Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

Monday, October 10, AD 2016

 

“This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky. “

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is one of those years in which the government decreed Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, does not fall on October 12, the date, under the Julian calendar, when Columbus discovered the New World.  Columbus Day is observed also in Spain as Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional and as the charmingly unpc Dia de la Raza in most Latin American nations.

In this country Columbus Day used to be an uncomplicated celebration, especially for Italian Americans.  Now it has become controversial with Columbus blamed in some quarters for genocide against Indians and being the founder of the American slave trade.  As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out in this article in 1995 in First Things, the condemnation of Columbus today tells us far more about current political battles than it does about the historical record of Columbus.  From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.  Among other views inimical to our time,  he saw nothing wrong about establishing colonies and bringing native peoples under the rule of European powers.  He had little respect for the religions of native people and wanted them to be Catholic, as, indeed, he wanted all the world to be Catholic.  (I see nothing wrong in this myself, but rest assured most of our contemporaries in this country would.)

Prior to ascending the pulpit to launch a jeremiad against someone of a prior time however, it might be useful to consider the criticisms that Columbus might have of our time.  The embrace of nihilistic atheism by so many in the West in our time would have appalled him. The easy availability of the most degrading types of pornography would have sickened him.  Our weapons of mass destruction he would have seen as a sign of the reign of the Anti-Christ.  Ecumenicalism he would have viewed as a turning away from the True Faith.  The celebration of abortion as a right would have seemed to him as the ultimate covenant with death.  The Sixties of the last century popularized the term generation gap, describing the difficulty that parents and their teenage offspring had in understanding each other.  Between our time and that of Columbus there is a generations’ chasm and the use of Columbus as a whipping boy in current political disputes only increases our problem of understanding him and his time.

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3 Responses to Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

  • The very ones ripping into Columbus never seem to stop for a moment and consider the privileges and blessings bestowed upon this land. Hospitals, schools of education, modern medicine…they only try their best at destroying the man and his Church.

    Savage’s, are all the ungrateful misguided punks that cry genocidal practices due to Christianity, while ignoring the 3,000 deaths a day via abortion. Hypocrisy is their hallmark.
    Thank God for Christopher Columbus.

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  • Columbus was a terrible administrator but a superior navigator. So he did not find the Orient. He found something better. He found America (as defined outside the USA, America is the entire Western Hemisphere).

    For all this country’s sins and faults, it has been the greatest nation in the world…until we destroy it.

Columbus and the Virgin Mary

Sunday, October 9, AD 2016

virgin-of-the-navigators

The Virgin of the Navigators is an alterpiece painted in 1536 by Alejo Fernandez for the chapel at the House of Trade in Seville.  Under the protection of the Virgin are depicted King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and, kneeling on the viewer’s right are Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and one of the Pinzon Brothers.  In the background are gathering the peoples of the New World.  The painting was made five years after the appearance of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531, and I wonder if word of this miracle had made its way back to Spain.

At any rate, I know Columbus would have loved the painting.  All of his life he had a special devotion to Mary, as demonstrated by the name of his flagship, Santa Maria, and his strict observance of sailors singing Salve Regina at around 7:00 PM after saying their evening prayers.  ( The full name of the Santa Maria was Santa Maria de la  Imaculada ConcepcionSaint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, which indicates that Columbus believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary.)  On the return voyage from discovering the New World, when supplies were rapidly running out, Columbus and his crew promised pilgrimages to various Marian shrines if they made it back to Spain.  In his will Columbus left a legacy to build a church dedicated to Saint Mary of the Conception on Hispaniola, a wish, alas, his executors did not carry out.  Columbus would rarely write a letter without inserting this phrase:  Jesus cum Maria sit nobis in via. (May Jesus with Mary be with us on the way.)  Not a bad hope for all of us.

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3 Responses to Columbus and the Virgin Mary

  • Amen. The way looks ominous, politically speaking, but clarity enters in, and Mr. McClarey points us in the Right direction. Good pick for this afternoon. Thanks.

    Devotion to Mary leads us to a closer and unambiguous relationship with Jesus. Every day we climb the ladder as we pray the rosary.
    At the top rung is Our Saviour. Thanks Mary, for instructing us how to aim higher. Thanks for calling us your children…. since we truly are yours. Now and forever.
    Debate tonight?
    What debate?

    A good night to watch the Passion of the Christ.

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  • OF course the Immaculate Conception is patroness of the U.S.

Sail On!

Monday, October 12, AD 2015

 

QUARTO ABEUNTE SAECULO
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON
THE COLUMBUS QUADRICENTENNIAL

To Our Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops and
Bishops of Spain, Italy, and the two Americas.

Now that four centuries have sped since a Ligurian first, under God’s guidance, touched shores unknown beyond the Atlantic, the whole world is eager to celebrate the memory of the event, and glorify its author. Nor could a worthier reason be found where through zeal should be kindled. For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity. By his toil another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life. Europe, indeed, overpowered at the time by the novelty and strangeness of the discovery, presently came to recognize what was due to Columbus, when, through the numerous colonies shipped to America, through the constant intercourse and interchange of business and the ocean-trade, an incredible addition was made to our knowledge of nature, and to the commonwealth; whilst at the same time the prestige of the European name was marvellously increased. Therefore, amidst so lavish a display of honour, so unanimous a tribute of congratulations, it is fitting that the Church should not be altogether silent; since she, by custom and precedent, willingly approves and endeavours to forward whatsoever she see, and wherever she see it, that is honourable and praiseworthy. It is true she reserves her special and greatest honours for virtues that most signally proclaim a high morality, for these are directly associated with the salvation of souls; but she does not, therefore, despise or lightly estimate virtues of other kinds. On the contrary, she has ever highly favoured and held in honour those who have deserved well of men in civil society, and have thus attained a lasting name among posterity. For God, indeed, is especially wonderful in his Saints – mirabilis in Sanctis suis; but the impress of His Divine virtue also appears in those who shine with excellent power of mind and spirit, since high intellect and greatness of spirit can be the property of men only through their parent and creator, God.

2. But there is, besides, another reason, a unique one, why We consider that this immortal achievement should be recalled by Us with memorial words. For Columbus is ours; since if a little consideration be given to the particular reason of his design in exploring the mare tenebrosum, and also the manner in which he endeavoured to execute the design, it is indubitable that the Catholic faith was the strongest motive for the inception and prosecution of the design; so that for this reason also the whole human race owes not a little to the Church.

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4 Responses to Sail On!

  • the greatest event since the Resurrection of Christ and the first Pentecost was the discovery of the New World. Yeah, there is circumstantial evidence that others made their way to the Americas before Columbus but their efforts had no long lasting results.

    Queen Isabel the Catholic, Servant of God, uniter of a free and Catholic Spain rid of the Muslim invader, backed Columbus with little more than faith and money.

    Despite the sins of those who came to the Americas, the world is a better place for Columbus’ efforts. Cortez put an end to human sacrifice and cannibalism. We have had no French Revolution. We have had no National Socialism. Except for poor Cuba, we have had no Marxism. We have had no Holodomor. We have had no Irish Potato Famine. We have had no gulags, no death camps with crematories, no genocide, no Final Solution. As for the Indians who were treated poorly, I offer no defense, but they did not treat each other well either. Slavery was an institution imported here by the Eastern Hemisphere and rid by the West.

    This nation, whose founding fathers were a hodgepodge of Deists, Protestants and Masons, did, with Catholic help from Spain and France, Pulaski, Lafayette, Kosziusko and von Steuben, defeated the mightiest Empire in the world, and then fought in two World Wars as an ally to defeat an evil enemy, and then brought down the most evil empire the world had ever seen.

    None of this happens without the vision of Columbus. Those who criticize his governance probably voted for Obumbler.

  • Penguins, since I now live here I am grateful for Columbus’ journey. But to claim all is rosy and no ills came of it is silly at best. Especially the claim of no genocide of final solution. This seems to fly in the face of the history of the new world and especially the US. It is estimated that population of the native people was reduced by over 90% after Columbus landed. Whole villages were depopulated. Most due to disease, but many due to slaughter because we wanted their land. They did not all partake in human sacrifice, in fact few did and Cortez was only able to defeat the Aztecs because the rest of the native tribes hated them.

    The Indians were not poorly treated, my brother treated me poorly when he wouldn’t share the bed, The Indians were murdered, enslaved forced to live on poor land, forced to move again, and again, stolen from and lied to. Not just by the Eastern Hemisphere Empires, but by the American government. Though the evil enemy in WWII was plain, a real study of history would question who was really evil in WWI.

    Yes, I criticize the governance of a man who had slaves carry him from place to place. Please include some honesty in your replies.

  • Tongue firmly is planted in cheek: On June 25, 1876, Custer and half the Seventh Cavalry died for it (see Dee Brown). Plus, America is liable for divine retribution for slavery, Islamophobia (The Shores of Tripoli), conquering the better parts of Mexico (Manifest Destiny), ravaging Eden, exterminating the passenger pigeon, capitalism/robber barons, exploiting labor, seizing the Philippines, Dresden/Hiroshima/Nagasaki, daring to oppose Leninism/Stalinism, mistreating gays, racism, income inequality, the war on women, homophobia, global warming, gun violence, cruelty to animals, etc. Someone let me know if I omitted a liberal swear-word.
    .
    There are two brands of liberal: the ones that hate America and the ones that really, really hate America and the uses Americans make of their liberty. Above (in my opinion) are some of their reasons.

  • Paul, I am in no mood for another person to go and pick an argument with me. So you don’t like my post. I don’t give a damn. I did not offend Mr. McClarey who runs this blog and whose judgment I respect, nor most of the regular posters here. I’m certain they would have let me know about it in no uncertain terms if I did.

    As for questioning who really was the “bad guy” in World War I, I have had it with people who excuse the Austro-Hungarian Empire (ostensibly because it was ruled by a Catholic) and Germany. The Austrians and Germans were an expansionist bunch. Germans wanted Polish land for almost a thousand years. Bismarck remarked that Poles were dogs who should just die and he enacted the Kulturkampf. Anyone who defends the Germans in WWI is a nonentity to me.

    Respond to who you want, but leave me alone.

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Samuel Eliot Morison

Sunday, October 11, AD 2015

 

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. If the Turk could not be pried loose from the Holy Sepulcher by ordinary means, let Europe seek new means overseas; and he, Christopher the Christ-bearer, would be the humble yet proud instrument of Europe’s regeneration. So it turned out, although not as he anticipated. The First Voyage to America that he accomplished with a maximum of faith and a minimum of technique, a bare sufficiency of equipment and a superabundance of stout-heartedness, gave Europe new confidence in herself, more than doubled the area of Christianity, enlarged indefinitely the scope for human thought and speculation, and “led the way to those fields of freedom which, planted with great seed, have now sprung up to the fructification of the world.”…

In his faith, his deductive methods of reasoning, his unquestioning acceptance of the current ethics, Columbus was a man of the Middle Ages, and in the best sense. In his readiness to translate thought into action, in lively curiosity and accurate observation of natural phenomena, in his joyous sense of adventure and desire to win wealth and recognition, he was a modern man.

Samuel Eliot Morison:  historian, Harvard professor of history, biographer of Christopher Columbus, Rear Admiral, United States Navy

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7 Responses to Quotes Suitable for Framing: Samuel Eliot Morison

  • I have been to the spot on which Columbus first landed. It is at the Port of Cortez on the coast of Honduras. The castle the Spanish began building is still there in exellent condition. The well they dug for fresh water is still usuable. The mote was begun but never completed. You can see, by the materials in the walls, when the builders ran out of building supplies carried across the ocean and began using native supplies s.a. coral for the second story of the castle walls. The church was distinguished by its windows which had metal bars for crosses in them. There are rooms that are still storing the metal cannons that were carried across the ocean in Spanish ships.

  • I recommend Admiral Morison’s book, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, A Life of Christopher Columbus, which I read years ago. You will note the simple, true faith of Columbus and the seamen, who continually said prayers while doing various tasks, at the bells, etc.
    .

    I also highly recommend Admiral Morison’s book on WWII, The Two Ocean War. You will be struck by the very harsh (severe losses of men and ships) times of the first two years of the Atlantic war and the later skillful, victorious years in both oceans.
    .
    Of course, America-hating imbeciles’ heads explode each Columbus Day. Seems as if the idiots would prefer undeveloped America solely inhabited by unredeemed, stone-age savages.

  • Barbra, from what I have read, nobody is absolutely sure where Columbus first landed, but it is thought to be in the Bahamas. Subsequently, Columbus sailed on to Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) and Cuba, and on another voyage to Venezuela.

    Columbus was not a capable administrator at all. The Black Legend that pertains to Columbus finds its roots in his time as Governor of the lands he found, along with the hyperbole of the book by Fray Bartolome de las Casas. Notice the yearly protests of American Indians and other groups who seek to disparage Columbus’ notable navigation achievements. Always overlooked in the annual Columbus Day catharsis were the Aztec customs of human sacrifice and cannibalism.

    October 11 is a significant day for another reason. General Casimir Pulaski is honored on this day as he died on October 9, 1779 as a result of injuries incurred in the French & American assault on British held Savannah, Georgia.

    Pulaski was forced into exile when the Bar Confederation’s uprising against Russia failed. Pulaski saved George Washington’s life and reformed the American Cavalry.

  • Penguins Fan! The river edge of this city has Pulaski Park (fondly called Count Casimir) as a place where turn of the century Polish immigrants settled and built the now closed church, but the parish school still serves as a border – in winter horse drawn sleighs have gone around the park for the delight of the schoolchildren. The next town north, Northampton, has a common named after him.

  • “Barbra, from what I have read, nobody is absolutely sure where Columbus first landed, but it is thought to be in the Bahamas. Subsequently, Columbus sailed on to Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) and Cuba, and on another voyage to Venezuela.”

    Uhhhh. He may not have landed on the exact “spot.”. However, the castle is very hard to explain away, along with the undiluted, local Garifuna population, who have kept their original African culture and language, after being brought to that coastal area by subsequent trips across the ocean by the Spanish.

  • “Barbra, from what I have read, nobody is absolutely sure where Columbus first landed, but it is thought to be in the Bahamas. Subsequently, Columbus sailed on to Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) and Cuba, and on another voyage to Venezuela.”

    And there is no doubt that they traveled around some. Maybe my wording was too exact. Kind of like the argument about WHICH rock is ACTUALLY Plymouth Rock that the Pilgrims landed on.

  • ““Barbra, from what I have read, nobody is absolutely sure where Columbus first landed, but it is thought to be in the Bahamas. Subsequently, Columbus sailed on to Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic) and Cuba, and on another voyage to Venezuela.”

    Well, the 1st site I found just now said Columbus actually landed in modern day Honduras during his 4th journey to the Americas. This site also indicates there is some controversy over whether or not Columbus named the country of Honduras.

    Forgive me if I have given out inaccurate info. I hate doing that with a passion.

Salve Regina and Hermann the Cripple

Saturday, October 10, AD 2015

Something for the weekend.  Salve Regina.  Christopher Columbus was nearing the end of his voyage across the Atlantic 523 years ago.  He had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary.  Each night he would assemble the crew on his ship to sing the Salve Regina.  The hymn was written in the eleventh century by Blessed Hermann the Cripple, a truly fascinating figure.

Born on July 18, 1013, he was a son of Wolverad II, Earl of Altshausen.  He entered this world with maladies that would be considered overwhelming in our time and in the eleventh century entirely beyond hope: a cleft palate and cerebral palsy and spina bifida, or perhaps  Lou Gehrig’s disease or spinal muscular atrophy.  In any event he could barely move, and could hardly speak.  He was placed in a monastery at age 7, no doubt his parents fearing that all that would occur for their son for the remainder of his time in this vale of tears was that he would be made as comfortable as possible until his afflicted life came to an end.

Among the monks he flourished.   At twenty he took his vows as a Benedictine monk. He spent most of his life at the Abbey of Reichenau.  He quickly demonstrated that a keen mind, as well as a beautiful soul, inhabited his wreck of a body. He mastered several languages including Latin, Arabic and Greek.  His genius was catholic in its scope:  he wrote a treatise on the science of music, several works on geometry, mathematics and astronomy, a chronicle of events from the Crucifixion to his time and composed religious poetry.  He built musical instruments and astronomical devices.  Students flocked to him throughout Europe, drawn not only by his learning but also by his sweet demeanor.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of his role in the scientific renaissance sweeping through Europe in the eleventh century.

Going blind in his later years, he became a noted composer of hymns, including the Salve Regina.  Dying in 1054 at age 40, he was beatified by Pio Nono in 1863.

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5 Responses to Salve Regina and Hermann the Cripple

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  • Beautiful story.
    Thanks again for your teaching.

    How many Hermann the cripple’s would of brightened our world if they weren’t diagnosed within their mother’s womb, and prompted to abort at the suggestion of their “doctor?”
    How many? God doesn’t make mistakes when souls are created and conception is achieved.

    In these, our dark ages, please continue to pray. Please consider joining ten’s of thousands of Prayer partners in public prayer.
    We will be in front of today’s Auschwitz’.
    Join us. Please. Hermann the cripple pray for us.

  • I too am heartened by the life of Herman of Richenau! Thank you for this post.
    Imagine being immobile – dependent – but on a beautiful island in the beautiful Lake Constance under the care of the noted abbot Benno in that wonderful brilliant century!
    + some belief that the refrain ” o clement,oh sweet…” Etc was added by Bernard of Clairvaux

  • “O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to Thee.”
    .
    “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God
    That we may made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
    .

    “I fly to you O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.”
    .
    “To you do I come; before you I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, . . . ”
    .
    I think of Mary and my wonderful mother (RIP).

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Christopher Columbus and Historical Optimism

Monday, October 13, AD 2014

 

 

Harvard professor Samuel Eliot Morison, who was about to become the official historian of the Navy during World War II and who would attain Admiral rank, in 1943 came out with his two volume Pulitzer prize winning biography of Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea.  The prologue in that book is a standing rebuke of the historical pessimism that infests our own time:

At the end of the year 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 [boring] 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.

Islam was now expanding at the expense of Christendom. Every effort to recover the holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem, touchstone of Christian prestige, had been a failure. The Ottoman Turks, after snuffing out all that remained of the Byzantine Empire, had overrun most of Greece, Albania and Serbia; presently they would be hammering at the gates of Vienna….

With the practical dissolution of the Empire and the Church’s loss of moral leadership, Christians had nothing to which they might cling. The great principle of unity represented by emperor and pope was a dream of the past that had not come true. Belief in the institutions of their ancestors was wavering. It seemed as if the devil had adopted as his own the principle “divide and rule.” Throughout Western Europe the general feeling was one of profound disillusion, cynical pessimism and black despair….

Morrison goes on to note that the Nuremburg Chronicle was in preparation in 1492 which purported to be a universal history from the creation of the world.
Lest any reader feel an unjustified optimism, the Nuremberg chroniclers place 1493 in the Sixth or penultimate Age of the world, and leave six blank pages on which to record events from the date of print to the Day or Judgment.

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4 Responses to Christopher Columbus and Historical Optimism

  • People are ignorant of history. And when confronted with what history actually says, people prefer their ignorance.
    .
    The same I have found true in science and engineering (especially of the nuclear variety). People are ignorant, and when confronted with what science and engineering actually say, they prefer their ignorance.
    .
    It is the height of irony that these ignorant people are often the same people who claim they revere the truth in science or history simply because they are materialists, and that persons of faith can never revere the truth in science or history because the eyes of persons of faith are colored (or darkened) by their faith.
    .
    How did we ever get to this point where the entire repository of all of mankind’s knowledge is at the finger tips of the average smart phone user whose ignorance surpasses that of the most barbaric Scythian of the bygone pagan Roman era?

  • “many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past…”

    That is exactly right. both the Renaissance and the Protestant Revolt were profundly reactionary movements, seeking a return to a real or imaginary Golden Age.

    It was only in the 17th century that we see the slow birth of a new idea, the expectation that the future would be unlike the past, that it would be better, and that the experience of ages may instruct and warn, but cannot guide or control.

  • Those who say it can’t be done need to move out of the way of those of us who are doing it!! Yes, my friends tell me that I am a bad ass, however I get a lot done. 😀

  • As I recall, Barbara, Scripture has a whole set of bad asses, some of whom were women. Judith and Deborah come immediately to mind.

Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

Sunday, October 12, AD 2014

“This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky. “

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is one of those years in which the government decreed Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, does not fall on October 12, the date, under the Julian calendar, when Columbus discovered the New World.  Columbus Day is observed also in Spain as Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional and as the charmingly unpc Dia de la Raza in most Latin American nations.

In this country Columbus Day used to be an uncomplicated celebration, especially for Italian Americans.  Now it has become controversial with Columbus blamed in some quarters for genocide against Indians and being the founder of the American slave trade.  As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out in this article in 1995 in First Things, the condemnation of Columbus today tells us far more about current political battles than it does about the historical record of Columbus.  From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.  Among other views inimical to our time,  he saw nothing wrong about establishing colonies and bringing native peoples under the rule of European powers.  He had little respect for the religions of native people and wanted them to be Catholic, as, indeed, he wanted all the world to be Catholic.  (I see nothing wrong in this myself, but rest assured most of our contemporaries in this country would.)

Prior to ascending the pulpit to launch a jeremiad against someone of a prior time however, it might be useful to consider the criticisms that Columbus might have of our time.  The embrace of nihilistic atheism by so many in the West in our time would have appalled him. The easy availability of the most degrading types of pornography would have sickened him.  Our weapons of mass destruction he would have seen as a sign of the reign of the Anti-Christ.  Ecumenicalism he would have viewed as a turning away from the True Faith.  The celebration of abortion as a right would have seemed to him as the ultimate covenant with death.  The Sixties of the last century popularized the term generation gap, describing the difficulty that parents and their teenage offspring had in understanding each other.  Between our time and that of Columbus there is a generations’ chasm and the use of Columbus as a whipping boy in current political disputes only increases our problem of understanding him and his time.

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17 Responses to Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

  • Thanks Mr. McClarey.
    In your years of study and learning have you come across any explanations on the naming of his first three ships?

    Santa Maria is obvious, however Nina and Pinta not so. I ask because you have an extensive thirst for history and do a marvelous job bringing it to life at TAC.

  • La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción and the other two ships were ships which had previous owners and I do not believe that Columbus named them. It was the convention at the time in Spain for ships to have a saint’s name and a common name for daily usage. Of the three ships the Nina was the favorite of Columbus. Her saint’s name was Santa Clara. The nickname came from the name of her owner Juan Nino. We do not know the official name of the Pinta. La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción was run aground on Haiti Christmas Day 1492 due to the crew being hung over from celebrating the night before and a ship’s boy being left to steer the ship, and had to be abandoned.

  • “Columbus lived in a religious age…”

    Columbus lived in a remarkably irreligious age. Nothing illustrates this more starkly than the fact that it was 60 years after the invention of printing and only after 30,000 titles had passed through the press that any publisher thought it worth his while to publish the original text of the New Testament.
    The mind of Europe seemed wholly preoccupied with the New Learning, with literature, architecture painting, sculpture, philosophy; everything but religion.

    Of course, there were exceptions, Cajetan, Ximénes and Erasmus spring to mind, but they were by no means typical of their age.

  • Incorrect MPS. It was a highly religious age, as demonstrated by the Vulgate Bible being one of the first books published by Gutenberg in the 1450’s after he invented the printing press. The publication of the New Testament in Greek was actually a product of the Christian Humanism that you reference. However, as demonstrated by Saint Thomas More and his circle, men of the generation following that of Columbus, the New Learning could exist quite nicely with Christian piety.

  • Donald R McClarey

    The 16th century was passionate about religion, but the leading figures of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation belonged, for the most part, to the generation following Columbus and came to manhood in the last decade of the old century and the first decade of the new.

    A further indication of the religious indifference of the age of Columbus is that Pico della Mirandola had to seek out a Jewish teacher, Elia del Medigo in order to learn Hebrew and Aramaic. By contrast, iby1530, the three Scottish universities all had chairs of Hebrew. Cambridge established one in 1540 and Oxford in 1546.

  • “A further indication of the religious indifference of the age of Columbus is that Pico della Mirandola had to seek out a Jewish teacher, Elia del Medigo in order to learn Hebrew and Aramaic.”

    You are confusing scholarship and piety. I would say that the Reformation Era, after the time of Columbus, had far too much of the former and far too little of the latter.

  • Excellent history lesson.

  • Thank you Mr. McClarey.
    I agree with Paul. Excellent history lesson.

  • MPS,
    The entire Reconquest was both a political and religious undertaking. Queen Isabel was a devoted Catholic and began reform of the Church in Spain before the Reconquest was completed. Spain was plagued with weak kings, selfish nobles and corrupt bishops. Queen Isabel put an end to all of it, defeated the Muslims in Granada and gave her royal blessing to Columbus’ endeavors.

    That Columbus was not a skilled administrator of the lands he discovered is true. Columbus was, despite what any of his faults were, a magnificent navigator whose discovery led to the New World, the Western Hemisphere, of which over two thirds was evangelized by Catholics – and let’s not leave out Our Lady of Guadalupe. From the upper reaches of Quebec, through Florida, the Caribbean, Western New York State, Louisiana, the American Southwest, California, Central America and the entire South American continent – all was opened to the Church through Columbus’s voyage and Queen Isabel’s approval of it.

    Given that Islam completed it quest of conquering Constantinople in 1451, attacked Otranto in 1480, was thrown out of Spain in 1492 and the evangelization of the New World, it was indeed a religious age.

  • Penguins Fan

    The evangelization of the New World was mainly the work of the reformed religious orders, particularly the Capuchins, formed in 1520, the Jesuits, founded in 1534 and the Carmelites of the Reform around the end of the century. The increase of the religious orders, both in numbers and fervor and in new foundations is a very notable feature of the 16th century in contrast to the 15th.

    In other words, an age largely indifferent to religion, from the Fall of Constantinople in 1451 to the Reformation in 1517 was succeeded by an intensly religious age that lasted from then until the generation born after the Wars of Religion in France and the Thirty Years War in Central Europe and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

    Thereafter, a period of growing sceptisism was followed by a largely indifferent 18th century, with both Protestant and Catholic revivals in the 19th.

    These things do seem to go in cycles.

  • It was common to give nick-names to ships, especially in groups. I think the Nina (baby) was nick-named such because she was the smallest in the group. The Pinta may have been colorfully painted. The Santa Maria would have been called the capitan.

    Pre-post-modern sailors were pious. They mixed prayers with their work. They faced instant death at the mercy of atmospheric/oceanic forces.

    The book, “Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea”, by Eliot Morrison is an excellent account of the first voyage of discovery. The author explains Columbus’ courage, piety, and seamanship.

    It’s easy, in fact formulaic, to be a post-modern jabberer. Simply tear down the west and dead white men employing libels/slanders based on the following short-list: capitalism/private property, the Church, class, gender, race, sexual orientation/homophobia, etc. The post-modern pea-brains gush ideology not truth.

    For the ideologues, every western milestone is subverted to a horrid tale of century’s-old crimes and the genesis of evil.

    Our God is infinitely stronger than theirs.

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  • MPS,

    The New World was discovered at the end of the 15th Century, by a devout (and imperfect) Catholic, financed by the Catholic Queen of a Catholic nation reunited after 770 years of struggle against the Muslim invaders.

    Columbus had a home in a monastery who always supported him and who looked after his son while he sailed to the New World.

    Religious intensity varies from nation to nation and within the same nation. Polish Catholics are more fervent these days than German Catholics.

  • Just last night I was reading the chapter in Stripping of the Altars, in which Eamon Duffy discusses how rapidly laymen’s catechisms were published and distributed widely in England prior to the Reformation, by men such as William Caxton and Wynken de Worde, right alongside the Canterbury Tales, poetry books, and Latin grammars.
    .
    Publishing the New Testament may have been delayed due to concerns over the Wyclif heresies.
    .
    But no matter. MPS pronounces that it was an irreligious age.
    .
    On a lighter note, I’ve enjoyed dipping into de Worde’s THE PAYNE AND SOROWE OF EVYLL MARYAGE, on this very solemn occasion of an Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

  • Tasmin wrote, “Publishing the New Testament may have been delayed due to concerns over the Wyclif heresies.”

    It may have done. Buchanan records that “James V made it a capital crime to be punished with the fire to have or read the New Testament in the vulgar language and to make them to all men more odious, as if it had been the detestable name of a pernicious sect, they were named New Testamentars.” As a ballad of the time has it

    Quha dois present the New Testament
    Quhilk is our faith surely,
    Priestis callis him like ane heretikc,
    And sayis burnt sall he be

    And another, recorded by Archbishop Hamilton of St Andrew’s

    I wuld prelatis and doctouris of the law
    With us lawid pepill wer nocht discontent
    Thocht we into our vulgare toung did knaw
    Of Christ Jesus the lyfe and testament

    Erasmus was of a very different mind and produced his Greek NT as an aid to more accurate vernacular translations: ““I totally disagree with those who are unwilling that the Holy Scriptures, translated into the common tongue, should be read by the unlearned. Christ desires His mysteries to be published abroad as widely as possible. I could wish that even all women should read the Gospel and St. Paul’s Epistles, and I would that they were translated into all the languages of all Christian people, that they might be read and known not merely by the Scots and the Irish but even by the Turks and Saracens. I wish that the farm worker might sing parts of them at the plough, that the weaver might hum them at the shuttle, and that the traveller might beguile the weariness of the way by reciting them…”

    A provincial synod held at Edinburgh in 1549 pointed out the real source of the advance of the Protestant heresies: “the corruption of morals and the profane lewdness of life in churchmen of all ranks, together with their crass ignorance of literature and of the liberal arts” – plus ça change!

  • Such chest thumping … my history is better than yours. You both speak truths, but use different contexts and points of reference …. clearly you see that.

  • “Critics of Columbus contended that he underestimated the size of the world and that he could not reach Asia across the Atlantic due to the vast distance. Ironically the critics were completely correct. If the Americas, and the islands of the West Indies, had not existed, Columbus and his crews would have perished long before any possible landfall.”

    Since the time of Eratosthenes, we have known the circumference of the earth. The critics were correct in that if Columbus wanted to reach Asia, he would have to travel a long way. But imagine a Planet Earth where the Americas did not exist, and open water stretched from China all the way to Europe and Africa. Knowing what we know about climatology, monster typhoons would batter China every year. Chinese civilization as we know it would probably not exist.

    Columbus was lucky he found land where he did. But then again, maybe his intuition told him that something was out there waiting to be discovered.

Christopher Columbus Trilogy

Saturday, October 11, AD 2014

 

 

Your Highnesses have an Other World here, by which our holy faith can be so greatly advanced and from which such great wealth can be drawn.

Christopher Columbus, letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, 1498

 

Something for the weekend.  With Christopher Columbus day coming up, a trilogy of pieces on Christopher Columbus.  From 1936 Fats Waller belting out Christopher Columbus. A jaunty tune whose cheerful historical illiteracy is set forth early in the song with the claim that Columbus did not have a compass:

Mister Christopher Columbus
Sailed the sea without a compass
When his men began a-rumpus,
Up spoke Christopher Columbus!

There’s land somewhere
‘Til we get there
We will not go wrong,
If we sail with a song.

Since the world is round-o
We’ll be safe and sound-o
‘Til our goal is found-o
We’ll just keep rhythm-bound-o

Since the crew was making merry,
Mary got up and went home.
There came a yell for Isabel
And they brought on the rum and Isabel.

No more mutiny, no.
What a time at sea!
With diplomacy,
Christopher made history.

Mister Christopher Columbus
He used rhythm as a compass.
Music ended all the rumpus,
wise old Christopher Columbus.

(Latch on Christy, yeah! Uh huh! Yes, yes, yes!)

(Well, looky there!
Christy’s grabbed the Santa Maria and he’s going back!
Yeah, ahhh looky-there!
In the year 1492,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue… what’d I say?)

 

From 1949 the musical score from the technicolor movie Christoher Columbus.  The film is forgotten today, which is a pity.  While containing a plenitude of the usual historical howlers that period films are ere too, Fredric March gives us a powerful, albeit irascible, portrayal of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.  Definitely worth watching.

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Columbus and the Virgin Mary

Monday, October 14, AD 2013

virgin-of-the-navigators

The Virgin of the Navigators is an alterpiece painted in 1536 by Alejo Fernandez for the chapel at the House of Trade in Seville.  Under the protection of the Virgin are depicted King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and, kneeling on the viewer’s right are Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and one of the Pinzon Brothers.  In the background are gathering the peoples of the New World.  The painting was made five years after the appearance of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531, and I wonder if word of this miracle had made its way back to Spain.

At any rate, I know Columbus would have loved the painting.  All of his life he had a special devotion to Mary, as demonstrated by the name of his flagship, Santa Maria, and his strict observance of sailors singing Salve Regina at around 7:00 PM after saying their evening prayers.  ( The full name of the Santa Maria was Santa Maria de la  Imaculada ConcepcionSaint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, which indicates that Columbus believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary.)  On the return voyage from discovering the New World, when supplies were rapidly running out, Columbus and his crew promised pilgrimages to various Marian shrines if they made it back to Spain.  In his will Columbus left a legacy to build a church dedicated to Saint Mary of the Conception on Hispaniola, a wish, alas, his executors did not carry out.  Columbus would rarely write a letter without inserting this phrase:  Jesus cum Maria sit nobis in via. (May Jesus with Mary be with us on the way.)  Not a bad hope for all of us.

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521 Years Ago

Saturday, October 12, AD 2013

It is true she reserves her special and greatest honours for virtues that most signally proclaim a high morality, for these are directly associated with the salvation of souls; but she does not, therefore, despise or lightly estimate virtues of other kinds. On the contrary, she has ever highly favoured and held in honour those who have deserved well of men in civil society, and have thus attained a lasting name among posterity. For God, indeed, is especially wonderful in his Saints – mirabilis in Sanctis suis; but the impress of His Divine virtue also appears in those who shine with excellent power of mind and spirit, since high intellect and greatness of spirit can be the property of men only through their parent and creator, God.

Leo XIII on Christopher Columbus, from the encyclical of Pope Leo XII on the Columbus Quadricentennial
 

Something for the weekend.  The Conquest of Paradise theme from the film Conquest of Paradise (1992).  Today is the 521st anniversary of the sighting of land by Christopher Columbus, when the Old World became aware of the existence of the New.

This is one of those years in which the government decreed Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, does not fall on October 12, the date, under the Julian calendar, when Columbus discovered the New World.  Columbus Day is observed also in Spain as Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional and as the charmingly unpc Dia de la Raza in most Latin American nations.

In this country Columbus Day used to be an uncomplicated celebration, especially for Italian Americans.  Now it has become controversial with Columbus blamed in some quarters for genocide against Indians and being the founder of the American slave trade.  As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out in this article in 1995 in First Things, the condemnation of Columbus today tells us far more about current political battles than it does about the historical record of Columbus.  From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.  Among other views inimical to our time,  he saw nothing wrong about establishing colonies and bringing native peoples under the rule of European powers.  He had little respect for the religions of native people and wanted them to be Catholic, as, indeed, he wanted all the world to be Catholic.  (I see nothing wrong in this myself, but rest assured most of our contemporaries in this country would.)

Prior to ascending the pulpit to launch a jeremiad against someone of a prior time however, it might be useful to consider the criticisms that Columbus might have of our time.  The embrace of nihilistic atheism by so many in the West in our time would have appalled him. The easy availability of the most degrading types of pornography would have sickened him.  Our weapons of mass destruction he would have seen as a sign of the reign of the Anti-Christ.  Ecumenicalism he would have viewed as a turning away from the True Faith.  The celebration of abortion as a right would have seemed to him as the ultimate covenant with death.  The Sixties of the last century popularized the term generation gap, describing the difficulty that parents and their teenage offspring had in understanding each other.  Between our time and that of Columbus there is a generations’ chasm and the use of Columbus as a whipping boy in current political disputes only increases our problem of understanding him and his time.

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12 Responses to 521 Years Ago

  • Donald R. McClarey: This is brilliant if I may say so. I thought to say that this is beautiful, therefore, this is beautiful and brilliant.

  • Sorry, Donald, I think Columbus deserves most of the knocks he’s getting these days. The “man of his time” argument only goes so far — I’m not going to forgive Cromwell his depredations in Ireland because he thought his cause was just.

    We can’t blame him or subsequent Europeans for smallpox. But Columbus documents in his logs the kidnapping and rape of native girls & the torture of natives to find out “where the gold is” without disapproval. And on his return voyage he brought Indian slaves to present to their majesties Ferdinand and Isabella.
    All of the evils condemned by “revisionists” were also condemned at the time. Various Popes condemned race-based slavery as soon as the Portuguese started kidnapping and selling blacks. Likewise Pope after Pope issued encyclicals demanding humane treatment of Indians. These were, to say the least, honored in the breach.

    I just finished Orson Scott Card’s “Pastwatch: the Redemtion of Christopher Columbus”, a very interesting alternate history. For plot summary see:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastwatch:_The_Redemption_of_Christopher_Columbus

  • We will have to agree to disagree Thomas. Columbus was an astoundingly great man as Pope Leo XIII noted in his encyclical on him. The critics of Columbus today throw brickbats at him not for the purposes of historical truth, and the truth is that he was a great mariner but a poor governor, but rather to engage in current culture war battles. Columbus, against great odds, accomplished the task of opening the New World to the Old, and I view that as not only a very great deed, but also a very good one. Pope Leo in the below quote speaks for me:

    “Now that four centuries have sped since a Ligurian first, under God’s guidance, touched shores unknown beyond the Atlantic, the whole world is eager to celebrate the memory of the event, and glorify its author. Nor could a worthier reason be found where through zeal should be kindled. For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity. By his toil another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life. Europe, indeed, overpowered at the time by the novelty and strangeness of the discovery, presently came to recognize what was due to Columbus, when, through the numerous colonies shipped to America, through the constant intercourse and interchange of business and the ocean-trade, an incredible addition was made to our knowledge of nature, and to the commonwealth; whilst at the same time the prestige of the European name was marvelously increased. Therefore, amidst so lavish a display of honor, so unanimous a tribute of congratulations, it is fitting that the Church should not be altogether silent; since she, by custom and precedent, willingly approves and endeavors to forward whatsoever she see, and wherever she see it, that is honorable and praiseworthy.”

    A balanced view of Columbus, warts and all is given by the late Warren Carroll at the link below:

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/homelibr/columbus.htm

  • As a counter point to Thomas Collins, Columbus would turn is his grave at the depradations and depravities that are occurring now in the New World.

  • New Advent has a good balanced article on Bishop Las Casas, often cited by critics of Columbus.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03397a.htm

    Las Casas ironically was an admirer of Columbus, who was a friend of his father, although he condemned him for enslaving Indians. Of course in the Mediterranean world that Columbus lived in slavery was not uncommon, so long as they were Islamic slaves, part of the constant warfare between Christianity and slavery, where Christians were frequently enslaved by Muslim raiders and corsairs. What was controversial about the enslavement of the Indians was not the enslavement but that they were not Muslims. Hence the eventual ending of the practice and its substitution by black slavery. The same prohibition should have applied to black slaves but did not, for fairly complicated reasons that I will address in a future post.

  • I was an adult when I came across the story of Columbus that school doesn’t teach. Isabelle and Ferdinand knew Columbus was refused the funds for his voyage from every royal court he solicited. Finally convinced by their priest to speak to Columbus again after refusing him, they understand that the “gift” to God of the a Cathedral they would build for bringing Spain back to the true faith was not in a building but funding Columbus’ expedition to spread the Catholic faith. To me this is the wonderful part of the story, it puts the intent in a way that can’t be argued. True the worst thing that happened was the discovery of gold, but because of the King and Queen’s original reasoning I have since come to a different appreciation of 1492.

  • Christopher Columbus, like Moses, was threatened with death for leading his men into what they considered their death. As captain of the fleet, it was Columbus’ duty to keep a log of all the happenings, including the killing and torture of the savages, whom they considered less than human. It was only after slaves were considered fully human as persons, were the natives of any country considered persons with civil rights.
    Dred Scott, a Negro slave, (there were Chinese slaves and others as well kidnapped and forced into slavery) sued for his freedom. In 1857, the Supreme Court for the United States pronounced Scott to be only three-quarters sovereign person and without the right to have freedom. It is only the Catholic Church who considered every human being, made in the image of “their Creator” a sovereign person. Forcing Catholicism on the native would be forcing the natives to see themselves and their neighbors as sovereign persons, the image of God. Considering that human sacrifice (your human sacrifice, not theirs) was their mode of prayer, Catholicism was for the common good.
    It is highly unlikely that Columbus’ men concerned themselves with the sovereignty and personhood of the natives who were trying to kill them. The natives brought to Spain were treated as celebrities.

  • As we all know, Columbus was searching for a direct passage to India and the Orient. Portugal refused him because the Portugese knew that his calculations for the circumference of the earth were, shall we say, way off. Portugal continued to search for an all-sea passage to India around Africa.

    A converso named Luis Santangelo loaned the money to the Spanish Crown to fund the voyage of Columbus.

    Columbus was a poor administrator, to say the least, but he was an extraordinary navigator. We know now that other Europeans had reached the Western Hemisphere – the Vikings and perhaps Irish monks, but it was due to Columbus that the New World was explored and colonized.

    What is amazing to this day is that the Western Hemisphere was explored and two thirds of it was successful mission territory of the Spanish, Portugese and French Franciscans and Jesuits.

    Much of the so-called horrors that have been exaggerated by the Black Legend – the English propaganda that did everything to make Spain look bloodthirsty and cruel – came from de la Casa’s book. Of course, England did what she accused Spain of doing.

    As Carrol points out in his book, Columbus’ discovery led to the creation of the greatest nation on earth – which fought to end two world wars and won the cold War against Soviet communism. Then Americans proceeded to elect idiots who would do what no foreign power would do – wreck the country.

  • I listened to a book review about Christopher Columbus on the John Batchelor Show several months ago. I cannot find the book’s title or author on unline.
    The author was a female prof or PhD candidate from Stanford (?) who had done extensive research on the subject at the Brown University Archives. The materials she used were manuscripts from that period, among them writings by Columbus’ son. Her take on Columbus was that he has been maligned through the centuries and his motivation for the voyage was primarily religious:
    As stated Columbus was a devout Catholic who believed that the Second Coming would happen in his lifetime, but would only take place after the Holy Land was again in Christian hands. He believed that a crusade could only be victorious if the occupying Muslim armies were approached from both the east and the west. Columbus had reason to believe that the Chinese emperor was interested in Christianity and that there was a chance that he and his people could be converted. If converted the Emperor could be convinced to help free the Holy Land. Since the land routes to China were controlled by Muslims, Columbus would have to sail there.

  • I know I should leave bad enough alone but the Atlantic has an interesting piece about Columbus Day’s place in US history:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/how-columbus-day-fell-victim-to-its-own-success/261922/?google_editors_picks=true

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  • It is an error to criticize Columbus based on modern standards or to assign a vicarious liability on the man for the sins of others on his watch. Is Dwight Eisenhower responsible for every sin committed by our soldiers during the war? It is also an error to paint the Indians as noble innocents. Some were peaceful and agreeable but others, such as the Caribe, were cannibals. The Aztecs maintained a society of monumental evil wherein human life had little value. Bear in mind that our society countenances far more human sacrifice by abortion than the mere thousands sacrificed by the awful Aztecs. I should like to be as good a Catholic as Columbus and it gives me some pleasure to think of him as a one time neighbor of the Genovese Ligurians in the lineage on my mother’s side of our family.

Conquest of Paradise

Saturday, October 13, AD 2012

Something for the weekend.  The song Conquest of Paradise from the movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), which retold the story of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of a New World:

At two o’clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani. Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits.

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Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

Monday, October 8, AD 2012

“This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky. “

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is one of those years in which the government decreed Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, does not fall on October 12, the date, under the Julian calendar, when Columbus discovered the New World.  Columbus Day is observed also in Spain as Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional and as the charmingly unpc Dia de la Raza in most Latin American nations.

In this country Columbus Day used to be an uncomplicated celebration, especially for Italian Americans.  Now it has become controversial with Columbus blamed in some quarters for genocide against Indians and being the founder of the American slave trade.  As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out in this article in 1995 in First Things, the condemnation of Columbus today tells us far more about current political battles than it does about the historical record of Columbus.  From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.  Among other views inimical to our time,  he saw nothing wrong about establishing colonies and bringing native peoples under the rule of European powers.  He had little respect for the religions of native people and wanted them to be Catholic, as, indeed, he wanted all the world to be Catholic.  (I see nothing wrong in this myself, but rest assured most of our contemporaries in this country would.)

Prior to ascending the pulpit to launch a jeremiad against someone of a prior time however, it might be useful to consider the criticisms that Columbus might have of our time.  The embrace of nihilistic atheism by so many in the West in our time would have appalled him. The easy availability of the most degrading types of pornography would have sickened him.  Our weapons of mass destruction he would have seen as a sign of the reign of the Anti-Christ.  Ecumenicalism he would have viewed as a turning away from the True Faith.  The celebration of abortion as a right would have seemed to him as the ultimate covenant with death.  The Sixties of the last century popularized the term generation gap, describing the difficulty that parents and their teenage offspring had in understanding each other.  Between our time and that of Columbus there is a generations’ chasm and the use of Columbus as a whipping boy in current political disputes only increases our problem of understanding him and his time.

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13 Responses to Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

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  • Great poem & post.
    Holy Mary…..Paints…….Girl
    I love the names of the three ships and then a generation later Holy Mary paints a self-portrait on the tilma of a poor Indian living near Mexico City. Juan Diego has the image and the paints still to this day can not be identified. Our Lady, Christopher Columbus, Juan Diego. 8 million Indians convert to the Faith, while 3 million leave in the reformation. Thank God for Christopher Columbus.

  • what was the movie that was shown above please? I find that interesting. Also, I have been to Geneva many times and tis a very beautiful place 🙂 I love your article! Peace be upon you always!

  • Good Evening Don,

    I have not seen 1492 and my knowledge of Columbus’ voyages is woefully inadequate.

    Was he movie a fair representation and is it something an 11 and/or an 8 year old could see?

  • I really can’t say G-Veg as I have never seen the film. This clip is impressive, but not long enough to judge the film. The Columbus film from 1949 with Frederic March in the starring role would probably be a good one for an eight year old:

    It is out on DVD:

    http://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Columbus-Fredric-March/dp/B005ET9OOU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1349748801&sr=8-2&keywords=christopher+columbus+dvd

  • Thanks.

    We cut the kids off feom TV from Sunday afternoon until Friday afternoon. In the short weeks since school started, the positive results have been dramatic. Grades are up, pictures are drawn, Knex are built with, rough-housing abounds… I’m trying now to bring some cultural knowledge into their lives: Zane Grey, Robinson Crusoe, Peter Pan… On Friday or Saturday knights we’ve been throwing in some John Wayne, Young Frankenstein, and such… Movies with some historical or myth value might be helpful. I need to pick up a copy of the Christian classics too like The Greatest Story Ever Told and A Man For All Seasons.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

    God Bless.

  • And by “knights” I mean “nights” of course.

  • Vasco da Gama, Columbus’ friendly rival and the eventual Admiral of India laboured to find a route behind the Muslims to India, by going the other way round the globe.Henry the Navigator launched the Iberians on a worldwide mission largely to circumvent and defeat the Muslims who had a stranglehold on the Levant, This makes those hard Catholics unpopular with various quarters, sometimes with good reason when they were greedy and cruel but more often due to plain jealousy, since there is only one Earth and the Catholics were the first off the mark.

  • Someone wrote that Columbus Day was instituted after “years of lobbying” to celebrate the contributions of immigrants, in general, and Catholics, in particular.

    From Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit:

    “HAPPY COLUMBUS DAY: Many in the West will demonstrate their fierce originality and intellectual independence today by condemning Christopher Columbus using the same shopworn cliches they used last year. For those of a different bent, I recommend Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, which takes a somewhat different position.”

    Admiral Morison’s, Two Ocean War, is also excellent.

    Question for the day, “Why do they hate us?”

  • T Shaw.
    Rhetorical question?

    To hate any organization that respects obedience and finds true freedom within the yoke of obedience is my guess.

    It’s much easier to tear down than build up.

  • VIVA CRISTO REY!!
    Viva Christopher Columbus!
    God Bless America!
    Without God there is no America!
    Without God there is no true Freedom! Look around the world and believe your eyes!

  • Philip,

    Rhetorical: I think they hate truth and virtue. I saw this elsewhere today. They would deny us free will to impose on us their will.

Pope Leo XIII on Christopher Columbus

Monday, October 10, AD 2011

No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Saviour, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.

Christopher Columbus

Another Columbus Day is upon us, and I always observe it with a post on the discoverer of the new world.  Go here to read an earlier post on Columbus.  The official observance this year in the US is on October 10, rather than on the date of the discovery of the New World which occurred on October 12.  I have posted before the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the 400th anniversary of the discovery.  This year we will take a closer look at his words, with comments interspersed by me.

QUARTO ABEUNTE SAECULO
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON
 THE COLUMBUS QUADRICENTENNIAL

To Our Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops and
Bishops of Spain, Italy, and the two Americas.

Now that four centuries have sped since a Ligurian first, under God’s guidance, touched shores unknown beyond the Atlantic, the whole world is eager to celebrate the memory of the event, and glorify its author.

Pope Leo flatly states that Columbus was guided by God on his voyage of discovery.  That is certainly in accord with what Columbus himself thought, as demonstrated by this excerpt from his letter to Raphael Sanchez, Treasurer of Ferdinand and Isabella, reporting on his first voyage:

But these great and marvellous results are not to be attributed to any merit of mine, but to the holy Christian faith, and to the piety and religion of our Sovereigns; for that which the unaided intellect of man could not compass, the spirit of God has granted to human exertions, for God is wont to hear the prayers of his servants who love his precepts even to the performance of apparent impossibilities. Thus it has happened to me in the present instance, who have accomplished a task to which the powers of mortal men had never hitherto attained; for if there have been those who have anywhere written or spoken of these islands, they have done so with doubts and conjectures, and no one has ever asserted that he has seen them, on which account their writings have been looked upon as little else than fables. Therefore let the king and queen, our princes and their most happy kingdoms, and all the other provinces of Christendom, render thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has granted us so great a victory and such prosperity. Let processions be made, and sacred feasts be held, and the temples be adorned with festive boughs. Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven in the prospect of the salvation of the souls of so many nations hitherto lost. Let us also rejoice, as well on account of the exaltation of our faith, as on account of the increase of our temporal prosperity, of which not only Spain, but all Christendom will be partakers.

Nor could a worthier reason be found where through zeal should be kindled. For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity. By his toil another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life.

Note that Pope Leo not only praises the spreading of Christianity, but also the raising up of the natives of the New World from “savagery to gentleness and humanity”.  How the intellectual fashions have changed from the time of Pope Leo to our own day!

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10 Responses to Pope Leo XIII on Christopher Columbus

  • Eliot Morrison wrote an excellent book on Columbus’ first voyage, Admiral of the Ocean Sea. It seems everything a sailor, or an admiral for that matter, did was accompanied by a prayer.

    Morrison also wrote The Two Ocean War, an outstanding short history of naval ops in WWII.

  • That was a condensed version of his multi-volumed official history of the US Navy in World War II. Morrison was an interesting fellow, a Harvard professor of History and a Navy Admiral. Such a combination is almost unimaginable today!

  • Hmmm, thinking out loud and running this past Don for his input. It just occurred to me that it *might* be said that the greatest military officers have a profound sense of history. I never really drew the connection before this moment, but I’m thinking to various things I have read and it almost always seems that it is the case. If valid, I’m wondering if one could suppose that it is an appreciation of history that in part leads a person to military service, at least (or especially) in the case of officers. At a cursory level it would seem to make sense. I have often found those who are least interested in or informed by history seem to be the most indifferent or opposed to things military. Thoughts?

  • Some soldiers certainly have had a strong interest in history Rick. Patton and Napoleon come to mind. However other able soldiers have been relatively uninterested in the subject, Washington and Grant for example. In my personal experience people in the military often have a greater knowledge of history, at least military history, than their civilian counterparts. In modern times it is impossible for an officer commissioned from either one of the military academies or ROTC not to have been exposed to some military history courses.

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  • Most of what I know about Columbus’ voyage is what I read from Warren Carroll’s book about Queen Isabel. Columbus certainly was no administrator, but as a navigator he was superior. While Columbus did not find what he set out to discover – a passage to India – he and he alone figured out a way to return to Spain, a journey that was more harrowing than the journey to the New World

    Since I was a young boy 40 years ago, the dufuses who run the education establishment have sought to trash Columbus. I don’t defend his administrative incompetence, but his navigation skills opened up an entire New World, a hemisphere that became majority Catholic. Portugal founded Brazil. France founded new France (Quebec). The Spanish Empire stretched from Tierra del Fuego to northern California, encompassing present day Florida, Texas and the American Southwest, most settled if only barely, before one English Protestant set foot on these shores.

    Columbus died, without money, alone, accused of crimes and a broken man.

  • At sea Columbus was in his element; ashore he was always adrift.

  • Apropos. From Morrison’s book quoted at “Never Yet Melted”:

    “America would eventually have been discovered if the Great Enterprise of Columbus had been rejected; yet who can predict what would have been the outcome? The voyage that took him to “The Indies” and home was no blind chance, but the creation of his own brain and soul, long studied, carefully planned, repeatedly urged on indifferent princes, and carried through by virtue of his courage, sea-knowledge and indomitable will. No later voyage could ever have such spectacular results, and Columbus’s fame would have been secure had he retired from the sea in 1493. Yet a lofty ambition to explore further, to organize the territories won for Castile, and to complete the circuit of the globe, sent him thrice more to America. These voyages, even more than the first, proved him to be the greatest navigator of his age, and enabled him to train the captains and pilots who were to display the banners of Spain off every American cape and island between Fifty North and Fifty South. The ease with which he dissipated the unknown terrors of the Ocean, the skill with which he found his way out and home, again and again, led thousands of men from every Western European nation into maritime adventure and exploration. And if Columbus was a failure as a colonial administrator, it was partly because his conception of a colony transcended the desire of his followers to impart, and the capacity of natives to receive, the institutions and culture of Renaissance Europe. …”

    Columbus’ discovery came at the culmination of 700 years of desultory wars of independence which molded the iron men (Hijos de Santiago) that won a vast empire and returned to Spain such wealth as had not been seen since Alexander conquered Persia or Caesar Gaul.

  • Great video sequence you posted.

    For some reason, the movie that this sequence is taken from is still not available in DVD (on Netflix).

Pope Leo XIII on Christopher Columbus

Tuesday, October 12, AD 2010

QUARTO ABEUNTE SAECULO
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON
THE COLUMBUS QUADRICENTENNIAL

To Our Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops and
Bishops of Spain, Italy, and the two Americas.

Now that four centuries have sped since a Ligurian first, under God’s guidance, touched shores unknown beyond the Atlantic, the whole world is eager to celebrate the memory of the event, and glorify its author. Nor could a worthier reason be found where through zeal should be kindled. For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity. By his toil another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life. Europe, indeed, overpowered at the time by the novelty and strangeness of the discovery, presently came to recognize what was due to Columbus, when, through the numerous colonies shipped to America, through the constant intercourse and interchange of business and the ocean-trade, an incredible addition was made to our knowledge of nature, and to the commonwealth; whilst at the same time the prestige of the European name was marvellously increased. Therefore, amidst so lavish a display of honour, so unanimous a tribute of congratulations, it is fitting that the Church should not be altogether silent; since she, by custom and precedent, willingly approves and endeavours to forward whatsoever she see, and wherever she see it, that is honourable and praiseworthy. It is true she reserves her special and greatest honours for virtues that most signally proclaim a high morality, for these are directly associated with the salvation of souls; but she does not, therefore, despise or lightly estimate virtues of other kinds. On the contrary, she has ever highly favoured and held in honour those who have deserved well of men in civil society, and have thus attained a lasting name among posterity. For God, indeed, is especially wonderful in his Saints – mirabilis in Sanctis suis; but the impress of His Divine virtue also appears in those who shine with excellent power of mind and spirit, since high intellect and greatness of spirit can be the property of men only through their parent and creator, God.

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3 Responses to Pope Leo XIII on Christopher Columbus

  • Glad to see someone else getting the true message out about Cristofero Columbo!!!!

  • As usual Don, another excellent article. I couldn’t help but think of the latest History Channel program I saw in which one of the “experts” made reference to Columbus being a “holy roller.” I wasn’t quite sure if this particular expert thought he was being generous since too many Columbus experts think of Columbus as a marauding conqueror. As I noted in my latest article, did any of these people ever wonder how and why so many Caribbean islands got their names (which ofter refer to the Blessed Mother and of her many titles?)

    Keep posting the truth Don, God only knows who might stop by and notice that what they see here doesn’t always jibe with what they are told by the mainstream media and the Big Education gatekeepers.

  • Thank you for your kind words Al and Dave.

    Dave, the Fifteenth Century was a religious time, and Columbus was noted by his contemporaries as being unusually religious. Many moderns have as hard a time comprehending religious zeal and motivation as Columbus and his contemporaries would comprehending people who think that life has no meaning beyond simple existence.

Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

Monday, October 12, AD 2009


“This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky. “

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is one of those years in which the government decreed Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, actually falls on October 12, the date, under the Julian calendar, when Columbus discovered the New World.  Columbus Day is observed also in Spain as Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional and as the charmingly unpc Dia de la Raza in most Latin American nations. 

 In this country Columbus Day used to be an uncomplicated celebration, especially for Italian Americans.  Now it has become controversial with Columbus blamed in some quarters for genocide against Indians and being the founder of the American slave trade.  As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out in this article in 1995 in First Thingsthe condemnation of Columbus today tells us far more about current political battles than it does about the historical record of Columbus.  From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.  Among other views inimical to our time,  he saw nothing wrong about establishing colonies and bringing native peoples under the rule of European powers.  He had little respect for the religions of native people and wanted them to be Catholic, as, indeed, he wanted all the world to be Catholic.  (I see nothing wrong in this myself, but rest assured most of our contemporaries in this country would.)

Prior to ascending the pulpit to launch a jeremiad against someone of a prior time however, it might be useful to consider the criticisms that Columbus might have of our time.  The embrace of nihilistic atheism by so many in the West in our time would have appalled him. The easy availability of the most degrading types of pornography would have sickened him.  Our weapons of mass destruction he would have seen as a sign of the reign of the Anti-Christ.  Ecumenicalism he would have viewed as a turning away from the True Faith.  The celebration of abortion as a right would have seemed to him as the ultimate covenant with death.  The Sixties of the last century popularized the term generation gap, describing the difficulty that parents and their teenage offspring had in understanding each other.  Between our time and that of Columbus there is a generations’ chasm and the use of Columbus as a whipping boy in current political disputes only increases our problem of understanding him and his time.

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40 Responses to Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

  • “On Columbus Day I honor a faithful Catholic who had a dream to spread the faith of Christ throughout the globe and the courage to make that dream a reality…”

    Hear, hear, I second your awesome post…Columbus was a Catholic Patriot of the highest order and brought light, progress and order to the New World!

    And as you have denoted above a master sailor to boot whose routes are still, TO THIS DAY, in existence and utlized for cross Atlantic journeys.

  • I have recently read a fascinating book entitled “1434” by a certain Gavin Menzies. The essence of the book is, as it carries on its head page, “The year a magnificent Chinese fleet sailed to Italy and ignited the Renaissance.”

    This is a follow up to his book, “1421” where he outlines the contribution China made, in those early years, to knowledge of the world known to the Chinese, but still veiled to the Europeans.

    Columbus – according to Menzies – was aware of the Chinese maps of the Pacific, such as they were in those times, which included basic outlines of the coastline of North America.

    Very interesting stuff – which probably could have influenced Columbus in his assurance of landfall to the West.

  • According to Chinese historians, Menzies is a kook. You should watch him sweat and squirm during interviews when asked to back up his claims.

  • “From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.”

    I believe that’s called moral relativism. He used torture. Though, I guess if you’re a moral relativist, that wasn’t intrinsically evil in the 15th century.

    Columbus Day should be rebranded as Settlement Day or Colonization Day or better still Bartolome de Las Casas Day.

  • No restrained radical what it means is that our time is very good at seeing specks in the eyes of prior generations and ignoring the planks in ours.

  • Don the Kiwi,

    I’ve heard of that book.

    From what I am aware of, Columbus probably had a map of the new world from his Portuguese contacts. It was not uncommon for nations to hoard maps and keep them secret due to a crazy idea called “capitalism”. You see many European countries were looking for an alternate trade route to the far east after the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims.

    So it was in their best interests to keep maps as state secrets. Portugal, at the time, had the most extensive survey of the worlds ocean routes. They mapped many unknown lands prior to most European countries such as the Americas and Australia.

    That’s what I am aware of.

    Regardless, it was the Vikings that first discovered America.

    Tito the Norman

  • The Beringians discovered America circa 40,000 BC.

  • RestrainedRadical,

    If you want to play that game then it’s actually the Pangeans that “discovered” America circa a quarter billion BC.

  • My Cherokee ancestors discovered the New World first, doubtless when they were being chased by some ferocious animal across the land bridge where we now have the Bering Straits! 🙂

  • Aw shucks, little did your ancestors know that those cute, fuzzy-wuzzy polar bears chasing them were destined to be stranded and to starve on the melting ice down the road a tad.

  • Donald,

    You do know that Columbus has, rather unfortunately, been repainted as a tyrannical villain these days, no?

    Kids Study the Dark Side of Columbus

    EXCERPTS:

    “I talk about the situation where he didn’t even realize where he was,” Kolowith said. “And we talked about how he was very, very mean, very bossy.”

    In McDonald, Pa., 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, fourth-grade students at Fort Cherry Elementary put Columbus on trial this year — charging him with misrepresenting the Spanish crown and thievery. They found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.

    “In their own verbiage, he was a bad guy,” teacher Laurie Crawford said.

    http://news.aol.com/article/students-learn-about-the-dark-side-of/712947

  • I’m quite aware of it e. The kids of course are merely mimicking what they are taught by politicized teachers and textbooks. NEA Today predicted in 1991 that “Never again will Christopher Columbus sit on a pedestal in United States history.”, and Columbus is a prime target of many leftist teachers.

  • I’m quite aware of it e. The kids of course are merely mimicking what they are taught by politicized teachers and textbooks.

    Given that most public schools are manned by such teachers, it won’t be long now that such foul revisionism will take its toll and the malarky that they’re being taught will ultimately become the “truth” for future generations.

    Just another grand reason why folks should send their children to public schools!

  • Given that most public schools are manned by such teachers, it won’t be long now that such foul revisionism will take its toll and the malarky that they’re being taught will ultimately become the “truth” for future generations.

    The criticisms offered of Columbus aren’t malarkey. It’s undeniable that Columbus was involved in slavery, or that he committed atrocities as governor. One might offer lame defenses based on cultural relativism or whatever, but that wouldn’t change the fact that he did do those things.

  • Blackadder,

    So you would actually characterize Donald’s defense of Columbus as a “lame defense based on cultural relativism or whatever”?

    Instead of merely rallying on the side of such folks, why don’t you provide that same compelling defense you expect of Donald et al?

    Quite ironic that you demand such substantial defense from persons of the latter persuasion while you yourself failed to provide similar substantial support for your claims but, quite simply, merely asserting that these provide such a “lame defense”.

    Must make what you said doubly lame, if not, hypocritical, to say the least.

  • Quite ironic that you demand such substantial defense from persons of the latter persuasion while you yourself failed to provide similar substantial support for your claims

    If you mean my claims about the criticisms of Columbus being factually accurate, I didn’t provide any “substantial support” because I assumed this was taken for granted. Donald’s “he was a typical man of his time” defense implicitly concedes as much. However, in case anyone is inclined to dispute this, I offer the following:

    As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on the first Spanish colony in the Americas, in what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. Punishments included cutting off people’s ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.

    One man caught stealing corn had his nose and ears cut off, was placed in shackles and was then auctioned off as a slave. A woman who dared to suggest that Columbus was of lowly birth was punished by his brother Bartolomé, who had also travelled to the Caribbean. She was stripped naked and paraded around the colony on the back of a mule.

    “Bartolomé ordered that her tongue be cut out,” said Ms Varela. “Christopher congratulated him for defending the family.”

    Etc.

  • We are all sinners from the first generation to the last. Columbus was no exception, neither am I and neither are you. Within the context of his times Columbus was overall a hero. Did he have flaws? Of course. Did he make mistakes? Certainly? Did he commit objectively evil acts? Probably. Name a great historic figure that didn’t.

    I think the key point as pointed out above is that he was in conformity to his time and his time had many, many imperfect Catholics and many holier than we. What his time did not have is the cultural, institutional and pervassive consecration to evil and the princes of this dark world that we have today.

    I suspect that had Columbus been given a vision of what his New World would become, he might not have sailed. Of course, that denies all the good we’ve done and doesn’t account for the farther fall of his Genoa or the land of the Catholic King and Queen. Pitty. We throw so much away.

    Do we have men today with the sack that he showed to risk everything for the cause of Christ sailing into a seemingly endless ocean? It seems we are a bunch of wimps who patter about the Internet as if we are accomplishing something. I must admit I am ashamed for my part in falling so far from the time of Columbus and worse for ever tolerating these new ‘historical facts’ about the butcher of Cuba and the bane of the peaceful Native American Indians.

    Come on people, are any of us capable of such heroism despite our fallen nature? Also bear in mind Isabel chastised him for bringing natives in shackles back to Spain – she dispatched him to win souls for Christ.

    As for the earlier discoveries of the Western Hemisphere the evidence is that they most certainly happened especially because there were people living here when he got here – so what? None of his predecessors ever maintained communication with Eurpope and none brought the Gospel with them and none lasted.

    A most daring and admirable admiral, yet ill suited to be a governor. Those of you who honor this man, I salute. Those who are derriding him, you aren’t half the man he was and if not for him you wouldn’t be lving here, so it is best that you politely close your pie hole.

  • Blackadder:

    I appreciate your raising the quality of debate by what appears to be a rather substantive contribution to the present discussion.

    I guess this means that the “Knights of Columbus” (?) should rethink about renaming their fraternal organization and consider adopting a more genuinely charitable figure as opposed to their namesake.

  • I don’t know that it’s necessary to cease admiring a historical person’s accomplishments merely because one is realistic about their faults. Goodness knows, unvarnished accounts can tell us some rather unflattering things about others on the American civic calendar (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, etc.) and indeed for us Catholics there are saints who had involvement in torture and executions for heresy which even the most traditional-minded would find it impossible to condone in this day and age. That does not, I think, mean that we need to cease admiring the genuine good deeds of such people — even as we should be honest with ourselves about their faults.

    I think it’s a seriously bad idea when we deceive ourselves about the past. (Examples from my own recent reading would include the fact that the New England colonists, while certainly seeking religious freedom for themselves, imposed their own religious regime pretty brutally on the colonies; and also that however despicable the French revolutionaries may have been, the anciene regime was pretty impressively corrupt and cruel in its own lesser fashion.) However, that hardly means that one must only focus on the evils of people in the past and not their more admirable qualities.

    In that regard, I don’t necessarily see recognizing the harshness of Columbus as governor as incompatible with celebrating his accomplishments. And to be honest, while he was pretty harsh, he was no more so than many other rules of his time — and not only ones ruling over natives of the Americas. Mutilation (and come to that execution) was still a pretty common punishment for comparatively minor crimes in many parts of Europe at the time.

  • It makes more sense to express moral indignation using the template of our times against the persons of our times because they coincide. Judging the past using today as a standard is always difficult. How long has racism been understood as it is now? Should we condemn every historical figure from before the last century or so knowing that almost all of them would be regarded as racists of some sort?

    Still, we should have a balanced view. Morality is not relative, and evil is always and everywhere evil. Shedding light on the good, bad, and ugly in each historical figure is not out of line. Understanding that we’re all products of (flawed) times and cultures, we should temper our condemnation. Maybe it’s right to retire Columbus Day as a holiday in light of what we know about the man, but another possibility is that we can use such moments as a reflection on our own hubris.

  • I think I have an edition of a Chesterton book (Orthodoxy?) that, in the preface, makes some sort of apology for anti-Semitic remarks in the text. (I don’t recall the actual passages, however). I mean, it’s *G.K. Chesterton*! Throw him out the window for it? I don’t think so, especially considering that it’s highly unlikely he would express such views if he were alive today.

  • Well, I only believed Blackadder’s point worth entertaining because it would seem unless were we to adopt Hegel’s historicism, it must be the case that Columbus was actually an evil person.

  • For a balanced view of Columbus:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2000/10/08/nyregion/in-person-in-defense-of-columbus.html?pagewanted=1

    As to the activities of Columbus as a governor, it should be remembered that most of the charges against Columbus were hotly contested by Columbus and his supporters at the time. Bad reports sent back to Spain against a governor were the time honored way to have a governor removed. In the case of Columbus they succeeded. Additionally the Spanish were almost as litigious as we modern Americans and these disputes often resulted in court cases that dragged on for decades of contradictory testimony.

  • Here is a good overview of the tangled history of this period. People who make rash judgments with an inadequate knowledge of Columbus and his times do a disservice to the historical record.

    “At home, however, court favor had turned against Columbus. For one thing, the ex-colonists were often bitterly hostile to the admiral and his brothers. They were wont to parade their grievances in the very courtyards of the Alhambra, to surround the king when he came forth with complaints and reclamations, to insult the discoverer’s young sons with shouts and jeers. Again, the queen began to criticize severely the shipment of Indians from the new-found lands to Spain. And once more, there was no doubt that the colony itself, whatever the cause, had not prospered so well as might have been desired. Ferdinand’s support of Columbus had never been very hearty, and his inclination to supersede the Genoese now prevailed over the queen’s friendliness. Accordingly, on the 21st of May 1499, Francisco Bobadilla was appointed governor and judge of Hispaniola during royal pleasure, with authority to examine into all complaints. Columbus was ordered to deliver up his charge to Bobadilla, and to accept whatever the latter should deliver him from the sovereigns. Bobadilla left Spain in June 1500, and landed in Hispaniola on the 23rd of August.

    Columbus, meanwhile, had restored such tranquillity as was possible in his government. With Roldan’s help he had beaten off an attempt on the island of the adventurer Ojeda, his old lieutenant; the Indians were being collected into villages and Christianized. Gold mining was profitably pursued; in three years, he calculated, the royal revenues might be raised to an average of 60,000,000 reals. The arrival of Bobadilla, however, speedily changed this state of affairs. On landing, he took possession of the admiral’s house and summoned him and his brothers before him. Accusations of severity, of injustice, of venality even, were poured down on their heads, and Columbus anticipated nothing less than a shameful death. Bobadilla put all three in irons, and shipped them off to Spain.

    Alonso Vallejo, captain of the caravel in which the illustrious prisoners sailed, still retained a proper sense of the honor and respect due to Columbus, and would have removed the fetters; but to this Columbus would not consent. He would wear them, he said, until their highnesses, by whose order they had been affixed, should order their removal; and he would keep them afterwards “as relics and as memorials of the reward of his service.” He did so. His son Fernando “saw them always hanging in his cabinet, and he requested that when he died they might be buried with him.” Whether this last wish was complied with is not known.

    A heart-broken and indignant letter from Columbus to Doña Juana de Torres, formerly nurse of the infante Don Juan, arrived at court before the despatch of Bobadilla. It was read to the queen, and its tidings were confirmed by communications from Alonso Vallejo and the alcaide of Cadiz. There was a great movement of indignation; the tide of popular and royal feeling turned once more in the admiral’s favor. He received a large sum to defray his expenses; and when he appeared at court, on the 17th of December 1500, he was no longer in irons and disgrace, but richly apparelled and surrounded with friends. He was received with all honor and distinction. The queen is said to have been moved to tears by the narration of his story. Their majesties not only repudiated Bobadilla’s proceedings, but declined to inquire into the charges that he at the same time brought against his prisoners, and promised Columbus compensation for his losses and satisfaction for his wrongs. A new governor, Nicolas de Ovando, was appointed, and left San Lucar on the 13th of February 1502, with a fleet of thirty ships, to supersede Bobadilla. The latter was to be impeached and sent home; the admiral’s property was to be restored; and a fresh start was to be made in the conduct of colonial affairs. Thus ended Columbus’s history as viceroy and governor of the new Indies which he had presented to the country of his adoption.”

    Columbus was not spotless in his conduct, but many of the recriminations launched against him were from sources with definite axes to grind against him.

  • Chesterton expressed anti-semitic sentiments on occasion. He was also one of the first gentile writers outside of Germany to vociferously denounce the Nazi persecution of the Jews. History is rarely simple.

  • Our expectation of history is pretty amazing. How do we expect imperfect humans from ages past to transmit data to us accurately when we can’t even agree on events and data that occur right before our eyes here and now?

    The other ridiculous assertion is that Europeans or more specifically Columbus brought slavery to the Western Hemisphere. Really? Slavery is as old as the Bible. Perhaps you’ve heard of a tribe of people called Hebrews ensalved by Egyptians for 400 years!

    Does anyone take the notion seriously that the native Indians did not war against each other and take slaves for generations before Columbus was even born? For that matter was it really the white man who brought slavery to Africa? Do any of us really think so highly of man that we are shocked that someone will enslave someone else?

    Salvery is a tool used by the immoral world of he who has the might is right. That notion ruled man for most of our history. It was broken by the liberator of slaves – Jesus. It is only in Christian lands that slavery could have ever been defined as a moral evil. Had Columbus not brought the Catholic faith to the Western Hemisphere who would we blame for the near-erradication of slavery? I say near, becuase America and the world is still very much addicted to slavery. Governments treat people like slaves, crimals have slaves and increasingly white women and children are taken from right here in the US of A and sold around the world as slaves.

    To blame slavery rather than the credit for spreading the Gospel to Columbus is sick, twisted, deceitful and in no way, shape or form productive. Was he a mess? Probably – keep in mind he IS NOT ST. COLUMBUS.

  • Judging the past by using today as a standard is always difficult.

    Was j. christian suggesting that today’s standard is actually superior than those of the past?

    Are we talking about the very same modern standard that has deemed the killing of an innocent child as a fundamental right of human beings?

    It is not mere coincidence that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize; indeed, it is because he is the very epitome of “today’s standard” that he won the award as he reflects quite precisely very well prized values of modern society:

    Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, but a closer analysis of the award shows his only achievement at the time he was nominated was exporting taxpayer-funded abortions. Obama hadn’t accomplished much else in office when the nominations were finalized.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s deadline for nominations for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was February 1, just 11 days after Obama’s inauguration.

    http://www.lifenews.com/int1345.html#

  • e: No, I wasn’t.

  • Although it’s a side issue, I’m not sure that Columbus’ “accomplishments” really amount to as much as is often suggested. Columbus thought that you could get to India quicker by just sailing west. He was wrong about this, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that there was a land mass between Europe and Asia he and his men would have all died and he would not even be a footnote in history. You can say that organizing the trip took courage, but the same could be said of literally thousands of other voyages. Having stumbled upon the Americas, Columbus proceeded to act in a manner which was despicable not only by our standards, but also by the standards of many people at the time (when Donald says that Columbus contested the charges against him this reminds me of the bit in the Shawshank Redemption about how Morgan Freeman’s character was the only guilty man in the prison because everyone else claimed they didn’t do it).

    I’m all for recognizing the accomplishments as well as the failings of historical figures, but I also try to follow Lord Acton’s philosophy on the matter:

    I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…

  • BA Columbus was the one who had the courage to do it, and the skill to sail 3000 miles out of the sight of land to accomplish it, no small achievement in the 15th century. His error in theory led to his making a great discovery in fact, not an uncommon event in history. As to Columbus being guilty of the axe grinding allegations by his enemies which you recycled, obviously the King and Queen of Spain thought differently at the time after hearing his side of the story. Unlike the Morgan Freeman character, Columbus was exonerated once he had the opportunity to respond to the charges.

  • For those interested in learning more about Columbus, the best biography is still Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea published in 1942. Morison was an odd combination of professor, historian, sailor and naval officer, he rose to Admiral during World War II, all of which allowed him to write a superlative biography of the Master Mariner. Morison also wrote the multi-volume official history of the USN in World War II, a work I also highly recommend.

    http://www.amazon.com/Admiral-Ocean-Sea-Christopher-Columbus/dp/1597406198/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255490507&sr=8-1

  • I’d love to see the Knights of Columbus adopt a saint’s name instead. Or how about the “Sons of Charles Caroll”?

  • Allegations that Columbus’ discovery was ‘accidental’ completely discounts Divine Providence. I suppose God sat that voyage out, may be he was tired from all the rest of the minute work he does for the rest of us.

    All that pennance, fasting and prayer couldn’t have had anything to do with the success of the voyage.

    God only uses perfect vessels to accomplish His work, right?

  • Or maybe the the Warrior Crusaders of Saint James!

  • As to Columbus being guilty of the axe grinding allegations by his enemies which you recycled, obviously the King and Queen of Spain thought differently at the time after hearing his side of the story.

    They got him released from prison, but did not restore him to his position as governor. I don’t think that proves they thought the charges were baseless (you can’t assume getting a Presidential pardon means the guy was innocent).

  • A good point BA, although the crown did send him out on another voyage of discovery in 1502 and made good his financial losses. I don’t think the King and Queen failed to reinstate him because they believed the charges, but rather because Columbus made a rather poor governor. He was lax with the Spanish colonists when he should have been firm. This led to attempted coups and then Columbus reacted with the other extreme. It didn’t help that the colonies initially were far from profitable. Columbus was a great sailor, but the wheels tended to come off for him when he was given responsibilities ashore.

  • Blackadder & Donald: Thanks for bringing such “meat” to these discussions!

    BlackAdder: I must take issue with your belittling Columbus’ endeavour. After all, we are talking largely about uncharted lands/oceans wherein actually reaching destination was far from certain and, indeed, as Donald himself had indicated, thousands of miles away.

    Think of it this way: wouldn’t an explorer who dared ventured into uncharted regions of space, unsure of actually reaching a Minshara class planet with the route he’s planned to take in the outer reaches of space be nonetheless considered brave and, indeed, demonstrate exceptional courage for the very fact that in spite of incredible uncertainty as to accomplishing this goal (which seems even downright impossible to most, if not, all people at that point in time) and all the dangers therein; still, that adventurer continues on in spite of the odds.

    Tito Taco: So long as you do not use that EWTN name: “Knights of St. Michael” or whatever that is; talk about exceptionally gay.

  • I don’t think the King and Queen failed to reinstate him because they believed the charges, but rather because Columbus made a rather poor governor. He was lax with the Spanish colonists when he should have been firm.

    If cutting off people’s noses, selling them into slavery, etc. is considered lax, I’d hate to hear the details of the “firm” policy you’d have preferred.

  • Read the historical record Blackadder. His laxity in regard to the Spanish colonists is on ample display which led to rebellions which had to be put down with executions. Morison sets out the situation well at the link below:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=T5x5xjsJtlwC&pg=PA365&lpg=PA365&dq=columbus+as+governor+morison&source=bl&ots=_Fq3ousT15&sig=FWVJsOq3MSOKaG6Gt8LvsevHODA&hl=en&ei=KRTWSu2cCZXiMar9wJQD&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CBsQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  • e.,

    That was tongue in cheek.

    Look up “humor” or “satire” in the dictionary and maybe there you’ll figure it out.

    ;~)