“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.