St. Isidore, Bishop of Seville

Author: Alban Butler


Feast: April 4

From his works and those of SS Braulio and Ildefonse, his disciples. His life, compiled by Luke, Bishop of Tuy, in Galicia, in 1236, extant in Mabillon, Saec. Ben. ii., shows not that accuracy and judgment which we admire in the books of that author against the Albigenses: nor is it here made use of.

St Isidore is honoured in Spain as the most illustrious doctor of that church, in which God raised him, says St. Braulio,1 to stem the torrent of barbarism and ferocity which everywhere followed the arms of the Goths, who had settled themselves in that kingdom in 412. The eighth great council of Toledo, fourteen years after his death, styles him "the excellent doctor, the late ornament of the Catholic Church, the most learned man, given to enlighten the latter ages, always to be named with reverence." The city Carthagena was the place of his birth, which his parents, Severian and Theodora, persons of the first quality in the kingdom, edified by the example of their extraordinary piety. His two brothers, Leander and Fulgentius, bishops, and his sister Florentina, are also honoured among the saints. Isidore having qualified himself in his youth for the service of the church by an uncommon stock of virtue and learning, assisted his brother, Leander, Archbishop of Seville, in the conversion of the Visigoths from the Arian heresy. This great work he had the happiness to see perfectly accomplished by his indefatigable zeal and labours, which he continued during the successive reigns of the kings Reccared, Liuba, Witeric, Gundemar, Sisebut, and Sisemund. Upon the decease of St. Leander, in 600 or 601, he succeeded him in the see of Seville. He restored and settled the discipline of the church of Spain in several councils, of all of which he was the oracle and the soul. The purity of their doctrine, and the severity of the canons enacted in them, drawn up chiefly by him, are incontestable monuments of his great learning and zeal. In the council of Seville, in 619, in which he presided, he, in a public disputation, convinced Gregory (a bishop of the Acephali) of his error, who was come over from Syria; and so evidently did he confute the Eutychian heresy that Gregory upon the spot embraced the Catholic faith. In 610, the bishops of Spain, in a council held at Toledo, agreed to declare the archbishop of that city Primate of all Spain, as, they say, he had always been acknowledged; which decree King Gundemar confirmed by a law the same year, and St. Isidore subscribed the same. Yet we find that in the fourth council of Toledo, in 633, the most famous of all the synods of Spain, though Justus, the Archbishop of Toledo, was present, St. Isidore presided, not by the privilege of his see, but on the bare consideration of his extraordinary merit; for he was regarded as the eminent doctor of the churches of Spain. The city of Toledo was honoured with the residence of the Visigoth kings.

St. Isidore, to extend to posterity the advantages which his labours had procured to the church, compiled many useful works, in which he takes in the whole circle of the sciences, and discovers a most extensive reading, and a general acquaintance with the ancient writers, both sacred and profane. In the moral parts his style is pathetic and moving, being the language of a heart overflowing with sentiments of religion and piety; and though elegance and politeness of style were not the advantage of that age, the diction of this father is agreeable and clear. The saint was well versed in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages.

St. Ildefonse says that this saint governed his church near forty years, but cannot mean above thirty-six or thirty-seven. When he was almost fourscore years old, though age and fatigues had undermined and broken into his health, he never interrupted his usual exercises and labours. During the last six months of his life he increased his charities with such profusion that the poor of the whole country crowded his house from morning till night. Perceiving his end to draw near, he entreated two bishops to come to see him. With them he went to church, where one of them covered him with sackcloth, the other put ashes on his head. Clothed with the habit of penance, he stretched his hands towards heaven, prayed with great eagerness, and begged aloud the pardon of his sins. He then received from the hands of the bishops the body and blood of our Lord, recommended himself to the prayers of all that were present, remitted the bonds of all his debtors, exhorted the people to charity, and caused all the money which he had not as yet disposed of to be distributed among the poor. This done, he returned to his own house, and calmly departed this life on the fourth day after, which was the 4th of April, in the year 636, as is expressly testified by Aedemptus, his disciple, who was present at his death. His body was interred in his cathedral between those of his brother, St. Leander, and his sister, St. Florentina. Ferdinand, King of Castile and Leon, recovered his relics from the Moors and placed them in the church of St. John Baptist at Leon, where they still remain.

All who are employed in the functions of Martha or of an exterior active life, must always remember that action and contemplation ought to be so constantly intermingled, that the former be always animated and directed by the latter, and amid the exterior labors of the active life, we constantly enjoy the interior repose of the contemplative, and that no employments entirely interrupt the union of our souls to God; but those that are most distracting serve to make us more closely, more eagerly, and more amorously, plunge our hearts in Him, embracing him in himself by contemplation, and In our neighbor by our actions.


1 Praenot. lib. Isidor.

(Taken from Vol. IV of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler, the 1864 edition published by D. & J. Sadlier, & Company)