and teaching those with him to do the same.
Bede tells the story of Oswyn giving Aidan a fine horse for his journeys, which Aidan passed along to a beggar. Upon the king’s angry questioning, Aidan asked “What sayest thou, king? Is yon son of a mare more precious in thy sight than yon son of God?” An Irishman, indeed.
Bede further says of him,
He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.
Aidan embodied true Christian religion: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
While Augustine (not of Hippo) brought the Gospel on papal mission to Canterbury, Aidan of Lindisfarne may be the true “Apostle of England.” England North of the Thames was the fruit God’s work through the efforts of the Celtic mission led by Aidan and his disciples.
It is my prayer that my son, Aidan James Hanby, will be granted by God the same passion for the spread of the Gospel, love for people in need, and selfless and passionate spirit as Aidan of Lindisfarne.
O loving God, you called your servant Aidan from the peace of a cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and endowed him with gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-Collect of the Feast of St. Aidan
Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization.
Lightfoot, Joseph. Leaders in the Northern Church.