Saint Isidore of Seville’s life story lets us know that for centuries Christian witnesses have helped to restore the Church by synthesizing contemplation and action. As the Church celebrates his feast day, we can learn a few things about our own lives from his example. In particular, we can understand that a holy life is not one in which we remove ourselves from the world; rather it is a life where we embrace the people and circumstances Christ brings to us.
He’s called the last scholar of the ancient world. His most important work, the 20-volume Etymologaie, is considered the world’s first encyclopedia. It was widely used for 1,000 years. He was an advocate of reading the Bible. “Reading the holy Scriptures confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man’s attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.”
But he wasn’t an egg-head academic; he was a man of both thought and action. As an archbishop. St. Isidore also oversaw the Second Synod of Seville (619) and the Fourth National Council of Toledo (633), both meetings that unified Church teaching at a critical time in her history. This, along with St. Isidore’s establishment of schools to study every area of learning, not insignificantly, made Spain a center of culture and learning.
This record of accomplishment is a bit intimidating, yes? Most of us don’t occupy positions of power or authority and won’t have the chance to reform the Church or write works of enduring value. What can we learn from his life?
St. Isidore tells us that only by engaging in the reality before us can we hope to understand God. “Those who seek to attain repose in contemplation must first train in the stadium of active life; and then, free from the dross of sin, they will be able to display that pure heart which alone makes the vision of God possible.”