St. Isidore of Seville

Feast Day: April 4. Doctor of the Church.

The hearts of Isidore’s family members were clearly open to God; he and his brothers Leander & Fulgentius, and his sister Florentina are all saints!

From Slow Learner to a Shining Student

This didn’t make life easier for Isidore. To the contrary, Leander may have been holy in many ways, but his treatment of his little brother shocked many even at the time. Leander, who was much older than Isidore, took over Isidore’s education and his teaching theory involved force and punishment. We know from Isidore’s later accomplishments that he was intelligent and hard-working, so it is hard to understand why Leander thought abuse would work instead of patience.

One day, the young boy couldn’t take any more. Frustrated by his inability to learn as fast as his brother wanted and hurt by his brother’s treatment, Isidore ran away. But though he could escape his brother’s hand and words, he couldn’t escape his own feeling of failure and rejection. When he finally let the outside world catch his attention, he noticed water dripping on the rock near where he sat. The drops of water that fell repeatedly carried no force and seemed to have no effect on the solid stone. And yet he saw that over time, the water drops had worn holes in the rock.

Isidore realized that if he kept working at his studies, his seemingly small efforts would eventually pay off in great learning. He also may have hoped that his efforts would also wear down the rock of his brother’s heart.

When he returned home, however, his brother in exasperation confined him to a cell (probably in a monastery) to complete his studies, not believing that he wouldn’t run away again.

Either there must have been a loving side to this relationship or Isidore was remarkably forgiving even for a saint, because later he would work side by side with his brother and after Leander’s death, Isidore would complete many of the projects he began, including a missal and breviary.

In a time where it’s fashionable to blame the past for our present and future problems, Isidore was able to separate the abusive way he was taught from the joy of learning. He didn’t run from learning after he left his brother but embraced education and made it his life’s work. Isidore rose above his past to become known as the greatest teacher in Spain.

Brother Bishop

His brother Leander, who had become the bishop of Seville, passed away and was succeeded by Isidore. Bishop Isidore’s love of learning made him require the construction of a seminary in every diocese of Spain. He didn’t limit his own studies and didn’t want others to, either. In a unique move, he made sure that all branches of knowledge – including the arts and medicine – were taught in the seminaries.

His encyclopedia of knowledge, the Etymologies, was a popular textbook for nine centuries. He also wrote books on grammar, astronomy, geography, history, and biography as well as theology. When the Arabs brought study of Aristotle back to Europe, this was nothing new to Spain because Isidore’s open mind had already reintroduced the philosopher to students there.

Isidore set a model for representative government in Europe. Under his direction, and perhaps remembering the tyrannies of his brother, he rejected autocratic decision- making and organized synods to discuss government of the Spanish Church. In 619, Saint Isidore of Seville pronounced anathema (a formal denunciation) against any member of the clergy who in any way molested the monasteries and children.

Model for All People

He wrote several books full of wisdom and inspiration for Christians. In one, he reflects, “The Savior Jesus offers us the example of active life when during the day he devoted himself to working signs and miracles in the town, but he showed the contemplative life when he withdrew to the mountain and spent the night in prayer…Therefore let the servant of God, imitating Christ, dedicate himself to contemplation without denying himself active life. Behaving otherwise would not be right. Indeed, just as we must love God in contemplation, so we must love our neighbor with action. It is therefore impossible to live without the presence of both the one and the other form of life, nor can we live without experiencing both the one and the other.”

Quotation read on our broadcast: “Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.”

Saint Isidore, pray for us – that we allow the example of Christ to change our lives!