Monday, September 2, 2019

An Understanding of Columbus and the Divine Forming of America – Part I

The traditional view of Columbus is that his discovery was a lucky accident, a result of his belief that the world was round and his eagerness to discover a way to the eastern “Indies” by sailing west. Columbus himself would have found this explanation most unsatisfactory. A deeply spiritual man who concluded that the end of the world was not far distant, he believed himself predestined to assist in the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies. Among other spiritual callings, he felt a special destiny in relation to Isaiah’s “islands of the sea” prophecies and Christ’s statement that “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16; Pauline Watts, “Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s ‘Enterprise of the Indies,’” American Historical Review, Feb. 1985, pp73–102; Hugh Nibley, “Columbus and Revelation,” Instructor, Vol. 88, October 1953, pp319–320). 
    “I come to your Majesty as an Emissary of the Holy Trinity,” he wrote in asking King Ferdinand of Spain to support his venture to sail west across the Atlantic. And, eight years after his discovery of the New World, he wrote, “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth...and he showed me the spot where to find it.” Indeed, his last will and testament included the statement that the “most holy Trinity...inspired me with the idea and afterwards made it perfectly clear to me that I could navigate and go to the Indies from Spain by traversing the ocean westward: (Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, 1975, p29).
    Inspired latter-day prophets have underscored this important point. In a 1961 conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson, then of the Council of the Twelve, declared that as part of the “divine plan…to raise up the first free people in modern times …God inspired Columbus to overcome almost insurmountable odds to discover America and bring this rich new land to the attention of the gentiles in Europe” (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, Ensign, October 1961, p69).
After the vision of Columbus in relation to the promised land, Nephi “beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters” (1 Nephi 13:13). The fulfillment of this vision or prophecy is also verified by history and by latter-day prophets. It should also be noted here, as we have done numerous times in other articles, that Columbus, in his four voyages, never once set foot on North American soil, let alone that of the United States—in fact it is doubtful he ever knew they existed. He landed in the Caribbean islands, Venezuela in South America, and Central America.  Yet, as Nephi wrote of Columbus landing, “I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren… 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 13:10,12).
    The early Pilgrims and Puritans who left Europe for the New World did so because they sought the freedom to worship as they saw fit as well as freedom from the prevailing forms of economic bondage, important issues left largely unaffected by both the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, even as these humble and devout people were preparing to leave Europe, the Thirty Years War, renowned for its savagery as well as its durability, broke out between Protestants and Catholics. Aptly described as a war “in which fervent Christians were prepared to hang, burn, torture, shoot or poison other fervent Christians with whom they disagreed on the correct approach to eternal life” (General Sir John Hackett, The Profession of Arms, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1983, p75).
The witch trials that swept Europe carried over to the Americas, here shown suvh a witch trial in Salem, Massachusetts
These disagreements decimated much of western Europe. Moreover, the seventeenth century, like the one preceding it, experienced the widespread and monstrous “witch craze” in which both the Protestant and Catholic elite joined in identifying “Satan’s lieutenants”—usually by liberal use of judicial torture—and destroying them in the name of God. As one eminent historian put it: “The more fiercely [witches] were persecuted, the more numerous they became. By the beginning of the seventeenth century the witch-doctors had become hysterical. Their manuals have become encyclopedic in bulk, lunatic in pedantry. They demand, and sometimes achieve wholesale purges. By 1630 the slaughter has broken all previous records. It has become a holocaust in which lawyers, judges, clergy themselves join old women at the stake” (H. R. Trevor-Roper, The European Witch-Craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Harper and Row, New York, p97).
    Even the better-known Reformers were personally intolerant. Luther’s severity in the Peasants War, for example, is well known. Little known but worthy of mention is Luther’s one-sided discussion with the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli. The purpose of the conference was to promote much-needed Protestant unity, but Luther began by focusing on the eucharist. Holding close to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, he precluded unity or compromise by writing Hoc est Corpus Meum (This is my body) on the table. “I take these words literally,” he said; “if anyone does not, I shall not argue but contradict” (James E. Barker, Apostasy from the Divine Church, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1984, p716). For his part, Zwingli, who had considerable control in Protestant Zurich, stood firm against the Anabaptists. These devout Christians emphasized spiritual matters over temporal ones and, among other things, insisted on baptism by immersion. Zwingli consented to having a number of them “truly immersed,” that is, drowned in the Limat River. 
    In Geneva, John Calvin clung to rigid precepts based on the doctrine of predestination, declaring: “Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt…It is not in vain that he [God] banishes all those human affections that soften our hearts, that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brother, relations, and friends to cease…When his [God’s] glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories.”
    True to his word, Calvin burned Michael Servetus for heresy and, among other things, ordered a child beheaded for striking its parents. Even after King Henry VIII’s break with Rome, England was not tolerant of religious diversity. The Church of England proved dogmatic and intolerant and vigorously persecuted those who did not fall into line. Many dissenters were burned for heresy.
Joseph Smith’s fifth great-grandfather, the Reverend John Lathrop (left), initially a minister for the Church of England, was more fortunate. Finding much Church of England doctrine not in harmony with scriptures, he left the state church and became a minister of The First Independent Church of London. For this breach of policy, the Bishop of London had him arrested and cast into prison.
    While he was thus incarcerated, his wife died. He was not so much as allowed to attend her funeral, and his children were left with no one to care for them. He made repeated appeals for clemency, but the bishop refused even to listen to him. Finally, the orphaned children went to the bishop as a group and personally plead for mercy. So pitiful were they…that the bishop was finally moved, and he released Lathrop on condition that he leave the country. This he did, and, with thirty-two members of his congregation, he went to America.  In somewhat similar fashion, the Pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 had first fled from England to Holland in search of greater religious and economic freedom. Finding neither to their satisfaction, they were among the first to come to America.
    Nephi also beheld in vision that the Gentiles in the promised land grew to “many multitudes” and “the Spirit of the Lord…was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain” (1 Nephi 13:15).
    Nephi also witnessed that the “wrath of God…was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten” (1 Nephi 13:14), a consequence amply validated by the record of history. Much of this conflict stemmed from attraction of the western frontier, where good land, including tribal lands, was available by purchase or by conquest. While life was rarely easy for new immigrants to the promised land, opportunities were abundant and greatly enhanced by a level of freedom unknown in Europe. Indeed, the ever-increasing influx of immigrants bore ample witness that the New World was truly a land of promise, one where they could prosper to a degree not possible n Europe.
(See the next post, “An Understanding of Columbus and the Divine Forming of America – Part II,” for more on how the Lord blessed the development of the Promised Land)

1 comment:

  1. Calvin was not even a citizen of the city of Genoa where they burned Servetus. It was civil authorities that tried and burned him. Calvin asked them to behead Servetus instead, but they refused to do that. So it is not fair to say Calvin ordered the death of Servetus, but it is fair to say that he consented to his death.