In 1997, Pope John Paul II decided that the internet could use a patron saint to guide Catholics in its proper use. He chose Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636), Doctor of the Church, and last of the Latin Fathers. His twenty-book opus (called Etymologia, after the subject title of one of the books), made him an easy choice. The word “etymology” was Isidore’s own coinage. It means “the study of origins.” Today, the term is limited to the history, or origin, of words. Interestingly enough, three other words that I know of owe their invention to saints: “utopia” and “integrity” to Saint Thomas More and “soliloquy” to Saint Augustine.
In his article on the saint in the Catholic Encyclopedia, J. B. O’Connor lists the twenty books and each one’s proper object of study:
- The first three of these books are taken up with the trivium and quadrivium. The entire first book is devoted to grammar, including metre. Imitating the example of Cassiodorus and Boethius he preserves the logical tradition of the schools by reserving the second book for rhetoric and dialectic.
- Book four, treats of medicine and libraries;
- Book five, of law and chronology;
- Book six, of ecclesiastical books and offices;
- Book seven, of God and of the heavenly and earthly hierarchies;
- Book eight, of the Church and of the sects, of which latter he numbers no less than sixty-eight;
- Book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles;
- Book ten, of etymology:
- Book eleven, of man;
- Book twelve, of beasts and birds;
- Book thirteen, of the world and its parts;
- Book fourteen, of physical geography;
- Book fifteen, of public buildings and roadmaking;
- Book sixteen, of stones and metals;
- Book seventeen, of agriculture;
- Book eighteen, of the terminology of war, of jurisprudence, and public games;
- Book nineteen, of ships, houses, and clothes;
- Book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.
In the year 600, Isidore succeeded his brother, Saint Leander, as Bishop of Seville. During this time he devoted himself to every good cause. His primary achievements were reformation of the clergy, fostering monastic life (remember, Saint Benedict, the father of western monasticism had died only a little more than a half century before), educating the faithful after two centuries of barbaric rule under the Goths (his brother, Leander, had converted and baptized the Arian Visigoth king, Recarred), and extirpating heresies.
As bishop, Isidore held many councils in Seville, that not only combated religious errors and clerical disorders, but also helped established norms for social justice and representative government under the newly converted Visigoth rulers. The school that he established in Seville was the best in all Christendom. Studies included Greek and Hebrew (knowledge of which languages had been lost in the West — except in Ireland), the liberal arts, philosophy (it was he who first introduced Aristotle to the West), law and medicine, history, and, of course, every branch of theology. Presiding over the historical and national fourth council of Toledo in 433 (all of Spain’s bishops attended) canonical legislation was passed under the old bishop’s influence requiring every bishop to establish seminaries in their cathedral cities; these were to be modeled after the school in Seville. Isidore died three years later on the fourth of April at the age of seventy-six. His death day is his feast day.
In addition to more than ten books on theology and commentaries on many books of both Old and New Testaments, the holy bishop wrote a book on science, covering astronomy, geography, and physics, at the request of the Visigoth King Sisebut. For a time, thanks to Isidore, the Hispano-Gothic Kingdom was a united, peaceful, and flourishing one. Who would have thought, at the time, that eighty years after the saint’s death the Iberian Peninsula would be conquered by the Moors with their strange new religion?
In the year 688, the fifteenth Council of Toledo paid tribute to Saint Isidore with these words: “The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic Church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore.”
Oh, one more thing, Isidore’s sister, Florentina, is also a saint. She was a nun in Rome and ruled over forty convents and one thousand religious.
Here is a prayer to Saint Isidore that should be said before logging in on the internet:
Almighty and eternal God, who created us in Thy image and bade us to seek after all that is good, true and beautiful, especially in the divine person of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, bishop and doctor, during our journeys through the internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.