I read with dismay John Schwartz's July 12 Business column about proposals to make Isidore of Seville the patron saint of the Internet. I do not imagine that the movement to so honor Isidore will be stopped easily. I do want to point out (and this may be the reason for the Vatican's hesitation in the matter) that Isidore was profoundly anti-Jewish, both as a theologian (the so-called last Church Father) and as a church leader -- in fact, the major church leader in Visigothic Spain.

Antisemitism as we usually understand it did not become a significant force in Europe until the later Middle Ages, recent scholarship attributing the development variously to the 11th or l3th century. However, the intellectual and legal bases of later medieval anti-Judaism belong to the end of the ancient period and the beginning of the Middle Ages, the period of Isidore.

As Mr. Schwartz noted in his article, Isidore was mostly a copyist and arranger of material rather than an original thinker, so it is hard to know how much thought to attribute to him. Because canon laws are drafted by church councils of various sorts, it is similarly hard to know how much of the anti-Jewish legislation of the Fourth Council of Toledo to attribute directly to him. Some recent scholars have offered a completely negative assessment. Others see in Isidore a more divided mind, inclined to persuade Jews to Christianity in his apologetic writings, inclined to punish Jews in his work as a bishop and canon lawyer.

It would be wrong to overstate the importance of Isidore or his anti-Jewish thinking. Nonetheless, given the slow but steady progress made by interfaith efforts involving Jews and Christians since World War II and the Vatican Council, Isidore would not be the right candidate for the role of patron saint of the Internet.


Silver Spring