The internet is ubiquitous in our day to day lives, a tool without which our contemporary world would not be able to function. It is an indispensable part of our modern lifestyle, something we engage with every day. It is a diverse creation, capable of giving us incredible information and relieving the burdens of once difficult work, as well as bringing into our lives undue stress and exposing us to the depravity of anonymity.
The Catholic Church seems to have a saint for every occasion, and yet our brave new electronic world is lacking in an advocate for us as we sail the digital seas.
Enter St. Isidore, archbishop of Seville.
Isidore, living from circa 560 until his death in 636, is considered the last Father of the Church and the last of the ancient world’s great scholars. He was a major power player in Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) during his over-three decade tenure as the archbishop of Seville. His leadership would see the ruling Visigoths turned away from the heresy of Arianism and near total destruction of this error in its last European holdout.
Isidore created an understanding between the Romanized denizens of Iberia and their Germanic, Visigoth overlords, reaching across cultures in a common appeal to a singular Christian faith. He possessed both the intellect and authority to articulate the Church’s dogma and doctrines to different audiences while still achieving the same result in the end.
The greatest legacy of Isidore however, remains his Etymologiae, a compendium of knowledge, the first of its kind in nascent Christendom which sought not only to define matters relevant to Christianity, but all knowledge Isidore found important enough to record.
Everything from grammar to the natural sciences, philosophy and angelology, every subject conceivable was recorded. At a time when few knew of, let alone understood, many of the works of classical thought nor the original language of these works (Greek), Isidore used every resource available to him to preserve the ancient knowledge so that it might be passed on to future generations.
In Isidore’s time, the preservation of information was no easy task. The destruction of a small number of texts could erase an entire corpus of thought from the world. Isidore understood that knowledge was power, not only for worldly means but for the sake of the Church. Understanding the world around oneself, where we have come from, and what lies ahead, was integral to living a good life, lest we be led astray by ignorance.
Isidore is considered by many to be the patron saint of the internet.
Catholicism is a faith which thrives not solely on the authority of divine revelation, but on our own reason, our ability to intelligently engage the world around us and so discern proper morality, right from wrong, truth from falsehood.
To do this, we require knowledge. We need to engage our minds both with the Church’s dogma as well as the wider world, two bodies of knowledge which inform each other and lead us to greater understanding.
Isidore, beholding the world around him, could have easily dedicated himself solely to the pursuit of preserving religious tradition and destroying heresy. However, he focused not only upon these, but on the preservation of all knowledge, understanding that it would be of use to the Christian seeking to know more about the world.
The internet, a tool of immense potential which was developed so that we might communicate information faster, is the modern embodiment of Isidore’s Etymologiae. Our craving for knowledge is insatiable, nor should we ever be content with what we already know. The internet permits us to expand our minds across endless frontiers, engaging with new ideas and revelations we had not known prior.
While there may also be lies and wickedness lurking in this expansive ocean of information, an integral aspect of forming our intellect is being able to discern true from false, what is relevant and helpful from that which is useless or harmful. Isidore did the same as he wrote volume after volume, constricted by his medium of pen and paper, to sieve out that which would ultimately be of no consequence in the future.
For us who live on the internet, we can learn something from Isidore’s approach.
Especially in the world of social media, we are awash in irrelevant details about people’s lives, drowning in vanity, idleness, and casual entertainment. While the internet has opened up this avenue for us, we must be wary not to become so invested in these things that we lose track of what the internet was meant for, that we might become better informed, more knowledgeable people and by virtue of that knowledge, come to know Christ better.
Let us pray:
St. Isidore, may you be with us as we explore this endless sea of knowledge, and guide us to that which will most improve our lives and so lead us closer to God, the source of all that there is to know. Amen.