April 4, 2008
Isidore, Patron Saint of Reference Book Editors
On April 4 the IVP reference book editors remember and celebrate their patron saint, Isidore of Seville (560-636). Isidore was bishop of Seville and a formidable scholar of his day. Apart from his particular accomplishments as bishop (presiding at the Second Council of Seville and the Fourth Council of Toledo), he was a prolific author who is best remembered for his encyclopedic work called Etymologiae, or Origines. The Etymologiae spanned twenty volumes and covered the seven liberal arts as well as topics such as law, theology, medicine, geography, agriculture and much else. This encyclopedia became a basic resource during the Middle Ages. You can try out your Latin on it here.
As the title of the work suggests, Isidore was deeply invested in what’s known today as the etymological fallacy: he believed that etymologies yield significant information about the matters to which words refer. But in this fallacy he has enjoyed distinguished company through the ages, including not a few notable preachers and authors of our day. So as far as clouding his sainthood, it perhaps casts a shadow no larger than a hand.
In recent years this venerable saint’s patronage has been, well, hijacked by computerists and their like, even to the point of extending his bishop’s cloak to cover the internet. We understand, of course, that Wikipedia needs all the help it can get, but it’s hard to adjust to this diminution of the glory of our venerable saint. This patronage creep has even made its way into InterVarsity Press, where our database of books and authors is named Isidore. While much of Isidore’s encyclopedic work was in organizing and giving access to knowledge, we would gently remind folks that the primary sphere of his patronage is reference book editors. We editors are learning to share our saint—and we are not bitter over it! But on this day we like to remind our computer folks just who is upstream in this sharing.
So here’s to Isidore. May his tribe increase, page by page, and even byte by byte.