Aelred (how much more Anglo-Saxon can a name get?) was born in 1109 in the north of England. Of noble birth, Aelred ended up as a highly esteemed member of the King of Scotland’s court at quite a young age. Yet Aelred was not satisfied. Like many of the saints depicted by Butler, Aelred felt that all the glory and attention were getting in the way of leading a life of devotion to God.
Yet even after Aelred had forsaken his privileged position to follow God, he found tremendous difficulty in giving up his friends. Butler states of Aelred that “the charms of friendship detained him some time longer [in wholly following God] . . . and were fetters to his soul.” Eventually Aelred, having sufficiently berated himself for his cowardice, “broke at once those bands of friendship, which were more agreeable to him than all other sweets of life.”
But despite his efforts, Aelred, with his “tender and delicate body,” could not steer clear of friendships. Aelred eventually found himself in a monastery where he was “much edified with the very looks of a holy monk, called Simon.” Simon, like Aelred, had forsaken status and wealth to devote himself to God, and, unlike Aelred, Simon conducted himself in virtual silence, day in and day out. Aelred said of Simon, “The very sight of his humility stifled my pride, and made me blush at the immortification of my looks.” [Note: “immortification” is archaic for being undisciplined regarding bodily appetites and desires.]
One day, Aelred hazarded a word with Simon “inadvertently,” and because of the look of shock on Simon’s face, Aelred sought (and was allowed by Simon) to “lie some time prostrate before him to expiate [his] fault”–a fault that Aelred “grieved bitterly” and stated that he could never forgive himself.
After that, Aelred turned only to God, and it was in God that Aelred finally found himself “ravished.”
I grieve, in my own small way, for Aelred, who believed that God was to be glorified by forsaking his sweetest joys in life.