Isidore of Seville

c.560-636. Archbishop of Seville and encyclopedist. His parents fled to Seville from Cartagena when the city was destroyed by Arian Goths. He was born in Seville and educated in a monastery primarily by his elder brother, Leander, who became archbishop of Seville. From his earliest years he showed great aptitude in learning, and his studies covered virtually all areas of contemporary knowledge. About 600 he became archbishop and as such founded schools, laid plans for the conversion of the Jews, and also presided over church councils—e.g., at Seville (619) and Toledo (633).

Without any doubt his chief importance lies in his writings. His Sententiarum libri tres was the first manual of Christian doctrine in the Latin Church: the first book dealt with dogma, the second and third with ethics. The Etymologiarum sive originum libri viginti was an encyclopedia in twenty books distilling all the knowledge of his time in all fields; by means of it he virtually became “the schoolmaster of the Middle Ages.” Topics covered included grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, music, jurisprudence, history, theology, heresies, geography, geology, clothing, agriculture, and anthropology. Many of his earlier writings were used in this massive work. On the Bible he wrote a general introduction, Prooemiorum liber unus; biographical sketches of biblical characters, De vita et morte sanctorum utriusque Testamenti; and an allegorical interpretation of the OT, Quaestium in Vetus Testamentum libri duo. His Historia de Regibus Gothorum, Vandalorum et Suevorum is the principal source for the history of the Visigoths.

He died at Seville and became the national hero of the Spanish Church. He was canonized in 1598 and formally accepted as a “Doctor of the Church” in 1722.

His works are in J.P. Migne, PL LXXXI- LXXXIV. For a modern edition of his Etymologiae see the two- volume edition by W.M. Lindsay (1911). For his life and work see E. Bréhaut, An Encyclopaedist of the Dark Ages (1912), and P. Séjourne, Le Dernier Père de l'église, Saint Isidore de Séville (1929); J. Fontaine, Isidore de Séville et la Culture Classique (2 vols., 1959).