Pow-wow in Seville

Pow-wow in Seville

Do the words of this hymn seem improper to you?

O Trinity of blessed light,
O Unity of princely might,
The fiery sun now goes his way;
Shed Thou within our hearts a ray.
To Thee our morning song of praise,
To Thee our evening prayer we raise;
O grant us with Thy saints on high
To praise thee through eternity...

In 633, the people of Spain weren't so sure. The language wasn't straight from the Bible. No, it was the product of a mere man, St. Ambrose, the brilliant fourth century bishop of Milan. Their concern over such innovations in the church was one of the topics taken up by a council held in Seville, Spain, that year.

Presiding over the conference was Archbishop Isidore of Seville. Isidore, beloved for his virtuous life, was also admired for immense learning that made him the leading scholar of Europe. He read Greek, Latin and Hebrew. He had, in fact, taken time out of his pet project to attend the conference. He was busy organizing all of the knowledge of the ancients into an encyclopedia. Although a large percentage of its "facts" were wrong--a compiler can be no better than his sources--his arrangement was brilliant and would exert a powerful influence on scholars of the Middle Ages.

The council opened on this day, December 5, 633.Six metropolitans, fifty-six bishops and several bishops' deputies were in attendance. They received King Sisenand respectfully, despite the taint of illegitimacy to his throne: He had deposed the former king. But he fell on his knees before the bishops, tearfully imploring their prayers and pleading with them to remedy the abuses of the church. Even bishops cannot resist a king who flatters them so piously.

The council passed seventy-five canons or rules. One was aimed squarely at the Arian teachings of the Goths, who had conquered Spain. The Arians taught that a person had to be plunged three times to show the divisions in the Trinity. Isidore and his bishops said, no, since God is one, one dip is enough.

Wisely the council made it illegal to force a Jew to convert to Christianity. However, it held that Jews who had already been converted by force could not return to Judaism. Strict rules were passed on Jews, whether they had been baptized or not.

The council also decided that once a person became a monk, he was always a monk. Some boys who had been set aside for monkshood when they were quite little had pleaded to be allowed to opt out since they were not monks by their own choice. But the council told them they were stuck for life.

The council poked its nose into politics, too. It took the side of the new king against the old, and barred the deposed king and his family from ever holding the throne again. King Sisenand, in turn, freed the clergy from service to the state and from all state taxes.

And what about the man-made hymns? The council declared that the hymns of bishops Ambrose and Hilary could be used in church.


  1. Bell, Mrs. Arthur. Saints in Christian Art. London: George Bell, 1901 - 1904. Source of the image.
  2. Collison, Robert Lewis. Encyclopaedias: their history throughout the ages; a bibliographical guide with extensive historical notes to the general encyclopaedias issued throughout the world from 350 B.C. to the present day. New York, Hafner Pub. Co., 1964.
  3. Copleston, Frederick. History of Philisophy. Various editions.
  4. Hunter Blair, Peter. The World of Bede. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990; chapter 13, "Spanish Influences."
  5. "Isidore of Seville." Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Editor Charles Coulston Gillispie. New York: Scribner, 1970 - 1980.
  6. "Isidore, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  7. Johnson, Paul. History of Christianity. New York: Atheneum, 1976. O'Connor, John B.
  8. "St. Isidore of Seville." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  9. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated April, 2007.

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