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Reflections From History & Faith

Christopher Columbus Revisited By Jeff Olson

Like many of you, as a child I learned about Christopher Columbus as the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Much of what has been said and written about him by contemporary critics has been incomplete, fictional, historically and contextually obscured, and even disparaging to his actual identity. To move beyond these distortions and the simplistic myths we’ve learned about Columbus, balanced literature such as George Grant’s “The Last Crusader: The Untold Story of Christopher Columbus” and Robert Royal’s “1492 And All That” are good reads.

This week, as we observe the 527th anniversary (October 12th) of his famous discovery, I think it is in order for us to discover more about Columbus the man and some facts which perhaps remain unknown to some Americans, especially in light of modern-day efforts to re-write history and paint Columbus with a broad politically correct brush which also too often trends toward a condemning portrait of Western Civilization.

According to early history books, Columbus’s real name was Cristobol Colon. So, who was he? The answers will include such descriptions as an adventurer, a sailor, the discoverer of the New World and he was in fact all of these. However, his writings and the records kept by his contemporaries indicate that Columbus was a pious man and a diligent student of the Bible, a man of unshakable faith who believed he was an instrument in God’s hands. Columbus was convinced that “He [God] bestowed the arts of seamanship upon me in abundance, and has given me what was necessary from [astronomy], geometry, and arithmetic; and has given me adequate inventiveness in my soul.”

What we remember is that Columbus’s voyage was funded by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. However, what may not be as commonly known are Columbus’s missionary outreach motive and the Queen’s acceptance and endorsement of it. He wrote a book entitled “Book of Prophecies” in which he copied down Scripture related to bringing the Gospel to unknown coastlands. This book has been translated into English from the original Latin and Spanish versions by the late scholar Dr. August Kling. Columbus’s writings reveal a spiritual depth about him. Even his signature is encased in a triangular pattern, with the names of God written above the signature, Christopher Ferens (Christ Bearer).

From his “Book of Prophecies”, Columbus wrote, “At a very early age I began to sail upon the ocean. For more than forty years, I have sailed everywhere that people go. I prayed to the most merciful Lord about my heart’s great desire, and He gave me the spirit and the intelligence for the task: seafaring, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, skill in drafting spherical maps and placing correctly the cities, rivers, mountains and ports. It was the Lord who put it into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit….No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.”

Christopher Columbus was a man in the midst of unprecedented circumstances and it can be tempting and easy to judge him strictly through the lens of contemporary concepts of cultural values and absolute justice. Many have. Christopher Columbus was indeed ineffective as a governor and erroneous in some of his decisions regarding Native Americans. Nevertheless, his proven skills and leadership on the high seas, his earnest desire to share Christ with unknown peoples, and his determined and focused quest for a westward route to Asia resulted in epic changes in the world; linking Europe to the Americas, opening the exchange of knowledge, ideas and religion among various cultures, and setting the stage for New World colonization, a part of which would become the United States of America.

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