Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Columbus Day

Landing of Columbus
Many cities around the nation are celebrating "Indigenous Peoples Day" whilst maligning Christopher Columbus (presumably, in their minds, the endemic violence, genocide, murder, slavery, human sacrifice, etc., practiced by the native peoples was preferable). But, although Columbus was a flawed human being--as we all are--we should remember that there was a greatness in him, and celebrate that greatness and his accomplishments. A good article on the topic is "Columbus and the Hand of God," by De Lamar Jensen, and published in the October 1992 Ensign. Jensen initially writes about those that would tear down Columbus:
Some of the debunkers, however, have become overenthusiastic, even slanderous, in their attempts to demythologize Columbus. Their approach often serves to bolster a political cause rather than promote a search for truth. Such activity is counterproductive, not because it tears down the heroic myth, but because it merely sets another myth in its place—the equally false myth of Columbus as a villain.
He writes about Columbus (footnotes omitted):
Columbus had little formal education, but he became highly competent in languages, cosmography, and nautical science, attributing all his skills to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “For the execution of the enterprise of the Indies, I made use of neither reason nor mathematics, nor world maps,” he wrote.

Perhaps nothing irked his contemporaries more than Columbus’s frank assertion that he was divinely chosen. “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth, of which He spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoken of it by the mouth of Isaiah,” Columbus wrote to a friend and confidant of the queen, “and he showed me where to find it.”

Columbus was convinced that the key to his enterprise was the spiritual gifts given him by the Lord: “He 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.” Columbus was certain that God provided these gifts to be used in His service, “encouraging me to go forward, and without ceasing they inflame me with a sense of great urgency.”
* * *
Columbus’s conviction that Asia (or the Indies, as the Europeans called it) could be reached faster and easier by sailing west did not originate with him. Others believed the possibility of such a voyage, a belief fostered by the writings of Pliny, Strabo, Seneca, Marinus of Tyre, and Claudius Ptolemy. In each of these, Columbus found support for his enterprise. Pliny, for example, taught that India was not far from Spain—an idea echoed by contemporary writers like Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly who, in his Imago mundi, wrote, “Between India and Spain there is little sea.”

The novelty of Columbus’s idea was not that the earth was round—every major geographer and scholar since the ancient Greeks accepted a spherical earth, as did seamen and educated people of the time. Rather, it was that the earth was not as far around as everyone believed. The most respected geographical authority in Columbus’s time was Ptolemy, who had calculated the circumference of the earth at 21,840 miles (the modern measurement is 25,902 miles). Columbus preferred the estimates of Arab mathematician al-Farghani, who came up with a measurement of about 20,000 miles.

More important for Columbus, however, was the ratio of land to water. Here he made his greatest miscalculations. Marinus of Tyre had suggested that land extended for 225 degrees around the earth, leaving only 135 degrees of water between Portugal and China. But even that was too far for Columbus. Had not Esdras written (in the Apocrypha) that six parts of the globe are habitable land and only one part water? Columbus therefore reduced the width of the ocean by 28 degrees to account for a larger Asia and then another 30 degrees to Japan, because Marco Polo had reported (without seeing it, of course) that the island of Cipango (Japan) lay 1,500 miles off the coast of Cathay (China). Columbus subtracted 9 more degrees when he decided to depart from the Canary Islands.

Thus, he calculated the distance from the Canaries to Japan at about 2,400 miles. He was wrong, of course; the actual airline distance is 10,600 miles. But remarkably, what did lie about 2,400 miles west of the Canaries was an entirely new continent, unknown to anyone in Europe or Asia.
 Returning to the theme of Columbus' divine mission, Jensen relates (footnotes omitted):
Between the third and fourth voyages, Columbus busied himself with the compilation of his Book of Prophecies, in which he hoped to demonstrate the historical and prophetic meaning of his discoveries and his own role as “Christ-bearer.” 
Most Columbus authorities have either ignored theBook of Prophecies, apologized for it, or else denounced it as the ranting of an unbalanced mind. That is unfortunate, because the book is vital to understanding Columbus’s thought and character. Columbus was a pious man and a diligent student of the Bible. He read it carefully, using the most reputable Bible commentators of his day. He also claimed to receive illumination from the Holy Spirit. 
The Book of Prophecies, as compiled by Columbus with the help of his friend, Father Gaspar Gorricio, is a collection of biblical passages and interpretations of God’s plan for the unfolding of world events. Its principal themes are that prophecy was being fulfilled by the discovery of new lands and peoples and that the consummation of God’s work was fast approaching. Columbus suggested that before the final days, the gospel message must be taken to all the world and that Jerusalem must be redeemed and the temple rebuilt. 
Columbus believed he was the human instrument called by God to carry out part of that divine plan. “With a hand that could be felt,” he wrote to the king and queen in a prefatory letter, “the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies, and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. This was the fire that burned within me when I came to visit Your Highnesses. … Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures.” 
In the book’s first section, Columbus presents a collection of sixty-five psalms that deal with his two major themes: the salvation of the world and the rebuilding of Zion. He calls special attention to several verses in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah that speak of the Gentiles as a people chosen to inherit the Holy Temple, their conversion in the last days, and the gathering to Zion. The inheritance of the Gentiles is further cited from St. Augustine, whose quoting of Ps. 22:27 is paraphrased by Columbus as “All the ends of the earth and all the islands shall be converted to the Lord.” After quoting Matt. 24:14, Columbus comments that the gospel has been preached to three parts of the earth (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and now must be preached to the fourth part. 
The second section of the Book of Prophecies concerns prophecies already fulfilled. The theme is the ancient greatness of Jerusalem and its subsequent fall. 
In the next section, Columbus deals with prophecies of the present and near future, emphasizing the theme of salvation for all nations. Isaiah is cited frequently. Columbus then furnishes several texts from the New Testament: Matthew 2:1–2; 8:11 [Matt. 2:1–2; Matt. 8:11]; Luke 1:48; and notably John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” 
The final section of the book deals with prophecies of the last days, which Columbus introduces by calling attention to Jeremiah 25 [Jer. 25], where the prophet predicts the restoration of Jerusalem prior to the Final Judgment. Finally, he quotes twenty-six scriptures that refer to the islands of the sea and their part in the last days. 
The Book of Prophecies was not the ranting of a sick mind. It was the work of a religious man who was not afraid to put his ideas into action and his own life into jeopardy. ...
 Of course, as the LDS readers know, Columbus was, in fact, divinely inspired:
And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
 1 Nephi 13:12.

Independent of the foregoing, the public discovery of the Americas (there is evidence that contact with North America had begun about that time with fishing vessels, whose captains and crew kept their fishing grounds secret) reinvigorated Europe. Glenn Reynolds quotes the following from Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus:
At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . .

Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”

Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.

No comments:

Post a Comment