Isidore of Seville

Saint Isidore of Seville
Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg
St. Isidore of Seville (1655), depicted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Bishop, Confessor, and Church Father
Bornc. 556
Cartagena, Visigothic Kingdom
Died4 April 636 (aged 79–80)
Seville, Visigothic Kingdom
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized653 by the Eighth Council of Toledo
Feast4 April
AttributesBees; Bishop holding a pen while surrounded by a swarm of bees; bishop standing near a beehive; old bishop with a prince at his feet; pen; priest or bishop with pen and book; with Saint Leander, Saint Fulgentius, and Saint Florentina; with his Etymologiae
PatronageThe Internet, computer users, computer technicians, programmers, students
Isidore of Seville
Academic background
InfluencesEusebius, ,Augustine Jerome, Paul the Apostle
Academic work
EraMedieval philosophy
School or traditionEtymology
Augustinianism[1]
Main interestsgrammar, rhetoric, mathematic, medicine, law, languages, cities, animals and birds, the physical world, geography.
Notable worksEtymologiae
InfluencedThe Councils of Toledo, Dante, The Renaissance and The Middle Ages in General

Saint Isidore of Seville (ɔːr/; Latin: Isidorus Hispalensis; Seville, c. 560 –  Seville, 4 April 636), a scholar and, for over three decades, Archbishop of Seville. He is widely regarded, in the oft-quoted words of the 19th-century historian Montalembert, as "the last scholar of the ancient world."[2]

At a time of disintegration of classical culture,[3] and aristocratic violence and illiteracy, he was involved in the conversion of the Arian Visigothic kings to Catholicism, both assisting his brother Leander of Seville, and continuing after his brother's death. He was influential in the inner circle of Sisebut, Visigothic king of Hispania. Like Leander, he played a prominent role in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. The Visigothic legislation that resulted from these councils influenced the beginnings of representative government.

His fame after his death was based on his Etymologiae, an etymological encyclopedia which assembled extracts of many books from classical antiquity that would have otherwise been lost.

Life

Childhood and education

Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, a former Carthaginian colony, to Severianus and Theodora. Both Severianus and Theodora belonged to notable Hispano-Roman families of high social rank.[4] His parents were members of an influential family who were instrumental in the political-religious maneuvering that converted the Visigothic kings from Arianism to Catholicism. The Catholic Church celebrates him and all his siblings as known saints:

  • An elder brother, Saint Leander of Seville, immediately preceded Saint Isidore as Archbishop of Seville and, while in office, opposed king Liuvigild.
  • A younger brother, Saint Fulgentius of Cartagena, served as the Bishop of Astigi at the start of the new reign of the Catholic King Reccared.
  • His sister, Saint Florentina, served God as a nun and allegedly ruled over forty convents and one thousand consecrated religious. This claim seems unlikely, however, given the few functioning monastic institutions in Iberia during her lifetime.[5]

Isidore received his elementary education in the Cathedral school of Seville. In this institution, the first of its kind in Iberia, a body of learned men including Archbishop Saint Leander of Seville taught the trivium and quadrivium, the classic liberal arts. Saint Isidore applied himself to study diligently enough that he quickly mastered Latin,[6] and acquired some Greek, and Hebrew.

Two centuries of Gothic control of Iberia incrementally suppressed the ancient institutions, classic learning, and manners of the Roman Empire. The associated culture entered a period of long-term decline. The ruling Visigoths nevertheless showed some respect for the outward trappings of Roman culture. Arianism meanwhile took deep root among the Visigoths as the form of Christianity that they received.

Scholars may debate whether Isidore ever personally embraced monastic life or affiliated with any religious order, but he undoubtedly esteemed the monks highly.

Bishop of Seville

A statue of Isidore of Seville by José Alcoverro, 1892, outside the Biblioteca Nacional de España, in Madrid

After the death of Saint Leander of Seville on 13 March 600 or 601, Isidore succeeded to the See of Seville. On his elevation to the episcopate, he immediately constituted himself as protector of monks.

Saint Isidore recognized that the spiritual and material welfare of the people of his See depended on the assimilation of remnant Roman and ruling barbarian cultures, and consequently attempted to weld the peoples and subcultures of the Visigothic kingdom into a united nation. He used all available religious resources toward this end and succeeded. Isidore practically eradicated the heresy of Arianism and completely stifled the new heresy of Acephali at its very outset. Archbishop Isidore strengthened religious discipline throughout his See.

Archbishop Isidore also used resources of education to counteract increasingly influential Gothic barbarism throughout his episcopal jurisdiction. His quickening spirit animated the educational movement centered on Seville. Saint Isidore introduced Aristotle to his countrymen long before the Arabs studied Greek philosophy extensively.

In 619, Saint Isidore of Seville pronounced anathema against any ecclesiastic who in any way should molest the monasteries.

Second Synod of Seville (November 619)

Saint Isidore presided over the Second Council of Seville, begun on 13 November 619, in the reign of King Sisebut, a provincial council attended by eight other bishops, all from the ecclesiastical province of Baetica in southern Spain. The Acts of the Council fully set forth the nature of Christ, countering the conceptions of Gregory, a Syrian representing the heretical Acephali.

Third Synod of Seville (624)

Based on a few surviving canons found in the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, Saint Isidore is known to have presided over an additional provincial council around 624.

The council dealt with a conflict over the See of Écija, and wrongfully stripped bishop Martianus of his see, a situation that was rectified by the Fourth Council of Toledo. It also addressed a concern over Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity by Sisebut failing to present their children for baptism.

The records of the council, unlike the First and Second Councils of Seville were not preserved in the Hispana, a collection of canons and decretals likely edited by Saint Isidore himself.[7]

Fourth National Council of Toledo

All bishops of Hispania attended the Fourth National Council of Toledo, begun on 5 December 633. The aged Archbishop Saint Isidore presided over its deliberations and originated most enactments of the council.

Through Isidore's influence, this Council of Toledo promulgated a decree, commanding all bishops to establish seminaries in their cathedral cities along the lines of the cathedral school at Seville, which had educated Saint Isidore decades earlier. The decree prescribed the study of Greek, Hebrew, and the liberal arts and encouraged interest in law and medicine.[8] The authority of the Council made this education policy obligatory upon all bishops of the Kingdom of the Visigoths. The council granted remarkable position and deference to the king of the Visigoths. The independent Church bound itself in allegiance to the acknowledged king; it said nothing of allegiance to the Bishop of Rome.

Death

Saint Isidore of Seville died on 4 April 636 after serving more than 32 years as archbishop of Seville.