Doctors of the Church: St. Isidore of Seville

Isidor_von_Sevilla
Isidore of Seville by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

In today’s article, we honor St. Isidore of Seville – bishop, Father of the Church, Doctor, and patron saint of the Internet (for some reason). St. Isidore was one of the last ancient Christian philosophers, and his work as Archbishop of Seville helped shape Spain to be the country it is today, even earning him a place on the badge of the Spanish football team Sevilla FC, for all you fans out there (you know who you are!).

Isidore was born around 560 in Cartagena, Spain. He was a member of another one of those saintly families, with all three of his siblings canonized as saints! The most influential of these was Isidore’s brother, Leander. In a world where Visigoths had invaded and destroyed much of the vestiges of Roman culture, St. Leander of Seville tried to surround his brother Isidore with an atmosphere of learning, discipline, culture, and faith.

Leander became the bishop of Seville, and was a great hero for the faith in his own right. He opposed the Visigoth king and fearlessly defended the teachings of the Church against the Visigoth Arians, which ultimately led him to suffer exile. With such a great life and ministry, you can imagine how difficult it would have been for Isidore to fill his brother’s shoes when he was chosen to succeed him as bishop of Seville in 601.

But indeed, Isidore answered the call and became a great and holy bishop. He worked to eliminate the Arian heresy brought to Spain by the Visigoth invasions, and through his dialogues with the tribal leaders, he was able to bring some them back into the fold of the Church.

At the same time, Isidore knew that in order to build a better society, they needed to preserve an educational structure. He worked to establish new standards for education in Spain based on the old Roman structure that was fading away after the fall of the Roman Empire. His system was built on the liberal arts, especially science, history, and philosophy, and it was in those areas that most of Isidore’s writings were focused.

Isidore’s greatest work was the Etymologiae, a compilation and summary of general knowledge from old Roman handbooks and classical authors. The topics included ranged anywhere from grammar and rhetoric to metallurgy, medicine, and a theological understanding of the choirs of angels. Other works by Isidore include The History of the Gothic, Vandal, and Suebi Kings, a book on astronomy and history entitled On the Nature of Things, a treatise on the Trinity, the Natures of Christ, and Heaven, and even writings on the symbolic use of numbers in Scripture.

Isidore worked to preserve learning and science in a changing age, but always saw it as his way of glorifying God. In history, he saw how God worked through peoples and civilizations. In science, he saw how the beauty and intricacy of the natural world reflects the magnificence of the Creator. In doctrine, he saw how God continues to guide us in his people through the teachings of his Church. Let us likewise never forget these things and always use our learning to give glory to God!

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