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Isidore Presided over a Council in Toledo

The most learned bishop of his day, Isidore presided over Spanish councils.

BURNING ISSUES faced bishops who met in Toledo (in modern Spain) on this day, 5 December 633: Should Jews be allowed to enslave Christians? How should churchmen be trained? Whom should the Spanish church recognize as king, given there were rival claimants to the throne? 

The Fourth Council of Toledo was one of the best attended in Spanish history, including six metropolitans, fifty-six bishops, and deputies of other bishops. King Sisenand, the usurper of the Spanish throne, opened the proceedings. He flung himself to the ground before the bishops, weeping, imploring their prayers, and asking them to remove abuses from the church. He won their favor. They condemned any rebellion and plots against him, stipulating that Spain’s nobles and bishops should appoint his successor. For his part, the King freed the clergy from service to the state and from taxes. 

Presiding over the council was old Bishop Isidore of Seville, the most learned man of western Europe. He was the author of a well-organized encyclopedia, although we might question some of its facts today. Since Roman learning was in decline and barbarians had invaded Spain, Isidore had done his best to save what he could, including works of Aristotle. Among his many books was one written to unify the national liturgy and express orthodox doctrine; an essential resource because Spain’s Visigoth conquerors had been Arians, who did not believe in the full divinity of Christ. 

Among the Council’s seventy-five canons or rules, several dealt with Jews. These stated that Jews might not own Christian slaves, but also condemned forcible conversion of Jews. However, Jews who had been converted by force were not permitted to return to Judaism. Jews married to Christians must accept baptism or else divorce. In spiritual matters, the council declared that the Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son, thus influencing much later development of Western theology. In addition to establishing uniformity in creedal and in ecclesiastical matters, it decreed that every diocese provide a seminary whose teaching was to include classes in the Greek and Hebrew languages. 

Isidore died a few years after the council, leaving all his substance to the poor.

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