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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Isidore Of Seville

March 22, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Spain is one of two countries located on the Iberian Peninsula. During the time of the Roman Empire, it was the Romans who first called this land “Hispania.” To this land the Romans brought the Latin language, civil organization, and law, as well as the Christian religion.
However, as the Roman Empire began to crumble during the fifth century, the Germanic tribes from the north invaded Spain. The Suevi, Vandals, and Alans moved in. These peoples were then conquered by the Visigoths, who controlled the entire Iberian Peninsula by the end of the sixth century. Two centuries of their control left civilized society in ruins with little culture, few manners, and weakening faith.
The Visigoths were pagan, Germanic people, while most of the inhabitants of Spain were Christian. Yet all was not lost. Some strong Catholic families still existed. One such family was literally a family of saints. They lived in Cartagena, located on the southeast coast of Spain. Severianus, the father of the family, came from a line of noblemen, while the mother, Theodora, claimed lineage from Visigoth royalty.
Their son, Isidore of Seville, became a saint, as did his brothers, St. Leander, bishop of Seville, and St. Fulgentius, who became bishop of Astigi, and his sister, Florentina, who became an abbess overseeing nearly 40 convents.
Isidore, born in 560, was one of the youngest members of the family of high achievers. His family sent him to the Cathedral School of Seville, which was the first of its kind in the sixth century. As his education progressed, his older brother, St. Leander, monitored his progress. St. Leander, himself brilliant, expected great achievements from his much younger brother, St. Isidore.
He not only scolded the young boy but also inflicted punishments. Isidore became so discouraged and frustrated that he ran away from the Cathedral School. As he wandered, he found a peaceful place with running water. As he gazed at the water dripping on the stones below, he noticed that the constant flow of water had worn a depression in the stone.
He reflected on how the unending and persistent small drops of water had eroded such a hard surface as the stone. This, he realized, was how he had to approach his studies. If he did a little bit at a time, made some progress each day, then he could complete his studies. In addition, by the same persistence, he could wear down his brother’s heart of stone.
With a change of heart, he returned home, but his brother was not pleased. Fearing that Isidore would run away again, he had him locked in a cell. Perhaps the cell was in a monastery — it is not clearly known where he was placed. However, the relationship healed in some way.
Isidore went on to become a fine student, mastering Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Then he became a great leader in the Church, working side by side with his brother Leander. In fact, when Leander died, Isidore completed many of the works that Leander had initiated, such as a missal and breviary. In time, he became one of the greatest teachers in Spain.
The Church in Spain at the time that he completed his studies was split in two. On one side were the Visigoths who adhered to the Arian heresy, and on the other side were the Roman Catholics. During this division, St. Isidore’s brother St. Leander held the position of bishop of Seville.
St. Isidore and his brother labored together as the culture disintegrated, conflict escalated among the nobles, and illiteracy increased. Together, St. Leander and St. Isidore labored to convert the Arian Visigoths to the true Catholic faith and to unite Spain.
On March 13, 600, St. Leander died, leaving the See of Seville without a bishop. St. Isidore was selected to replace him as bishop shortly after his death.
Although St. Isidore, as some historians write, never belonged to a monastic order, he held such orders in high esteem. As bishop, St. Isidore made it clear that one of his main objectives was to protect the monks. In 619 he pronounced “anathema” against any priest who troubled the monasteries.
St. Isidore also wanted to continue the efforts he and his brother had previously made to unite the people, knowing that it was the only way they could thrive. Hence, he directed most of his energy and time to uniting the people of the Roman culture with the ruling Visigoths and their more barbarian culture.
He worked diligently, using all the resources available to him to eliminate the Arianism followed by the Visigoths. With God’s grace he converted them to true Church teachings regarding the divinity of Christ.
Furthermore, St. Isidore promoted education among all persons — young and old. He introduced the Greek philosophers to the Spanish people. This greatly reduced the heathen influence of some of the Gothic paganism.
Bishop Isidore also presided over several important Church councils such as the Council of Seville and the Council of Toledo, which helped improve the governing policies of the Spaniards.
His presence was especially significant at the Fourth National Council of Toledo, which began on December 5, 633. He pursued the establishment of seminaries by all the bishops. These were to be modeled after the cathedral schools in each diocese.
These seminaries were to teach, in addition to Greek and Hebrew, the liberal arts, law, medicine, and of course theology. The council also recognized the ruling Visigothic authority in Spain while insisting that the Church was independent of their control.
Three years after this council on April 4, 636, St. Isidore died. He had served as bishop of Seville for 32 years. In addition to the above accomplishments, Isidore wrote extensively.
He was the first to write a compendium of all knowledge. He wrote a summa and is also credited with being the originator of the encyclopedia, as he wrote a 448-chapter, 20-volume set of such knowledge. This work was reprinted in the Middle Ages, when ten editions were issued between 1470 and 1530, nearly 900 years after his death. This first summa may be what St. Thomas Aquinas used for the model of his great work, the Summa Theologiae.
Credited with saving the Christian faith of the Iberian Peninsula as well as establishing a lasting foundation of elementary and higher education, Isidore was canonized by Pope Clement VII in 1598, and declared a doctor of the Church in 1722 by Pope Innocent XIII. His feast day is celebrated April 4.
Dear St. Isidore, you worked endlessly to strengthen the Church to withstand the many onslaughts by those who seek to destroy the Church by persecution and death as well as by undermining her true teaching. Pray for us to learn our faith so that we may defend it fearlessly, even onto death. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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