Isidore was born about 560 in Seville, Spain, into a noble Christian family. He was the youngest child and was personally educated by his much-older brother, Leander, the close friend of Pope Gregory the Great. Though severe in his methods, Leander managed to furnish his little brother with both a brilliant mind and a tender heart.

When Isidore became pastor in Seville he concerned himself with establishing schools for the young, converting false teachers to orthodoxy, and evangelizing Jews. He established seminaries in every Spanish diocese for training young ministers.

But he did more. He compiled history’s first encyclopedia, the Etymologiae. It became the most used textbook of the Middle Ages, containing entries on medicine, arithmetic, grammar, history, science, and theology. Isidore also developed a dictionary of synonyms, a book on astronomy, a summary of world history, a set of biographies of illustrious men, books on biblical characters, and many books of sermons and theological studies. He became known as the greatest teacher in Spain.

The highlight of his career came late in his 37-year ministry. He presided over the great Spanish church council of Toledo which opened on December 5, 633. At this council, it was determined that baptismal candidates should be plunged into water only once, not three times. The council also approved the singing of hymns, not just the words of Scripture. And it forbade the compulsory conversion of Jews.

Two years later when he sensed he was dying, Isidore began distributing his goods to the poor. Four days before his death he asked two friends to carry him to the church of St. Vincent the Martyr. Once there he had one of them cover him with sackcloth and the other put ashes on his head. The old scholar then raised his hands to heaven and prayed loudly, confessing his sins and pleading for grace. A crowd assembled, and Isidore requested their prayers and forgave his debtors. He preached to the people about love, then distributed his remaining possessions. Returning home, he took to his bed and died peacefully on Thursday, April 4, 636.

When God divided out the wind and the water, And when he decided the path for rain and lightning, He also determined the truth and defined wisdom. God told us, “Wisdom means that you respect me, the Lord, And turn from sin.” (Job 28:25-28)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 4.

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