Saint Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
The vast colonial ambitions of Spain in the 16th-17th centuries went hand in hand with equally epic Catholic missionary efforts. This unity of mission, these shared goals, with civil and ecclesiastical resources and powers working in concert, was the natural consequence of a country with almost total unity of identity. Today’s saint played a singularly important role in forming that theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural unity on the Iberian Peninsula that slowly developed, over many centuries, into the Spanish juggernaut that conquered and evangelized a hemisphere.
As a youth, Isidore received an excellent classical education in the Roman tradition, similar to the classical learning St. Augustine imbibed two centuries before him and used to such great effect. St. Isidore not only learned a great deal, he also remembered it and was uncommonly dedicated to his intellectual pursuits, writing numerous weighty tomes. The breadth and depth of his learning was without equal in his time. It was simply said that Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, knew everything. He is considered by many to be the last of the Latin Fathers of the Church, those early Christian theologians whose writings are the gold standard for all subsequent theologians.
His knowledge was put to good use. As the Roman world, which had dominated Spain for so many centuries, slowly crumbled away in the fifth and sixth centuries, Visigothic (Western Goths) tribes overran Spain. Like their Gothic cousins in central Europe, the Visigoths were Arians and Arians were heretics. They denied that Christ was consubstantial with the Father and accepted all that flowed from that erroneous starting point. St. Isidore played an important role in the assimilation of the Visigoths to Nicene Catholicism after one of their Kings abandoned Arianism. Theological unity having been achieved, the old Roman culture of Iberia slowly blended with Visigothic culture to form something new — Spain. St. Isidore was, then, a nation builder by being a Church builder first. And he built the Church not just through his massive erudition but also through effective headship in calling and guiding Church synods.
St. Isidore’s most enduring work is Etymologies (or Origins), an enormous compendium of universal knowledge. It was the standard encyclopedia in Medieval libraries and continued to be utilized as late as the Renaissance. Although St. Isidore was not a creative thinker in the same class as St. Augustine or the Eastern Doctors of the Church, his mind was such a vast storehouse of knowledge that he has been proposed as the patron saint of the Internet.
After a long reign as Archbishop of Seville, St Isidore died in his late seventies in 636, just four years after Mohammed, the founder of Islam, died in Saudi Arabia. About 75 years after their deaths, Muslim armies crossed the strait of Gibraltar from North Africa and began the long conquest which obliterated the Visigoths. The Spanish reconquest of their nation would take centuries until, in 1492, the last Muslim stronghold, Granada, fell. Both sides were inspired by their faith more than mere patriotism. Both sides fought. Both sides thought they were right. In the end, the nation Isidore created defeated the nation inspired by Mohammed.
St. Isidore, you used your education and knowledge to great effect to evangelize a people. Help all who seek your intercession to unite their learning with zeal for the good of the Church and the many peoples it serves.