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SAINT ISIDORE OF SEVILLE

Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church, c.560-636

Saint Isidore, bishop of Seville and Doctor of the Church, had the phenomenal versatility of a Leonardo da Vinci. Like that famous Renaissance genius, he had an amazing store of information, including, among other things, a knowledge of history, science, natural history, literature, and philosophy.

Isidore's parents gave four children to the Church: Leander, Fulgentius, and Isidore became bishops, Florentina became an abbess; all four were eventually canonized saints. Born about 560 at Cartagena, Spain, Isidore was educated by his elder brother, Archbishop Leander, in the cathedral school of Seville. He had always been a poor student until one day, when he was skipping school, he sat down near the edge of a spring and noticed some grooves worn into the rock. Discovering that the grooves were caused by the constant flow of water, he decided that, similarly, the continual repetition of lessons might make a permanent impression on his memory. After that, Isidore disciplined himself to long hours of study, and in a short time he mastered Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

On March 13, 599, after Leander's death, Isidore succeeded to the see of Seville. The Visigoths (Germanic invaders) had controlled Spain for several centuries, and at that time their barbarous influence was threatening to destroy Spanish civilization. By using every educational and religious means at his disposal, Isidore converted the Visigoths from Arianism to Catholicism, thus unifying the faith of the nation. He also helped to eradicate the acephalite heresy (it professed that the human and divine natures in Christ are identical), encouraged monasticism, and strengthened religious discipline everywhere. Isidore guided the course of three synods and presided over the Fourth Council of Toledo, held in 633. There it was decided, under Isidore's influence, to establish a school in each diocese where the clergy could be trained in the liberal arts, and in Hebrew, Greek, medicine, and law.

Isidore was the first Christian writer to attempt compiling a summation of universal knowledge, an encyclopedia. His work, called Etymologies or Origins contained in compact form all the knowledge of his age. It preserved many fragments of classical learning in a way that was intelligible to the Germanic peoples of his time. This contribution to the field of education gained for Isidore the title "Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages," and until the middle of the sixteenth century his Origins remained a favorite textbook. He also rendered a great service to the Church in Spain by completing the Mozarabic missal and breviary begun by Saint Leander.

Isidore was as outstanding in the practice of charity and mortification as he was in the cultivation of knowledge. His house was continually crowded with the poor of the countryside. Shortly before he died, he went to church and, covering himself with sackcloth, had ashes placed on his head. Thus dressed as a penitent, he prayed earnestly for the forgiveness of his sins and gave all his possessions to the poor. He died a short time later, on April 4, 636.

 

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