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Christopher Columbus: Saint or sinner? pt. 1


Published: Sep 12, 2017

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Dear Editor,

 

Happy Discovery Day! As recent as 10 years ago we could express that greeting to any Bahamian without hesitation and be certain of a like greeting in return. Not so today, however.

You could start a civil war if you expressed such a wish to certain people today. It’s simply amazing just how much this once little tranquil island paradise and its peaceful, gentle people have changed over the years. If some could have their way, this could well be the last time we celebrate Discovery Day.

Christopher Columbus, our once much celebrated and revered discoverer or re-discoverer, is now regarded today with deep resentment and even hatred by some. They do not view Christopher as a brave explorer any longer, but as a vicious exterminator – the first “terminator” to hit “the New World”; not as a fellow-Christian, but as a corrupt heathen; not as a discoverer, but as a desperado. He is seen as a selfish, gold-hungry plunderer. A man who is responsible for the genocide of the Arawaks and the introduction of slavery in our hemisphere.

Others, regard him as a misguided do-gooder. For instance, in an article which appeared in the October 7, 1992 edition of The Nassau Guardian, when we celebrated our Quincentennial, Harry Levins, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is quoted as saying, “Columbus had no idea what he faced. For all the wrong reasons, he set out to do the right thing.” The article was entitled “We don’t know the first thing about Columbus”.

In another article, entitled “Christopher Columbus was a man with an obsession”, appearing in the same issue of The Guardian, Levins also stated “all Europe needed a man like Columbus – a man with an obsession”, in context, meaning an obsession to discover land and gold.

The author of the film script for the quincentennial movie “Christopher Columbus: Search for Paradise”, dogmatically declared that Columbus’ motive for coming to the New World was that he was “driven by a lust for treasure”. Another has said, in derision, that Columbus was a man who did not know where he came from, where he went, or how he got there!

Based on research I did some years ago, reading such articles on Columbus has convinced me that the authors truly did not “know the first thing about Columbus”. They most certainly did not include in their research a book that Columbus wrote himself and in which he very clearly, pointedly and specifically stated why he did what he did as an adventurer and explorer – especially with respect to his trip which eventually led him to The Bahamas, the first landfall in his “New World”.

At the time of my research, while I was still in seminary, someone had just rediscovered this book written by Columbus. It had a strange name, “The Book of Prophecies”. Its contents were even more fascinating – and to say the least, startling. It set out to explain, in Columbus’ own words, the primary, over-riding reason why he undertook his voyage across, what he called “the sea of darkness” to the islands of the sea in a “New World.”

The book was written in Latin and Castilian. “The title, in Castilian, is .... ‘Prophecies, which the admiral, Don Christopher Columbus, gathered together concerning the recuperation of the Holy City of Jerusalem and concerning the discovery of the Indies, addressed to the Catholic Monarchs’” [p.68]. One critic said, “The most striking thing about it is that it shows the admiral’s extensive knowledge of the Bible” [p. 63].

One Columbus historian alludes only briefly to the book by saying: “With time to spare [referring to the period between his third and fourth voyages when he was waiting for an answer from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for a request to be reinstated as viceroy of the islands he had ‘discovered’ (on his voyage)] he compiled a curious Book of Prophecies, consisting of passages from the Bible and other sources which could possibly be interpreted as predicting the discovery of the New World, with the inference that he [Columbus] was the man whom God had chosen both to accomplish this and to restore the Holy Sepulchre to Christendom” [Rienits, Rex and Thea; The Voyages of Columbus, pp. 110-112. The Hamlyn Publishing Group, London. 1970].

Most other historians at that time did not even mention the book. The title designates his great passion: to restore Jerusalem to Christians, the reason why he undertook his journey to what he called “the Indies” and the fact that Ferdinand and Isabella were the Christian monarchs who sponsored him. Each of these aspects are important to understand a radically new concept of the man whose extraordinary feat we celebrate today.

(By the way, I agree wholeheartedly with George Mackey who wrote in his column the most balanced and fair treatment of the issue I have seen thus far. He said that, to be true to history, if any blame is to be imposed on anyone for introducing slavery in The Bahamas, it should be also and primarily upon the then monarchs of Spain and the Roman Catholic Church. I agree, history attests to this interpretation of the events. It is amazing how historical facts can be distorted to accomplish one’s personal or misinformed agenda.)

I take time today to help “set the record straight” from our pulpit because of the spiritual significance it gives to the holiday we celebrate today. I sincerely doubt that you will get it anywhere else from this perspective – especially in The Bahamas. Christopher Columbus, seen from the perspective of his own writings, could well have been the first Christian missionary to our shores. Discovery Day, then, should well be a significant day on the church’s missionary calendar. This is my justification for not giving a biblical exposition this morning. I want to give a message on missions – and perhaps on the most abused and neglected missionary in the history of the church: Don Christopher Columbus.

August J. Kline, a Christian author, who, in 1972, was still in the process of translating the newly “rediscovered” manuscript for publication, wrote these words in that year’s October issue of Moody Monthly: “The Book of Prophecies, written by Columbus, was a careful compilation of all the teachings of the Bible on the subject of the earth, distant lands, seas, population movements, undiscovered tribes, prophecies of the future spread of the Gospel throughout the whole world, prophecies of travel between distant places, prophecies of the end of the world and the establishment of the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords ...

“He believed that Christ’s return and the formation of His universal kingdom could not take place until all nations and tribes of the distant isles had been evangelized... he believed that his own name, (Christo-phoros = ‘Christ-bearer’) given to him in holy baptism, was a special sign that God had predestinated him to be the evangelist, who would open up the unreached tribes of the ‘distant isles’ to the saving knowledge of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“As Columbus urged his near mutinous sailors to sail on through uncharted seas in the fall of 1492, his zeal and assurance were not derived from love of adventure or greed for gold and glory, but were founded wholly upon the revealed Word of God in Scripture.”

More recently, 1990 to be exact, Kay Brigham, a Church historian and Bible teacher, wrote a book, based upon Columbus’ “Book of Prophecies”, in commemoration of the quincentenary of the Discovery of America. She named it “Christopher Columbus: His Life and Discovery in the Light of His Prophecies”. It is printed in Barcelona, Spain by M.C.E. Horeb. At the time, I was unable to find the book in Nassau, but was finally able to purchase a copy in Miami, Florida. It is a fascinating, radically different description of Columbus – one, I’m sure, that if even read by his critics today will be scoffed at by them. It invalidates and makes a lie of most of what they have to say concerning his motive for exploring the islands of the sea. Bringham, a reputable church historian, states in her book: “Without the influence of the Bible on his mind and will, Columbus would not have had sufficient strength to overcome obstacles and carry out so bold an enterprise.”

Was it for gold? Perhaps, but not primarily for himself, although it was undoubtedly so for his backers, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. However, for Don Christopher, his motivation was not even primarily to discover a new land, although that motivation was also present.

 

– Allan R. Lee, president, Teleios Theological Training Institute

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