Today, 3 Jun 2012, is the memorial of St Isaac of Cordoba, a martyr in 9th century Spain. Knowing full well what would happen if he denigrated the holiness of Muhammad before a Muslim magistrate, in his zeal for the truth he did it anyway. What is interesting is that St Isaac was an important, well-known and learned man.
St Isaac was born into a wealthy family of Cordoba, in southern Spain. In his day the Muslims were on the ascendancy and the Christians were becoming more and more a minority. Accordingly his family made sure that this gifted student of theirs received a thorough education not only in Christian culture and knowledge but also in Arabic culture and knowledge.
Young Isaac quickly rose through the ranks of government officials to become an exceptor reipublicae. This was the highest position a non-Muslim could hold, making him responsible for the protection and security of Christians and Jews within the empire. Doing well, he certainly was, but there was either a conflict within himself over serving the government and serving God or a growing call to forsake pubic life and follow Jesus as a monk, or both. Isaac left everything, wealth, power, influence etc and entered the local monastery at Tabanos about 11kms north of Cordoba.
In the monastery Isaac spent 3 years, praying, growing in holiness and studying the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. For all we know there may have been some decisions he made as exceptor reipublicae that troubled his conscience. That would indeed be a motivator for what happened next. Alternatively his deepening understanding of Christian truth must have given him an ardent desire to spread that truth and bring souls back to Jesus, the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life.
Due to his knowledge of the law and his understanding of how the system worked, Issac knew the best way to declare, without equivocation, his faith in Jesus would be to put himself in a position where the authorities had no choice but to execute him. So Isaac deliberately went to his place of former employment and started asking the Muslim magistrate about the finer points of Islam. The more Isaac heard, the more distressed he became that Muhammad had led the Arab speaking world away from faith in Christ Jesus. Speaking out boldly, Isaac almost provoked the magistrate into hitting him. Now under the law the magistrate had no choice but to arrest him and have him sentenced to death. Openly Isaac declared himself willing to face martyrdom for this outburst.
Accordingly on 3 June 851 (or 852), Isaac was beheaded and then hung upside down on public display as a deterrent to others. A deterrent that failed miserably because several others decided to follow Isaac’s example and to win Heaven by this means. To prevent relics, Isaac’s 27 year old body was cremated and his ashes scattered, but the high profile story of his martyrdom spread far and wide.
St Isaac of Cordoba had the choice of a life of ease, power and compromise or a life of poverty, humility and zeal for the truth. With God’s help he chose rightly, may his prayers help us to choose the path that God lays out for us which will lead to the greatest conversion of souls.
St Isaac of Cordoba, pray for us