Author: The Reverend Alban Butler
Posted: Month of the Blessed Sacrament, 23rd Day, Year of Our Lord 2023
I have only just written the last article posted, although you shall read this the next day, and I am confronted with the great consolation of Butler’s Lives of May 10. Of all books, this is my favorite, the most profitable ever to my soul, and I highly recommend it. Do not get the new stuff. The translators have not left two sentences together in their labor of translating from older English to modern English, which is to say, from useful and clear to muddled and profitless. I have one from 1910 or so, borrowed in my poverty from a dear friend and continual consolation. Here I copy exactly what I am reading for your benefit, with great joy, trusting to his firm location within the public domain to defend me, and before God, how little I make off of these articles.
St Isidore of Madrid, Labourer, Patron of Madrid
It is a misfortune which deserves to be lamented with floods of tears that ignorance, obstinacy, and vice should so often taint a country life, the state which of all others is most necessary and important to the world; the most conformable to a human condition and to nature, the state which was sanctified by the example of the primitive holy patriarchs, and which affords the most favourable opportunities for the perfect practice of every virtue and Christian duty. What advantageous helps to piety did the ancient hermits seek in the deserts which the circumstances of a country labourer do not offer? [I insert here without ability to restrain myself that if what I have said in my previous article is true, that God does not care much how we make our sustenance, and if the assertion of America is true, that a man may make of his life anything he wants, then what better occupation can we pick for ourselves than one nearest a farmer? And not a farmer of the modern times with debt and machinery, but of the ancient times, with a small hold, and a few sons to assist in labor, this poor and humble, dirty life, so much above the dangers and foolishness of a college education, as the sun is above hell.] The life of St Isidore is a most sensible proof of this assertion. He was born at Madrid of poor but very devout parents, and was christened Isidore from the name of their patron, St Isidore of Seville. They had not the means to procure him learning or a polite education; but, both by word and example, they infused into his tender soul the utmost horror and dread of all sin, and the most vehement ardour for every virtue, and especially for prayer. Good books are a great help to holy meditation, but not indispensably requisite. Many illustrious anchorets knew no other alphabet than that of humility and divine charity. St Irenaeus mentions whole nations which believed in Christ, and abounded in exemplary livers, without knowing the use of ink or paper. The great St Antony himself could not so much as read the Greek or Latin languages; nay, from the words of St Austin, some doubt whether he could read even his own barbarous Egyptian dialect. Yet in the science of the saints what philosopher or orator ever attained to the A B C of that great man? Learning, if it puffs up the mind, or inspires any secret self-sufficiency, is an impediment to the communications of the Holy Ghost, simplicity and sincere humility being the dispositions which invite him into the soul. By these Isidore was prepared to find him an interior instructor and comforter. His earnestness in seeking lessons and instructions of piety made him neglect no opportunity of hearing them; and so much the more tender and the deeper were the impressions which they left in his soul as his desire was the stronger and the more pure. His patience in bearing all injuries and in overcoming the envy of fellow-servants by cordial kindnesses; his readiness to obey his mastersm and in indifferent things to comply with the inclinations of others, and humbly to serve everyone, gave him the most complete victory over himself and his passions. Labour he considered as enjoined him by God in punishment of sin, and for a remedy against it; and he performed his work in a spirit of compunction and penance. Many object that their labours and fatigues leave them little time for the exercises of religion. But Isidore, by directing his attention according to the most holy motives of faith, made his work a most perfect act of religion. He considered it as a duty to God; therefore he applied himself to it with great diligence and care, in imitation of the angels in heaven, who in all things fulfill the will of God with the greatest readiness and alacrity of devotion. The more humbling and the more painful the labour was, the dearer it was to the saint, being a means the more suitable to tame his flesh, and a more noble part of his penance. With the same spirit that the saints subdued their bodies by toils in their deserts, Isidore embraced his task. He, moreover, sanctified it by continual prayer. Whilst his hand held the plough, he in his heart conversed with God, with his angel guardian, and the other blessed spirits; sometimes deploring the sins of the world and his own spiritual miseries, at other times, in the melting words of the royal prophet, raising his desires to the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem. It was chiefly by this perfect spirit of prayer, joined with or rather engrafted upon a most profound humility and spirit of mortification, that St Isidore arrived at so eminent a degree of sanctity as rednered him the admiration of all Spain. In his youth he was retained servant by a gentleman named John de Vargas, of Madrid, to till his land and do his husbandry work. The saint afterwards took a most virtuous woman to wife, named Mary Toribia. Those who call her De la Cabeza were deceived by a chapel to which that name is given because her head is kept in it. After the birth of one child, which died young, the parents, by mutual consent, served God in perfect continency.
St Isidore continued always in the service of the same master. On account of his fidelity he could say to him as Jacob did to Laban, that, to guard and improve his stock, he had often watched teh nights and had suffered the scorching heats of summer and the cold of winter; and that the stock, which he found small, had been exceedingly increased in his hands. Don John de Vargas, after long experience of the treasure he possessed in this faithful ploughman, treated him as a brother, according to the advice of Ecclesiasticus, “Let a wise servant be dear unto thee as they own soul.” He allowed him the liberty of assisting daily at the public office of the church. On the other side, Isidore was carefuly, by rising very early, to make his devotions no impediment to his business nor any encroachment upon what he owed to his master. This being a duty of justice, it would have been a false devotion to have pretended to please God by a neglect of such an obligation; much less did the good servant indulge his compassionate charity to the poor by relieving them otherwise than out of his own salary. The saint was sensible that in his fidelity, diligence, and assiduous labour consisted, in great part, the sanctification of his soul; and that his duty to his master was his duty to God. He also inspired his wife with the same confidence in God, the same love of the poor, and the same disengagement from the things of this world; he made her the faithful imitatrix of his virtues and a partner in hsi good works. She died in 1175, and is honoured in Spain among the saints. Her immemorial veneration was approved by Pope Innovent XII in 1697. See Benedict XIV, de Canoniz. lib. ii. c. 24, p. 246.
St Isidore being seized with the sickness of which he died, foretold his last hour, and prepared himself for it with redoubled fervour, and with the most tender devotion, patience, and cheerfulness. The piety with which he received the last sacraments drew tears from all that were present. Repeating inflamed acts of divine love, he expired on the 15th of May 1170, being near sixty years of age. His death was glorified by miracles. After forty years his body was removed out of the churchyard into the church of St Andrew. It has been since placed in the bishop’s chapel, and during these five hundred years remains entire and fresh, being honoured by a succession of frequent miracles down to this time. The following, among others, is very well attested. Philip III, in his return from Lisbon, was taken so ill at Casarubios del Monte that his life was despaired of by his physicians. Whereupon the shrine of St Isidore was ordered to be carried in a solemn procession of the clergy, court, and people from Madrid to the chamber of the sick king. The joint prayers of many prevailed. At the same time the shrine was taken out of the church the fever left the king; and upon its being brought into his chamber he was perfectly cured. The year following, the body of the saint was put into a new rich shrine, which cost one thousand six hundred ducats of gold. St Isidore had been beatified a little before by Paul V, in 1619, at the solicitation of the same king. His solemn canonization was performed at the request of King Philip IV on the 12th of March 1622; though the bull was only made public by Benedict XIII. See the life of St Isidore, written by John of Madrid, one hundred and forty years after his death; and Card. Lambertini, de Canoniz. SS. t. iii.
Sanctus Isidorus ora pro nobis.
Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia.