Saint Isidore of Seville (560 - 636) was Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades and has the reputation of being one of the great scholars of the early middle ages. All the later medieval history-writing of Spain was based on Isidore's histories.
Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, to an influential family: his brother Leander immediately preceded him as archbishop of Seville, his younger brother was also a bishop, and their sister was an abbess in charge of forty convents. Isidore's mastery of Greek and Hebrew has given him a reputation of being an enthusiastic and apt student. His own Latin was affected by local Visigothic traditions and contains hundreds of recognizably Spanish words; his 18th-century editor Arevalo identified 1640 of them. At a time of disintegration of classical culture, and aristocratic violence and illiteracy, he assisted Leander in the conversion of the Visigoth Arians to Catholicism and carried the conversion forward after his brother's death, for example in presiding over the (second) synod of Seville (November 618 or 619), which the bishops of Gaul and Narbonne attended, as well as the Spanish prelates. In the Council's Acts the nature of Christ is fully set forth, countering Arian conceptions. At an advanced age he also presided over the Fourth Council of Toledo (633), which required all bishops to establish seminaries, on the pattern of the one at Seville associated with Isidore. The council probably expressed with tolerable accuracy the mind and influence of Isidore. The position and deference granted to the king is remarkable. The church is free and independent, yet bound in solemn allegiance to the acknowledged king: nothing is said of allegiance to the bishop of Rome.
Isidore's most important work was his encyclopedia, the Etymologiae. The work takes its title from just one of its twenty constituent books, a highly fanciful account of the etymologies of words, more revealing as a folk etymology of his age. The encyclopedia as a whole was a huge compilation in 448 chapters, devoted to transmitting a condensed epitome of the learning of antiquity. The depository of classical culture in Isidore's compendium was so highly regarded that in a great measure it superseded the use of the individual works of the classics themselves, and many were not recopied and are lost. The book not only was one of the most popular compendia in medieval libraries but was printed in at least 10 editions between 1470 and 1530, showing Isidore's continued popularity in the Renaissance. Until the 12th century brought translations from Arabic sources, Isidore transmitted what western Europeans remembered of the works of Aristotle and other Greeks. This work was much copied, particularly in the medieval bestiary.
His other works include his Chronica Majora (a universal history), De differentiis verborum, which is more than a bare book of synonyms: it amounts to brief theological treatise on the doctrine of the Trinity, the nature of Christ, of Paradise, angels, and men. Isidore also produced a History of the Goths; On the Nature of Things, a book of astronomy and natural history dedicated to the Visigothic king Sisebut; and Questions on the Old Testament. There is a mystical treatise on the allegorical meanings of numbers, and a number of brief letters.
In recent years he has been proposed as the patron saint of the Internet.
Alternative spelling: Isadore.
- The Etymologiæ are available at The Latin Library
- Henry Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910: 'Isidore of Seville'
- St. Isidore as proposed patron saint of the Internet