St. Isidore of Seville is patron of the internet
On April 4 we remembered St. Isidore of Seville, bishop, doctor of the church and, among other things, patron of the internet.
Isidore was born around the year 560 in Cartagena, a town in southeastern Spain that still exists today. He was born into a family of rare sanctity. His brothers Leander and Fulgentius and his sister Florentina are all saints. While his family was holy, the world into which he was born was fragmented. The Iberian Peninsula (present day Spain and Portugal) had been overrun by various barbarian tribes ending with the Visigoths, who were Arians, a heresy which taught that Jesus was not divine.
In the midst of this upheaval, the church strained to keep society together and to preserve not just right doctrine, but education. The Visigoths, suspect of Roman learning, had no time for it. So it was that Leander, Isidore’s older brother, set up cathedral schools and monasteries, and his sister Florentina founded several convents.
The young Isidore was enrolled in his brother’s cathedral school, which included the rigorous study of Greek and Latin. He disliked it intensely – so much so that he ran away to the seaside. “What was the point to the constant, droning recitations of forms and conjugations?” he thought. Then, while at the shore, he noticed large stones with holes worn through them, the edges of which were smooth and lovely.
Isidore realized that these stones were formed over time through the slow and steady work of water, a substance without any firmness, but which was used by God to shape something wondrous. And so he understood that the slow and steady memorization of forms and conjugations were his brother’s way of trying to shape his mind and his soul, so that they too might be used by God for great things. Isidore returned to his brother’s school.
Leander, the archbishop of Seville, died in the year 600, and Isidore succeeded him. He spent his time as archbishop passing on the faith, setting up schools and monasteries across Spain for the education of his people. He wrote many great works, and also a liturgical rite for the Mass, which is still in use today.
The most famous of his works was the “Etymologies” or “Origins,” which was his attempt to collect in one volume as much of the knowledge of his time as possible. Not only did it include the traditional subjects of the “trivium” (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and “quadrivium” (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy), he sought out the most comprehensive knowledge on nature and biology that was available.
His work was used in schools for almost a thousand years. And as it was the first known attempt at an encyclopedia, it is why he was named patron of the internet in 1997 by St. Pope John Paul II.
St. Isidore died in Seville on April 4, 636. From his life we learn of the importance of education in the foundation of society and for the advancement of the faith. May we, too, allow our minds and hearts to be shaped by the virtues so as to be of greater service to God and his church.
“Butler’s Lives of the Saints” provides a good article on the life of this saint, as does the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia, available online at NewAdvent.org.