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§ 155. St. Isidore of Seville.


I. St. Isidorus Hispalensis Opera omnia, in Migne, Tom. LXXXI.-LXXXIV. (reprint of F. Arevalo’s ed. Rome, 1797–1803, 7 vols., with the addition of the Collectio canonum ascribed to Isidore). Migne’s Tom. LXXXV. and LXXXVI. contain the Liturgia Mozarabica secundum regulam beati Isidori. Editions of separate works: De libris iii. sententiarum. Königsburg, 1826, 1827, 2 parts. De nativitate Domini, passione et resurrectione, regno atque judicio, ed. A. Holtzmann, Carlsruhe, 1836. De natura rerum liber, ed. G. Becker, Berlin, 1857.

II. Besides the Prolegomena of Arevalo, which fill all Tom. LXXXI., see Vita S. Isidori, LXXXII., col. 19–56. P. B. Gams: Kirchengeschichte von spanien. Regensburg, 1862–1879, 5 parts. (II. 2, 102 sqq). J.C.E. Bourret: L’école chrétienne de Seville sous la monarchie des Visigoths. Paris, 1855. C. F. Montalembert: Les moines d’ occident. Paris, 1860–67, 5 vols. (II. 200–218), Eng. trans. Monks of the West. Boston, 1872, 2 vols. (I. 421–424). Hugo Hertzberg: Die Historien und die Chroniken des Isidorus von Sevilla, 1ste, Th. Die Historien. Göttingen, 1874. “Die Chroniken” appeared in Forschungen zur deutchen Geschichte, 1875, XIV. 289–362. Chevalier: Répertoire des sources historiques du moyen âge. Paris, 1877, sqq. II. 112, sqq. Du Pin, VI. 1–5; Ceillier, XI. 710–728; CLARKE, II. 364–372; Bähr, IV. I. pp. 270–286; Teuffel, pp. 1131–1134; Ebert, I. 555–568.


Isidore of Seville, saint and doctor of the Latin Church, was born about 560 either at Carthagena or Seville. He was the youngest child of an honored Roman family of the orthodox Christian faith. His father’s name was Severianus. His eldest brother, Leander, the well-known friend of Gregory the Great, and the successful upholder of the Catholic faith against Arianism, was archbishop of Seville, the most prominent see in Spain, from about 579 to 600; another brother, Fulgentius, was bishop of Astigi (Ecija) in that diocese, where his sister, Florentina, was a nun.10051005    Montalembert says she was the superior of forty convents and a thousand nuns (Eng. trans. I. 419). But this is mere tradition. Isidore is called Senior to distinguish him from Isidore of Pax Julia, now Beja (Isidorus Pacensis), and Junior to distinguish him from Isidore of Cordova. His parents died apparently while he was quite young. At all events he was educated by his brother Leander. In the year 600 he succeeded his brother in the archiepiscopate of Seville. In this position he became the great leader of the Spanish Church, and is known to have presided at two, councils, the second council of Seville, opened November 13, 619, and the fourth council of Toledo, opened December 5, 633.10061006    The canons of these councils are given by Hefele, III. 72, 73; 79-88. The first of these was of local interest, but the other was much more important. It was the largest ever held in Spain, being attended by all the six metropolitans, fifty-six bishops and seven bishops’ deputies. It has political significance because it was called by King Sisenand, who had just deposed Suintila, the former king. Sisenand was received by the council with great respect. He threw himself before the bishops and with tears asked their prayers. He then exhorted them to do their duty in correcting abuses. Of the seventy-five canons passed by the council several are of curious interest. Thus it was forbidden to plunge the recipient of baptism more than once under the water, because the Arians did it three times to indicate that the Trinity was divided (c. 6). It was not right to reject all the hymns written by Hilary and Ambrose and employ only Scriptural language in public worship (c. 13). If a clergyman is ever made a judge by the king he must exact an oath from the king that no blood is to be shed in his court (c. 31). By order of King Sisenand the clergy were freed from all state taxes and services (c. 47). Once a monk always a monk, although one was made so by his parents (c. 49) 10071007    This has its bearings on the case of Gottschalk. While compulsory conversion of the Jews was forbidden, yet no Jew converted by force was allowed to return to Judaism (c. 57). Very strenuous laws were passed relative to both the baptized and the unbaptized Jews (c. 58–66). The king was upheld in his government and the deposed king and his family perpetually excluded from power. When Isidore’s position is considered it is a probable conjecture that these canons express his opinions and convictions upon the different matters.

Warned by disease of death’s approach, Isidore began the distribution of his property. For the last six months of his life he dispensed alms from morn till night. His end was highly edifying. Accompanied by his assembled bishops he had himself carried to the church of St. Vincent the Martyr, and there, having publicly confessed his sins, prayed God for forgiveness. He then asked the pardon and prayers of those present, gave away the last thing he owned, received the Holy Communion, and was carried to his cell, in which he died four days later, Thursday, April 4, 636.10081008    Vita S. Isidori, 33-36, in Migne, LXXXII. col. 45-49. He was immediately enrolled among the popular saints and in the 15th council of Toledo (688) is styled “excellent doctor,” and by Benedict XIV. (April 25, 1722) made a Doctor of the Church.

Isidore of Seville was the greatest scholar of his day. He was well read in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, in profane as well as in sacred and patristic literature. He was also a vigorous and dignified prelate, admired for his wondrous eloquence and beloved for his private virtues. He did much for education, especially of the clergy, and established at Seville a highly successful school, in which he himself taught. But his universal fame rests upon his literary works, which embrace every branch of knowledge then cultivated, and which though almost entirely compilations can not be too highly praised for their ability and usefulness. He performed the inestimable service of perpetuating learning, both sacred and secular. It is a striking testimony to his greatness that works have been attributed to him with which he had nothing to do, as the revision of the Mozarabic Liturgy and of Spanish ecclesiastical, and secular laws, and especially the famous Pseudo-Isidorian decretals.

His Works may be divided loosely into six classes. We have two lists of them, one by his friend and colleague Braulio, bishop of Saragossa, and the other by his pupil, Ildefonsus of Toledo. No strict division of these works is possible, because as will be seen several of them belong in parts to different classes.

I. Biblical. This class embraces, 1. Scripture Allegorics,10091009    Allegoriae quaedam Sacrae Scripturae, Migne, LXXXIII. col. 97-130. allegorical explanations, each in a single sentence, of 129 names and passages in the Old Testament, and of 211 in the New Testament; a curious and, in its way, valuable treatise, compiled from the older commentaries. 2. Lives and Deaths of Biblical Saints.10101010    De ortu et obitu patrum qui in Scriptura laudibus efferuntur, ibid. col. 129-156. Very brief biographies of sixty-four Old Testament and twenty-one New Testament worthies. 3. Introductions in the Old and New Testaments,10111011    In libros V. ac N. T. prooemia, ibid. col. 155-180. a very general introduction to the entire Bible, followed by brief accounts of the several books, including Esdras and Maccabees. The four Gospels, the epistles, of Paul, Peter and John are treated together in respective sections. Acts comes between Jude and Revelation. It was compiled from different authors. 4. Scripture Numbers10121012    Liber numerorum qui in S. S. occurunt, ibid. col. 179-200. (1–16, 18–20, 24, 30, 40, 46, 50, 60), mystically interpreted. Thus under one, the church is one, the Mediator is one. Under two, there are two Testaments, two Seraphim, two Cherubim. 5. Questions on the Old and New Testaments,10131013    De, V. et N. T. quaestiones, ibid. col. 201-208. a Biblical catechism of forty-one questions and answers. Some are very trivial. 6. Expositions of Holy Mysteries, or Questions on the Old Testament,10141014    Mysticorum expositiones sacramentorum seu quaestiones in V. T. ibid. col. 207. 434. a paraphrase of Genesis, and notes upon Joshua, Judges, the four books of Kings, Ezra and Maccabees. The work is compiled from Origen, Victorinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustin, Fulgentius, Cassianus and Gregory the Great. A summary of each chapter of the books mentioned is given. The exposition is allegorical.

II. Dogmatic. 1. The Catholic Faith defended against the Jews.10151015    De fide catholica ex V. et N. T. contra Judaeos, ibid. col. 449-538. A treatise in two books, dedicated to his sister Florentina, the nun. In the first book he marshals the Scripture prophecies and statements relative to Christ, and shows how they have been verified. In the second book in like manner he treats of the call of the Gentiles, the unbelief of the Jews and their consequent rejection, the destruction of Jerusalem, the abolition of the ceremonial law, and closes with a brief statement of Christian doctrine. The work was doubtless an honest attempt to win the Jews over to Christianity, and Spain in the 7th century was full of Jews. Whatever may have been its success as an apology, it was very popular in the Middle Age among Christians, and was translated into several languages.10161016    Fragments of an old High German translation have been published by A, Holtzmann, Karlsruhe, 1836, and by Weinhold, Paderborn, 1874. 2. Three books of Sentences,10171017    Sententiarum libri tres, Migne, LXXXIII. col. 537-738. compiled from Augustin and Gregory the Great’s Moralia. This work is a compend of theology, and is Isidore’s most important production in this class. Its influence has been incalculable. Innumerable copies were made of it during the Middle Age, and it led to the preparation of similar works, e.g., Peter Lombard’s Sentences.10181018    It was probably itself suggested by Prosper’s Sentences from Augustin. 3. Synonyms, in two books;10191019    Synonyma de lamentatione animae peccatricis, Migne, ibid. col. 825-868. the first is a dialogue between sinful and despairing Man and Reason (or the Logos), who consoles him, rescues him from despair, shows him that sin is the cause of his misery, and sets him on the heavenly way. The second is a discourse by Reason upon vices and their opposite virtues.10201020    The term “synonyms” was apparently given to it because there are so many ideas repeated in slightly different words.

4. The Order of Creation.10211021    De ordine creaturarum liber, ibid. 913-954. It treats of the Trinity, the creation, the devil and demons, paradise, fallen man, purgatory, and the future life.

III. Ecclesiastic and monastic. 1. The Ecclesiastical Offices, i.e., the old Spanish liturgy.10221022    De ecclesiasticis officiis, ibid. col. 737-826. It is dedicated to his brother Fulgentius, and is in two books, for the most part original. The first is called “the origin of the offices,” and treats of choirs, psalms, hymns and other topics in ecclesiastical archaeology. Under the head “sacrifice”10231023    I. 18, ibid. col. 754-757. Isidore expresses his view of the Lord’s Supper, which is substantially that “Body and Blood” denote the consecrated elements, but not that these are identical with the Body and Blood of our Lord. The second book, “the origin of the ministry,” treats of the different clerical grades; also of monks, penitents, virgins, widows, the married, catechumens, the rule of faith, baptism, chrism, laying on of hands and confirmation. 2. A Monastic Rule.10241024    Regula monachorum, ibid. col. 867-894. It was designed for Spanish monasteries, drawn from old sources, and resembles the Benedictine, with which, however, it is not identical. It throws much light upon the contemporary Spanish monasticism, as it discusses the situation of the monastery, the choice of the abbot, the monks, their duties, meals, festivals, fasts, dress, punishment, sickness and death. It recalls the somewhat similar Institutes of Cassiodorus already mentioned.10251025    See p. 657.

IV. Educational and philosophical. 1. Twenty books of Etymologies.10261026    Etymologiarum libri XX. Migne, LXXXII. col. 73-728. This is his greatest work, and considering its date truly an astonishing work. Caspar Barth’s list of the one hundred and fifty-four authors quoted in it shows Isidore’s wide reading. Along with many Christian writers are the following classic authors: Aesop, Anacreon, Apuleius, Aristotle, Boëthius, Caesar, Cato, Catullus, Celsus, Cicero, Demosthenes, Ennius, Herodotus, Hesiod, Homer, Horace, Juvenal, Livy, Lucan, Lucretius, Martial, Ovid, Persius, Pindar, Plato, Plautus, Pliny, Quintilian, Sallust, Suetonius, Terence, Varro, Virgil.10271027    Arevalo, Prolegomena, c. 53, in Migne, LXXXI. col. 337-340. It is a concise encyclopedia of universal learning, embracing the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), and medicine, law, chronology, angelology, mineralogy, architecture, agriculture and many other topics. Although much of his information is erroneous, and the tenth book, that of Etymology proper, is full of absurdities, the work as a whole is worthy of high praise. It was authoritative throughout Europe for centuries and repeatedly copied and printed. Rabanus Maurus drew largely upon it for his De Universo. 2. The Differences, or the proper signification of terms,10281028    Differentiarum, sive de proprietate sermonum, libri duo, LXXXIII. col. 9-98. in two books. The first treats of the differences of words. It is a dictionary of synonyms and of words which sound somewhat alike, arranged alphabetically. The second book treats of the differences of things, and is a dictionary of theology, brief yet comprehensive. 3. On the Nature of Things,10291029    De natura rerum, ibid. col. 963-1018. in forty-eight chapters, dedicated to King Sisebut (612–620), who had given him the subject. It is a sort of natural philosophy, treating of the divisions of time, the heavens and the earth and the waters under the earth. It also has illustrative diagrams. Like Isidore’s other works it is a skilful compilation from patristic and profane authors,10301030    See Becker’s ed. for a careful statement of his sources. and was extremely popular in the Middle Age.

V. Historical. 1. A Chronicle,10311031    Chronicon, LXXXIII. col. 1017-1058. In abbreviated form in the Etymologies, cf. V. 39. Migne, LXXXII. col. 224-228. containing the principal events in the world from the creation to 616. It is divided into six periods or ages, corresponding to the six days of creation, a division plainly borrowed from Augustin.10321032    De Civitate Dei, XXII. 30 (ed. Dombart, II. 635, Clark’s Aug. Lib. II. 544). Its sources are Julius Africanus, Eusebius, Jerome, and Victor of Tunnena.10331033    See the essays of Hertzberg, already mentioned in Lit.in §155 II. 2. History of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi,10341034    Historia de regibus Gothorum, Wandalorum et Suevorum, Migne, LXXXIII. col. 1057-1082. brought down to 61. A work which, like Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, is the only source for certain periods. It has been remarked10351035    Ebert, I. 566. that Isidore, like Cassiodorus, in spite of his Roman origin, had a high regard for the Goths. 3. Famous Men10361036    De viris illustribus, Migne, LXXXIII. col. 1081-1106. a continuation of Gennadius’ appendix to Jerome’s work with the same title. It sketches forty-six authors, beginning with Bishop Hosius of Cordova, and extending to the beginning of the seventh century.

VI. Miscellaneous. Under this head come thirteen brief Letters10371037    Epistolae, ibid. col. 893-914. and minor works of doubtful genuineness. There are also numerous spurious works which bear his name, among which are hymns.



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