Friday, February 25, 2011

Columbus’ Divine Mission

In the 15th century, “the Indies” was a loose term referring to India, China, and Japan, as well as to other far eastern places. Europe had built up a great trade with these areas in oriental rugs, flowered silks, gems, spices, porcelains, damasks, dyes, drugs, perfumes, and precious woods. These commodities had been brought laboriously by overland caravans to the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, or had crept along the burning sands of Arabia to the Red Sea.

At the height of this trade, the Osmanli Turks blocked the path of these caravans in an effort to drive the Christians out of Asia. The luxury-hungry upper class Europeans were therefore under the necessity of finding a new way to the Indies if they were to continue to enjoy the trade with those distant countries. This, then, led to the explorations by Sea, both around South Africa and westward over the Atlantic.

Columbus before the king and queen of Spain seeking support for "his enterprise"

During these early years, Cristoforo Colombo, as he was known in Genoa, was well versed in the navigational progress of his day and had been convinced by his studies that he could reach the Indies by sailing westward across the Atlantic. It was at this time that he developed what he called “his enterprise.” While people like David S. Muzzey of Columbia University, in the first sentence he wrote in his “American History,” that “the discovery of America was an accident,” Columbus felt quite differently. As he wrote of himself:

“From my first youth onward, I was a seaman and have so continued until this day. Wherever on the earth a ship has been, I have been. I have spoken and treated with learned men, priests, and laymen, Latins and Greeks, Jews and Moors, and with many men of other faiths. The Lord was well disposed to my desire, and He bestowed upon me courage and understanding: knowledge of seafraring He gave me in abundance, of astrology as much as was needed, and of geometry and astronomy likewise. Further, He gave me joy of cunning in drawing maps and thereon cities, mountains, rivers, islands, and harbours, each one in its pace. I have seen and truly I have studied all books—cosmosgraphies, histories, chronicles, and philosophies, and other arts, for which our Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my emprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?”

It was during this time that the study of geography and the science of navigation flourished, and hundreds of “portolani” or sailing charts were drawn by Italian and Portuguese mariners. Six new editions of the “Geography” were published between 1472 and 1492, and the compass and the astrolabe were perfected. Ships were designed to sail close to the wind and to stand the buffeting of the high ocean waves. Before the end of the century, Portuguese sailors had pushed nearly a thousand miles westward into the unchartered Atlantic, and were creeping mile by mile down the western coast of Africa.

Columbus studied all these charts, drawings, captain’s logs, and other material regarding the geography of the world as it was becoming known in his day. As a guide for his planned voyage, he had a chart made for the king of Portugal in 1474, by the Florentine astronomer Toscanelli, which he used to demonstrate that the Indies could be reached by sailing westward. He went before the king with knowledge and presentation, and also with enthusiasm born of what he frequently described as inspiration. He truly felt that he was guided by the Holy Ghost.

On August 2, 1492, the entire crew of forty men went to prayers in a little church near the docks; the next morning they set out on their voyage over what was called “The Sea of Gloom.” Many of the superstitious sailors still believed the world was flat and that there was a real possibility that if they kept going to the horizon they might fall of the edge. It is likely that Columbus was the only person on the three ships that set out on “his enterprise” that believed the Holy Ghost was behind this endeavor. Later he would write to King Ferdinand of Spain that “I came to your Majesty as the Emissary of the Holy Trinity.” He always insisted that he should be regarded as one inspired, and when he presented himself as inspired by the Holy Ghost, he was convinced from the bottom of his heart that he was speaking the truth.

Columbus' first voyage reached the area of the Caribbean. In none of his voyages did he ever set foot on North America, but did reach southward, even to South America

"And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters, and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land” (1 Nephi 13:12).

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