c. 560 – 636
Optional Memorial: Liturgical Color: White
The vast colonial ambitions of Spain in the 16th-17th centuries went hand in hand with equally epic Catholic missionary efforts. This unity of mission, these shared goals, with civil and ecclesiastical resources and powers working in concert, was the natural consequence of a country with almost total unity of identity. Today’s saint played a singularly important role in forming that theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural unity on the Iberian Peninsula that slowly developed, over many centuries, into the Spanish juggernaut that conquered and evangelized a hemisphere.
As a youth, Isidore received an excellent classical education in the Roman tradition, similar to the classical learning St. Augustine imbibed two centuries before him and used to such great effect. St. Isidore not only learned a great deal, he also remembered it and was uncommonly dedicated to his intellectual pursuits, writing numerous weighty tomes. The breadth and depth of his learning was without equal in his time. It was simply said that Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, knew everything. He is considered by many to be the last of the Latin Fathers of the Church, those early Christian theologians whose writings are the gold standard for all subsequent theologians.
His knowledge was put to good use. As the Roman world, which had dominated Spain for so many centuries, slowly crumbled away in the fifth and sixth centuries, Visigothic (Western Goths) tribes overran Spain. Like their Gothic cousins in central Europe, the Visigoths were Arians and Arians were heretics. They denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father and accepted all that flowed from that erroneous starting point. St. Isidore played an important role in the assimilation of the Visigoths to Nicene Catholicism after one of their Kings abandoned Arianism. Theological unity having been achieved, the old Roman culture of Iberia slowly blended with Visigothic culture to form something new — Spain. St. Isidore was, then, a nation builder by being a Church builder first. And he built the Church not just through his massive erudition but also through effective headship in calling and guiding Church synods.
St. Isidore’s most enduring work is Etymologies (or Origins), an enormous compendium of universal knowledge. It was the standard encyclopedia in Medieval libraries and continued to be utilized as late as the Renaissance. Although St. Isidore was not a creative thinker in the same class as St. Augustine or the Eastern Doctors of the Church, his mind was such a vast storehouse of knowledge that he has been proposed as the patron saint of the Internet.
After a long reign as Archbishop of Seville, St Isidore died in his late seventies in 636, just four years after Mohammed, the founder of Islam, died in Saudi Arabia. About 75 years after their deaths, Muslim armies crossed the strait of Gibraltar from North Africa and began the long conquest which obliterated the Visigoths. The Spanish reconquest of their nation would take centuries until, in 1492, the last Muslim stronghold, Granada, fell. Both sides were inspired by their faith more than mere patriotism. Both sides fought. Both sides thought they were right. In the end, the nation Isidore created defeated the nation inspired by Mohammed.
St. Isidore, you used your education and knowledge to great effect to evangelize a people. Help all who seek your intercession to unite their learning with zeal for the good of the Church and the many peoples it serves.
ISIDORE was born of a ducal family, at Carthagena in Spain. His two brothers, Leander, Archbishop of Seville, Fulgentius, Bishop of Ecija, and his sister Florentina, are Saints. As a boy he despaired at his ill success in study, and ran away from school. Resting in his flight at a roadside spring, he observed a stone, which was hollowed out by the dripping water. This decided him to return, and by hard application he succeeded where he had failed. He went back to his master, and with the help of God became, even as a youth, one of the most learned men of the time. He assisted in converting Prince Recared, the leader of the Arian party; and with his aid, though at the constant peril of his own life, he expelled that heresy from Spain. Then, following a call from God, he turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of his friends, and embraced a hermit’s life. Prince Recared and many of the nobles and clergy of Seville went to persuade him to come forth, and represented the needs of the times, and the good he could do, and had already done, among the people. He refused, and, as far as we can judge, that refusal gave him the necessary opportunity of acquiring the virtue and the power which afterwards made him an illustrious Bishop and Doctor of the Church. On the death of his brother Leander he was called to fill the vacant see. As a teacher, ruler, founder, and reformer, he labored not only in his own diocese, but throughout Spain, and even in foreign countries. He died in Seville on April 4, 636, and within sixteen years of his death was declared a Doctor of the Catholic Church.
Reflection.—The strength of temptation usually lies in the fact that its object is something flattering to our pride, soothing to our sloth, or in some way attractive to the meaner passions. St. Isidore teaches us to listen neither to the promptings of nature nor the plausible advice of friends when they contradict the voice of God.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.