Saint Isidore of Seville – Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages

In 560 A.D., St. Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain and is the son of Severinus and Theodora, two individuals known for having great virtue. His father descended from a Roman background and was associated with the Visigothic kings. Saint Isidore’s siblings are all saints. Two of his brothers, St. Leander and St. Fulgentius were bishops and his sister, St. Florentina, was an abbess of many convents.

For his education, St. Isidore was entrusted to his much older brother, Leander. Although his brother was a taskmaster when it came to learning, it proved to be a very successful combination since St. Isidore received a great education, was considered one of the greatest minds of his time, and became an ardent educator himself. Even though he was never a monk, there are rules with his name attached to them since he loved religious orders.

After the death of St. Leander, Isidore became the Bishop of Seville around 600 A.D. Continuing the work that he began with his brother; Isidore served the diocese of Seville for thirty-six years. Within Seville, one of the major contributions he completed was the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism from Arianism. He also established the discipline for the Spanish church in councils.

In 619 A.D., St. Isidore was the main presider at the Council of Seville. In 633 A.D., at the Fourth Council of Toledo, he was selected as the main presider over the archbishop of Toledo who should have led the council, but because Isidore was such a learned man and a great teacher in the country of Spain, he was chosen instead.

The Fourth Council of Toledo was the most important of all the Spanish councils since Toledo was the capital of Spain at the time and the home of the Visigoth kings. Many of the decrees promulgated from the fourth council were instituted by Isidore, most notably was that every diocese in the Church should have a seminary or cathedral school set for education.

St. Isidore of Seville

As an educator, Isidore was a man ahead of his time. Instead of just a classical education, he was a proponent who thought education should include all areas of knowledge – liberal arts, law, the languages of Greek and Hebrew, and medicine. He encouraged the philosophy of Aristotle to be taught to all students, well before the Arabs began to teach it. His most important achievement as an educator was the compilation of the Etymologies or Origins, an encyclopedia that brought together all knowledge of the time.

St. Isidore was a voluminous writer. Many of his works include a dictionary of synonyms; a historical treatise that covered the Goths, Vandals, and Suevi; his many rules for monks, dissertations on astronomy and geography; biographies of famous men of the time; a book covering important events in the Old and New Testament; and an all-encompassing work covering theology and ecclesiology. He had a gift with learning languages and knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew fluently.

Ecclesiastically, he oversaw and promulgated the Mozarabic missal and breviary, which was first begun by his brother Leander. The missal and breviary, derived from an early Spanish liturgy, was to be used for the Goths.

At the end of his thirty-six years as Bishop of Seville, realizing that his time this side of Heaven was drawing to a close, he began by giving his money away and offered penitential practices, such as wearing sackcloth and putting ashes on his head. He prayed fervently asking Heaven to forgive him of his sins.

Along with giving his money and possessions to the poor, he also paid back any money that he had borrowed from others. Finally, in the company of two bishops, he received viaticum and entered Heavenly glory calmly in 636 A.D.

In 1722, Pope Innocent XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church. His memorial is today, April 4th.

In 1997, Pope St. John Paul II, decided that the Internet needed a patron saint, he declared that St. Isidore of Seville should be that saint. As of April 2014, the Vatican has not made this official.

 

6 thoughts on “Saint Isidore of Seville – Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages

  1. wonder why John Paul the Great thought he might be a good patron for the internet? What specific details set him apart from other great educators who are saints. Seems to me these details need to be tailored to the internet.

    • I am not completely sure myself, Anthony. The only thing I can think of is that because he put together the first real encyclopedia. An encyclopedia has great knowledge and so does the Internet.

    • (to be verified) i heard somewhere, St Isidore and St Thomas Aquinas had the two most prodigious memories such that both had committed large portions of the Bible to memory

  2. Isidore was a great scholar but to claim he put together the the first real encyclopedia greatly overstates the case and ignores, at the very least, the elder Pliny, who, half a millenium earlier, was also a good man, though a pagan, He was “admiral” of the Roman fleet based at Misenum across the bay of Naples from Pompeii and lost his life leading a fleet rescue mission into the eruption to help evacuate people, You can read about that in his nephew’s extant letters (Pliny the younger) and major portions of the admiral’s admirals attempt at an encyclopedia, known today as Pliny’s Natural History, have survived and are readable free on the web in 19th century translations.

  3. That would be my guess too, and because John Paul the second was also a great scholar and had a good sense of humor, he might have been amused because Isidore’s “scientific” books are full of misinformation and very creative etymology. Thus those works are very much like facts alleged on the internet: to be taken with large grains of salt.
    BTW I believe Isidore was pretty much the first Christian encyclopedist. At the very least there was a Classical Roman work by Pliny the elder about 500 years prior to Isidore’s work. Large chunks of Pliny’s Natural History as it is known are free in 19th century translations on the web . Check out PLINY the ELDER on Wikipedia for links.

  4. As I understand it, he was thought to be the first creator of a database, or compilation of knowledge. “… compilation of the Etymologies or Origins, an encyclopedia that brought together all knowledge of the time.” Databases and the internet are totally entwined.

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