ISIDORUS HISPALENSIS, whose merits are but imperfectly acknowledged when he is pronounced to have been the most eloquent speaker, the most profound scholar, and the most able prelate of the barbarous age and country to which he belonged. Descended from an honourable Gothic stock, his father, Severianus, was governor, and his elder brother, Fulgentius, bishop of Cartagena, while another brother, Leander, also his senior, presided over the see of Sevilla.
In the palace of the latter Isidorus passed his youth devoted to study and to religious exercises, labouring at the same time with zeal and success in the conversion of the Arian Visigoths. Upon the death of Leander, in A. D. 600 or 601, he succeeded to his episcopal charge. One of his first acts was to establish a college for the education of youth; soon after he repaired to Rome for the purpose of holding personal communication with the great Gregory, in 616 (or 617), he presided at the second council of Sevilla, and in December, A. D. 633, at the great council of Toledo, manifesting at all times the most eager anxiety for the extension of the orthodox faith, and for the maintenance of order and strict discipline among the clergy.
He died in the church of St. Vincentius on the 4th of April, A. D. 636.
The esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries and immediate successors is sufficiently attested by the tribute to his memory in the Acts of the eighth council of Toledo, held fourteen years after his death : " Nostri seculi doctor egregius, ecclesiae Catholicae novissimum decus, praecedentibus aetate postremus, doctrinae comparatione non infimus, et, quod majus est, in saeculoram fine doctissimus atque cum reverentia nominandus, ISIDORUS."
His numerous works display an extent of knowledge which, although at once superficial and inaccurate, must have caused them to be regarded as absolutely marvellous at the period when they were given to the world, exhibiting as they do a certain degree of familiarity with almost every branch of learning known even by name in those times.
The fruits of this unremitting industry are even in the present day not altogether destitute of value, since considerable portions of the facts are derived from sources no longer accessible, although it may be doubted whether the ancient authorities were consulted directly or only through the medium of previous compilations drawn up during the fifth and sixth centuries.
In giving a catalogue of the works of Isidorus, without attempting any regular or formal classification, which is scarcely practicable, we shall endeavour to rank those together which approach most nearly in the nature of their subjects, assigning the first place to the most important of all, namely,--
An Encyclopaedia of Arts and Sciences belonging to the same class with the medley of Martianus Capella [CAPELLA], but far superior to it both in matter and manner. From this book we can form a very distinct idea of the state of mental culture at the epoch of its publication, when the study of the ancient authors was almost entirely superseded by meagre abridgments and confused condensations, and it is of high importance in so far as the history of education and literature during the middle ages is concerned, since it was one of the very few manuals by means of which some acquaintance with the Greek and Roman classics was kept alive during six hundred years. Prefixed is a correspondence between Isidorus and his pupil Braulio, bishop of Saragossa, to whom we are indebted for a " Praenotatio librorum Isidori," and who, together with another pupil, Ildefonsus, bishop of Toledo, revised the production now before us.
The first book treats of grammar, with four chapters at the end, upon the nature, advantages, and different species of history ; the second, of rhetoric and dialectics; the third, of the four great departments of mathematical science, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy ; the fourth, of medicine; the fifth, of law, to which is subjoined a dissertation on the different measures of time, together with a short chronicle, extending from the creation of the world to the reign of Heraclius; the sixth, of the canon of Scripture, of libraries, of books in general, bookbinding, and writing materials, and of the determination of Easter, concluding with an explanation of sundry sacred words and technicalities; the seventh, of God, of angels, and of the various orders of holy men from patriarchs, prophets, and apostles down to monks; the eighth, of the Jews and their sects, of the Christian church and its heresies, of the gods, soothsayers, priests, and magicians of the pagans; the ninth of languages, of the names of nations, of various political combinations, of the titles of magistrates and military authorities ; and of the various grades of relationship; the tenth, of topics purely etymological, expounding the derivation of a number of words arranged in alphabetical order; the eleventh, of man and of monsters; the twelfth, of domestic animals, and of beasts, birds, insects, reptiles, and fishes in general; the thirteenth and fourteenth, of geography, mathematical, physical, and political, including atmospheric phenomena; the fifteenth, of the origin of the principal states and kingdoms in the world, of edifices both public and private, of land-surveying and of roads; the sixteenth, of the constitution of soils, of mineralogy, of weights and measures; the seventeenth, of agriculture; the eighteenth of war, and of games and sports of every description; the nineteenth, of ships and their equipments, of architecture, of clothing and the textile fabrics; the twentieth, of food, of domestic utensils and furniture, of carriages, of harness, and of rustic implements.
The earliest edition of the Origines which bears a date is that published at Vienna by Gintherus Zainer of Reutlingen, fol. 1472
, but there are three editions in Gothic characters without date and without name of place or printer, all of which are supposed by bibliographers to be older than the first mentioned. One, if not two, of these is believed to have proceeded from the press of Ulric Zell at Cologne, another from that of Mantelin at Strasbourg
, while, in addition to the above, at least six editions more belong to the fifteenth century, a sure evidence of the popularity of the work. The most accurate is that which forms the third volume of the " Corpus Grammaticorum Veterum " of Lindemann, Lips. 4to. 1833. The second gook was printed separately by Pithou in his " Antiqui Rhetores Latini." Paris, 4to. 1599, p. 356.
The two following works belong to grammar :
II. De Differentiis s. De Proprietate Verborum,
s. De Proprietate Verborum,
in two parts, of which the first is less purely grammatical than the remainder, since it treats chiefly of the precise meaning of various theological terms, many of which involve abstruse questions of doctrine.
The second part is borrowed in great measure from Agroetius and other old writers upon the same subject.
This treatise does not appear to have been ever printed in a separate form, but will be found in editions of the collected works.
III. Liber Glossarum Latinarum
Liber Glossarum Latinarum,
a collection from various glossaries circulated under the name of Isidorus.
It was published along with the Graeco-Latin glosses of Philoxenus and others, by Vulcanius, Lug. Bat. fol. 1600
, and appears in its best form at the end of the third edition of the Lexicon Philologicum of Martinius, which was published under the superintendence of Graevius, Traj. ad Rhen. 1698
The following work belongs to natural philosophy :--
IV. De Rerum Natura, s. De Mundo
De Rerum Natura,
s. De Mundo,
addressed to king Sisebutus.
It contains in forty-seven short chapters discussions on sundry questions connected with astronomy, meteorolog and physical geography; such as the career of the sun and of the moon, eclipses, falling stars, clouds, rain, winds, prognostics of the weather, earthquakes, the ocean, the Nile, mount Aetna, and the great divisions of the earth.
It will be found in the collected works.
The four following works belong to history : --
Chronological tables from the creation of the world to the fifth year of the emperor Heraclius, that is, A. D. 627.
It was edited with much care by Garcia de Loaisa, Taurin. 4to. 1593, whose text has been followed by Roncalli in his Velt. Lat. Script. Chron.
p. ii. p. 419, and in the Madrid edition of the collected works.
VI. Historia Gothorum
a short account of the Goths from their first collisions with the Romans in the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus down to the death of Sisebutus.
VII. Historia Vandalorum,
from the time of their entrance into Spain under Gunderic until their final destruction upon the fall of Gelimer, embracing a period of one hundred and twenty-three years and seven months, which is comprehended within the limits of a single folio page.
VIII. Historia Suevorum
equally brief, from their entrance into Spain under Hermeric until their final destruction, one hundred and twenty-six years afterwards.
These three tracts will be found in their best form in the edition of the Chronicon by Garcia de Loaisa named above, in the compilations of Labbé and Florez, and in the Madrid edition of the collected works.
The following works belong to poetry : --
Among the collected works we find a sacred song in trochaic tetrameters cat., entitled Lamentum Poenitentiae pro Indulgentia Peccatorum,
and in the Acta Sanctorum under the fifth of February, two hymns in praise of St. Agatha.
Astronomical Poem also ascribed to Fulgentius
Some assign to Isidorus an astronomical poem in heroic verse more commonly ascribed to Fulgentius, the fragments of which are included in the collection of Pithou published at Paris in 1590.
X. De Vita et Obitu Sanctorum qui Deo placuerunt.
Short sketches of sixty-five holy men belonging to the Old Testament history, and of twenty-two under the new dispensation, from Adam to the Maccabaean brothers, from Zacharias to Titus.
XI. De Scriptoribus Ecclesiastics Liber
De Scriptoribus Ecclesiastics Liber,
or simply, De Viris Illustribus,
or, as the title sometimes appears at greater length, Isidori Additio ad Libros S. Hieronymi et Gennadii de Scriptoribus Ecclesiasticis,
a continuation of the biographical sketches of eminent divines by Hieronymus [HIERONYMUS ; GENNADIUS], upon the same plan, commencing in the older editions with Osius, bishop of Cordova, and ending with Maximus, bishop of Saragossa, including thirty-three individuals ; but in the Madrid editions of the collected works we find several new lives prefixed, from a MS. not before collated, reaching from Sixtus, bishop of Rome, down to Marcellinus.
The two following works belong to formal theology :--
XII. De Officiis Ecclesiasticis Libri II.
De Officiis Ecclesiasticis Libri II.,
with a prefatory epistle addressed to Fulgentius.
The first book, which bears the separate title De Origine Officiorum,
is devoted to the rites, ceremonies, liturgies, and festivals of the church, with an examination of the authority upon which each is founded, whether Scripture, apostolical tradition, or uninterrupted and invariable practice; the second book, with the title De Origine Ministrorum,
treats in like manner of the different orders among the clergy, and of those persons among the laity, who were more immediately connected with them, such as holy maidens, widows, catechumens, and the like.
This piece is of the greatest importance to those who employ themselves in investigating the ritual of the Romish Church.
It was published in the Monumenta S. Patrum Orthodoxographa of Grynaeus, Colon. fol. 1568, in the Sylloge Script. de Catholicis Ecclesiae Officiis of Melchior Hittorpius, Rom. fol. 1591
, and in the Sylloge Scriptorum de Officiis Ecclesiasticis, Paris, fol. 1610
XIII. Regula Monachorum
a code of rules in twenty-one sections for the government of the Coenobium Honorianum, founded by Isidorus himself.
It is remarkable only from displaying a more gentle spirit than such statute-books usually exhibit.
It is included in the Codex Regularum of Holstenius, Rom. 4to. 1661, p.ii. p. 198.
The four following works belong to exegetical theology : --
XIV. Liber Pröoemiorum
or Pröoemia in Libros Veteris ac Novi Testamenti,
a succinct outline of the contents of each of the books which form the canon of Scripture.
XV. Commentaria in Vetus Testamentum
Commentaria in Vetus Testamentum,
or, Quaestiones et Mysticorum Expositiones Sacramentorum in Vetus Testamentum.
An exposition of the mystical, typical, and allegorical signification of the principal events recorded in the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Kings, Chronicles, Esdra, and the Maccabees, selected from the writings of various fathers, of whom Origen, Victorinus, Ambrosius, Hieronymus, Cassianus, Augustinus, Fulgentius, and Gregory are specially named in the preface, the object of Isidorus being to render the researches of these wise and learned men accessible to a greater number of readers by presenting them in a compressed and familiar form. Published separately, Haganoae (Haguenau
), 4to. 1529.
XVI. Allegoriae quaedam Sacrae Scripturae.
Short allegorical interpretations of many passages in the Old and New Testaments.
The spirit of this piece is the same as that of the preceding, but the results are enunciated much more briefly.
XVII. Expositio in Canticum Canticorum Salomonis.
The same principles are here applied to prove that Solomon's Song is a shadowing forth of the union of Christ with his church.
In the ten following works we have a mixture of dogmatical, speculative, sentimental, and practical theology, combined so intimately that not one of them can be said to belong to any single department exclusively.
XVIII. Sententiarum, s. De summo Bono Libri III.
A voluminous collection of short essays and dogmatic rules on a great multiplicity of themes connected with speculative, practical, and ritual theology, forming a sort of Manual of Divinity,
suited to the wants and taste of that epoch, and possessing the same encyclopaedic character in this particular branch of knowledge which the Origines exhibit in relation to a wider field.
The whole is little more than a compilation from Augustin and Gregory.
Published separately, Lovan. 4to. 1486, Lips. 4to. 1493, Paris, 4to. 1519, 12mo. 1538, Taurin. 4to. 1593, with the notes of Garcia de Loaisa.
XIX. De Nativitate Domini, Passione et Resurrectione, Regno atque Judicio
De Nativitate Domini, Passione et Resurrectione, Regno atque Judicio,
addressed to his sister, St. Florentia, in sixty-one chapters, with an Epilogue embodying a mass of prophetic passages from the Old Testament which indicate the career and divinity of our Lord.
XX. De Vocatione Gentium
De Vocatione Gentium,
addressed also to St. Florentia, in twenty-six chapters, with a recapitulation pointing out how the prophets had clearly foretold the abrogation of the ceremonial law and the free admission of the Gentiles to all the benefits of the New Covenant.
The two last-named tracts are sometimes conjoined under the title Contra Nequitiam Judaeorum,
or, Contra Judaeos Libri II. ;
or, De Fide Catholica ex Vetere et Novo Testamento,
or, finally, Testimoniorum de Christo et Ecclesia Liber.
They were printed separately, Venet. 4to. 1483
, Hagan. 4to. 1529.
There is a very curious old German or Frankish translation of a portion of these pieces, apparently as old as the eighth century.
This has been carefully published by Holzmann Isidori de Nativitate Domini, &c., Carolsruh. 8vo., 1836.
XXI. Synonimorum, s. Soliloquiorum Libri II.
s. Soliloquiorum Libri II.
Not, as the former title might lead us to expect, a grammatical disquisition, but a series of sacred meditations and moral precepts.
At the commencement we find the lamentations of an imaginary individual, the representative as it were of awakened sinners, who deplores his lost state amid the vice and misery of this wicked world, and is upon the point of abandoning himself to despair, when Ratio,
or Reason, comes forward to comfort him, and in the dialogue which follows proves that he may still hope for pardon, teaches him how he may best avoid the snares of evil, and how he can most fittingly repent of sin so as at length to become pure and holy, and to be able to look forward with confidence to eternal happiness in heaven.
The colloquial form is gradually abandoned, and the moral precepts are arranged regularly under different heads, as De Castitate
, De Oratione
, De Parsimonia
, De Humilitate
, and the like.
The term synonima
seems to be derived from the circumstance that the same ideas are repeated again and again under different shapes and in different words.
Published separately, Antv. 4to., 1488
XXII. De Contemptu Mundi Libellus.
A sort of continuation of the foregoing, since here also we have a dialogue between an imaginary personage and Ratio, in which the latter descants upon a succession of religious and moral themes. Published separately, Venet. 8vo., 1523.
XXIII. De Conflictu Vitiorum et Virtutum
De Conflictu Vitiorum et Virtutum,
erroneously ascribed by some to Leo I., by others to Augustin, by others to Ambrose.
It bears a strong resemblance in its contents to the foregoing.
XXIV. Exhortatio ad Poenitentiam cum Consolatione ad Animam de Salute desperantem
Exhortatio ad Poenitentiam cum Consolatione ad Animam de Salute desperantem,
in which the mercy of God is placed in opposition to the overwhelming dread of future punishment.
It is a mere repetition of certain portions of the Synonima.
XXV. Norma Vivendi
a collection of apophthegms culled from the four works last mentioned.
XXVI. Oratio de Flendis semper Peccatis ad Correctionem Vitae.
XXVII. Oratio contra Insidias Diaboli.
It only remains to notice, in the last place,--
A considerable number of letters, referring chiefly to questions of doctrine or discipline. Thus there is one addressed to Ludifred, bishop of Cordova, Quodnam Episcopi et ceterorum sit Officium in Ecclesia ;
another to Massanus, bishop of Merida, Qui sunt reparandi post Lapsum vel qui non ;
a fragment, belonging perhaps to the last, Quare sit institutum post septem Annos in pristinum Statum Poenitentes redire,
and several others, the authenticity of which is very questionable.
It will be seen from the above list, and much more clearly from a perusal of the different productions themselves, that Isidorus not only abridged others, but not unfrequently epitomised himself, and presented the same matter repeatedly with alight modification.
The style throughout presents a sad picture of the decay of the Latin language, and even in the Origines, where he appears to make great exertions to copy closely the phraseology of pure models, we meet with a constant recurrence of miserable barbarisms.
The Editio Princeps of the collected works was printed by Michael Sonnius, under the inspection of Margarinus de la Bigne, Paris, fol. 1580
, which was followed by the more accurate and complete edition which issued from the royal press at Madrid, fol., 2 vols., 1599, resting chiefly on the MS. of Alvarus Gomez, and enriched with the notes of J. B. Perez, and of the editor, J. Grial.
Besides these, editions appeared at Paris, fol., 1601
, by Jac. du Breul, at Cologne, fol., 1617, which is a reprint of the preceding
, and a second Madrid edition in 1778
; but by far the most complete and most useful of all is that of F. Arevali, Rom., 7 vols. 4to., 1797-1803
See the Praenotatio Librorum Isidori,
by Braulio, prefixed to the edition of Grial; Ildefonsus, De Script. Eccles.
100.9; Sigebertus Gemblacensis, De Script. Eccles.
100.55; Jo. Trithemius, De Script. Eccles.
100.232; Isidorus Pacensis, in Chron.