Leander was born in Cartagena, Spain, to a noble Arian-Christian family. His younger brothers, Isidore and Fulgentius, and his sister, Florentina, are all numbered among the saints. Leander’s father served as governor of the Province of Cartagena but, following an attack on the city by the Byzantines, the family resettled in Seville. Leander’s mother later converted to Catholicism and it was because of her the children accepted the Catholic Faith. Leander had a significant influence on his siblings and was responsible for the education of his brother, Isidore, who is honored as one of the Doctors of the Church. Commenting on this relationship, His Holiness Benedict XVI said, “[Isidore] owed much to Leander, an exacting, studious, and austere person who created around his younger brother a family environment marked by the ascetic requirements proper to a monk… Leander and Isidore’s home was furnished with a library richly endowed with classical pagan and Christian works. Isidore, who felt simultaneously attracted to both, was therefore taught under the stewardship of his elder brother to develop a very strong discipline, in promoting himself to study them with discretion and discernment” (General Audience, June 18, 2008).
Around the year 575, Leander became a monk in Seville. Four years later, the people of Seville elected him to serve as their bishop. Finding himself at odds with the civil authorities (followers of Arius, whose sect denied the divinity of Jesus), he was exiled to Constantinople. While there, he met Saint Gregory the Great, who was serving as Papal Legate to the imperial court. The two became lifelong friends and Gregory dedicated his famous treatise on the Book of Job to Leander.
Leander was eventually allowed to return to Seville and he soon became a champion of the Catholic Faith in Spain. He convoked the Third Council of Toledo, which decreed the consubstantiality of the three Persons of the Trinity, and it was Leander who ordered that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed should be recited at Mass—a custom that has endured to this day. Leander is credited with bringing about the conversion of Spain’s last Arian king, whose acceptance of the Catholic Faith insured the peace that comes with political and religious stability. Gregory the Great, who had been elected Pope in 590, sent the pallium to Leander, marking the bishop’s close ties to the See of Rome. Remembered as a gifted and prolific author, Leander is especially honored for the monastic rule he wrote for his sister, Florentina, and a sermon, “On the Triumph of the Church;” his many other works have, unfortunately, been lost.
Praised by his younger brother, Isidore, as having been “a man of suave eloquence and eminent talent” who “shone as brightly by his virtues as by his doctrine,” Leander died on March 13, 600/601. Saint Isidore succeeded him as bishop of Seville.
Leander lived in a time and place in which divisions and unrest were justified by religious intolerance and appeals to cultural and ethnic allegiances. Although the theological questions that divided the orthodox Catholic-Christians from the followers of Arius were significant, Leander was unswerving in his dedication to the truth, which he promoted with pastoral zeal, wisdom, and through the integrity of his life. Isaiah’s words in the First Reading of today’s Mass (of the Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent) embody the prophetic role that Leander understood to be an essential part of his call to serve the Church as a teacher and pastor:
"In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you;
and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,
to restore the land
and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves...
I will cut a road through all my mountains,
and make my highways level.
See, some shall come from afar,
others from the north and the west,
and some from the land of Syene.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted" (Isaiah 49:8-9a, 11-13).
The prophet is the one who is able to discern the presence and action of God at work in the world, who is sent to communicate God’s will for the world. Throughout the history, women and men, like Saint Leander of Seville, have courageously engaged the world around them, admonishing, challenging, inspiring, and changing the lives of those whom they encountered, giving voice to God’s presence and desires for every person.
In his Sermon “On the Triumph of the Church,” Leander declared, “How sweet is love and how delightful is unity you know well through the foretelling of the prophets, through the divine word of the Gospels, through the teachings of the apostles. Therefore, preach only the unity of nations, dream only of the oneness of all peoples, spread abroad only the good seeds of peace and love… It remains, then, that we should all with one accord work for one kingdom and that, both for the stability of the kingdom on earth and for the happiness of the kingdom of heaven, we should pray to God that that kingdom and nation which has glorified the Christ on earth shall be glorified by Him not only on earth, but also in heaven.” Leander reminds us that lasting union, peace, and concord can only be found and fostered in the love of Christ and in our love for one another—that same love that is both the starting point and the fulfillment of our lives as Christians.