“The most learned man of the age”: St. Isidore of Seville, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

The Bishop of Saragossa, the future St. Braulio, considered St. Isidore a man appointed by God who had protected Spain from barbarism. The Eighth Council of Toledo in 653 A.D. declared him, “The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore.”

By Kimberly Bruce

Hailed as the most learned man of his age, St. Isidore of Seville (feast day: Apr. 4) wrote many scriptural and theological works helpful to the Church. His most famous project, though, was his Etymologiae, an encyclopedia chronicling all learning from ancient times through the early seventh century, that had heavy influence upon scholarship in the Middle Ages.

Born in 560 A.D. in Cartagena, Spain, Isidore was one of four children to Severianus and Theodora. All four children became canonized saints. Saint Isidore’s older brother, St. Leander, held the Metropolitan See of Seville; his brother, St. Fulgentius, was Bishop of Astigi; and his sister, St. Florentina, was a nun who governed more than 1,000 religious in some 40 convents. 

Water and stones
Isidore was educated at the Cathedral School of Seville. As a boy, he struggled with learning and ran away from school. Stopping to rest at a roadside spring during his flight from school, he observed a stone that had been hollowed out by the constant drip of water upon it. Seeing the difference even a little water at a time could have on a stone inspired him such that he decided to return to his studies. With the help of his teacher, he not only succeeded in learning but became one of the world’s most knowledgeable persons, a master of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Whether he ever entered the monastic life is not clear, but he esteemed their religious lifestyle greatly.

Father Isidore became Archbishop of Seville, replacing his brother, St. Leander, upon the latter’s death. The new archbishop took it upon himself to assimilate the various cultures and non-nationals within Seville, knowing that the welfare of his nation depended on it. It was a time of great transition in Seville and elsewhere as the institutions of learning from the former Roman Empire were all but vanishing. He also was well known for being a protector of monks and monasteries.

Seminary builder
One of St. Isidore’s greatest influences was at the Fourth National Council of Toledo in 633 A.D. During this council, the archbishop commanded seminaries to be built by each bishop in the same city as their cathedral. This he did to prevent the spread of Gothic barbarism and to increase education in subjects such as Greek, Hebrew, liberal arts, medicine, law, and the study of Aristotle. 

Saint Isidore completely eradicated the Arian heresy in his archdiocese, and the novel heresy of Acephales. He is even credited with converting Prince Recared in 589, the then-leader of the Arians in Spain. The prince renounced Arianism, even though it had been his father’s religion. Because of Prince Recared’s conversion (he later became King Recared), he inspired many countrymen and women to follow him in converting to Catholicism.

Richness of writings
Saint Isidore’s Etymologiae (or Origines, as it is also known) was the main textbook used by institutions of higher education throughout the Middle Ages. It encompassed vast and diverse subjects, addressing medicine, law, ecclesiology, God, the heavenly and earthly hierarchies, the Church, languages, geography, public buildings and road making, rhetoric, and so much more. He wrote great spiritual works, as well, addressing, among other topics, the writings of the early Church Fathers and Christ’s return in final judgment. His writings greatly enriched the Church. 

Upon his death on April 4, 636, the faithful revered Archbishop Isidore as a saint. The Bishop of Saragossa, the future St. Braulio, considered St. Isidore a man appointed by God who had protected Spain from barbarism. The Eighth Council of Toledo in 653 A.D. declared him, “The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore.” 

Saint Isidore’s remains were brought to León, Spain. He was officially canonized a saint by Pope Clement VIII in 1598, and in 1722, Pope Innocent XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church.

Saint Isidore of Seville, pray for us!
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