Feast Day: April 4th
St. Isidore the Farmer is one of the most-often chosen saints for confirmation patrons around our diocese. Being a patron for anyone involved in agriculture or livestock, he is a popular saint especially for our young men in even vaguely rural settings. However, his feast day is not until May, and he was named after a saint that lived 500 years before him, the saint we celebrate this week: Isidore of Seville.
That first Isidore was born to Severianus and Theodora, a duke and duchess, of Roman heritage (you can tell by their names!) in Spain in 560. As heresies swirled amongst bishops, barbarians pillaged and resettled swaths of the continent, and the Roman empire split and splintered, we find ourselves looking back to a rough and difficult age. Yet Isidore’s family must have had laid the foundations for their family deep in the truths of their Christian faith because despite all that turmoil, all of the four children of the ducal family would be eventually hailed as saints (that being Leander, Isidore, Fulgentius, and Florentina – may I just say they had a way with names back then!) Isidore was blessed to be educated at the Cathedral school in Seville, entrusted with grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the “trivium”, the foundational three elements of a integral and liberating education) as well as arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (the “quadrivium”, four higher elements of a classical, liberal, education), as well as, of course, the principles of the faith, Latin, as well as some Greek and Hebrew.
Just to comment briefly on these parts of his education: it really was not all that long ago that these different elements remained the fundamentals of anyone’s education: think Abraham Lincoln studying law and logic between chopping down trees. Nowadays a “liberal” education is seen as rather unpractical, and we find a constant emphasis on the harder, more mathematical, scientific, empirical forms of knowledge. (Just think of how many times politicians and educators emphasize STEM courses and competency). But, can’t a case be made that we have forgotten the foundation in trying to build ourselves up to the heavens? I use grammar and rhetoric every time that I speak or write. I rarely use the quadratic formula. Of course, you might respond that my line of work requires more speaking and less calculating, and that is true, but the quadratic formula is eternally stranded on the level of numbers and mathematics. It will never solve for the mystery of life; it will never break a flower or rainstorm into their constitutive components; it will never decipher, or discover, Shakespeare; and I’m not going to use it to get to know a friend, nor to stay a friend of God. I am glad that I learned it, yes, yet, it would be a far greater loss to loose the ability to reason and communicate and read and pray, than to not be easily able to “solve for x.”
Isidore may have become a monk (history has forgotten that particular detail) but in any case, he would follow his own brother in becoming Bishop of Seville right around the difficult year of 600AD. I would love to comment on all the various episcopal things he did, problems he faced, sacraments he celebrated, and homilies he preached, but I’m going to instead focus on what he was best known for: his safeguarding and teaching of the truth. It was a volatile, brutal, illiterate age, and so Isidore sat down to compile everything that was to know, putting it all in what would be the grandfather of all encyclopedias, his Etymologiae. He collected, and saved for all of us, countless excerpts and summaries of ancient texts, truly on almost everything that was known at the time: science, religion, philosophy, grammar, geography, infrastructure, mathematics, medicine, technology, geology, nautical, animal, and avian knowledge… And, he invented one or two things you might have used today: the period, comma, and colon. (I used all three in the last five words of that sentence without even trying) Before Isidore, punctuation did not exist! ENTIREBOOKSWEREMOSTLYALLCAPSANDOFTENWITHOUTSPACES. His invention of punctuation would allow the treasures hard-won throughout human history to be passed along through the hard centuries that were coming.
And, they made writing this article substantially easier.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has no particular memory of learning these most basic parts of speech, though, funnily enough, he has, for many years, had a disorderly love for the comma. I bitterly remonstrate with a book or article if the author neglected an oxford comma, and throw them in around every appositive phrase, that being a clarifying statement within a larger one, as well as in various other, unnecessary places (see what I did there). My mom was not always impressed, though perhaps I was just trying to make up for the thousands of human writings that never knew the beauty of a proper comma…