Friday, April 04, 2003

‘Don’t let them immanentize the eschaton’

April 4th (Roman Rite calendar)
Saint Isidore of Seville (San Isidro, San Ysidro)
Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church, c.560-636
The last Western Church Father?

SAINT ISIDORE, bishop of Seville and Doctor of the Church, had the
phenomenal versatility of a Leonardo da Vinci. Like that famous Renaissance
genius, he had an amazing store of information, including, among other
things, a knowledge of history, science, natural history, literature, and
philosophy.

Isidore's parents gave four children to the Church: Leander, Fulgentius, and
Isidore became bishops, Florentina became an abbess; all four were
eventually canonized saints. Born about 560 at Cartagena, Spain, Isidore
was educated by his elder brother, Archbishop Leander, in the cathedral
school of Seville. He had always been a poor student until one day, when he
was skipping school, he sat down near the edge of a spring and noticed some
grooves worn into the rock. Discovering that the grooves were caused by the
constant flow of water, he decided that, similarly, the continual repetition
of lessons might make a permanent impression on his memory. After that,
Isidore disciplined himself to long hours of study, and in a short time he
mastered Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

On March 13, 599, after Leander's death, Isidore succeeded to the see of
Seville. The Visigoths (Germanic invaders) had controlled Spain for several
centuries, and at that time their barbarous influence was threatening to
destroy Spanish civilization. By using every educational and religious
means at his disposal, Isidore converted the Visigoths from Arianism to
Catholicism, thus unifying the faith of the nation. He also helped to
eradicate the acephalite heresy (it professed that the human and divine
natures in Christ are identical), encouraged monasticism, and strengthened
religious discipline everywhere. Isidore guided the course of three synods
and presided over the Fourth Council of Toledo, held in 633. There it was
decided, under Isidore's influence, to establish a school in each diocese
where the clergy could be trained in the liberal arts, and in Hebrew, Greek,
medicine, and law.

Isidore was the first Christian writer to attempt compiling a summation of
universal knowledge, an encyclopedia. His work, called Etymologies or
Origins, contained in compact form all the knowledge of his age. It
preserved many fragments of classical learning in a way that was
intelligible to the Germanic peoples of his time. This contribution to the
field of education gained for Isidore the title "Schoolmaster of the Middle
Ages," and until the middle of the sixteenth century his Origins remained a
favorite textbook. He also rendered a great service to the Church in Spain
by completing the Mozarabic missal and breviary begun by Saint Leander.

Isidore was as outstanding in the practice of charity and mortification as
he was in the cultivation of knowledge. His house was continually crowded
with the poor of the countryside. Shortly before he died, he went to church
and, covering himself with sackcloth, had ashes placed on his head. Thus
dressed as a penitent, he prayed earnestly for the forgiveness of his sins
and gave all his possessions to the poor. He died a short time later, on
April 4, 636.

Other Martyrs of the Faith

At Thessalonica, the holy martyrs Agathopodes, deacon, and Theodulus,
lector. Under the Emperor Maximian and the governor Faustinus, they
confessed the Christian faith; (for this reason) stones were tied to their
necks, and they were cast into the sea.

At Constantinople, St. Plato, monk, who fought with dauntless spirit for
many years against the heretical destroyers of holy images.

In Palestine, St. Zosimus, the hermit who buried St. Mary of Egypt.

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