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October 14, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

What did you learn in school about Christopher Columbus?  Chances are it was all wrong.  The answer up to about fifty years ago was that Columbus took his perilous voyage in order to find a trade route to the Orient and fill the coffers of the Spanish treasury and his own along with the kingdom’s.  I am writing this on Columbus Day and I would like to correct this distortion of history.

Christopher Columbus’s son Ferdinand wrote of his father, “He was so strict in matters of religion that for fasting and saying prayers he might have been taken for a member of a religious order.”  He knew the Vulgate Bible thoroughly.  It was likely with him on his voyages.  Columbus was certainly a man of his time.  His faith was Catholic and his deep faith in Jesus was obvious to all around him.  Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas, a contemporary of Columbus wrote of him, “He was extremely zealous for the honor and glory of God; with a deep longing he yearned for the evangelization of these peoples and for the planking and flourishing everywhere of people’s faith in Jesus Christ.”

Before donating my library prior to coming to Florida I had Columbus’s “BOOK OF PROPHECIES” on my shelves.  It was only translated into English in 1991.  In that book his motives for undertaking the voyages to the new world is very clear.  Columbus scholar Delno C. West states that Columbus “is best viewed as an ‘evangelical’ Christian – not in the modern sense of the word ‘evangelical,’ but in the sense of the Catholic tradition and church of the time.”

In 1501 Columbus wrote, “I am only a most unworthy sinner, but ever since I have cried out for grace and mercy from the Lord, they have covered me completely.  I have found that most delightful comfort in making it my whole aim in life to enjoy his marvelous presence.”  Columbus died more than a decade before the “95 Theses” were posted on the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral, but his faith seems very direct and personal.

There is another dimension to Columbus’s faith that draws me to him as a fellow thinker.  During his lifetime Spain was freeing itself from the Moors.  The Crusades had been over for almost 300 years and Jerusalem was in the hands of Islam.  It was Columbus’s dream that Spain mount a new crusade to free the Holy Sepulcher from the grip of unbelievers.  Columbus believed that the return of Jesus was near and he wanted to be a part of the preparation for that event.  This was not some footnote to Columbus’s thinking.   Scholar Pauline Moffitt Watts has written. “This was Columbus’s ultimate goal, the purpose of all his travels and discoveries – the liberation of the Holy Land.”  A book written in the fourteenth century noted that it would take 210,000 gold florins to mount a crusade.  Columbus was out to raise the funds for precisely that effort.

It is true that Columbus thirsted for gold.  But the Admiral of the Seas was not after personal fortune.  When he left Hispaniola in early January he told his men, “in God that on the return…he would find a barrel of gold that those who were left would have acquired by exchange; and that they would have found the gold mine and the spicery, and those things in such quantity, that the sovereigns before three years will undertake and prepare to conquer the Holy Sepulcher.”

It never happened, but the dream reveals the heart of the man.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs