From the Pastor: Columbus Day
In recent years a lot of ignorant and/or immoral so-called “scholars” have written a lot of anti-Catholic (yes, I believe that is most often the basis of their false “scholarship”) articles bashing Christopher Columbus and his Catholic Faith. Today I want to share with you just a little bit of actual scholarship about him and his journey, found in the Knights of Columbus’ Columbia magazine in October of 2015. Much more “real” Columbus information can be found easily enough on many Catholic websites and books. Don’t be fooled by the secular sources who make up stories or twist old documents to fit their agenda, trading truth for hatred.
When the Knights of Columbus was founded 130 years ago, their namesake, Christopher Columbus, was a symbol of the idea that there is no contradiction in being a Catholic and an American. In recent decades, however, Columbus has become a figure of controversy, leaving conflicting opinions about his legacy.
Carol Delaney, a cultural anthropologist and long-time professor at Stanford University, had little knowledge or interest in Columbus that is, until she was teaching a course called “Millennial Fever” at Stanford in 1999 and came across a reference to the explorer’s apocalyptic beliefs. Delaney was intrigued and set out to research Columbus at Brown University in the summer of 2003. Two years later, she retired from Stanford to devote herself to research, which launched a remarkable journey in the footsteps of the explorer. Columbia spoke to Delaney about the fruits of her research, published in her book titled Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem (Free Press, 2011).
Columbia: You argue that most people misunderstand the purpose of Columbus’ voyage. According to your research, what were his motivations?
Carol Delaney: Everybody knows that Columbus was trying to find gold, but they don’t know what the gold was for: to fund a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims before the end of the world. A lot of people at the time thought that the apocalypse was coming because of all the signs: the plague, famine, earthquakes and so forth. And it was believed that before the end, Jerusalem had to be back in Christian hands so that Christ could return in judgment. Columbus actually calculated how many years were left before the end of the world. He seemed to think of his whole voyage as a mission, which was part of this apocalyptic scenario.
Columbia: In addition to funding the crusade, did Columbus intend to evangelize the New World?
Carol Delaney: He was very much interested in evangelizing. He wrote against the idea that the natives could just be baptized and automatically become Christian. Rather, they really needed to be instructed about the Christian faith before being converted. He wrote to the pope requesting that good priests be sent to provide this instruction and even left money in his will for it. Believing he was traveling to Asia, Columbus particularly wanted to convince the Grand Khan of China, who had already expressed interest in Christianity, to convert. He thought that the Grand Khan could help with the crusade to take Jerusalem by marching from the east, while the Europeans marched from the west an interesting idea.
Columbia: Why don’t more people recognize and accept your claims about Columbus’ intentions?
Carol Delaney: Scholars have written articles about Columbus’ religious motivations, but they were published in very arcane journals. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, historians wrote about Columbus as the first modern man, who used science and reason as an explorer and discoverer. But I don’t think that was his motivation. He was a medieval man in a very religious context. He was very close to the Franciscans, who were involved in proselytizing before the end of the world.
Columbia: The popular view today is that Columbus is responsible for countless atrocities against the native peoples. In your opinion, is this a fair assessment?
Carol Delaney: No, not at all. The late 20th century brought a lot of critique about him from the perspective of the natives, and Columbus has become a symbol for everything that went wrong. But the more I read of his own writings and that of his contemporaries, my understanding of him totally changed. His relations with the natives tended to be benign. He liked the natives and found them to be very intelligent. He also described them as “natural Christians” because they had no other “sect,” or false faith, and believed that they could easily become Christians if they had instruction.
There is much more but we have no more space here. Read her book. Read real scholarship. Don’t get mislead by the bigots who want to destroy the nation and the Church. Happy Columbus Day!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka