According to Vatican sources,
Pope John Paul II is mulling over a proposal to make Saint Isidore of Seville
the patron saint of Internet users and computer programmers.
St. Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, about 560. He was the first
Christian writer to compile a summa, or encyclopedia, of universal
knowledge. The 20-volume Etymologiaes, as it was called, covered
everything from grammar to medicine to cooking. My book of saints describes
his writing as not terribly original but incredibly prolific. He died on
4 April, 636, celebrated as his feast day.
St. Isidore on the cover of this monthís PC Alamode,
logging into the Vatican
Web site on his Dell Inspirion 4000.
There isnít a formal procedure for making patron saints. In recent times,
Popes have named them but saints also become attached to particular professions,
locations or conditions by popular usage. There is usually something in
the saintís life that ties him or her to human concerns. For example, Clare
of Assisi was named patron of television because one Christmas when she
was too ill to leave her bed she saw and heard Christmas Mass, even though
it was taking place miles away.
St. Isidore is the front-runner for patron saint of the Internet because
his Etymologiaes contained the total sum of knowledge at the time.
St. Anthony of Padua, after whom San Antonio is named, is also a contender.
He is the patron saint of lost things, a kind of 13th Century
search engine. Maybe we should start a campaign to push for St. Anthony.
I like the idea of millions of Catholic Internet users invoking the name
of our city every time they log on; it could help in our quest to make
San Antonio a high-tech center.
Iím not Catholic, but this whole patron saint thing strikes me as significant.
First, the idea of a 7th Century Spanish scholar as the patron
saint of cyberspace reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun.
We tend to get a little full of ourselves, hyping the Internet as a communications
revolution, when it is merely the next step in hundreds and thousands of
other innovations that have come before, from algebra to the printing press
to the telegraph. St. Isidore can help us remember that. There were cutting-edge
developments in the Middle Ages, too.
Second, having a saint for the Internet prompts us to recall that the
use of the Internet is in human hands. It is just technology, neither good
nor bad in and of itself. It can be used by saints or villains, for noble
or evil ends. Itís up to each of us to determine how the Internet will
be used and this reminder of goodness can only be welcome.
Finally, I am pleased that the patron saint of the Internet will be
a scholar, one concerned with knowledge rather than technology. Some commentators
have concentrated on the format of St. Isidoreís encyclopedia, noting that
since it is cross-indexed it could be considered one of the first relational
databases. I prefer to dwell on the content, the web of knowledge that
Isidore preserved in a Spain under the domination of the Goths.
Fans of St. Isidore have written a prayer invoking his aid in using
the Internet. The two main petitions of the prayer Ė use the Internet only
for good, and treat those you encounter with patience and charity Ė are
sound principles. Even if youíre not Catholic it would be a good thing
to remember these two things every time you log on. Itís the saintly thing