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St. Isidore of Seville is sometimes called “the schoolmaster of the Middle Ages” because his books and schools helped shape the education and culture of medieval Europe. For ten centuries, Isidore’s voluminous works were among those most quoted by other writers. And his establishment of cathedral schools laid a foundation for the medieval universities and for education in the West.
In 599, Isidore became bishop of Seville and for thirty-seven years led the Spanish church through a period of intense religious development.. Isidore also organized representative councils that established the structure and discipline of the church in Spain. At the Council of Toledo in 633 he obtained a decree that required the establishment of a school in every diocese. Reflecting the saint’s broad interests, the schools taught every branch of knowledge, including the liberal arts, medicine, law, Hebrew, and Greek.
Isidore wrote many books, the most famous being the Etymologies, an encyclopedia of grammar, rhetoric, theology, history, medicine, and mathematics. He also wrote a dictionary of synonyms, brief biographies of illustrious men, treatises on theological and philosophical subjects, a history of world events since the creation, and a history of the Goths, which is our only source of information about them. Throughout his long life, Isidore lived austerely so that he could give to the poor. But while Isidore had compassion for needy, he thought they were better off than their oppressors, as he explains in this selection:
We ought to sorrow for people who do evil rather than for people who suffer it. The wrongdoing of the first leads them further into evil. The others’ suffering corrects them from evil. Through the evil wills of some, God works much good in others. Some people, resisting the will of God, unwittingly do his purpose. Understand then that so truly are all things subject to God that even those who oppose his law nevertheless fulfill his will.
Evil men are necessary so that through them the good may be scourged when they do wrong…Some simple men, not understanding the dispensation of God, are scandalized by the success of evil men. They say with the prophet: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” Those who speak thus should not wonder to see the frail temporal happiness of the wicked. Rather they should consider the final end of evil men, and the everlasting torments prepared for them. As the prophet says: “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment they go down to hell.”
Shortly before his death, Isidore had two friends clothe him in sackcloth and rub ashes on his head so that he could come before God as a poor penitent. He died peacefully at Seville in 636.