Saint Isidore of Seville
Doctor of the Church
Feast Day: April 4
Patron of: Labourers
Symbol: bees, pen
Even though Saint Isidore lived a long time ago, his life still has a great deal to teach us today.
When Isidore was a little boy, his big brother Leander was put in charge of his education. Leander was already an archbishop and taught at a big school called the Cathedral School of Seville. Leander thought that the best way to make a little boy learn was to punish him if he did something wrong, to scold him and give him extra homework if he didn't learn his lessons fast enough.
After a while, Isidore was so unhappy and discouraged that he ran away. He ran and ran. When he got tired he sat down on a rock to rest. After a while he noticed that water was dripping on the rock. The rock was very hard, and each drop of water seemed to have no effect. But Isidore noticed that the constantly dripping water had worn the rock away in places.
Isidore realised that his efforts to learn and please his brother that seemed to do no good at all, would eventually have an effect. He would learn everything he had to know and his brother would be pleased. So Isidore returned to the school. He was able to see the difference between the hard treatment he was receiving and the imporatance of what he was learning.
Saint Isidore kept his love of learning for his whole life. He forgave his brother (who locked him up when he returned to the school) and even worked with him on many projects, including the writing of a missal and a breviary. When he grew up he became a bishop himself, and helped establish a seminary in every disocese in Spain. He made sure that all subjects were taught in the seminaries, including the arts and medicine.
Saint Isidore has been declared a Doctor of the Church. This honour means that his teachings and writings are especially valued by the Church to spread and maintain our faith.
Isidore was born to Severain and Theodora, highborn citizens of Carthagena, Spain. It was a pious family, his two brothers who became bishops and his sister who was the abbess of many convents, are also honoured among the saints. Isidore, having received an education, and also deciding to devote himself to the service of the Church, assisted his brother Leander the Archbishop of Seville in converting the Visigoths from the Arian heresy. Upon Leander's death, Isidore suceeded him in the see of Seville.
Saint Isidore was a prolific writer. In order to preserve the benefits and advantages that he had received from his education, and extend them to the whole of the civilised world, he compiled some of the first encyclopedias. His books took in the whole circle of the sciences, as they were known to that day, in addition to the arts, history, architecture, civil engineering, logic, grammar, rhetoric, and many other topics. He was well versed in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and well read of the ancient writers. In one of his works called the 'Etymologiae', he quotes 154 authors, both Christian and pagan.
Saint Isidore was also concerned and charitable to the poor. In the last six months of his life, he increased his almsgiving to the extent that the poor were crowded around his house from morning til night. He gave to all.
When he was sure that his end was near, Saint Isidore called two bishops to come to see him. They escorted him to church, where with their aid, he clothed himself in sackcloth and put ashes on his head. Dressed in the garb of penance, he prayed with great fervor, begging aloud for the pardon of his sins. He recommended himself to the prayers of all present, remitted the debts of all who owed him, called the people to a greater charity, and distributed the last of his money and possessions.
He then received Holy Communion from his brother bishops, and returned home to await his final hour. He died four days later on the 4th of April. A disciple was present at his death.
Isidore was the last of the acient Christian Philosophers, and the last of what are known as the great Latin Fathers. He was without doubt, the most learned man of his age. His great love of learning and his understanding of the perils overshadowing Spain and the Church inspired his efforts to preserve knowledge and education. His work exercised a far-reaching and immeasurable influence on education in the Middle Ages, and preserved classical learnings that without him would have been lost.
Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain in about 560 into a holy and influential family. Two brothers and a sister are also saints. Leander and Fulgentius became bishops, and his sister Florentina was a nun, who presided over forty convents and one thousand religious. Isidore must have been considerably younger than his siblings, because he is recorded as receiving his elementary education at the Cathedral school of Seville. His brother Leander, already an archbishop, was one of the teachers at the school.
Isidore was a devoted student who quickly mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as studying the Trivium and Quadrivium. It is not known whether he ever joined a monastery or was affiliated with a religious order, but when he was made a bishop, one of his first acts was to proclaim himself protector of the monks. He declared anathema against anyone who molested the monasteries or monks.
Isidore and his brothers lived in troubled times. A new civilisation was beginning to evolve in Spain, influenced by the barbarian Goths who had controlled the country for two centuries. The Arian heresy and a contempt of learning was deeply rooted among the Goths. Isidore set himself the task of bringing all the cultural elements of the Hispano-Gothic kingdom into a homegeneous nation. He used and created resources of religion and education that not only strengthened Spanish culture and learning, but preserved classical learning for the whole world through the Middle Ages. He was the first Christain writer to undertake the task of compiling a summa of universal knowledge, an encyclopedia.
The best known of his works, written shortly before his death is the 'Etymologiae' a huge storehouse of learning, gathered, systemized and condensed. Throughout the greater part of the Middle Ages it was the textbook of most educational institutions. Even nearly 1000 years later, it was so much in use that it was reprinted ten times between 1470 and 1529.
Saint Isidore is also remembered as the moving force behind two famous councils, held at Toledo and Seville. Through the authority of the Fourth Council of Toledo, and stemming from his influence, a decree was promulagated commanding all bishops to establish seminaries in their Cathedral cities, and making education obligitory upon all the bishops of the kingdom.
Saint Isidore died on April 4, 636. His body was interred in his cathedral between those of his brother Saint Leander and his sister Saint Florentine. King Ferdinand later recovered his bones from the Moors and placed them in the church of Saint John Baptist at Leon, where they remain.
Lord, hear our prayers, which we offer on the commemoration of Saint Isidore. May Your Church be instructed by his teaching. Amen.