Hail, Saint Isidore of Seville!
April 4, 2014 1 Comment
Although a lot of my practice in recent weeks has been focusing on working with saints, usually the holy archangels or the good Saint Cyprian of Antioch, there’s another saint that I want to bring up today on this blessed Friday. First, it’s the monthly Hermaia, being the fourth day of the lunar month, so it’s fitting that this day coincides with the feast day of the Catholic saint, Isidore of Seville, whose feast day is April 4. He’s not one of the more popular saints, but he’s definitely important to me and my work. Given that he wrote what is basically the first encyclopedia, he’s usually associated with mass stores of knowledge and data, which is why he’s given patronage over students generally and anything dealing with computers: IT technicians, programmers, software engineers, computer users, computers themselves, and the Internet. (Yes, the Internet.)
Saint Isidore of Seville was born in 560 CE in southeastern Spain to a family of Roman and Visigothic ancestry, high up in society and related to Visigothic royalty. Well-educated, Isidore became bishop at around 40 years of age, and incorporated both Roman, Visigothic, and Hispanic cultures into his see, and helped to conquer several sects of heretical Christians as well as tame barbarism in the general peoples. In addition to helping culture his own people, he also pronounced anathema against any ecclesiastic who would molest monasteries or, notably, children (something both the modern Church and modern paganism should heed, especially given recent news). Happily (or perhaps boringly), St. Isidore died on his own after serving 32 years as archbishop of Seville, unmartyred or killed.
Among his most notable works is that of the Etymologiae, or “Origins”, an encyclopedia that collected all that classical education had to offer at the close of the late classical and antique periods. To say that this was a lot of information was an understatement; the Etymologiae had sections on grammar and language, mathematics, medicine, law, angelology and theology, animals, physics, geography, metallurgy, agriculture, tools, domestic matters, and many more. The work encompassed twenty books in all, each dedicated to a specific topic. One especially notable exemplar of this work is the Codex Gigas, the world’s largest medieval manuscript, consisting of 620 36″×20″ pages, consisting of the Vulgate Bible, several books of history, the entirety of the Etymologiae, several medical works, magical information, and many other sections. One legend has it that a monk, sentenced to death by being walled up alive, wrote the entire book with the aid of the Devil in a single night; as gratitude, the author drew a large illustration of the Devil in the book, hence the name of the codex.
Saint Isidore, as many other saints do, has many attributes associated with him, but his two most important ones are bees and books. Bees, as well as swarms of bees and beehives, have always been seen as a symbol of industriousness and labor, as well as community, cooperation, and connection between individuals for a greater purpose. Books, of course, as well as pens are notable for St. Isidore, given his prodigious writing projects. It’s clear to those with a basic grasp of symbolism what St. Isidore stands for: work, study, networking, and getting things done, especially when it comes to matters of intellect, education, and mental power. Fittingly, St. Isidore is good for all types of students and academics, from graduate researchers to grade school pupils.
But it’s his connection to one of the first encyclopedias that he’s given patronage over computers and the Internet. As I mentioned way, way, way, way long ago in my XaTuring days, I don’t believe computers are forever, nor will we have the economic or fuel resources to maintain things like this forever; server farms, after all, take an extraordinary amount of energy, and without someone “thinking of something to fix it”, it’s an amazing aspect of our current age that we can maintain these types of connections and networks. By allowing people to chat instantly from all over the world, to storing and processing more data in a single short night than humanity was able to collect in a thousand years, to creating massive troves of porn and warez for us to enjoy. If nothing else, the Internet is the modern human beehive and collaborative supercollective, and it’s more than fair to say that many inventions and scientific research would not be possible without this type of connection and network.
Besides, there’s another more snarky reason why St. Isidore might be patron over the Internet. As many of my readers realized, a few days past was April Fools Day, or as I like to call it, “Trust Nothing and Trust Nobody Day”. Virtually anything on the Internet that day is wrong, but then, most stuff on the Internet is wrong anyway, being passed mimetically from mouth to mouth or keyboard to keyboard, like that meme that goes around this time every year now claiming that the holiday Easter comes from the ancient goddess Ishtar (which is completely wrong). Likewise, for all his studies and scholarship, St. Isidore was limited in only what he could find out, which leads to studies such as that of spontaneous generation. For instance, he claims that “many creatures go through a natural change and by decay pass into different forms, as bees by the decaying flesh of calves, as beetles from horses, locusts from mules, scorpions from crabs”. Obviously not true, but then, that’s information for you. Just as the Internet can be a neverending repository of all information, wrong and right, so too is the work of Isidore of Seville, but it can’t be faulted against him. For all his incorrect facts, he helped spur further research and study to correct what was wrong, just as people on the Internet do all the time.
One modern prayer to Saint Isidore in his patronage over the Internet might be worth considering, especially for those who browse comments on forums, YouTube, and the like:
Almighty and eternal God, who has created us in Thy image, and hast bidden us to seek after all that is good, true, and beautiful, especially in the divine person of thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of Saint Isidore, bishop and doctor, during our journeys through the Internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
A more traditional prayer attributed to Saint Isidore of Seville goes like this:
Here we are before thee, O Holy Ghost.
We feel the burden of our infirmities, but we are united all together in Thy name:
come to us, help us, enter into our hearts:
teach us what we should do, the path to follow,
do for us what Thou askest us to do.
Be the only one to propose and guide our decisions,
because only Thou, with the Father and the Son,
hast a name that is glorious and holy.
Do not allow us to offend justice,
Thou, who lovest order and peace,
Let not ignorance lead us astray,
Let not human sympathy bias us,
Do not let people or office influence us.
Keep us intimately close to Thee with the gift of Thy Grace,
so that we may be only one thing with Thee,
and nothing may separate us from the Truth.
Gathered in Thy Holy Name, may we be good and firm,
so that all we do may be in one accord with Thee,
awaiting that the faithful fulfillment of our duty
may lead us to the eternal good. Amen.
So, dear readers, if you’ve been having problems with studying for spring midterms or finals, whether you need extra help in getting your computer right, or whether you want an extra pair of eyes watching out for you to make sure you don’t share something on Facebook that’s cute and mind-numbingly stupid, you might want to light a candle and offer a class of water to this good saint today.