Priscilla Olson and Laura Mixon both sent me a CNN story about how some Italian Catholics have started a drive to get a patron saint named for the internet, and are taking votes at an online site. More about that site later; here’s the story:
(CNN) — Fed up with hackers, a flood of spam and lousy connections, Italian Roman Catholics have launched a search for a patron saint of the Internet. And they hope their online poll will yield a holy Web protector by Easter.I pooh-poohed the story at first because as far as I knew, they’d already settled on a patron saint for the internet: Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636), a most excellent choice.
Will it be Archangel Gabriel, whom the Bible credits with bringing Mary the news that she’d give birth to Jesus? Or Saint Isadore of Seville, who wrote the world’s first encyclopedia? Or perhaps Saint Clare of Assisi, a nun believed to have seen visions on a wall?
So far, about 5,000 visitors are casting their votes daily …
Saint Isidore was the Bishop of Seville during a time of great change, when the old structures of the world were passing away and new ones were evolving to take their place. He was the most learned man of his time, a polyglot who spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (though the language in which he wrote was in the process of turning into Spanish), who both founded schools himself, and exhorted others to do the same.
Saint Isidore never had to be told to RTFM.
As one who argues long and hard in a newsgroup, he fought against the errors of the Arian and Acephalic heresies. Like a sysop coping with an online world in which it’s always September, he strove to civilize and enlighten the incursive Goths, a barbarous people who held learning in contempt. Like a blogger, he concentrated not on producing independent works of his own, but on usefully directing his readers to the works of others and putting them into context, with many references and quotations along the way.
And as one who compiles an FAQ—or indeed, in the spirit of the internet itself—he set himself to write the Etymologiae, which gathered, systematized, and condensed all the learning of his time. It has been called the first encyclopedia—unnecessarily so, in my opinion. The Etymologiae was the most commonly used school textbook of the Middle Ages, and was still so popular during the Renaissance that it went through ten editions between 1470 and 1529. (Thus it was that Isidore’s tripartite world map became the first map printed in Europe, in 1472.)
Friends, is this not a fine saint for the internet? Sancte Isidore, ora pro nobis! Here are some additional links:
The entry on St. Isidore from the Catholic Encyclopedia(By the way, that vernacular image of St. Isidore comes from a favorite site of mine, Matthew Brooks’ Art for the Catholic Restoration. It features a gallery of Brooks’ unusually vigorous religious paintings. I’ve been studying the saints for a long time now, but some of these are beyond my interpretive skills. This one, for instance, is surely not “St. Theotonius becomes Emperor of Dragaera.” It only looks like it is. The Dream of St. John Bosco is something of a tour de force. But you should look at the rest of them. I’m particularly fond of his St. Michael the Archangel, which owes more to Frank Frazetta’s Conan than it does to Raphael.
Another site about Saint Isidore, including a prayer to say before logging on.
A somewhat livelier page from the (Pisky) Diocese of South Florida, with a humorous poem, and a photoshopped picture of St. Isidore with a laptop.
The inscrutable Virtual Order of Saint Isidore of Seville.
Cheesy but fervent vernacular art depicting St. Isidore, a sure sign that there’s genuine devotion going on out there.
Send someone a St. Isidore greeting card!
But I digress.)
Let’s go back to that CNN story. Apparently the recommendation of St. Isidore hasn’t been finalized; thus the campaign.
The Archangel Gabriel and St. Clare of Assisi are undoubtedly very wonderful, but they’re just not as appropriate. St. Clare is (among other things) the patron saint of television. This is because late in her life, whenever she was too ill to get out of bed and attend Mass, an image of the service would miraculously be projected on the wall of her cell. This makes her a good patron saint for many-to-one communication systems.
I can’t say a bad word about the Archangel Gabriel; he’s the patron saint of publishers, book distributors, and news agents. (Their feast day is the Feast of the Annunciation. It’s only logical.) But really, he’s a patron saint for one-to-many communications systems.
And as for that Italian voting site—well, hmmmf. They don’t even list Isidore of Seville. Here’s their list:
Sant’Alfonso de’ Liguori (St. Alphonsus Liguori)Gabriel and St. Clare we’ve already discussed. Of the remaining list, note that all but one are Italians (as was St. Clare). I figure the other, Maximilian Kolbe, is on the list because he’s a newish saint and they’re still trying to pin down what he’s patron saint of.
Santa Chiara (St. Clare)
San Gabriele (Gabriel Archangel)
Ven. Giacomo Alberione
San Giovanni Bosco (St. John (or Don) Bosco)
San Massimiliano Kolbe (Maximilian Kolbe)
Alphonsus Liguori is a conservative 18th C. saint, founder of the Redemptorist order, and patron of confessors, final perseverance, theologians, and vocations. What this has to do with the internet is beyond me.
The Venerable Giacomo Alberione is a very conservative figure, and again has no perceptible relevance to the internet. He founded the Society of Saint Paul (1914), the Daughters of Saint Paul (1915), the Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master (1924), and the Sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd (1936), so maybe they’re all voting for him in hope it’ll help him get canonized.
St. John Bosco is the patron saint of editors, and he shouldn’t be. (More on this in a moment.) On the other hand, it’s hard to dislike a saint who, when he decided that his vocation was to work with children, went and studied juggling, acrobatics, and sleight-of-hand magic so he could hold their attention. (That unexpected practicality is something you find in a lot of saints. It’s one of the things I like about them.) Again, his career has no detectable relevance to the internet. But since he founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (1859), the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians (1872), and the Union of Cooperator Salesians (1875), it could be that he’s got his own voting bloc too. It’s still a bad idea. St. John Bosco is supposed to be the saint-protector of Catholic youth, especially Catholic boys. You’ve got to figure the guy’s busy just now.
Gotta be Saint Isidore of Seville.
On the mis-assignment of patron saints for writers and editors: It used to be that the faithful decided which saint to pray to on specific issues in much the same way they now find a new dentist: “Try so-and-so, I hear he’s good for that.” Along the way a few odd things happened, like St. Erasmus, a.k.a. St. Elmo, picking up the intestinal disorders/abdominal pain account. Almost nothing is known of his life, other than that he existed; but an early story about him preaching to sailors was illustrated with a picture that happened to have a windlass in it. Landlubbers mistook the windlass for the method of his martyrdom, and figured those were his guts getting wound up on it. They accordingly figured he’d know a thing or two about abdominal distress.
Saint Margaret of Antioch is a wholly dubious—she was denounced as apocryphal clear back in the Fifth Century—but perfectly unkillable saint. Like Saint George, she had a run-in with a dragon; but where he killed his in good knightly fashion, she was swallowed up by hers. But Margaret was armed with a crucifix and perfect faith, and blew up her dragon from the inside; wherefore she is invoked by women in labor.
I very nearly digress.
Thus the vox populi method of assigning patron saints, which can be detected in books of saints’ lives by the phrase “traditionally associated with—”. These days, patron saints are officially appointed by the church. It’s not as much fun, and (in my opinion) mistakes still get made. This is where the patron saints of writers and editors come in.
Saints John the Apostle and Paul the Apostle are traditionally associated with all the book-related trades, most likely because Paul is normally shown holding a book, and John is normally shown writing one. Writers are also listed in the grab-bag of patronage assignments of St. Lucy of Syracuse; and if I had to make a guess at the connection, it’d be because St. Lucy is invoked for problems with eyesight.
But those are just the traditional associations. As of the twentieth century, the official patron saint of editors is St. Francis de Sales, and the official patron saint of writers is St. John Bosco. When you read their lives, you just can’t see the connection. Forgive me for thinking that both assignments have a lot more to do with the influence of the large, well-organized, and vastly energetic order of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
It’s absurd. The obvious saint for editors is that awful old crank St. Jerome, who spent 30 years revising and editing what is now know as the Vulgate edition of the Bible. It’s still in use. He’s also noted for having taken much longer on the editing than was originally anticipated, and for quarreling at one time or another with most of the prominent figures in the church.
The obvious saints for writers are St. Teresa of Avila, whose writing life was frequently vexed by straying manuscripts, inexplicable rejections, misreadings by those who should either have known better or kept their mouths shut, and all the other misadventures that afflict writers once the words are on paper. St. John of the Cross, in a heroic act of composition under trying conditions, wrote The Dark Night of the Soul in his head during the nine months of his imprisonment in the tiny, fetid guest latrine of a medieval friary in Toledo.
There is no official saint of copyeditors, but I know exactly who it should be: Saint Columba. If you’ve ever dealt with the tribe, you’ll recognize the true voice of the copyeditor speaking here. This is from Adamnan’s Life of St. Columba, Chapter XVII, “Of the Vowel I”:
One day Baithene came to the saint and said, “I want some one of the brethren to look over with me and correct the psalter which I have written.” Hearing this, the saint said, “Why give us this trouble without any cause? In that psalter of thine, of which thou speakest, there is not one superfluous letter to be found, nor is any wanting except the one vowel I.” And accordingly, when the whole psalter was read over, what the saint had said was found to be true.