(This article is taken from a chapter of Solange Hertz's book On the Contrary)
The year of Our Lord 1992, Quincentenary of Columbus’ discovery of America, found the Black Legend demonstrably renewed in vigor and purpose. As Columbus Day approached, the old hispanophobia endemic to the enemies of Christ the King took on new life. Already on Holy Thursday, March 28, 1991, giving way before unprecedented pressure from outside the Church, the Roman authorities had suspended the beatification process of Queen Isabella which had begun in 1972 and was nearing a favorable conclusion. As the defamatory exposés of Columbus, indicted for opening the American continents to ruthless Spanish exploitation, approached a crescendo in the media, the hallowed October 12 provoked as much controversy as celebration.
Early on, the masters of disinformation turned their attention to arousing the indignation of the young. The December 1991 issue of Accuracy in Academia’s Campus Report, published in Washington D.C., featured a story on radical students’ condemnation of Columbus entitled, “Discover Columbus’ Legacy: 500 years of Racism, Oppression, and Stolen Land.” The University of Illinois student government had proclaimed the previous Columbus Day “People of Color Genocide Remembrance Day,” which it declared “marked the beginning of slavery, colonialism, and other manifestations of White Supremacy.” Native American Indians, Jews, Moslems, African Americans, and even Asians were inspired to join the ranks of those voicing protest against the Columbian encroachment on their rights, past, present, future, real, or imaginary.
The whole pack found a spokesman in Kirkpatrick Sale, author of the popular and vicious The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. At least he furnished a lot of ready quotations. The Houston Chronicale for June 24, 1991 reported that he informed a teachers’ meeting that the explorer “was a careless mariner and cruel to his crew. Columbus’ voyage to the New World expanded European colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and environmental degradation, among other things.” There must have been plenty of other things, for the National Council of Churches passed a resolution calling Columbus’ arrival an invasion, best commemorated by mourning rather than celebration.
The headline to an article for Columbus Day 1990 in the Long Island Newsday by Hans Koning, author of Columbus: His Enterprise, had gone so far as to ask, “Does Columbus Deserve a Day?” According to the Koning, “The man was a cruel, greedy tyrant who drove friendly Indians to mass suicide,” who furthermore “had Indian chiefs hanged and roasted on slow-burning fires to break all resistance against the forces collecting gold dust in streams... Men, women, and children on Columbus’ Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) were hacked to pieces and the pieces sold from stalls to the Spanish soldiers for their dogs,” it being considered “good military policy to give those dogs a taste for Indians.” Before long the Spaniards may be charged with setting back organ transplants 500 years by outlawing the Aztec practice of ripping out hearts from living donors. What an irreparable loss that their expertise, part of the great American heritage, was not transmitted to medical posterity!
Even Catholics are starting to believe these tales. In a background paper issued by the American Bishops for the Quincentenary, “Commemorating 500 Years of Christianity in the Americas,” we read that Christianity’s record here has been,
…marred by intolerance, intransigence, insensitivity, and cruelty... For these wrongs the Church seeks forgiveness and reconciliation... Our earliest history teaches us that evangelization must never again be linked with conquest... This quincentennial commemoration presents Christianity with an occasion for a profound reappraisal of the mission of the Church in the world.
It’s not surprising that the Bishops’ paper ends with a quotation from Hegel, something about Minerva’s owl flying only at sunset, “at the end of an era,” for now at last the Black Legend’s real objective stands fully exposed.
Those stock characters of Hollywood history, the greedy conquistadors and the cunning friars, the lascivious Borgia Pope and the leering Philip II in black and silver, still haunt the torture chambers of the Inquisition and gloat at the auto da fé, but now only as mummers in a parade. The battle between the clean-living Bible-thumping, freedom-loving short-haired WASP and the libertine, long-haired Latin papist, waged with such gusto for two centuries in American textbooks, dime novels, and movie scenarios, has moved to wider ground. Suddenly, the villain in the Black Legend is no longer just the Spaniard. In 1992, amid all the occult “solve ac coagula” destroying-to-build the new secularist world government, the Legend’s real target emerges into plain view. It is the whole of believing, multiplying, Catholic civilization, the civilization of which the Spaniard was merely the chosen representative and spearhead in the New World. In other words, the target of the Black Legend is, was, and can only be Catholic Christendom, for whose errors its American bishops are now humbly begging pardon.
Informed by the supernatural vitality communicated to it by the Church, Christendom alone produced European civilization and sustained it for over a thousand years. In the person of Christopher Columbus, Christendom discovered America and began its conquest for Christ by means of an incomparable colonial government in which Church and state cooperated in the salvation of souls. Its political system has long since been dismantled by democracy, its economic life poisoned by usury, and its moral life sapped by humanism, but the remains of Christendom in America must still be reckoned with, for moribund as it may appear, the Catholic faith is still the only power capable of obstructing the final victory of the Novus Ordo Seclorum. The venom provoked by the very memory of Christopher Columbus proves it.
The Judaeo-Masonic utopianism which took root on the American continent with the establishment of the United States now commands satellites throughout the world, even in Communist countries. This new order of the ages cannot be expected to tolerate any reminder of that old order of the ages which is God’s and Christ the King’s, let alone commemorate it. Christopher Columbus’ unpardonable sin was neither racism nor greed for gold, as his detractors allege. Like the Spaniard, whose national mission in the Mystical Body was primarily apostolic, Columbus stands guilty of being a loyal son of the Catholic Church and making her cause his very own. He cannot be forgiven for laying claim to a whole new continent in the name of Christ the King and planting the Faith on its shores three hundred years before the new man-made republic even reached them.
On his initiative, with the help of that blessed Spanish queen Isabella to her eternal honor yclept La Catolica the utopian conspiracy’s so-called Protestant Reformation was cheated of the definitive victory it looked forward to in Europe. The domain of Christ the King upon this earth, which His adversaries confidently expected would soon dwindle to nothing, was suddenly extended beyond any natural calculation. As we have seen, because of the zealous Spanish who followed Columbus across the sea, the millions of souls lost to Protestantism in Europe were more than replaced by those converted to the Faith in the Americas. Today more than half of the world’s Catholics are found there. Large portions of Europe were saved as well, for the wealth of America made it possible for Spain to put unprecedented military and political resources at the service of Catholic Christendom. American gold not only built churches and financed the defeat of Islam at Lepanto, it also provided funds for halting the spread of Protestantism by curbing the ambitions of England and Holland in Europe.
It could be said that Columbus and Isabella were God’s answer to the anguished prayer of the Church bewailing her first losses to the universal Revolution. To these two saviors of the Church Militant should be added a third: Rodrigo Borgia, another Spaniard, who as Pope Alexander VI solemnly ratified Columbus’ discoveries and formally extended Christ’s Sovereignty from the old world to include the new. By three Bulls in May and September 1493, this Pontiff drew from north to south through the Atlantic the famous Demarcation Line which divided the new hemisphere between Spain and Portugal, entrusting to these two Catholic nations its evangelization in perpetuity. The Line itself was probably suggested by Columbus, for it is substantially the line of no magnetic variation where his compass deflected and pointed to the true north for the first time in recorded history, the magnetic pole and the north star being in conjunction at that point.
Because the boundary had been set by Christ’s Vicar, Columbus abided by it scrupulously on his later voyages. Rival Catholic nations, however, soon found it a major obstacle to their ambitions, and the Protestant nations, eager to establish their own outposts on the other side of the Atlantic at any cost, would openly disregard it. Alexander’s Bull Inter cetera was subsequently modified to allow French colonization in Canada, but it has never been abrogated by any proper authority and presumably still stands. In 1855, in The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated, Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick of Baltimore wrote,
It should not surprise us that the right to give, as it were, a charter for the discovery of unknown lands to a national corporation in a Christian confederacy should be recognized in him whose office imposed on him the duty of spreading the Gospel throughout all nations.
The power Pope Alexander exercised as supreme head of humanity has never been formally defined by the Church, but it was universally recognized from earliest times that Popes had power to dispose of heathen lands as well as Christian kingdoms. The famous 8th century mosaic at St. John Lateran, showing St. Peter bestowing the pallium on Pope Leo III with his right hand while at the same time handing the secular standard to Charlemagne with his left, bears out what St. Pius X would affirm in Il fermo proposito, where he calls the Church:
...the guardian and protector of Christian society. Such a fact was universally recognized and admitted in other periods of history; in fact it formed a solid foundation for civil legislation... What excellent government could be obtained and maintained in the world if one could see in practice the perfect ideal of Christian civilization! However, granting the continual battle of the flesh against the spirit, of darkness against light, of Satan against God, such cannot be hoped for, at least in all its fullness. Hence raids are continually being made on the peaceful conquests of the Church.
Powerless to set aside the Bull, these hostile forces vented their rage against its author. Like Columbus and Isabella, Alexander VI became such an object of calumny that even among Catholics the very name Borgia has become synonymous with infamy. That is another story, as is Isabella’s but suffice it to say that the worst accusations against Alexander’s private life remain far from proven, and able defenders have not been lacking.
Who Columbus really was remains a mystery. All that can be known about his origins with any degree of certainty is that he was not Italian. Judging by his first marriage into the aristocratic Portuguese family of the Perestrellos, or the ease with which he moved among the titled nobility of this world, not to mention his extraordinary erudition, it is nearly impossible to believe that he was ever the poor Genoese weaver’s son the school texts have made him out to be. He was proficient in Latin and Hebrew as well as Greek. If he was actually born in Genoa, he showed that city no loyalty, for in 1476 he fought against it on the side of the Portuguese. He was never known to write anything in Italian. Not only was Spanish his preferred vernacular, but he used the name Crist òbal Colòn rather than its Italian form Cristoforo Colombo.
Because he was a skilled mariner, described by contemporaries as tall, blond, and blue-eyed, Viking ancestry has been ascribed to him, among others. According to Seraphim Canoutas in Christopher Columbus, a Greek Nobleman, there is some evidence that he may have been a Byzantine aristocrat who found refuge in Italy after Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. Possibly a descendant of the Emperors Paleologoi, he would therefore be, according to one tradition, of the line of David, like our Lord, the Gonzagas and the true Christian monarchs. Despite his fluency in Greek, however, this theory is hard to reconcile with his known lack of familiarity with Greek liturgy and popular devotions.
A more compelling argument would be his knowledge of geography and the natural sciences, which was far beyond the western norm. His alleged correspondence with the famous geographer Toscanelli of Florence could have supplied him with little or no useful information about America. As a youth he would have been steeped in the tradition of the second century geographer Claudius Ptolemy, who not only knew the world was round, but knew very well how to get around it. Ptolemy’s teaching, rooted in Pythagoras and Aristotle, had never been abandoned in Byzantium. Nor had that of the great Eratosthenes and his follower Strabo, who in the first century A.D. declared it possible to sail from Spain to the Indies, an opinion on which Columbus relied heavily. He was thoroughly aware of the tradition in the East about the great continent lying beyond Gibraltar which figures in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Theopompus, Diodorus, Pausanias, and many others.
If not a Greek, there is even more compelling evidence that Columbus may have been of Jewish descent. In a biography of the explorer published in 1939, Professor Salvador Madariaga, Fellow of Exeter College, was among the first to explore this possibility in depth. It was taken up again in 1973 in Sails of Hope, the Secret Mission of Christopher Columbus by Simon Wiesenthal, who argues that Columbus was in fact a Spanish Marrano living in Italy whose very signature betrays familiarity with the kabbala. Because it is known he hoped to use the wealth of America to free Jerusalem from Islam, the inference was made that he in fact wished to restore the holy city to the Jews. Much has also been made of the fact that Columbus left Spain to “sail the ocean blue” in August 1492, the very month that the Jews were expelled from Spain, as if he had been leaving the country for fear of the Inquisition,
That is pure speculation. If indeed Columbus was Jewish, he would have been a converso, a Catholic descended from Jewish converts to the Faith, who numbered in the thousands in Spain at the time. As such he would have had no reason to fear either the Inquisition or forcible expulsion. This opinion was confirmed by Fr. Nazario Muria, cultural attaché of the Venezuelan Embassy in Madrid, who conducted an investigation into Columbus’ origins reported in Arizona in 1967. He believed that Columbus’ given name was Juan and that he had actually been born on Palma de Mallorca, but fled the island when he was 21 to avoid a death sentence for taking part in a revolt.
In weighing these allegations, it must be kept in mind that anti-semitism based on race or parentage was virtually unknown in Isabella’s dominions. Her own confessor Talavera was of Jewish extraction, as was her private secretary Pulgar, the chancellor of the royal household Luís de Santángel, her treasurer general Gabriel Sánchez and nearly all her privy counselors. On the voyage to America which she underwrote, two doctors and the official interpreter were Jewish. Hardly a Spaniard today can be certain of not having Jewish blood somewhere in his ancestry. Columbus’ first wife, the highborn Felipa de Perestrello, was of Jewish descent, as was the King himself on his mother’s side, not to mention the famous Dominican defender of Indian rights, Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage and became Bishop of Chiapas and Councilman of the Indies.
Inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula since the days of Solomon, Jews enjoyed complete religious freedom under its Christian monarchs and felt at home there. Many had been Catholics for generations and eventually most of the kingdom’s banking, medicine, science, and higher learning had fallen under their control. Unfortunately, as they grew and prospered under Christian rule, tensions mounted between them and the Christians, but this was a religious matter having nothing to do with race. The fiercest antagonisms developed between baptized and unbaptized Jews, who engaged in public debates which quickly degenerated into open violence. There were serious eruptions in Valladolid in 1470, in Cordova in 1474 and in Seville in 1478.
The political situation became so unstable that Isabella reluctantly decided on the expulsion of all Jews who would not be baptized as the only realistic means of keeping the peace and protecting the Jews themselves from massacre. She decreed the death penalty for anyone harming them in person or property, and was known to extend the date of their departure wherever special circumstances warranted. There is little doubt about where Columbus stood in the matter, for a marginal note in his own hand to a prophecy of Esdras which he believed pertained to America, he wrote that only “reprobate Jews” would not accept the prophecy, whereas “it has been accepted by the innumerable ones who have believed in the Gospels. Israel has thus been split into two branches.” Whatever his racial antecedents, Columbus was unquestionably a Catholic.
In opting for deportation, Spain was actually far behind other Christian nations. Jews had been expelled from England in 1290, a full 200 years before; France had expelled them in 1306, and Germany in 1348. The first Inquisition was not established in Spain, but very much earlier, in 1233 in France, whose example was eventually followed not only by Catholic countries, but Protestant ones as well. Like the others, the Inquisition for which Isabella petitioned Rome had jurisdiction only over Catholics. It was never directed against Jews as such, for unless these declared themselves Catholic, the tribunal had no authority to try them. Professed Mohammedans were equally exempt.
Punishment was meted out only to those found guilty of professing the Faith falsely, and who need never have done so. Even so, actual executions were relatively few. In Isabella of Spain, the Last Crusader, William Thomas Walsh remarks in Chapter 19,
In the long run the Spanish Inquisition proved to be a life-saving organism, in the sense that it averted more deaths than it caused. Not only was Spain free from the terrible religious wars that cost hundreds of thousands of lives in countries where Protestantism obtained a foothold, but she escaped almost completely the terrors of witch burning, which claimed 100,000 victims in Germany and 30,000 in Great Britain.
Whatever his background, Columbus the man has yet to be discovered, for after five centuries what is known about him still exceeds anything that is known for certain. Posterity does not even know what he looked like. Several descriptions of him were left in writing, among them one by Las Casas, but no contemporary portrait has come down to us. Although a great many likenesses were produced after his death, few bear any resemblance to another. We are not even sure where he is buried, for both Spain and the Dominican Republic claim his remains, and it is likely that Cuba and Italy possess some relics. Hopefully the dispute, which began almost immediately after his death and continues unabated, can be resolved by a study of the genetic composition of the available bone samples alleged to be his.
Meanwhile there is still the problem of deciphering his mysterious pyramidal 12-character signature, to determine what may be its connection with the kabbala. Biographers like Samuel Eliot Morison, author of the Pulitzer prize winning Admiral of the Ocean Sea, have attached religious significance to it, but one of the latest theories, advanced by an aerospace engineer named Arne Molander, is that it maps the three Caribbean islands on which the Explorer first landed. These and so many other tantalizing questions having remained unsolved for so long suggests an abnormal degree of obfuscation perpetrated not only by Columbus’ enemies, but some of it by himself or his son Fernando, whose motives can only be guessed at. Exploring Columbus is a foray into a world of enigmas, contradictions, gaps, and sudden drops into the void. Anyone pretending to know very much for sure about the discoverer of American only proclaims his ignorance.
Of all the portraits of Columbus, the one judged most authentic is a woodcut which appeared in Basle in 1575 in a biography by the Archbishop of Nocera. Declared by the Royal Academy of History in Madrid in 1862 to be the oldest reliable likeness in existence, it is believed to have been copied from an original painted in 1493 after the second voyage to America. This woodcut accords perfectly with a description of Columbus given by the curate with whom he had stayed in Palacios:
The Admiral arrived in Castile. His dress was of the same order as that worn by the monks of St. Francis, and in shape somewhat similar to the robes of the Order, and with the rope of St. Francis around the waist for sake of devotion.
By “monks” the good curate was referring to friars of the Strict Observance, and needless to say, this view of Columbus as a Franciscan Tertiary is not one projected by his standard biographers, let alone by his disparagers, but it faithfully reflects what those who knew Columbus best had to say about him. According to his son Fernando, “Of religious things he was so observant that in fact, in saying his entire canonical office, he might be deemed a professed religious, and was such an enemy of oaths that I never heard him swear; and when he found himself most angry, his reproof was to say, ‘I give you to God; why have you said or done this?’ And if anything were to be written, he did not begin without first writing these words: Jesus cum Maria sit nobis in via.”
Las Casas wrote of him:
Columbus died out of favor with the world, in poverty and disgrace, in a public inn in Valladolid on Ascension Day, 1506. Hanging on the wall of his room were the chains he had worn in the prison in Seville to which his enemies had consigned him after stripping him of the vice-royalty of the new world he had discovered. He kept them near him ever after, and on his orders, they were buried with him. As it turned out, these chains would be the only material recompense the world ever granted him for revealing one half of itself to the other.
Two years before, his great benefactress Queen Isabella died, leaving him to the mercy of King Ferdinand. That wily monarch, to whose dominions the explorer had added the other side of the earth, showed little gratitude. Columbus’ son Fernando tells us that,
…now that the Indies were giving signs of that which they were to become, the Catholic King begrudged the Admiral the large share that he had in them by virtue of his capitulations with the Crown. The King wished to regain absolute control over them and dispose as he pleased of the offices that were only the Admiral’s to grant.
Even as Columbus was preparing to receive the final sacraments of the Church, Ferdinand was scheming to abrogate the rights he himself had granted to the explorer and his heirs as vice-regents in perpetuity.
Lucid to the last, the Admiral joined in the prayers for the dying, making the responses with great devotion. According to his son Fernando,
In great pain from his gout, full of sorrow over the possessions which had been taken from him, and beset by other troubles, he gave up his soul to God on Ascension Day... after having devoutly received all the Sacraments of the Church and spoken these last words: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’
His death may have been that of a saint. If not, it was certainly that of a good religious, for he was buried with his chains in the habit of a professed Franciscan Tertiary. To this vocation he had remained unalterably faithful in the course of a life of action which both in its inspiration and in its fruits far transcended the ordinary.
His two sons, a few of his officers and members of his household and some Franciscan priests quietly followed his remains to their first resting place in the local convent of the Observantine Minors of St. Francis. No one else in Spain seemed to notice. Ferdinand and his court were sojourning in Valladolid at the time, but the whole town could talk only of the king’s impending marriage with the niece of Louis XI of France. At the passing of the man who had literally doubled the known span of the earth and forever changed the course of human history, there was no public mourning. His death was a non-event. Even the private correspondence originating from Valladolid at that time makes no mention of it. For several years thereafter, those writing about Columbus outside Spain assumed he was still alive.
Curiously enough, the vicious denigration of his character which had served to deprive him of his just rewards in his lifetime, did not die with him, but only gathered momentum after his death. Spawning ever-new calumnies, it grew simultaneously with the revolt against Christendom. Justin Winsor, a biographer representative of the Protestant establishment, summed up at the turn of the last century the heinous opinion of Columbus now prevalent even among educated Catholics. Quoted by Frederick Saunders in The Story of the Discovery of the New World by Columbus, he says:
We have seen a pitiable man meet a pitiable death. Hardly a name in profane history is more august than his. Hardly another character in the world’s record has made so little of its opportunities. His discovery was a blunder; his blunder was a new world; the New World is his monument! Its discoverer might have been its father; he proved to be its despoiler. He might have given its young days such a benignity as the world likes to associate with a maker; he left it a legacy of devastation and crime.
He might have been an unselfish promoter of geographical science; he proved a rabid seeker for gold and a viceroyalty. He might have won converts for the fold of Christ by the kindness of his spirit; he gained the execrations of the good angels. He might, like Las Casas, have rebuked the fiendishness of his contemporaries; he set them an example of perverted unbelief. The triumph of Barcelona led down to the ignominy of Valladolid, with every step in the degradation palpable and resultant.
Such an indictment is a tissue of lies, of a piece with the barrage of calumny let loose by the prospect of Columbus’ canonization, whose foremost promoter was none other than Pope Pius IX, who as a young priest serving the Apostolic Delegate in Chile was the first of Christ’s Vicars to set foot in the New World. He was so convinced of Columbus’ divine mission that he made it one of the first duties of his pontificate to order an official biography compiled from the wealth of Catholic source material to offset the current secularized caricatures then circulating. His choice for this task fell on Comte Antoine Roselly de Lorgues, a Frenchman of Italian ancestry who had already made a beginning in 1844 with La Croix dans les Deux Mondes.
The new biography, which would enjoy a re-edition in France by Editions Sainte Jeanne d’Arc in 1992, was greeted with such enthusiasm when it appeared in 1856, that by 1877 the author was formally designated Postulator for the cause of the Franciscan Tertiary Christopher Columbus by letters patent from the Franciscan Father General Fr. Bernardin. In this capacity de Lorgues received 910 public letters and 80 private ones from Cardinals, Bishops, Metropolitans, and Apostolic Delegates from all over the world urging Postulatum, letters subsequently deposited in the Franciscan archives in Rome. An ardent French supporter was the future Cardinal Pie of Poitiers, who had otherwise distinguished himself for reproving Pius IX for his early liberalism.
De Lorgues would contend that anyone not believing in the supernatural is incapable of comprehending Columbus:
If Columbus had limited himself to the discovery of new lands, we might, in full recognizing his genius, consider him simply as a cosmographic navigator; but his discoveries are so closely connected with his private life, with his faith, and his apostolic role influences his official acts to such an extent, that it is diametrically opposed to justice to judge of him without regard to his religious sentiments, the principle and the end of his public existence.”
In de Lorgues’ opinion,
It is known that one of Columbus’ first projects at Hispaniola was a theological college designed to serve as the evangelization center of the entire new world, and his biographer says,
He felt that it was necessary to abandon the European regimen for that of the Indians... In place of bachelors thirsting for gold and incapable of attaching themselves to the land in order to cultivate it, he wished to admit only married persons of industrious habits
De Lorgues concludes: “We can find no defect in his administration, the same as we can find no vice in a saint.” In a Brief commending the Comte for his work, Pius IX spoke of Columbus as one who, “inflamed with zeal for the Catholic faith, resolved by undertaking the most daring of navigations to discover a new world, not for the purpose of adding new lands to the kingdom of Spain, but to place new peoples under the reign of Christ, in other words, the Church.” Momentum gathered for the cause, which was much discussed between sessions of the First Vatican Council and kept before the public by Civiltá Catolica and the whole Catholic press.
Unfortunately, keeping pace with these developments was a well-orchestrated campaign to ensure that they came to nothing. Battle over the canonization raged for a half century between the forces of Christ the King, headed by the Pope and the Comte, and those of the Serpent, led by an ex-Barnabite apostate priest name Angelo Sanguineti. Letting loose with Les Calomniateurs Modernes du Servitur de Dieu, de Lorgues threw down the gauntlet to the freethinkers, advising them that,
Christopher Columbus’ superiority was principally the result of his Catholic virtues. To judge him according to the spirit of the world, with the scientific pretentions and prejudices of our day, is both error and injustice. We have therefore presented the Revealer of the Globe as he really was, and not as depicted by biographers who are enemies of the very principle which made his greatness and glory.
Until de Lorgues began writing, even in Italy the only work on Columbus available to the general public was the old biography by Washington Irving published in 1828, which had been translated, abridged, and adapted by the apostate Sanguineti, whose positivist, Masonic leanings were well known. Although Irving himself was a conscientious, honest scholar, he was not Catholic, and unfortunately his researches in Spain were conducted with the assistance of biased historians like Don Martin Fernandez de Navarette. To read Irving and de Lorgues together is to wonder in places whether they are writing about the same man.
So furious was the opposition against Columbus, even in his lifetime he had been accused of cupidity, trafficking in human flesh, vainglory, sorcery, mismanagement, felony, sacrilege, and treason. The junta in Salamanca before whom he laid his navigational theory had even suspect him of heresy. Such accusations, however, always ended by evaporating before the evidence. The charge of enslaving and exploiting the Indians, a favorite of his modern critics, rests largely on sins committed by those who came after him. The truth is, he and his relatives never owned slaves. On one occasion Columbus even refused the insistent request of an Indian cacique who wanted him to take representatives of his court back with him to Spain.
It is true, however, that he followed the accepted practice of his time by countenancing the enslavement of prisoners of war and irreconcilable rebels, in the interests of the common safety. Even so, when three years after the conquest shiploads of these began arriving in Spain, Isabella absolutely forbade their sale. When Columbus after his third voyage presented each of his men with an Indian for a personal servant, Isabella had them all sent back with an indignant, “Who authorized my admiral to dispose of my subjects in this manner?” And there the matter rested as far as she and Columbus were concerned.
In the campaign against the canonization, every available slander was systematically revived, with particular emphasis laid on one which had never been voiced until seventy-two years after his death, but from which his reputation would never recover. This was an alleged amour with Beatriz Enriquez de Arana in Cordova, entailing the presumed illegitimacy of his second son Fernando, borne by her. Despite the fact that no contemporary was ever known to have raised the question, not even his worst enemies, who would certainly have made the most of it, this supposed lapse in virtue proved to be the salacious tidbit which captured the attention of posterity. It was accepted without question by Washington Irving and nearly all the other biographers from von Humboldt on down.
As de Lorgues was quick to point out, even at worst an affaire de coeur in itself constitutes no irremediable bar to universal respect, nor for that matter to canonization. Many individuals who erred in that direction later reached sanctity. In this case, however, the incrimination is absolutely baseless. It runs counter to a record of impeccable chastity in a man exposed to the gravest dangers to this virtue, a virtue which even his most hostile contemporaries never accused him of infringing. It was based almost entirely on the fact that no marriage record of the relationship was ever found, and on the wording of Columbus’ will, which refers to Beatriz merely as “mother of Don Fernando, my son,” enjoining Diego, his elder son by his deceased first wife, to see that Beatriz “may be able to live becomingly as to one to whom I owe so much. And let this be for the unburdening of my conscience, as this weighs heavily on my heart. It is not meet to give the reason here.” To this last testament he appended his customary signature: Christo-ferens, Christ-bearer.
It is significant that the allegation made its appearance only with the extinction of Columbus’ male line, in the course of a lawsuit over the inheritance. Columbus had specified that no illegitimate heir be recognized among his descendants, the succession passing rather to the female line in such an eventuality. For this reason a certain Crist óbal, bastard son of Luis Colón, sought to establish his claim by invoking Fernando’s illegitimacy as a legal precedent. Being unable to produce even one document or reliable witness to support that contention, however, he lost his case. In 1792 a similar lawsuit on the part of Don Mariano Colón y Larriatequy, was brought against the incumbent of the estate; but here again the judge, Don Perez de Castro, called imputation “false, calumnious and without support,” putting at least a legal end to the matter.
The royal historian Antonion Herrera recorded categorically of Columbus, “He Married Felipa Moniz de Perestrello” (whom he had met in Lisbon at daily Mass), “and by her had Diego Colón. After the death of this first wife, he married a second called Beatriz Enriquez of the city of Cordoba by whom he had Fernando, a virtuous gentleman highly lettered.” So say other historians with the facts. Last but not least is an extant autograph of Columbus addressed to the Spanish court in which he laments how because of his explorations he had “left wife and children.” Without indulging in unnecessary details, be it noted that the lack of a marriage record proves nothing in itself, for before the Council of Trent none were strictly required. Even clandestine marriages before a priest were recognized as valid. In any case an illicit liaison would hardly have been tolerated by Beatriz’ family, the proud Aranas, with whom Columbus always remained on the best terms. One of their members, Pedro, marched under his banner, and another, Diego, was governor of his colony in Haiti. Least of all could such an affair have been carried on under the eyes of Isabella in Cordoba, a city whose morals she kept under strictest surveillance. Nor would she have retained the young Fernando as page to her own son Prince Juan had there been the slightest cloud over his reputation.
Columbus’ mysterious “unburdening of conscience” referred to in his will was explained long ago by Count Baldassare Colombo de Cuccaro of the Italian branch of the family. Seeking firsthand information from Beatriz’ family in 1590, he found that Beatriz, forced to rear her son Fernando alone during Columbus’ enforced absences, had also taken charge of Diego. She had furthermore spent nearly all her small fortune meeting the expenses of his first expedition, for which she was only partially reimbursed at the time of his death. This debt was what weighed on Columbus’ conscience, and not any irregularity in his relationship to her. The reason “not meet to give” was the fact that after Isabella’s death, King Ferdinand showed no inclination to pay the sum owing!
Neither then nor later did the Cuccaros entertain any notion of Fernando’s illegitimacy, but the falsehood was not allowed to die, especially in Italy, where the Dominican priest Giustiani who pioneered the vernacular polyglot Psalter propagated the calumny assiduously. It turned up again in a paper to the Royal Academy in Turin by Count Galeani Napione, who apparently deliberately suppressed the Cuccaro evidence. A Genoese priest named Spotorno who trained Fr. Sanguineti also took up the story. Perhaps the most damage was done by the Protestant sage Alexander von Humboldt, who lent the greatest veracity to the Discoverer’s “romance” by excusing and glamorizing it. This man of science also subscribed to the notion that Columbus never really knew what he had discovered, despite Columbus’ own written testimony to the effect that he had found a whole new world, and that another ocean lay behind Panama. His calculations were so accurate that he correctly predicted not only the equatorial tides and currents, but the exact location of the future Panama Canal! Humboldt’s reputation, however, proved so overpowering that the majority of modern scholars accepted his opinions as fast without daring to question them.
Thereafter it was merely a question of telling the same lies often enough to establish them as truth. When Sanguineti’s venomous opus The Canonization of Christopher Columbus appeared, the author’s patron the Metropolitan Archbishop of Genoa, alleged birthplace of Columbus, forbade ecclesiastics to discuss the matter under pain of suspension, so that no refutation of the calumnies contained in the book could be made. At the same time, a monumental, definitive edition canonizing the misrepresentation of Columbus was published in Barcelona under the direction of Jos é Maria Asensio. Many of its prevarications, taken up later by American historians like Justin Winsor and Henry Harisse, were resurrected for the Quincentenary.
A forerunner of the propagandists of the Conciliar revolution, Sanguineti was among the first of the disloyal sons of the Church to lay a purely ecclesiastical matter before the secular public for judgment, thereby demonstrating how effectively the power of the modern press could be used to influence Church policy. With the able help of two Freemasons, the Parisian Macaya d’Avezac and C ésar Fernandez Duro of the Spanish Academy, it was not long before his barrage of calumny had destroyed all possibility of canonizing Columbus. As would happen in the twentieth century in the case of Isabella, the Church deemed it prudent to suspend all efforts in that direction, and despite the fact that the generality of the faithful had accepted Columbus’ sanctity without demur and were looking forward to his canonization, the cause was abandoned.
What remains is that in the very teeth of the opposition, on July 16, 1892, Pius IX’s successor Leo XIII had declared in a pontifical Letter, Columbus noster est, “Columbus is ours!” averring that he had in truth acted for the Church. In accordance with the wishes expressed by Columbus, this Pope ordered liturgical prayers of thanksgiving to the Most Blessed Trinity during the celebration of the 400 th anniversary of the Discovery, enjoining “all possible honors” to the discoverer as well. Every Christian nation took active part in the international commemoration with the exception of France, whose episcopacy was already dominated by Freemasonry. Thereafter the same cold, worldwide silence which would engulf the memory of M élanie Calvat of La Salette descended on Columbus.
When at the close of the century the American historian Richard Clarke queried Rome on the current status of Columbus’ canonization in connection with his new book Old and New Lights on Columbus, he was told, “The Sacred Congregation of Rites cannot treat of the Cause of Christopher Columbus till the diocesan processes are completed, and these have not thus far been begun.” There the matter rests. After the Second Vatican Council, even Columbus’ patron St. Christopher would find himself excluded from most Catholic calendars. As Sanguineti would boast, “I, with one breath, burst that soap bubble!”
The indefatigable Comte de Lorgues, guilty at worst of occasional exaggeration and a few honest errors, lived to the age of ninety-two and eventually published eight volumes of painstaking documentation in support of Columbus, but his efforts were dismissed as “non-historical.” Shortly before his death in 1898 he wrote:
Providence willed that the greatest event on earth, the discovery of the New World, should be brought about by a saint; and that after almost three centuries of neglect or error, in the pontificate of the first Pope to cross the Atlantic, there be revealed at last to the eyes of the Christian nations the true character of the main raised up for the vastest work of human genius and divine mercy. But inasmuch as the historical rehabilitation order by the immortal Pius IX implied the glorification of Catholicism, it was deemed unbearable to the pride of freethinkers, to the enemies of the Church, to the deniers of the supernatural, who adamantly refuse God the right to meddle in affairs here below.
But the battle is not over. Huge dossiers on Columbus are still on file in the Vatican archives, and rumors that his Cause may be revived continue to circulate. The Cardinal Primate of Brazil, Lucas Moreira Neves, intimated as much in an interview granted to a French Catholic periodical in January 1992, followed by a subsequent confirmation to the American magazine Catholic World Report. The Cardinal was quoted as saying, “Christopher Columbus was not simply a seafaring adventurer who discovered America on October 12, 1492... A man of faith, he is an example of Christian life.” He believed the purpose of the Quincentenary was “not to celebrate the colonization [of Latin America] but the evangelization of God’s work.”
Critics like Sanguineti were quick to follow the lead of a Protestant minister named William Patterson, who publicized the idea that Columbus was of no personal importance, inasmuch as, with the rise of scientific knowledge, America was bound to have been discovered anyway in the natural course of events. The divine inspiration of the discovery they dismissed as fantasy, choosing to disregard any evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, the Yale scholar Edward Gaylord Bourne pointed out that Columbus left marginal notations disagreeing in the light of his own nautical experience with the opinions of Aeneas Sylvius, Pierre d’Ailly and Marco Polo, the very authorities credited with having inspired him. As for the correspondence with Dr. Toscanelli, Bourne believed the letters may have been forged expressly “to give Columbus’ voyage the character of a reasoned scientific experiment and the dignity of the patronage of a great scholar.”
America’s discovery may have been sudden, but it was not a total surprise. Seneca had incorporated into the second act of his Medea a prophecy well known in classical times which read,
In time to come, the day will arrive when the ocean will break the bonds of nature and a majestic land will be revealed to men. And to them Tethys will reveal new worlds, and no longer will Thule be the farthest point of inhabited regions.
Not only does Columbus cite these words in his famous Libro de las Profecias, which he compiled with the help of the Carthusian Fray Gaspar de Gorricio from passages in Scripture and elsewhere which he believed foretold his discovery of a new world, but in an annotation to Medea, his son Fernando stated, “This prophecy was achieved by my father the Admiral Christopher Columbus in 1492.” It is regrettable that so significant a work as the Profecias, of which only a rough sketch has come down to us, remains untranslated except for a few portions published in 1990 in Barcelona by Kay Brigham in Christopher Columbus, His Life and Discovery in the Light of His Prophecies.
No serious scholar today contends that Columbus was the first to discover America, divinely inspired as his mission may have been. His knowledge of the ancients alone would have led him to disclaim the idea, especially after he found European relics on the island of Guadalupe. As a matter of fact, he inclined to a notion prevalent at the time that America was the continent on whose soil the Garden of Eden had been located. Some scientists are now seriously entertaining the possibility that we live in an infinitely expanding universe, as if matter were eternal, and in Columbus’ day not a few believed the earth stretched to infinity. Even before setting foot on the other half of it, however, Columbus assured these dreamers, “This world is not as large as the commonality of men considers it; I saw that this earth is a small affair!”
How very small it would eventually become he could never have suspected, but like Aristotle and Theophrastus and their successors, he accepted as historical the accounts of ancient Atlantis given by Plato in his Critias and Timaeus which related the defeat of the Atlanteans by the Athenians and the giant earthquake lasting a day and a half which plunged all into the sea. He set sail precisely at the time when he was certain that the great seaweed barrier between Europe and the western isles which had resulted from the turbulent mud and shallows of submerged Atlantis, had subsided enough to allow large seagoing vessels to pass through without becoming entangled.
It is unlikely he ever intended to reach India, but he deemed it prudent to conceal his real destination from the general public. The only goods he took with him were cheap glass beads and colored cloth, in no way suitable for the sophisticated Indian trade. He did not stumble on America by accident, and he expected to find there relatively primitive natives. Nor was the voyage anticipated by the Admiral anywhere near the 10,000 miles it would have taken to get to India, but a mere 3,500, just about the distance from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas. India is nowhere mentioned in his final agreement with Isabella, which only specifies some land in the Atlantic, reading, “Whereas you, Crist óbal Col ón, are setting forth by our command... to discover and acquire certain islands and mainland in the ocean sea...”
Despite every effort of Columbus’ defamers to reduce his exploit to purely natural dimensions, viewing it as the inevitable result of scientific progress, there is no natural explanation for what he accomplished, given the time and circumstances. Our Lady herself set her seal upon his mission when she appeared at the center of the new hemisphere to say,
I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrows.
At least three popes formally declared his discovery to be of God, and others did so by implication. Even Columbus’ Jewish biographer Simon Wiesenthal has to admit,
That religious elements played a great part in Columbus’ thoughts and actions is evident from all his writings. It may come as something of a surprise to us that his concept of sailing west to reach the Indies was less the result of geographical theories than of his faith in certain biblical texts ―specifically the Book of Isaiah.
Columbus’ aforementioned Libro de las Profec ías is replete with passages from this prophet, especially those referring to “the isles,” “the ends” and “the uttermost parts of the earth.” To himself he particularly applied the text reading, “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I make to stand before me, saith the Lord: so shall your seed stand, and your name” (Is. 66:22). The verse where God predicts, “They have sought me that before asked not for me, they have found me that sought me not. I said: Behold me, behold me, to a nation that did not call upon my name” (Is. 65:1) Columbus took as foreshadowing not only the discovery of America but its evangelization. For him the strongest indication of the existence of a gigantic continent on the other side of the globe lay not in natural knowledge, but in the previously mentioned book of Esdras, which states that the earth is six parts land with only a seventh part water.
There is no denying that the discovery, or rediscovery, of America was a specifically Catholic enterprise, and it may come closer to the truth to call it a work of the Holy Ghost in the world. When the time came for God to uncover the other half of His world in order to incorporate it into His Mystical Body the Holy Roman Catholic Church, He did not make use of infidel Mohammedans, Jews, Protestants, or heathen Chinese, although some of these may well have reached its shores at various times previously. God confided the task to Catholics, to whom at the same time He confided the governance of the new lands, by decree of His Vicar. The man chosen to initiate the great work was furthermore not only a Catholic, but an agent of Catholic Spain, the nation whose mission above all others in Christendom was apostolic, on whose monarch the Pope would confer the title “Most Apostolic King.”
Columbus was the very personification of Spain’s mission to spread the Faith, and he himself never doubted his divine inspiration. Taking Scripture as witness, he declared,
God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth, of which He spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoken of it by the mouth of Isaias, and He showed me where to find it.
In his correspondence, he often stressed the exclusively religious character of his enterprise. After the discovery, he tells his friend the royal treasurer Gabriel Sánchez,
This great and vast undertaking is due to no merit of mine. It is due to the Catholic faith, to the piety and religion of our monarchs. For the Lord has granted men what human intelligence could neither conceive nor attain.
He wrote the Spanish sovereigns,
I have seen and studied all the Scriptures, cosmography, histories, chronicles, and philosophy and other arts which our Lord opened to my understanding. I could sense His hand upon me, so that it became clear to me that it was feasible to navigate from here to the Indies; and He unlocked within me the determination to execute the idea. And I came to Your Highnesses with this ardor... Who doubts that this illumination was from the Holy Ghost? I attest that He, with marvelous rays of light, consoled me through the holy and sacred Scriptures... encouraging me to proceed, and continually... they inflame me with a sense of urgency... I have already said that for the executions of the enterprise of the Indies neither reason nor mathematics were profitable to me; rather the prophecy of Isaias was completely fulfilled.
His informed contemporaries accepted this as self-evident. Jaime Ferrer de Bla ñes, an extensively traveled, erudite jeweler who had been very helpful in providing information relating to the navigation, classed him without hesitation among the apostles of the faith. Three years after the discovery he writes him from Burgos,
Divine and infallible Providence sent the great Apostle Thomas from the west to the east to promulgate in the Indies our holy Christian law; and you, Se ñor, He dispatched by the opposite way from the east to the west, so that, according to the divine will, you have reached the uttermost parts of upper India for the purpose of letting the descendants hear what the ancestors have neglected of the preaching of Thomas in order that the word may be fulfilled, ‘Their sound has gone forth into all the earth’ (Rom. 10:18).
Too learned to believe he was the first to discover America, Columbus would also have known he was not the first Christian to set foot there, for it was once generally believed that America had been evangelized in the Apostolic times. In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Clement spoke of “the other world” as common knowledge; and even the great St. Paul tells the Colossians that they have received the same Gospel “as also it is in the world” (Col. 1:6). There are consistent references to “worlds beyond the ocean” in the writings of the Fathers, notably St. Hilary and St. Ambrose, not to mention St. Thomas Aquinas and his teacher St. Albert the Great, the Venerable Bede, St. Jerome, Tertullian, Macrobius, St. Isidore of Seville, Rabanus Maurus, and lesser authorities. St. Augustine considered the opinion probably, which eventually filtered down to seculars like Averroes, Dante, Roger Bacon, and Sir John Mandeville.
Crosses have been found in Paraguay, Mexico, the Bahamas, Yucatan, and Peru, where religious ceremonies betray vestigial baptisms and eucharists, along with fasts, penitential practices, and auricular confession to confessors bound to secrecy, not to mention consecrations to kings, exorcism, “holy” water, processions, pilgrimages, and the blessing of new homes. Celibacy and religious life were not unknown. Bishop Las Casas, one of the first evangelizers in the wake of the discovery, wrote convincingly of traces of St. Thomas which were found in Portuguese Brazil, part of a body of evidence too large to be ignored. The Protestant historian Prescott relates that Piedrahita, chronicler of the Muyscas, was satisfied that St. Bartholomew had paid a visit to Peru.
Among the Amerindians many tales were handed down concerning a santo whose doctrines, relayed to them by their forbears, were recognized immediately when they heard them preached once more by post-Columbian missionaries. According to Veytia, America was evangelized a second time in the fifth or sixth century. Like their predecessors, these later preachers who dotted both continents with Christian artifacts were unfortunately unable to duplicate what St. Peter and his friends had accomplished in Rome, where the doctrine was kept alive by many helps who succeeded them. In America converts were abandoned to their own devices, and in due time the Faith died out. Columbus must have known much of this if not more. He would have rejoiced to see Piedrahita’s chronicles corroborated in the revelations of Ven. Mary of Agreda, to whom our Lady revealed that “India Citerior” had indeed been confided to the preaching of St. Bartholomew.
To believe that the ultimate purpose of Columbus’ expedition was territorial expansion, let alone hunger for gold, is to fly in the face of the avowed purpose, which was evangelization, a work of the Church accomplished, as he says, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. It is significant that in the years during which he sought help from the worldly authorities, all he ever reaped was discouragement and frustration. His project began taking shape only from the moment that, widowed and nearly at the door of a poor Franciscan friary near the port of Palos. It would appear he arrived there by accident, very likely on his way to a sister who was married to a Spaniard and with whom he intended to leave the child.
Known as La Rábida and built on the ruins of a Moorish mosque, the convent had housed for over two hundred years a miraculous marble image of our Lady which had been pulled from the sea by local fishermen who found it entangled in their nets. The prior, Fray Juan P érez, received Columbus hospitably, and there began between the two a lifelong friendship on which divine Providence was pleased to hang the destiny of America. Several good religious eventually helped promote the endeavor, but Fray Juan must have been one of those Columbus referred to as “two friars who were always constant,” from the very beginning, when “all, as a body, regarded the project as a burlesque.”
The other may have been the Dominican friar Diego de Deza, tutor to Prince Juan, who later became Archbishop of Seville and succeeded Torquemada as Grand Inquisitor. He was one of many influential conversos or converted Jews like Luis de Santángel and Gabriel Sanchez who surrounded Ferdinand and Isabella. A gigantic undertaking such as the discovery of America could hardly have been attempted without their help, and Columbus seems to have enjoyed extraordinary rapport with them.
The good Fray Juan not only offered him asylum but subsequently took charge of the little Diego until his father could remarry and provide him a proper home. Columbus made the first of many long retreats in study and prayer at La Rábida, where the friars never ceased praying for the success of his mission and where he often returned for spiritual renewal. Fray Juan was not only a man of prayer, but very learned, an enthusiastic astronomer who had much in common with the great navigator. More important, as Providence would have it, the good friar had been Queen Isabella’s confessor, and he continued to wield considerable influence over her. By letter he reminded her,
You promised to make Spain glorious, and the oath is recorded by the guardian angel of our country. Inspirations have their periods of coming and going, and to be successful, the opportunity must be grasped as soon as it appears. Now is the moment, my daughter and my Queen.
A Franciscan Tertiary like Columbus, Isabella had been sympathetic from the beginning, but could do nothing to help until the Mohammedan power in her dominions was finally broken and the expulsion of the unconverted Jews accomplished. Only then could she write Fr. P érez, “I authorize you to console your friend and revive his confidence with the brightest hopes.” After that, history took the course we know, for the resourceful Fr. Juan had also succeeded in securing the cooperation of the wealthy Pinzon family of Palos, master of mariners who outfitted and manned the memorable expedition at the very moment when almost every available vessel in Spain was being requisitioned by Jews who would be leaving the kingdom by the thousands.
When the self-styled “messenger of the new heaven and new earth,” set out on the first Friday in August according to the Julian calendar, the figure of Christ on the Cross was flying from the mast of his flagship the Santa Maria, and all on shipboard had confessed their sins, attended Mass and received Holy Communion. He began the log of the voyage in Nomine Domini Jesu Christi, dedicating it to the Spanish monarchs who “determined to send me, Cristobal Colon, to see... princes and people and lands, and to discover their character and to find means that might serve to convert them to our holy Faith.”
The Salve Regina was sung throughout the voyage every evening, and when land was sighted at 2 A.M. on Friday, October 12, 1492, Columbus immediately ordered the Te Deum intoned. At daybreak the Cross was planted on the island he forthwith named San Salvador, after the Savior brought to it at long last or perhaps once more. For so momentous an occasion he and his crew offered the following prayer:
O Lord Almighty and everlasting God, by Thy holy Word Thou hast created the heavens and the earth and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy Name, and praised be Thy Majesty, which hath deigned to make use of us Thy humble servants; and that Thy holy Name may be proclaimed in this second part of the earth.
Here as elsewhere Columbus took possession in the name of Christ the King for the Crown of Castile, with the singing of the Vexilla Regis. Reformation authors often deliberately deleted these Cross plantings from their accounts, preferring to regard them as official ceremonies of a political nature, but Columbus himself, speaking of Hispaniola, remarked that they were “principally in token of Jesus Christ our Savior and in honor of Christianity.” Clearly regarding himself as the precursor of the Faith in the new world, on his visits to Indian villages he often called attention to varieties of stone which he considered suitable for the construction of churches.
After the Discovery, he wrote exuberantly to the Spanish monarchs,
And now ought the King, Queen, Princes, and all their dominions, as well as the whole of Christendom, to give thanks to our Savior Jesus Christ who has granted us such a victory and great success. Let processions be ordered, let solemn festivals be celebrated, let the churches be filled with boughs and flowers. Let Christ rejoice upon earth as He does in heaven, to witness the coming salvation of so many people heretofore given over to perdition. Let us rejoice for the exaltation of our faith, as well as for the increase of our temporal prosperity, in which not only Spain but all Christendom shall participate!
He warns their majesties, “I say that Your Highnesses must allow no stranger to set foot in this land and trade here who is not a Catholic Christian,” so well did he understand the nature of the false ecumenism even then brewing with the Reformation. He adds that no Spaniard is to come “if he is not truly a Christian, inasmuch as the planning and execution of this undertaking has no other purpose but the increase and glory of the Christian religion.” As for the natives, he firmly believed, “The instant missionaries are able to speak their language, they will become Christians. I hope in our Lord that Your Highnesses will decide promptly to send some, so as to join so numerous a people to the Church.”
In the gold mines of Veragua he would permit only workers with good morals, because, said he, the gold was destined for Jesus Christ to the evident disgust of many hidalgos who had enlisted for the more practical purpose of building their own personal fortunes as quickly as possible. The conflict of interest between those in search of gold and those in search of souls would inevitably cause major difficulties, not only for the Crown and for the Church, but first of all for Columbus.
As Bourne has noted, Columbus’ reports to Spain were singularly devoid of visionary schemes and revealed his extraordinary practical sense in the most varied and trying situations. Although he enjoyed little success as a governor, some of the elements of the Spanish colonial system, now recognized as probably the best the world has ever seen, can be traced to his groundwork. His journals contain the rarest poetry, and are replete not only with scriptural quotations but detailed descriptions of flora and fauna. If we are to credit the story of a miraculous rain of arrows sent against a Carib uprising in answer to prayer, he may have performed miracles. Armed with the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, he is said on one occasion to have exorcised a typhoon.
How he withstood a mutiny singlehanded in the wilds remains a mystery to this day. His clever use of an impending eclipse of the moon in persuading some reluctant Indians to feed his starving men has been alleged as proof of a habitual craftiness, but he tells us the idea came to him in answer to desperate prayer. The extraordinary difficulties he encountered are a matter of sober record, not only from men and the elements, but from crippling personal illnesses, including near blindness. Convinced that the devil was well aware of his objectives, in his Journal for January 6, 1493 during his second voyage, he speaks of “Satan, desiring to prevent this trip as always until now.”
And there is the miraculous cross he erected in 1495 at Fort Concepcion in Hispaniola, before which he recited his daily office and assembled his men for morning and evening prayers. After the insurrection which sent him back to Spain in chains, the colonists continued praying there for want of a proper church, and many miraculous cures were reported from touching its wood. It became known far and wide as the True Cross. An enemy tribe attempting to destroy it by fire and hatchet ended by prostrating themselves and adoring it. Fifty-eight years later its wood showed no decay, and even when hurricanes leveled everything in the vicinity, it always emerged intact. The miracles continued, and by 1535 the Cross had been placed in a chapel in the cathedral of San Domingo. When the cathedral was demolished by a hurricane in 1553 leaving the whole town in ruins, only this chapel remained. It was said that the inhabitants who possessed a relic of the Cross in their homes or on their persons escaped all injury. Nonetheless, the damage to the town was so severe the people had to relocate, and at that point the Cross disappeared from history.
The first recorded Mass on the shores of the new world was said on Columbus’ second voyage, by Fray Antonio de la Marchena, the learned astronomer who accompanied Columbus on Isabella’s recommendation. His old friend Fray Juan, however, had offered the first Mass of Thanksgiving after the discovery and continued to play his hidden role in the life of the explorer, who was wont to retire for long periods at La Rábida whenever he was in Spain. It was from there that he wrote to tell the Pope about his discovery, at the same time expressing his belief that it would provide the means of fulfilling his long-standing vow to deliver the Holy Sepulcher from the infidels. To accomplish that supreme objective, denied to the Crusaders, he anticipated raising an army of 50,000 men and 5,000 horses within seven years.
He had exacted a particularly stiff contract from the Spanish monarchs with this aim in view, and he often reminded them that by its terms,
Thenceforth I might call myself Don and be High Admiral of the Ocean Sea and perpetual Viceroy and Governor in all the islands and continents I might discover and acquire, or which may be discovered and acquired in the ocean; and that this dignity should be inherited by my oldest son and thus descend from degree to degree forever.
Besides the needs of his family, his will stipulated that revenues from the Viceroyalty be used not only for the maintenance of Spanish sovereignty and a chapel and hospital on Haiti, but for the enlistment and equipment of an army for the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher and aid to the Holy See in case of schism or other trouble.
Las Casas testified that,
He was a most jealous keeper of the honor of God; eager to convert the peoples and to see the seed and faith of Jesus Christ spread everywhere, especially devoted to the hope that God would make him worthy of helping Him in winning back the Holy Sepulcher … in this devotion and the confidence that he had that God would help him in the discovery of this world which He promised, he begged Queen Isabel to make a vow that she should spend all the wealth gained by the Crown as a result of the discovery in winning back the land and holy house of Jerusalem, which the Queen did.
Then as now the forces arrayed against Columbus and Isabella rendered the discharge of their vows impossible, and four hundred years later, with the formal establishment of the modern state of Israel and its diplomatic recognition by the Vatican, their desire to wrest the Holy Land from Christ’s enemies not only remains unaccomplished, but appears even farther from realization. Incredible as such an eventuality would have seemed in their day, the Holy Land is no longer the prey of Islam, but of Judaism.
In December 1949, hoping to prevent the terrible desecrations in the Holy Land such as those suffered by the Church of the Dormition, the Cenacle, the Franciscan Terra Sancta College, the convent of Mary Reparatrix and other holy places, the Vatican prevailed upon the United Nations to place Jerusalem under the rule of an international commission rather than under Jewish or Arab control. In open defiance, the Jewish Prime Minister David ben Gurion promptly announced that the Jewish state would nonetheless move its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “That city’s future is settled!” declared he, although at the time Israel controlled only half of it.
We are indebted to the diary of Theodore Herzl, father of Zionism, for the words of St. Pius X had addressed to him during an interview. “We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem,” the Holy Father told him, “but we could never sanction it. The ground of Jerusalem, if it were not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church I cannot answer you otherwise.” In his diary Herzl commented dryly, “The conflict between Rome and Jerusalem, represented by one and the other of us, was once again under way.” Today Jerusalem is entirely in Israeli territory.
Because St. Bernard distinguished himself by his pleas for some solution to the Jewish problem other than outright extermination, he is often cited as a saint partial to Judaism. In this, however, he did no more than state what till now was the unchanging position of the Church. We forbear quoting some of his sentiments lest he be labeled “anti-Semitic.” Suffice it to say that regarding the Holy Land he was unequivocal:
Will you allow the infidels to contemplate in peace the ravages they have committed?... The living God has charged me to declare to you that He will punish them who will not avenge Him against His enemies!
Accurately assessing the revolutionary temper of Europe, Columbus hoped by his second marriage not only to secure his succession but by such means to keep the new lands free of political chicanery. He was aware that King Ferdinand, although an able monarch, was not motivated by the same high motives as his Queen, for as soon as the discovery proved a reality, Ferdinand has begun trying to evade the terms of their contract by offering him a pensioned domain in Castile. Columbus stood on his rights, but his grandson exchanged them all for the titles of Duke of Veragua and Marquis of Jamaica. (A modern descendant who fancied breeding bulls actually consented to appear as a main attraction of the Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892. He was providentially declared bankrupt after offering 30,000 francs to anyone who would write a new biography of his ancestor from which all supernatural overtones would be excluded.)
Betrayed in his lifetime, Columbus was ground between the colonists in America who complained that he would not subject the Indians to them especially the hidalgos, who refused to do manual labor and his enemies in Spain who accused him of enslaving the natives. Finally, he was tried in absentia at the instigation of the naval bureaucracy in Seville, which was controlled by his arch-enemy Juan de Fonseca. As we know, he was brought back to Spain in chains, a “temporary” governor having been appointed in his place. So persuasive were his accusers, who many even have used forged documents to support their charges, that even the great Isabella wavered momentarily before ordering his release.
It was characteristic of Columbus that he hung the chains in his room ever after and had them buried with him. When he attempted the circumnavigation of the globe on his fourth and last voyage he was broken in health and driven to beg for his just wages. Dogged at every step by insubordination and treachery, he supported from his own pocket the sailors even mutineers whose salaries the government would not pay. In Spain, his betrayers were rewarded with good jobs, whereas those faithful to him could find no employment. In the colonies, the Crown after 1497 ignored Columbus’ strictures against accepting settlers of bad moral character and welcomed criminals, excepting only “heretics, traitors, counterfeiters, and sodomites.”
The first letter ever to reach the new world from the old was one to Columbus penned by Isabella. Dated August 16, 1494, it began,
We render lively thanks to our Lord. We hope this work of yours will cause our holy Catholic faith to be greatly extended... It seems to us that everything which from the outset you told us would happen has for the most part taken place, with as much precision as if you had seen it happen before you told us.
The deepest spiritual rapport existed between these two great souls. At his last private interview with Isabella it is said they both broke down and wept helplessly as they contemplated the overturn of their plans for the beloved Amerindians “bought with the blood of Christ,” whose conversion they had so much at heart. Isabella died of sorrow and exhaustion in 1504, only days after Columbus returned from his last voyage.
While she was lying on her deathbed he was in Jamaica, abandoned by a mutinous crew and violently tempted to despair. He tells us that while there, “Half asleep,” he heard “a voice from on high” which addressed him thus:
Oh fool, man slow to believe and to serve thy God, God of all! What more did He do for Moses or for David His servant? From thy birth, He always took care of thee. When He saw thee of an age which satisfied Him, marvelously did He make thy name resound in the Earth... Of the shackles of the Ocean Sea, which were bound with such strong chains, He gave you the keys; and you were obeyed in so many lands and won such honored renown among Christian!... The privileges and promises which God gives, He breaks them not, nor does He say after He has received the service, that His intention was different and that it must be understood in another way … Fear not. Be trustful. All these tribulations are written on marble stone and not without cause.
Whether or not he died a saint, Columbus proved to be the instrument God chose to reveal the world to itself in its full physical extension. He did not “personify” his age, he made it what it was. By means of him God brought the new world to the old world, much as in the beginning He had brought Eve to Adam after he slept. The two became one, and neither was ever the same again. Columbus amplified human history as no other mere human being had ever done. No one living today has not somehow been affected, both materially and spiritually, by his gift of one half of the world to the other. When our Lord assured His disciples that “the end is not yet,” He told them that “unto all nations the gospel must first be preached” before His final triumph could take place (Mk. 13:7, 10). Only after “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations... shall the consummation come” (Matt. 24:14). When Christopher Columbus, true to his name as Christo-ferens, brought Christ to the Americas, he hastened that Day immeasurably.
Columbus and Isabella failed of their objective to rescue the Holy Land, but what they accomplished proved incomparably greater. By bringing the rest of world within the reach of Christendom, they proved true Apostles in the temporal order, blessing all peoples with the possibility of enjoying even on earth the merciful rule of Christ the King. At that crux of history where the Crusades gave way to the Counter-Revolution, they made possible what God has promised mankind through His prophet Malachi: “For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation: for My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 1:11).
The Catholic Mass, the clean oblation acceptable to God, has poured Christ’s redeeming Blood over the whole world in preparation for the final conflict of apocalyptic times. As Roselly de Lorgues puts it,
At every hour of the day and of the night, the immolation of the divine Victim is renewed in the two hemispheres... while the night covers with its shadows the eastern hemisphere, the august Sacrifice is offered up in the Andes, and among the isles of the Pacific. The sun shines incessantly on the ceremonies of the Church of Jesus Christ. The power of Catholic unity is strikingly manifested in the permanency of this homage rendered to our Lord; for on this globe it is solely the Catholic Church that offers this unchangeable perpetuity of aspirations to heaven.
This Columbus and Isabella made possible. It is hard to believe that this selfsame holy Mass of the Apostles which they attended is now shunned as something unclean by those characterizing themselves as artisans of the “new order of human relations” introduced by Pope John XXIII. But as we shall see, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has long been foremost among the Serpent’s preoccupations.