April 4 – Joseph the Hymnographer; Isidore of Seville

Joseph the Hymnographer (ca. 810–883/886) moved to Thessaloniki when his native Sicily experienced an influx of unfriendly (or an unfriendly influx) of Arabs. He entered the Latmus monastery and was (eventually) monked and priested. He moved to the Studium monastery in Constantinople on the invitation of Gregory of Decapolis (Nov 20), who while visiting met and was impressed by him.

When Emperor Leo the Armenian started iconoclasting, the Orthodox monks chose Joseph to sail to Rome and enlist the help of the pope (Leo III). Unfortunately he was captured by Arab pirates (ارررر ), who delivered him to iconoclasts, who stuck him in prison, where he languished for six years. On the night the Emperor died, St. Nicholas (Dec 6) appeared to him, saying, “Sing me a song about God.” It must have been a good song, for Nicholas helped him escape and either sent him on his way to Rome, or instantly transported him to Constantinople (pick your source). Once back in Constantinople, Joe founded a monastery dedicated to Gregory of Decapolis, and when Greg died, Joseph adopted (well, kidnapped) (well, bone-napped) his relics. He began to write hymns in earnest, especially about the saints, eventually racking up over 1,000. One evening, while he pondered writing a canon to St. Bartholomew, who should appear but St. Bart himself, saying, “That would be very nice, thank you.”

He continued to speak out against iconoclasm, which led to his banishment to the Chersonese (probably the Crimea—the word just means “peninsula”). He was recalled by Empress Theodora the Restora (Feb 11), banished when he spoke out against her brother’s living arrangements, and recalled when the brother died. He gained high favor with many high-placed people, held important offices, and won fame as a confessor to the priesthood with the “gift of discernment” (good eyesight?).

Now, St. Theodore Phanariot was known to help people find things. One day a man came to Theodore’s church one to pray for help in, well, finding something. After three days and nights, he was about to go home in disgust when Theodore appeared to him, saying, “What are you so hot about? Joseph the Hymnographer was dying, and every saint he ever wrote a hymn about gathered together to usher his soul into heaven. And that’s why I’m late.” Then he helped the man recover his lost item, and his lost temper.

Isidore of Seville (ca. 560–636) succeeded his brother Leander (Feb 27) as bishop of Seville (cue: “It’s a Family Affair”). Seeing that Spanish culture was going to the Goths, Isidore undertook a program of classical education, strengthening of monastic life, and eradication of heresy. He was a keen scholar of Greek philosophy, and introduced Aristotle to the scholars of Iberia (“Scholars, Aristotle; Aristotle, Scholars”) before the Arabs could even spell it. He also promoted the study of medicine, law, Greek, Hebrew, and the liberal arts, and demanded that all his bishops become educated (anybody else think about Congress?).

He was the first Christian to compile an encyclopedia, and his Etymologiæ—a compendium of all the classical learning he could get his hands on—contains many fragments of ancient documents that have otherwise been lost. He also wrote a dictionary, a history of the Goths, and a history of the world starting with creation (“It was a dark and stormy night”). He has been called the last scholar of the ancient world, and has been declared a doctor of the church as well as the patron saint of the Internet (I kid you not). More importantly in my book, he also pronounced anathema on any ecclesiastic molesting children. An “important part” of his bones is buried in Murcia. Predictably, my sources don’t say what part that is.