Aleteia

A patron saint of the internet — unofficially, though

ISIDORE OF SEVILLE
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In these times, it seems a great idea to know who to call on for help online!

With the young “computer geek” Carlo Acutis set for beatification, many are suggesting that he should be declared the patron saint of the internet. However, others respond to this suggestion with the assertion that there is already a saint for the internet: Isidore of Seville, who codified the knowledge of his time into a system (a primitive encyclopedia, a database).

I decided to do a little research into the matter. Is Isidore of Seville the patron saint of the internet?

Here I explain why Isidore is probably not officially the patron saint of the internet, but nonetheless, a great unofficial patron.

Preliminary Notes

A few notes before starting.

  1. I sought some sort of official declaration. Saints can be unofficial or informal patron saints of some cause, and those involved in that thing can invoke them as a protector without an official declaration. For example, Autism Consecrated: Living the Mission of St. Thorlak takes St. Thorlak as a patron of autistic people and patron of the organization. Those affiliated with this organization hope that the Vatican officially declares him the patron saint of autistics but recognize that so far, this has not been done. In this same way, it is clear Isidore has unofficial patronage of the internet.
  2. If the Vatican considers making Isidore the patron saint of the internet at a certain time, I’ll take that as an argument that it had not yet made him a patron saint, as an official declaration of patronage is not something likely done twice.
  3. It is almost impossible to prove a negative. If all the assorted claims about his patronage gave a date, it would of course be easier to sort through Vatican communications for the day to prove one way or the other. As specific dates are often lacking, this is not the case.

Claims Isidore Was Declared the Patron of the Internet in 1997

There are many articles mentioning that Isidore was declared the patron saint of the internet, but such declarations would need to come from the Vatican. Some articles claim John Paul II declared this in 1997. 

A 2010 article from Catholicism.org stated: “In 1997, Pope John Paul II decided that the internet could use a patron saint to guide Catholics in its proper use. He chose Saint Isidore of Seville (560-636), Doctor of the Church, and last of the Latin Fathers.” Note: Links to sites here do not imply recommendations of content at the site.

Gizmodo repeated this in 2015. In 2016, inews in the UK repeated this claim of a 1997 declaration by John Paul II without external sourcing in the article. A “Pop Archeology” site called Ancient Origins said the same thing in 2018. A tech blog repeated this claim in 2019.

In 2018, the Catholic Paper in Macau repeated this: “In 1997 Pope John Paul II decided that the internet should also have an intercessor saint to guide Catholics in its proper use. He chose Saint Isidore of Seville and declared him patron saint of the internet.”

Claims St. Isidore Was Proposed in 1999

In 2001, Christianity Today noted that Isidore was proposed as a patron saint in 1999: “Most contemporary Catholics were unaware of Isidore until 1999, when he was named as a possible patron saint for the Internet.” They state in 2001 that the case was open and some were hoping John Paul II would make a formal declaration of this patronage.

A statue of St. Isidore on Amazon notes in the description, “In 1999, some IT professionals petitioned Pope John Paul II to designate a patron saint for them and their profession, proposing St. Isidore of Seville (560-636, a long life) because Isidore had codified all then-available knowledge into a system (a primitive encyclopedia, a database) that would make it possible for others to locate that learning.”

CNET claimed in 2005, “Under John Paul II’s leadership, the Vatican has also moved forward with plans to name St. Isidore of Seville, known for his scholarly work, as the patron saint of computer users, computer technicians and the Internet.” However, the source they link to for this claim makes a very different claim. It said (at the time of the CNET article), “[St. Isidore] became the leading candidate for patron of computer users and the Internet in 1999.”

Claims of Patronage Declared in 2001

Others claim St. Isidore was made patron saint of the internet in 2001. But really all that seems to have happened was a consultation of possible patrons of the internet at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

A popular Catholic site in Spanish, Catholic.net, states, “In 2001, Pope John Paul II declared the patron of the Internet to be St. Isidore of Seville.” Wikipedia in Spanish accepts this claim as fact based off that site. Yet, no source is provided on Catholic.net to verify this claim. PC Mag’s Latin American version also echoed Catholic.net.

Cromo repeated this claim, attributing the declaration to a proposal by the Order of St. Isidore of Seville, which was founded in 2000. It claims John Paul II accepted their proposal a year after their founding (i.e. 2001). However, the order’s website makes no mention of this, despite this supposedly being a prime reason the order started.

Claims of Discussion in 2001

After stating he is the patron saint of the Internet, EpicPew clarified that he was only considered for this patronage by John Paul II: “Pope Saint John Paul II considered Isidore as one of the possible patrons of the internet in 2001.”

ZENIT wrote about a process for coming up with such a patron in 2001: “Participants at last month’s plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications studied the possibility of presenting the Vatican State Secretariat with several names to proclaim a patron saint for Internet. St. Isidore of Seville has received the most requests from all over the world.”

A well-done parish website further explains this: “The Observation Service for Internet, who drew its mission from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, researched the Internet and related technologies to select a patron saint that best reflects the concerns and ideals of computer designers, programmers and users. The saint chosen by the Observation Service for Internet was Saint Isidore.” (Unfortunately, their link regarding the Observation Service for Internet is dead and not archived.)

CBS noted similarly, “Pope John Paul is considering naming St. Isidore of Seville the patron saint of Internet users and computer programmers, Vatican sources said on Tuesday [February 6, 2001]. Saint Isidore was nominated two years ago but the Holy See has yet to make a final decision.” This also seems to reaffirm that some proposed him in 1999.

A 2003 Claim Based Off an Online Poll

A quirky part of this saga is the claim that St. Isidore of Seville was declared patron of the Internet in 2003, based off a poll — but where he came in only fifth as patron saint of the internet.

In 2019 Sputnik repeated the claim that John Paul II accepted the request of the Order of St. Isidore of Seville in 2001, which Cromo made, as mentioned above. However, it further says that there was also “a vote made through the Italian page Santi-Beati, which included at least a dozen candidates for the title, such as St. Rita, St. Clare, St. Andrew and St. Tecla.”

So, I went to Santi-Beati and they had four rounds of suggestions and voting for a patron of the internet. First, this was an informal poll, not a Vatican declaration. Second, St. Isidore was eliminated after the second round with his best placing being 5th, and the final winner was Bl. James Alberione. Third, although Sputnik gave 2001 date, the poll was in 2002-2003.

CNN covered the Santi-Beati poll as if it were an official Vatican decision in 2003. The Atlantic went further in 2011, claiming that the Church had decided St. Isidore of Seville as the Patron based off CNN’s reporting of this poll.

Later Claims That Isidore Is Not Yet Patron of the Internet

In 2007, Father Z posted a prayer to St. Isidore before logging onto the internet. He explains, “While he [St. Isidore] is not the official Patron of the Internet, some think he ought to be. As a result, years ago I was asked to write a prayer to be used using the internet.”

In 2018, The Telegraph declared, “The patron saint of the internet is widely considered to be Saint Isidore of Seville, a Bishop and scholar, who was nominated for the role by the late Pope John Paul II, although the Vatican has yet to make it official.”

A 2018 post here at Aleteia explained, “Isidore has been regarded as the patron saint of the internet.” In 2018, Catholic Digest likewise noted, “Isidore is considered by many to be the patron saint of the internet.” Being regarded as the patron saint of something does not indicate a formal declaration but at a minimum informal devotion which all agree exists.

An undated post from Franciscan Media repeats that he has yet to be formally declared patron of the Internet. Another undated post from a Catholic group states that Isidore has been proposed for this patronage.

Conclusion

I don’t think St. Isidore of Seville has ever officially been declared a patron saint of the internet. After (Blessed) Carlo Acutis and along with Bl. James Alberione, I think he is a good candidate for this patronage. Certainly, there is no problem with having a handful of official patrons for something as important as the internet.

If anyone can provide me with a document from a Vatican office or official report in L’Osservatore Romano or other Vatican bulletins, I will gladly correct this position!

For now, let’s entrust all our internet use to Jesus and the saints. If you want to continue the healthy unofficial devotion to St. Isidore of Seville as patron of the Internet, here’s Fr. Z’s prayer:

Almighty and eternal God,
who created us in Thine image
and bade us to seek after all that is good, true and beautiful,
especially in the divine person of Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, Bishop and Doctor,
during our journeys through the internet
we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee
and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter.
Through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

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