Columbus – apostle to the Americas
It is dizzying to endure the popular disdain for Christopher Columbus. The discoverer of the New World was a devout Catholic, as many historians and the Holy See have attested. Columbus’ decisions and behaviors were greatly influenced by his desire to honor God. But that isn’t what we hear.
Time to shine some light on forgotten reality.
In the 1870s, a number of Fathers of the First Vatican Council proposed Columbus’ canonization – not only because he introduced Christianity to the New World, but because of his character and virtue. Imagine that. Many simply will not – and ride the pop-train of malignment, touting Columbus as a hater with inexcusable sin.
The life of a culture is intertwined with its history, not in denying it. Columbus’ discovery is indeed extraordinary, but opening up two American continents to Christianity has been called the greatest evangelistic feat since the days of St. Paul. Perhaps that’s the real ‘problem.’
He was a man of deep piety – attending daily Mass at a convent chapel in Italy, where he met his first wife, Donna Phillipa. She died within two years of marriage, after giving birth to their first son, Diego. This caused Columbus tremendous grief; though he was only 30, all his hair turned gray. Ten years later he married again, to Donna Beatrix Enriquez of Spanish aristocracy. Their only child, Fernando, was born the following year in 1488.
Here’s where some historians bungle the threading. A Spanish librarian found a copy of Columbus’ last will wherein he designated a pension for Beatrix, “mother of his second son, Fernando” … which Columbus then says is “for the relief of my conscience.” The librarian presumed Beatrix was his concubine. This sloppy attribution catalyzed other animosities – upon which hostile writers and biographers have feasted since.
Columbus was a third-order Franciscan tertiary, taking Franciscan friars with him on his voyages. He went to confession regularly, had love for the Real Presence and had devotion to Mary. His shipmen maintained daily prayer, and his son Fernando noted specially: “He was so strict in matters of religion…that he might have been taken for a member of a religious order.”
Then there are Columbus’ own writings. His Book of Prophecies, scarcely mentioned by biographers, was begun in 1502 after his third voyage to America. He cites Scripture at length, following God’s will, and extending Catholicism afar. In 1491, one year before discovery of America, Spain was finally liberated from 700 years of Muslim domination – and Columbus’ voyage-journal reveals his aim to surpass Islam with spread of Christianity.
As early as 1493, he wrote to the Royal Treasurer of Spain, calling discovery of the New World a great victory – but not in the typical sense. Rather, Columbus says: “Since our Redeemer gave this victory to our most illustrious King and Queen … it is fitting for all Christendom to rejoice … and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity … for the great exultation it will have and the turning of so many peoples to our holy Faith.”
Hail Christopher Columbus, sir.
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Managing Editor.