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Aidan and Ronan

As we approach All Saints Sunday the divisiveness of the presidential campaign
and upcoming election reminded me of another conflict that took place over 1,400 years ago. As the Venerable Bede recounts it in his history of the time, there was a dispute over how the date of Easter was determined. The Irish churches figured it by one formula, while the Roman missionaries figured it another. By Bede’s time the Roman formula had won and the dispute was settled. Yet, as he tells the story of the disagreement that led to that decision at the Synod of Whitby, he describes two of the major figures in the dispute, St. Ronan and St. Aidan.

Ronan, Bede says, “could by no means put Finan (who held the opposing view)
right; on the contrary, as he (Ronan) was a man of fierce temper, Ronan made him the more bitter by his reproofs and turned him into an open adversary of the truth.” In short, Ronan had the right opinion but the wrong attitude. Aidan’s observance of Easter by the Irish formula, on the other hand, told a different story. “The difference in the observance of Easter was patiently tolerated by all while Aidan was alive because they had clearly understood that although he could not keep Easter otherwise than according to the manner of those who sent him (the Irish), he nevertheless labored diligently to practice the works of faith, piety and love, which is the mark of all the saints. He was therefore deservedly loved by all, including those who had other views about Easter.” In Bede’s estimation Aidan had the wrong opinion but the right attitude.

In our time, it seems to me that we could do with more folks who exhibit the
attitude of Aidan and fewer with Ronan’s attitude. Perhaps we in the churches, no matter what opinions we hold, would do well to make top priority in our lives the practice of “the works of faith, piety, and love, which is the mark of all the saints.” We cannot wait for “the other side” (whichever that might be) to begin first. We cannot make choices for “them”. We can only make choices for ‘us”.

Perhaps, if we Christians really loved one another as Christ has loved us, we
would have a greater positive impact on the world. The dating of Easter may seem like a minor issue for us today, but it was critically important in Aidan’s and Ronan’s day. Makes you wonder just how people 1,400 years from now will view the issues that cause us such bitter divisions today.

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