ISIDORE OF SEVILLE: Life. Isidore, archbishop of Seville and encyclopedist, was born about 560, the place unknown; d. at Seville, Spain, Apr. 4, 636. He was a scion of a distinguished Roman family which had fled from Carthagena during the Gothic invasion, and was educated, after the death of his parents, by his brother Leander, whom he succeeded, apparently about 600, as archbishop of Seville. He attended the synod held by King Gundemar in 610, and presided over those held by King Sisebut at Seville in 619 and the famous Fourth Synod of Toledo under Sisenand in 633 (see TOLEDO, SYNODS OF).
His Influence and Importance. Isidore's chief importance, however, was as an author, and his learning embraced the entire range possible in his age and country. Neither originality nor independent investigation, neither keen criticism nor elegance of presentation could he expected from him, but his manifold interest, reading, and diligence in collecting, excerpting, and compiling from all departments of theological and secular learning are unparalleled. His position in history is determined primarily by two works, the Libri sententiarum, the first dogmatics of the Latin Church, and the Etymologiae, the source of linguistic and practical knowledge for centuries, so that he became the schoolmaster of the Middle Ages. Gradually he became the national hero of the Spanish Church, and to him were attributed the Old Spanish or Mozarabic liturgy, the collection of Spanish canons upon which was based the forgery of the pseudo-Isidore, and even the collection of the laws of the West Gothic kings. The Roman Catholic Church, despite the weakness of the bonds which then united Spain and Rome, holds that he was a pupil of Gregory the Great, that he was vicar-apostolic in Spain, received the pallium, and took part in a Roman synod. Yet it is quite possible that he did not recognize the council of 553, and that he treated Justinian merely as a heretic who sought to overthrow the Chalcedonian Creed; while he did not mention the papacy in his ecclesiastical handbook, and he was even slightly heterodox in his views of the sacraments and grace.
His Writings. The works of Isidore are thus enumerated according to a list by Braulio (in MPL, lxxxi. 15 sqq.), which seems, in the main, to follow chronological order: (1) Prooemiorum liber unus, an introduction to the Bible, consisting of a brief prologue on the canon in general and short tables of contents of the individual books. (2) De ortu et obitu patrum, or De vita et morte sanctorum utriusque Testamenti, short biographies of eighty-five characters of the Bible, sixty-four from the Old Testament and twenty-one from the New. The authenticity of the work has been doubted, but without sufficient reason. (3) Officiorum libri duo, usually called De officiis ecclesiasticis, written about 610, one of the most important works of Isidore for theology and ecclesiastical archeology. The first book, entitled De origine officiorum, discusses the origin and the authors of ecclesiastical worship, while the second, De origine ministeriorum, is devoted to the duties of the orders of clergy and various estates in life. (4) De nominibus legis et evangeliorum liber, evidently identical with the Allegoriae quaedam sanctae scripturae of the manuscripts and editions, and containing an allegorical interpretation of 129 names and passages from the Old Testament and 121 from the New. The work is of great value for the art and literature of the Middle Ages. (5) De haeresibus liber, which is probably identical with the list of Jewish and Christian heresies given in the fourth and fifth chapters of the eighth book of the Etymologiae. (6) Sententiarum libri tres, the chief theological work of its author, and the first Latin compend of faith and morals, chiefly in excerpts from Augustine and Gregory the Great. The first book is dogmatic in content, and treats of such subjects as the qualities of God, the origin of evil, the soul, and Christ, the seven rules of exegesis, the difference between the Testaments, creeds, baptism, the sacrament, and eschatology (but with no mention of purgatory). The second and third books are ethical, the former general and the latter special. The first discusses, among other subjects, the cardinal virtues, grace, election, conversion, backsliding, repentance, sin, conscience, virtue and vice. The last book discusses the estates of the Christian life, divine judgments, temptation, prayer, asceticism, temporal authorities, the brevity of human life, and similar topics. (7) Contra Judaeos libri duo, or De fide catholica adversus Judaeos, written at the request of his sister Florentina, and establishing the truth of the Christian religion from the prophecies of the Old Testament with special reference to the Jewish question in Spain. (8) Monasticae regulae liber, a system not differing essentially from the Benedictine rule, although in no way related to it. (9) Quaestionum in Vetus Testamentum libri duo, a mystical and allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament, consisting entirely of excerpts from Origen, Victorinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Fulgentius, Cassian, and especially from Gregory the Great. (10) De viris illustribus sive de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, a continuation of the works of Jerome and Gennadius. It contains the biographies of fourteen Spaniards and thirty-two non-Spaniards, but is written for the most part in a superficial manner and composed in great measure of excerpts (which are frequently incorrect) from Rufinus, Cassiodorus, and Victor of Tunnuna, or from the works of the authors whom Isidore discusses. (11) Chronicorum a principio mundi usque ad tempus suum liber, from the creation to the Emperor Heraclius and King Sisebut (616), based on Julius Africanus, Eusebius-Jerome, and Victor of Tunnuna, while its division according to the "six ages of the world" was taken from Augustines City of God. The work is extant in two recensions, as well as in an abridgment forming the fifth chapter of the Etymologiae. (12) Historia Gothorum, Vandalorum et Suevorum, also in two redactions, and containing a brief, but valuable, account of these three peoples, especially of the Goths from the earliest times to the fifth year of King Swintila (626). (13) Libri differentiarum duo, the first an alphabetical list of synonymous or homonymous words with their meanings, and the second an elucidation of various concepts. (14) Synonymorum libri duo, or according to Ildefonsus, Libri lamentationum, a collection of words and phrases in the form of a dialogue between the sinful soul and comforting "reason," which points it to penance and the forgiveness of sins. (15) De natura rerum, written at the request of King Sisebut and dedicated to him. In its forty-five chapters it contains the most noteworthy facts concerning the elements, the heavenly bodies, the weather, the divisions of the earth, and the like, the material being drawn in great part from Suetonius, Ambrose, the pseudo-Clementine writings, and Augustine. (16) De numeris liber, a mystic interpretation of the numbers from one to sixty and their significance in Scripture, nature, and history. The work is important for the history of the symbolism of figures. (17) Etymologiarum sive originum libri viginti, the culmination of all the works of its author, his other writings being either preparations or extensions of individual parts of this book. It formed the great encyclopedia of Isidores period, and derived its name from the etymology prefixed to each article. The work is divided into twenty books treating of the following subjects: i. grammar; ii. rhetoric and dialectics; iii. arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy; iv. medicine; v. jurisprudence and chronology, with a brief universal history; vi. Bible, inspiration, the canon, sacraments, liturgy, Easter, feasts, libraries, manuscripts, books, writing-material, and the like; vii. a compend of theology, God, the Trinity, angels and men, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, clerks, and monks; viii. church and synagogue, religion and faith, heresy and schism, Jewish and Christian heretics, gentile philosophers, poets, sibyls, magicians, and gods; ix. various peoples and languages, offices and forms of government, marriages and relationships; x. Latin lexicon, with an explanation of about 500 words in alphabetical order; xi. mankind; xii. animals; xiii. the composition and motion of the world; xiv. divisions of the earth, lands, and mountains; xv. cities; xvi. earth and stone, gems and metals, weights and measures; xvii. agriculture, plants, and grain; xviii. war, weapons, games; xix. ships, buildings, clothing, adornment; xx. food, drink, furniture, and agricultural implements. Isidores chief sources were Cassiodorus, Boethius, Varro, Solinus, Pliny, Hyginus, Servius, Lactantius, Tertullian, and especially the Prata of Suetonius, but much was written from memory, thus accounting for many of the inaccuracies of the work. The Etymologiae remained the great work of reference for hundreds of years, and was practically copied by Rabanus in his encyclopedic De universo (844), while it was profoundly admired by John of Salisbury in the twelfth century. Compiler and plagiarist though he may have been, it has been well said that centuries would have remained in darkness if Isidore had not let his light shine.
In addition to the works already enumerated Isidore is said to have written many smaller treatises, and others still have been ascribed to him, such as the Quaestiones de Veteri et Novo Testamento and the De ordine creaturarum, De contemptu mundi, and an interpretation of the Song of Solomon. A number of Latin poems are ascribed to him, but with little warrant, and hymns to Agatha and other martyrs are included among the Mozarabic hymns. Several of his letters are still extant, and contain much of biographical and contemporary interest.