Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Politics of Identity in Visigothic Spain: Religion and Power in the Histories of Isidore of Seville

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Politics of Identity in Visigothic Spain: Religion and Power in the Histories of Isidore of Seville

Article excerpt

The Politics of Identity in Visigothic Spain: Religion and Power in the Histories of Isidore of Seville. By Jamie Wood. [Brill's Series on the Early Middle Ages, Vol. 21.] Boston: Brill. 2012. Pp.xii, 275. $151.00. ISBN 978-9- 004-20990-9.)

The florid title of this book conceals more than it reveals of its author's purposes, which involve the comparison of all the writings of Isidore that have any bearing on history. These consist primarily of short historical narra- tives of different kinds, but also include considerations of the nature and pur- pose of history in such seemingly nonhistorical texts as the Etymologiae. Such an approach, embracing the full range of these texts, is revealing, espe- cially of reasons for the marked differences between the two versions of both St. Isidore of Seville's Chronicle and his histories of the Goths, Vandals, and Sueves.The explanations given for such variations depend upon an a priori view of Isidore as both principal ideologue and spokesman for the Gothic monarchy, and as the dominant figure in the Spanish church of his day Although such an interpretation of his political role and of his purposes in his historical writings is long established, it requires more challenge than it encounters here.

Academics subscribe too easily to the assumption that those who have left us writings were more influential in their lifetimes than those that have not. This is certainly not justified in the case of Isidore. Could he from Seville have exerted more influence on the successive royal courts in Toledo than the bishops of that city, who included Heladius (615-33), a former provincial gov- ernor and vir iUustrissimus aulae regiae? Isidore himself appears in this book largely in intellectual isolation, devising historical narratives aimed mainly at pleasing his royal "patrons." No attention is given to the powerful African influence on his thinking and on the Spanish church of his time, and the author is not well versed in theological issues, not least the Three Chapters Controversy. Isidore's judgments on former kings based on their treatment of "the poor" are taken literally, although in reality this can only have reflected their donations to the Church. …

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