Saturday, April 4, 2020

Saint Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

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The Church presents to us today, for our devout admiration, the memory of the one of the holiest of her Bishops—Isidore, the Bishop of Seville, the most learned man of his age, and what is a still greater praise, the most zealous patriot and friend of his noble country. Let us study his virtues and confide in his patronage: both will help us to fervor during this holy season.

Among Christian lands, there is one that has gained for herself the glorious name of the Catholic Kingdom. Towards the close of the 7th century, Divine Providence subjected her to a most severe trial by permitting the Saracen hordes to invade her: so that her heroic children had to struggle for eight hundred years for the recovery of their country. Contemporaneously with Spain, Asia also, and Africa fell under the Mussulman yoke, and have continued in their slavery up to the present day. Whence comes it that Spain has triumphed over her oppressors and that tyranny has never been able to make her children degenerate? The answer is easily given: Spain, at the period of her invasion, was Catholic, and Catholicity was the very spirit of the land: whereas those other nations that yielded themselves slaves to the Saracens, were already separated from the Christian Church by heresy or schism. God abandoned them because they had rejected both the truth of Faith, and unity with the Church; they fell an easy prey to the infidel conqueror.

Nevertheless, Spain had incurred an immense risk. The race of the Goths, by their long invasion of her territory, had sowed the seeds of heresy: Arianism has set up its sacrilegious altars in Iberia. But God did not permit this privileged country to be long under the yoke of error. Before the Saracens came upon her, she had been reconciled to the Church; and God had chosen one family to be the glorious instrument in the completion of this great work. Even to this day, the traveller through Andalusia will find the squares of its cities adorned with four statues: they are those of three brothers and a sister: St. Leander, Bishop of Seville; St. Isidore, whose feast we are keeping today; St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Carthagena; and their sister. St. Florentina, a Nun. It was by the zeal and eloquence of St. Leander that King Reccared and his Goths were converted from Arianism to the Catholic Faith, in the year 589; the learning and piety of our glorious Isisore consolidated the great work; Fulgentius gave it stability by his virtues and erudition; and Florentina cooperated in it by her life of sacrifice and prayer.

Let us unite with the Catholic Kingdom in honoring this family of Saints; and today, in a special manner, let us pay the tribute of our devotion to St. Isidore. The holy Liturgy thus speaks of him:

Isidorus natione Hispanus, doctor egregius, ex nova Cathagine, Severiano patre provinciæ duce natus, a sanctis episcopis Leandro Hispalensi, et Fulgentio Carchaginensi fratribus suis pie et liberaliter educatus, latinis, græcis et hebraicis litteris, divinisque et humanis legibus instructus, omni scientiarum, atque christianarum virtutum genere præstantissimus evasit. Adhuc adolescens hæresim arianam, quæ gentem Gothorum Hispaniæ latissime dominantem jam pridem invaserat, tanta constantia palam oppugnavit, ut parum abfuerit quin ab hæreticis necaretur. Leandro vita functo ad Hispalensen cathedram invitus quidem, sed urgente in primis Recaredo rege, magnoque etiam cleri, populique consensu assumitur, ejusque electionem sanctus Gregorius Magnus medum autoritate Apostolica confirmasse, sed et electum transmisso de more pallio decorasse, quin etiam suum, et Apostolicæ Sedis in universa Hispania vicarium constituisse perhibetur.

Isidore, by birth a Spaniard, was an illustrious Doctor of the Church. He was born at Carthagena, and his father, whose name was Severianus, was governor of that part of the country. He was solidly trained to piety and learning by his two brothers, Leander, Bishop of Seville, and Fulgentius, Bishop of Carthagena. He was taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; he was put through a course of canon and civil law; and there was no science or virtue in which he did not excel. While yet a youth, he so courageously combated the Arian heresy, which had long before infested the Goths, that he with difficulty escaped being put to death by the heretics. After the death of Leander, he was, in spite of himself, raised to the episcopal See of Seville, by the influence of King Reccared, and with unanimous consent of both clergy and people. His election was not only confirmed by Apostolic authority, but St. Gregory the Great, when sending him, as usual, the Pallium, is said to have appointed him his own vicar, and that of the Apostolic See throughout all Spain.

In Episcopatu quantum fuerit constans, humilis, patiens, misericors, in christiana et ecclesiastica disciplina instauranda solicitus, eaque verbo, et scriptis stabilienda indefessus, atque omni demum virtutum ornamento insignitus, nullius lingua enarrare sufficeret. Monastici quoque instituti per Hispaniam promotor et amplificator eximius, plura construxit monasteria; collegia itidem ædificavit, ubi studiis sacris, et lectionibus vacans plurimos discipulos, qui ad eum confluebant, erudivit; quos inter sancti Ildephonsus Toletanus, et Braulio Cæsaraugustanus episcopi emicuerunt. Coacto Hispali concilio. Acephalorum hæresim Hispaniæ jam minitantem, acri et eloquenti disputatione fregit atque contrivit. Tantam apud omnes sanctitatis et doctrinæ famam adeptus est, ut elapso vix ab ejus obitu sextodecimo anno, universa Toletana synodo duorum supra quinquaginta episcoporum plaudente, ipsoque etiam S. Ildephonso suffragante, doctor egregius, Catholicæ Ecclesiæ novissimum decus, in sæculorum fine doctissimus, et cum reverentia nominandus, appellari meruerit; eumque St. Braulio non modo Gregorio Magno comparaverit, sed et erudiendæ Hispaniæ loco Jacobo Apostoli cœlitus datum esse censuerit.

It would be impossible to describe the virtues of Isidore as Bishop: how firm, humble, patient, and merciful; how zealously he labored for the restoration of Christian morals and ecclesiastical discipline, and how untiring he was in his efforts, both by word and writing, to establish them among his people; and finally, how he excelled in every virtue. He was a fervent promoter of the Monastic Life in Spain, and built several Monasteries. He also built Colleges, in which he himself applied himself to the teaching the sacred sciences to the many disciples that flocked to him; among whom may be mentioned those two glorious Pontiffs, Ildephonsus Bishop of Toledo, and Braulio Bishop of Saragossa. In a Council held at Seville, he spoke with such power and eloquence, that he may be said to have destroyed the heresy of the Acephali, who were threatening to destroy the true faith in Spain. So great, indeed, was the universal reputation he had gained for piety and learning, that he had scarcely been dead sixteen years, when, in a Council held at Toledo, and at which fifty-two Bishops were present, St. Ildephonsus himself among them, he was called the illustrious Doctor, the new Glory of the Catholic Church, the most learned man who had been seen in those ages, and one whose name should never be mentioned but with great respect. St. Braulio not only compared him to St. Gregory the Great, but said that he looked on him as having been sent by heaven, as a second St. James the Apostle, to instruct the people of Spain.

Scripsit Isidorus libros Etymologiarum, et de Ecclesiasticis officiis, aliosque quamplurimos Christianæ et ecclesiasticæ disciplinæ adeo utiles, ut S. Leo Papa IV ad episcopos Britanniæ scribere non dubitaverit, sicut Hieronymi et Augustini, ita Isidori dicta retinenda esse, ubi contigerit inusitatum negotium, quod per Canones minime definiri possit. Plures etiam ex ejusdem scriptis sententiæ inter canonicas Ecclesiæ leges relatæ conspiciuntur. Præfuit Concilio Toletano IV omnium Hispaniæ celeberrimo. Denisque cum ab Hispania arianam hæresim eliminasset, morte sua, et regni vastatione a Saracenorum armis publice prænuntiata, postquam quadraginta circiter annos suam rexisset Ecclesiam, Hispali migravit in cœlum anno sexcentesimo trigesimo sexto. Ejus corpus inter Leandrum fratrem, et Florentinam sororem, ut ipse mandaverat, primo conditum, Ferdinandus primus Castellæ, et Legionis rex ab Eneto Saraceno Hispali dominante magno pretio redemptum, Legionem transtulit; et in ejus honorem templum ædificatum est, ubi miraculis clarus, magna populi devotione colitur.

Isidore wrote a book On Etymologies, and another On Ecclesiastical Offices, and several others, of such importance to Christian and ecclesiastical discipline, that Pope St. Leo the Fourth hesitated not to say, in a letter addressed to the Bishops of Britain, that one ought to adhere to the words of Isidore with that same respect as is shown to those of Jerome and Augustine, as often as a difficult case should arise, which could not be settled by Canon Law. Several sentences of his works have been inserted into the body of the Canon Law. He presided over the Fourth Council of Toledo, which is the most celebrated of all those that have been held in Spain. At length, after having driven the Arian heresy out of Spain, he publicly foretold the day of his death, and the devastation of the country by the Saracens; and having governed his See for about forty years, he died at Seville, in the year 636. His body was first buried, as himself had requested, between those of his brother and sister, Leander and Florentina. Afterwards, Ferdinand the 1st, King of Castille and Leon, purchased it, for a large sum of money, from Enetus, the Saracen governor of Seville, and had it translated to Leon. Here, a Church was built in his honor, and the miracles that are wrought by his intercession, have led the people to honor him with great devotion.

Faithful Pastor! the Christian people honor thy virtues and thy services; they rejoice in the recompense wherewith God has crowned thy merits; hear the prayers that are offered to thee during these the days of salvation. When on earth, thy vigilance over the flock entrusted to thy care was untiring; consider us as a part of it, and defend us from the ravenous wolves that cease not to seek our destruction. May thy prayers obtain for us that fullness of graces needed for our worthily completing the holy Season, which is so near its close. Keep up our courage; incite us to fervor; prepare us for the great Mysteries we are about the celebrate. We have bewailed our sins, and though feebly, we have done penance for them; the work of our Conversion has, therefore, made progress; and now, we must perfect it by the contemplation of the Passion and Death of our Redeemer. Assist us, O thou his faithful and loving Servant! Do thou, whose life was ever pure, take Sinners under thy care, and hear the prayers offered to thee on this day by the Church. Look down from heaven on thy beloved Spain, which honors thee with such earnest devotion. Revive her ancient ardor of Faith; restore to her the vigor of Christian morality; remove from her the tares that have sprung up among the good seed. The whole Church reveres thy noble Country for her staunch adhesion to the truths of Faith—pray for her, that she may come unhurt from the ordeal she is now being put through, and ever prove herself worthy of that glorious title of The Catholic Kingdom, which thou didst help her to gain.

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