Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

“This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky. “

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

This is one of those years in which the government decreed Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, actually falls on October 12, the date, under the Julian calendar, when Columbus discovered the New World.  Columbus Day is observed also in Spain as Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional and as the charmingly unpc Dia de la Raza in most Latin American nations. 

 In this country Columbus Day used to be an uncomplicated celebration, especially for Italian Americans.  Now it has become controversial with Columbus blamed in some quarters for genocide against Indians and being the founder of the American slave trade.  As Dinesh D’Souza pointed out in this article in 1995 in First Thingsthe condemnation of Columbus today tells us far more about current political battles than it does about the historical record of Columbus.  From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.  Among other views inimical to our time,  he saw nothing wrong about establishing colonies and bringing native peoples under the rule of European powers.  He had little respect for the religions of native people and wanted them to be Catholic, as, indeed, he wanted all the world to be Catholic.  (I see nothing wrong in this myself, but rest assured most of our contemporaries in this country would.)

Prior to ascending the pulpit to launch a jeremiad against someone of a prior time however, it might be useful to consider the criticisms that Columbus might have of our time.  The embrace of nihilistic atheism by so many in the West in our time would have appalled him. The easy availability of the most degrading types of pornography would have sickened him.  Our weapons of mass destruction he would have seen as a sign of the reign of the Anti-Christ.  Ecumenicalism he would have viewed as a turning away from the True Faith.  The celebration of abortion as a right would have seemed to him as the ultimate covenant with death.  The Sixties of the last century popularized the term generation gap, describing the difficulty that parents and their teenage offspring had in understanding each other.  Between our time and that of Columbus there is a generations’ chasm and the use of Columbus as a whipping boy in current political disputes only increases our problem of understanding him and his time.

I believe that there are two keys to understanding Columbus:  his Catholic faith and his courage.  Columbus lived in a religious age, but even in his time he was noted for the fervor of his faith.  Masses, penances, pilgrimages, retreats, the reading of the Bible, all the aspects of devotion that the Catholic faith offered, Columbus engaged in all of his life.  Any ship he commanded was scrupulous in religious observances, with the Salve Regina being chanted by the crew each evening at Vespers.  As his son Ferdinand noted:   “He was so strict in matters of religion that for fasting and saying prayers he might have been taken for a member of a religious order.”

Born in 1451, Columbus was two when Constantinople fell to the Turks.  All his life, except in Spain, Islam was on the march and Christendom was under siege.  As a proud Genoese, Columbus grew up sailing in a Mediterranean increasingly dominated by Islamic corsairs and fleets.  The sea routes to the East through the Mediterranean were blocked and the tiny Italian city states had embarked on a grim fight against the odds that would span over a century until Lepanto in 1571.

Throughout his writings Columbus emphasized that the purpose of sailing west across the Atlantic to reach Asia was to outflank the Islamic world and spread Christianity throughout Asia.  Columbus was not insensible to the riches that could be gained with direct trade with Asia, but it was the desire to spread the Catholic faith that is always uppermost in his writings.  This is clear in his Journal of his first voyage to the New World.

“Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet, and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith; and furthermore directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence that any one has gone…”

 Since the foundation of the Franciscan Order, it was the sons of Saint Francis who chiefly undertook the incredibly dangerous task of missions to Islamic lands outside of Spain, and crossing the vast distances of Asia to undertake missionary efforts.  Small surprise then that Columbus was a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis, and took Franciscan friars with him on his voyages of discovery.

All the faith in the world however is of small use to others if not combined with courage.  There are two types of courage.  There is the courage that comes in hot blood when the adrenaline is flowing.  This courage is to be honored.  A higher type of courage however is one that endures endless obstacles and frustrations over a great span of time and struggles on.  For two decades prior to 1492 Columbus failed to gain any support for his mission. Men of lesser courage would have long before decided that the task was hopeless and moved on to other things in their lives.  Columbus never wavered in his determination, against all odds, to see his dream become a reality.  Critics of Columbus contended that he underestimated the size of the world and that he could not reach Asia across the Atlantic due to the vast distance.  Ironically the critics were completely correct.  If the Americas, and the islands of the West Indies, had not existed, Columbus and his crews would have perished long before any possible landfall.  Against even such accurate criticism Columbus struggled on until finally he and the three ships under his command, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, sailed off into the watery wastes of the Atlantic on September 6, 1492 from the Canary Islands towards the setting sun.

Master Mariner that he was, Columbus had somehow learned the secret of the Trade Winds.  Utilizing them, Columbus made the Atlantic passage in five weeks, a very swift voyage.

Five weeks out of sight of land was an unprecedented voyage for the time.  As the days passed the temptation to turn back and abandon the effort must have been almost irresistable.  This poem by the colorful  Cincinnatus Miller a/k/a Joaquin Miller, which all American schoolchildren once read, illustrates the situation well:

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
                        Behind, the Gates of Hercules;
            Before him not the ghost of shores;
                        Before him only shoreless seas.
            The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
                        For lo! the very stars are gone.
            Brave Adm’r’l, speak: what shall I say?”
                        “Why say: ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

             “My men grow mutinous day by day;
                        My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
            The stout mate thought of home; a spray
                        Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
            “What shall I say, brave Adm’r’l, say
                        If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
            “Why, you shall say at break of day:
                        ‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”

             They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
                        Until at last the blanched mate said:
            “Why, now not even God would know
                        Should I and all my men fall dead.
            These very winds forget their way;
                        For God from these dread seas is gone.
            Now speak, brave Adm’r’l; speak and say—”
                        He said: “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

             They sailed: they sailed.  Then spake the mate:
                        “This mad sea shows his teeth tonight;
            He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
                        With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
            Brave Adm’r’l, say but one good word:
                        What shall we do when hope is gone?”
            The words leapt like a leaping sword:
                        “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

            Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
                        And peered through darkness.  Ah, that night
            Of all dark nights!  And then a speck—
                        A light! a light! a light! a light!
            It grew; a starlit flag unfurled!
                        It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
            He gained a world; he gave that world
                        Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!

On Columbus Day I honor a faithful Catholic who had a dream to spread the faith of Christ throughout the globe and the courage to make that dream a reality.  Historians and critics will argue about Columbus until the final trump, but what he accomplished is a reality that will withstand all analysis and criticism.  Let us give the Admiral of the Ocean Sea the last word.  “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”





40 Responses to Columbus, Catholicism and Courage

  1. Carlos says:

    “On Columbus Day I honor a faithful Catholic who had a dream to spread the faith of Christ throughout the globe and the courage to make that dream a reality…”

    Hear, hear, I second your awesome post…Columbus was a Catholic Patriot of the highest order and brought light, progress and order to the New World!

    And as you have denoted above a master sailor to boot whose routes are still, TO THIS DAY, in existence and utlized for cross Atlantic journeys.

  2. Don the Kiwi says:

    I have recently read a fascinating book entitled “1434” by a certain Gavin Menzies. The essence of the book is, as it carries on its head page, “The year a magnificent Chinese fleet sailed to Italy and ignited the Renaissance.”

    This is a follow up to his book, “1421” where he outlines the contribution China made, in those early years, to knowledge of the world known to the Chinese, but still veiled to the Europeans.

    Columbus – according to Menzies – was aware of the Chinese maps of the Pacific, such as they were in those times, which included basic outlines of the coastline of North America.

    Very interesting stuff – which probably could have influenced Columbus in his assurance of landfall to the West.

  3. restrainedradical says:

    According to Chinese historians, Menzies is a kook. You should watch him sweat and squirm during interviews when asked to back up his claims.

  4. restrainedradical says:

    “From a modern standpoint there is indeed much to criticize Columbus for since, in most ways, he was a typical man of his time, as we are, in most ways, typical children of ours.”

    I believe that’s called moral relativism. He used torture. Though, I guess if you’re a moral relativist, that wasn’t intrinsically evil in the 15th century.

    Columbus Day should be rebranded as Settlement Day or Colonization Day or better still Bartolome de Las Casas Day.

  5. Donald R. McClarey says:

    No restrained radical what it means is that our time is very good at seeing specks in the eyes of prior generations and ignoring the planks in ours.

  6. Tito Edwards says:

    Don the Kiwi,

    I’ve heard of that book.

    From what I am aware of, Columbus probably had a map of the new world from his Portuguese contacts. It was not uncommon for nations to hoard maps and keep them secret due to a crazy idea called “capitalism”. You see many European countries were looking for an alternate trade route to the far east after the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims.

    So it was in their best interests to keep maps as state secrets. Portugal, at the time, had the most extensive survey of the worlds ocean routes. They mapped many unknown lands prior to most European countries such as the Americas and Australia.

    That’s what I am aware of.

    Regardless, it was the Vikings that first discovered America.

    Tito the Norman

  7. restrainedradical says:

    The Beringians discovered America circa 40,000 BC.

  8. Tito Edwards says:


    If you want to play that game then it’s actually the Pangeans that “discovered” America circa a quarter billion BC.

  9. Donald R. McClarey says:

    My Cherokee ancestors discovered the New World first, doubtless when they were being chased by some ferocious animal across the land bridge where we now have the Bering Straits! 🙂

  10. Moe says:

    Aw shucks, little did your ancestors know that those cute, fuzzy-wuzzy polar bears chasing them were destined to be stranded and to starve on the melting ice down the road a tad.

  11. e. says:


    You do know that Columbus has, rather unfortunately, been repainted as a tyrannical villain these days, no?

    Kids Study the Dark Side of Columbus


    “I talk about the situation where he didn’t even realize where he was,” Kolowith said. “And we talked about how he was very, very mean, very bossy.”

    In McDonald, Pa., 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, fourth-grade students at Fort Cherry Elementary put Columbus on trial this year — charging him with misrepresenting the Spanish crown and thievery. They found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.

    “In their own verbiage, he was a bad guy,” teacher Laurie Crawford said.

  12. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I’m quite aware of it e. The kids of course are merely mimicking what they are taught by politicized teachers and textbooks. NEA Today predicted in 1991 that “Never again will Christopher Columbus sit on a pedestal in United States history.”, and Columbus is a prime target of many leftist teachers.

  13. e. says:

    I’m quite aware of it e. The kids of course are merely mimicking what they are taught by politicized teachers and textbooks.

    Given that most public schools are manned by such teachers, it won’t be long now that such foul revisionism will take its toll and the malarky that they’re being taught will ultimately become the “truth” for future generations.

    Just another grand reason why folks should send their children to public schools!

  14. Blackadder says:

    Given that most public schools are manned by such teachers, it won’t be long now that such foul revisionism will take its toll and the malarky that they’re being taught will ultimately become the “truth” for future generations.

    The criticisms offered of Columbus aren’t malarkey. It’s undeniable that Columbus was involved in slavery, or that he committed atrocities as governor. One might offer lame defenses based on cultural relativism or whatever, but that wouldn’t change the fact that he did do those things.

  15. e. says:


    So you would actually characterize Donald’s defense of Columbus as a “lame defense based on cultural relativism or whatever”?

    Instead of merely rallying on the side of such folks, why don’t you provide that same compelling defense you expect of Donald et al?

    Quite ironic that you demand such substantial defense from persons of the latter persuasion while you yourself failed to provide similar substantial support for your claims but, quite simply, merely asserting that these provide such a “lame defense”.

    Must make what you said doubly lame, if not, hypocritical, to say the least.

  16. Blackadder says:

    Quite ironic that you demand such substantial defense from persons of the latter persuasion while you yourself failed to provide similar substantial support for your claims

    If you mean my claims about the criticisms of Columbus being factually accurate, I didn’t provide any “substantial support” because I assumed this was taken for granted. Donald’s “he was a typical man of his time” defense implicitly concedes as much. However, in case anyone is inclined to dispute this, I offer the following:

    As governor and viceroy of the Indies, Columbus imposed iron discipline on the first Spanish colony in the Americas, in what is now the Caribbean country of Dominican Republic. Punishments included cutting off people’s ears and noses, parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery.

    One man caught stealing corn had his nose and ears cut off, was placed in shackles and was then auctioned off as a slave. A woman who dared to suggest that Columbus was of lowly birth was punished by his brother Bartolomé, who had also travelled to the Caribbean. She was stripped naked and paraded around the colony on the back of a mule.

    “Bartolomé ordered that her tongue be cut out,” said Ms Varela. “Christopher congratulated him for defending the family.”


  17. American Knight says:

    We are all sinners from the first generation to the last. Columbus was no exception, neither am I and neither are you. Within the context of his times Columbus was overall a hero. Did he have flaws? Of course. Did he make mistakes? Certainly? Did he commit objectively evil acts? Probably. Name a great historic figure that didn’t.

    I think the key point as pointed out above is that he was in conformity to his time and his time had many, many imperfect Catholics and many holier than we. What his time did not have is the cultural, institutional and pervassive consecration to evil and the princes of this dark world that we have today.

    I suspect that had Columbus been given a vision of what his New World would become, he might not have sailed. Of course, that denies all the good we’ve done and doesn’t account for the farther fall of his Genoa or the land of the Catholic King and Queen. Pitty. We throw so much away.

    Do we have men today with the sack that he showed to risk everything for the cause of Christ sailing into a seemingly endless ocean? It seems we are a bunch of wimps who patter about the Internet as if we are accomplishing something. I must admit I am ashamed for my part in falling so far from the time of Columbus and worse for ever tolerating these new ‘historical facts’ about the butcher of Cuba and the bane of the peaceful Native American Indians.

    Come on people, are any of us capable of such heroism despite our fallen nature? Also bear in mind Isabel chastised him for bringing natives in shackles back to Spain – she dispatched him to win souls for Christ.

    As for the earlier discoveries of the Western Hemisphere the evidence is that they most certainly happened especially because there were people living here when he got here – so what? None of his predecessors ever maintained communication with Eurpope and none brought the Gospel with them and none lasted.

    A most daring and admirable admiral, yet ill suited to be a governor. Those of you who honor this man, I salute. Those who are derriding him, you aren’t half the man he was and if not for him you wouldn’t be lving here, so it is best that you politely close your pie hole.

  18. e. says:


    I appreciate your raising the quality of debate by what appears to be a rather substantive contribution to the present discussion.

    I guess this means that the “Knights of Columbus” (?) should rethink about renaming their fraternal organization and consider adopting a more genuinely charitable figure as opposed to their namesake.

  19. I don’t know that it’s necessary to cease admiring a historical person’s accomplishments merely because one is realistic about their faults. Goodness knows, unvarnished accounts can tell us some rather unflattering things about others on the American civic calendar (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, etc.) and indeed for us Catholics there are saints who had involvement in torture and executions for heresy which even the most traditional-minded would find it impossible to condone in this day and age. That does not, I think, mean that we need to cease admiring the genuine good deeds of such people — even as we should be honest with ourselves about their faults.

    I think it’s a seriously bad idea when we deceive ourselves about the past. (Examples from my own recent reading would include the fact that the New England colonists, while certainly seeking religious freedom for themselves, imposed their own religious regime pretty brutally on the colonies; and also that however despicable the French revolutionaries may have been, the anciene regime was pretty impressively corrupt and cruel in its own lesser fashion.) However, that hardly means that one must only focus on the evils of people in the past and not their more admirable qualities.

    In that regard, I don’t necessarily see recognizing the harshness of Columbus as governor as incompatible with celebrating his accomplishments. And to be honest, while he was pretty harsh, he was no more so than many other rules of his time — and not only ones ruling over natives of the Americas. Mutilation (and come to that execution) was still a pretty common punishment for comparatively minor crimes in many parts of Europe at the time.

  20. j. christian says:

    It makes more sense to express moral indignation using the template of our times against the persons of our times because they coincide. Judging the past using today as a standard is always difficult. How long has racism been understood as it is now? Should we condemn every historical figure from before the last century or so knowing that almost all of them would be regarded as racists of some sort?

    Still, we should have a balanced view. Morality is not relative, and evil is always and everywhere evil. Shedding light on the good, bad, and ugly in each historical figure is not out of line. Understanding that we’re all products of (flawed) times and cultures, we should temper our condemnation. Maybe it’s right to retire Columbus Day as a holiday in light of what we know about the man, but another possibility is that we can use such moments as a reflection on our own hubris.

  21. j. christian says:

    I think I have an edition of a Chesterton book (Orthodoxy?) that, in the preface, makes some sort of apology for anti-Semitic remarks in the text. (I don’t recall the actual passages, however). I mean, it’s *G.K. Chesterton*! Throw him out the window for it? I don’t think so, especially considering that it’s highly unlikely he would express such views if he were alive today.

  22. e. says:

    Well, I only believed Blackadder’s point worth entertaining because it would seem unless were we to adopt Hegel’s historicism, it must be the case that Columbus was actually an evil person.

  23. Donald R. McClarey says:

    For a balanced view of Columbus:

    As to the activities of Columbus as a governor, it should be remembered that most of the charges against Columbus were hotly contested by Columbus and his supporters at the time. Bad reports sent back to Spain against a governor were the time honored way to have a governor removed. In the case of Columbus they succeeded. Additionally the Spanish were almost as litigious as we modern Americans and these disputes often resulted in court cases that dragged on for decades of contradictory testimony.

  24. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Here is a good overview of the tangled history of this period. People who make rash judgments with an inadequate knowledge of Columbus and his times do a disservice to the historical record.

    “At home, however, court favor had turned against Columbus. For one thing, the ex-colonists were often bitterly hostile to the admiral and his brothers. They were wont to parade their grievances in the very courtyards of the Alhambra, to surround the king when he came forth with complaints and reclamations, to insult the discoverer’s young sons with shouts and jeers. Again, the queen began to criticize severely the shipment of Indians from the new-found lands to Spain. And once more, there was no doubt that the colony itself, whatever the cause, had not prospered so well as might have been desired. Ferdinand’s support of Columbus had never been very hearty, and his inclination to supersede the Genoese now prevailed over the queen’s friendliness. Accordingly, on the 21st of May 1499, Francisco Bobadilla was appointed governor and judge of Hispaniola during royal pleasure, with authority to examine into all complaints. Columbus was ordered to deliver up his charge to Bobadilla, and to accept whatever the latter should deliver him from the sovereigns. Bobadilla left Spain in June 1500, and landed in Hispaniola on the 23rd of August.

    Columbus, meanwhile, had restored such tranquillity as was possible in his government. With Roldan’s help he had beaten off an attempt on the island of the adventurer Ojeda, his old lieutenant; the Indians were being collected into villages and Christianized. Gold mining was profitably pursued; in three years, he calculated, the royal revenues might be raised to an average of 60,000,000 reals. The arrival of Bobadilla, however, speedily changed this state of affairs. On landing, he took possession of the admiral’s house and summoned him and his brothers before him. Accusations of severity, of injustice, of venality even, were poured down on their heads, and Columbus anticipated nothing less than a shameful death. Bobadilla put all three in irons, and shipped them off to Spain.

    Alonso Vallejo, captain of the caravel in which the illustrious prisoners sailed, still retained a proper sense of the honor and respect due to Columbus, and would have removed the fetters; but to this Columbus would not consent. He would wear them, he said, until their highnesses, by whose order they had been affixed, should order their removal; and he would keep them afterwards “as relics and as memorials of the reward of his service.” He did so. His son Fernando “saw them always hanging in his cabinet, and he requested that when he died they might be buried with him.” Whether this last wish was complied with is not known.

    A heart-broken and indignant letter from Columbus to Doña Juana de Torres, formerly nurse of the infante Don Juan, arrived at court before the despatch of Bobadilla. It was read to the queen, and its tidings were confirmed by communications from Alonso Vallejo and the alcaide of Cadiz. There was a great movement of indignation; the tide of popular and royal feeling turned once more in the admiral’s favor. He received a large sum to defray his expenses; and when he appeared at court, on the 17th of December 1500, he was no longer in irons and disgrace, but richly apparelled and surrounded with friends. He was received with all honor and distinction. The queen is said to have been moved to tears by the narration of his story. Their majesties not only repudiated Bobadilla’s proceedings, but declined to inquire into the charges that he at the same time brought against his prisoners, and promised Columbus compensation for his losses and satisfaction for his wrongs. A new governor, Nicolas de Ovando, was appointed, and left San Lucar on the 13th of February 1502, with a fleet of thirty ships, to supersede Bobadilla. The latter was to be impeached and sent home; the admiral’s property was to be restored; and a fresh start was to be made in the conduct of colonial affairs. Thus ended Columbus’s history as viceroy and governor of the new Indies which he had presented to the country of his adoption.”

    Columbus was not spotless in his conduct, but many of the recriminations launched against him were from sources with definite axes to grind against him.

  25. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Chesterton expressed anti-semitic sentiments on occasion. He was also one of the first gentile writers outside of Germany to vociferously denounce the Nazi persecution of the Jews. History is rarely simple.

  26. American Knight says:

    Our expectation of history is pretty amazing. How do we expect imperfect humans from ages past to transmit data to us accurately when we can’t even agree on events and data that occur right before our eyes here and now?

    The other ridiculous assertion is that Europeans or more specifically Columbus brought slavery to the Western Hemisphere. Really? Slavery is as old as the Bible. Perhaps you’ve heard of a tribe of people called Hebrews ensalved by Egyptians for 400 years!

    Does anyone take the notion seriously that the native Indians did not war against each other and take slaves for generations before Columbus was even born? For that matter was it really the white man who brought slavery to Africa? Do any of us really think so highly of man that we are shocked that someone will enslave someone else?

    Salvery is a tool used by the immoral world of he who has the might is right. That notion ruled man for most of our history. It was broken by the liberator of slaves – Jesus. It is only in Christian lands that slavery could have ever been defined as a moral evil. Had Columbus not brought the Catholic faith to the Western Hemisphere who would we blame for the near-erradication of slavery? I say near, becuase America and the world is still very much addicted to slavery. Governments treat people like slaves, crimals have slaves and increasingly white women and children are taken from right here in the US of A and sold around the world as slaves.

    To blame slavery rather than the credit for spreading the Gospel to Columbus is sick, twisted, deceitful and in no way, shape or form productive. Was he a mess? Probably – keep in mind he IS NOT ST. COLUMBUS.

  27. e. says:

    Judging the past by using today as a standard is always difficult.

    Was j. christian suggesting that today’s standard is actually superior than those of the past?

    Are we talking about the very same modern standard that has deemed the killing of an innocent child as a fundamental right of human beings?

    It is not mere coincidence that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize; indeed, it is because he is the very epitome of “today’s standard” that he won the award as he reflects quite precisely very well prized values of modern society:

    Washington, DC ( — President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, but a closer analysis of the award shows his only achievement at the time he was nominated was exporting taxpayer-funded abortions. Obama hadn’t accomplished much else in office when the nominations were finalized.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s deadline for nominations for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was February 1, just 11 days after Obama’s inauguration.

  28. j. christian says:

    e: No, I wasn’t.

  29. Blackadder says:

    Although it’s a side issue, I’m not sure that Columbus’ “accomplishments” really amount to as much as is often suggested. Columbus thought that you could get to India quicker by just sailing west. He was wrong about this, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that there was a land mass between Europe and Asia he and his men would have all died and he would not even be a footnote in history. You can say that organizing the trip took courage, but the same could be said of literally thousands of other voyages. Having stumbled upon the Americas, Columbus proceeded to act in a manner which was despicable not only by our standards, but also by the standards of many people at the time (when Donald says that Columbus contested the charges against him this reminds me of the bit in the Shawshank Redemption about how Morgan Freeman’s character was the only guilty man in the prison because everyone else claimed they didn’t do it).

    I’m all for recognizing the accomplishments as well as the failings of historical figures, but I also try to follow Lord Acton’s philosophy on the matter:

    I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…

  30. Donald R. McClarey says:

    BA Columbus was the one who had the courage to do it, and the skill to sail 3000 miles out of the sight of land to accomplish it, no small achievement in the 15th century. His error in theory led to his making a great discovery in fact, not an uncommon event in history. As to Columbus being guilty of the axe grinding allegations by his enemies which you recycled, obviously the King and Queen of Spain thought differently at the time after hearing his side of the story. Unlike the Morgan Freeman character, Columbus was exonerated once he had the opportunity to respond to the charges.

  31. Donald R. McClarey says:

    For those interested in learning more about Columbus, the best biography is still Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea published in 1942. Morison was an odd combination of professor, historian, sailor and naval officer, he rose to Admiral during World War II, all of which allowed him to write a superlative biography of the Master Mariner. Morison also wrote the multi-volume official history of the USN in World War II, a work I also highly recommend.

  32. restrainedradical says:

    I’d love to see the Knights of Columbus adopt a saint’s name instead. Or how about the “Sons of Charles Caroll”?

  33. American Knight says:

    Allegations that Columbus’ discovery was ‘accidental’ completely discounts Divine Providence. I suppose God sat that voyage out, may be he was tired from all the rest of the minute work he does for the rest of us.

    All that pennance, fasting and prayer couldn’t have had anything to do with the success of the voyage.

    God only uses perfect vessels to accomplish His work, right?

  34. Tito Edwards says:

    Or maybe the the Warrior Crusaders of Saint James!

  35. Blackadder says:

    As to Columbus being guilty of the axe grinding allegations by his enemies which you recycled, obviously the King and Queen of Spain thought differently at the time after hearing his side of the story.

    They got him released from prison, but did not restore him to his position as governor. I don’t think that proves they thought the charges were baseless (you can’t assume getting a Presidential pardon means the guy was innocent).

  36. Donald R. McClarey says:

    A good point BA, although the crown did send him out on another voyage of discovery in 1502 and made good his financial losses. I don’t think the King and Queen failed to reinstate him because they believed the charges, but rather because Columbus made a rather poor governor. He was lax with the Spanish colonists when he should have been firm. This led to attempted coups and then Columbus reacted with the other extreme. It didn’t help that the colonies initially were far from profitable. Columbus was a great sailor, but the wheels tended to come off for him when he was given responsibilities ashore.

  37. e. says:

    Blackadder & Donald: Thanks for bringing such “meat” to these discussions!

    BlackAdder: I must take issue with your belittling Columbus’ endeavour. After all, we are talking largely about uncharted lands/oceans wherein actually reaching destination was far from certain and, indeed, as Donald himself had indicated, thousands of miles away.

    Think of it this way: wouldn’t an explorer who dared ventured into uncharted regions of space, unsure of actually reaching a Minshara class planet with the route he’s planned to take in the outer reaches of space be nonetheless considered brave and, indeed, demonstrate exceptional courage for the very fact that in spite of incredible uncertainty as to accomplishing this goal (which seems even downright impossible to most, if not, all people at that point in time) and all the dangers therein; still, that adventurer continues on in spite of the odds.

    Tito Taco: So long as you do not use that EWTN name: “Knights of St. Michael” or whatever that is; talk about exceptionally gay.

  38. Blackadder says:

    I don’t think the King and Queen failed to reinstate him because they believed the charges, but rather because Columbus made a rather poor governor. He was lax with the Spanish colonists when he should have been firm.

    If cutting off people’s noses, selling them into slavery, etc. is considered lax, I’d hate to hear the details of the “firm” policy you’d have preferred.

  39. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Read the historical record Blackadder. His laxity in regard to the Spanish colonists is on ample display which led to rebellions which had to be put down with executions. Morison sets out the situation well at the link below:

  40. Tito Edwards says:


    That was tongue in cheek.

    Look up “humor” or “satire” in the dictionary and maybe there you’ll figure it out.


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