For many years, we as a nation celebrated a day in October known as “Columbus Day” to celebrate Columbus’ navigation across the Atlantic to the New World. Columbus was not the first one to “discover” America, but he certainly was the first one to make it stick in the minds of those in the Old World.
For many years, Columbus was also believed to be a noble leader and a man of God. Since his time, he has been celebrated and honored for his contributions to sea navigation as well as spreading the Christian religion.
In recent times, however, a push has been made to change this celebration of Columbus and his achievements (a literal fulfillment of prophecy) to a celebration of “Indigenous Peoples Day.” The reasoning is that Columbus brought on “500 years of colonial oppression” as well as genocide to the Native Americans. Some people have gone so far as to characterize him as “one of history’s greatest monsters.”1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEw8c6TmzGg (mark 1:18)
So which narrative are we to believe?
As believing Latter-day Saints and as Freemen, the answer is clear: Christopher Columbus was an inspired and righteous man, chosen by God to pave the way for the eventual Restoration of the Gospel.
Columbus Confirms the Book of Mormon
In the Book of Mormon, we read of Nephi’s incredible vision that shows the history of the promised land comprising chapters 12-14 of 1 Nephi. The vision foretells of the establishment of America and the Restoration of the Gospel. In this vision rich with history, Nephi singles out only one person with respect to the Gentiles:
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
This person is obviously Christopher Columbus and has been identified as such by prophets and apostles throughout the history of the Church.
From this one verse, we learn two important things:
- God inspired Columbus to make his voyages
- Columbus followed through in faith
Both of these facts are confirmed by Columbus’s own words. In a letter to the monarchs of Spain, Columbus recorded hearing a divine voice saying, “…since thou wast born, ever has He [God] had thee in His watchful care…of the barriers of the Ocean Sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He gave thee the key.”2Varela, Consuelo, and Juan Gil, eds. Christobal Colon: Textos y documentos completos. p 492.”
On another occasion, Columbus recounted, “With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project… This was the fire that burned within me… Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit…urging me to press forward?”3Christopher Columbus, Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen, in Libro de las profecias, p 105
More Than a Voyage
Clearly, Christopher Columbus believed that he was inspired by God to take up his voyage to the New World. His voyages were not even so much about discovery than they were spreading Christianity. As Columbus’s son Fernando wrote, “Just as St. Christopher is said to have been so named because he carried Christ over deep waters with great danger…so the Admiral Christopher Columbus, invoking the aid of Christ in the perilous voyage, completed the journey to convert the indios into members and inhabitants of the triumphant church of heaven.”4Colon, Fernando. Historia del almirante. 1892.
Columbus recorded that on multiple occasions he received revelation and reprimand for his lack of faith. He also was warned about the dangers of pride and was assured that through his trials, he was being watched over by God.5Hinckley, Clark B. Christopher Columbus. p 104 In fact, Orson Hyde declared: “This same angel [Moroni] was with Columbus, and gave him deep impressions, by dreams and by visions, respecting this New World. …[Moroni] helped him—was with him on the stormy deep, calmed the troubled elements, and guided his frail vessel to the desired haven.6“Celebration of the Fourth of July” Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, July 4, 1854
Why would Moroni be invested in seeing Columbus safely to the New World? It should be clear to Latter-day Saints that Columbus’s “discoveries” brought about the age of the Gentiles as prophesied in the Book of Mormon, thus paving the way for the establishment of America and the eventual bringing forth of the Book of Mormon.
Columbus Appears to Wilford Woodruff
If you are still unconvinced of Columbus’s inspired mission and calling, you may be surprised to know that over 14 prophets and apostles beginning with Joseph Smith have commented on the Admiral’s mission.
The most notable of these declarations is none other than the account Wilford Woodruff gave when he said:
I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.”… I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others…
President Ezra Taft Benson noted that in Wilford Woodruff’s journal, Columbus was also made a high priest at this same time.7Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 604 Along with Christopher Columbus, there were only 3 other men that were made high priests including George Washington, John Wesley, and Benjamin Franklin.
Columbus, like anyone of us, was not a perfect man. He trusted people that he shouldn’t have. He made mistakes in the governance of his colonies. But to suggest that because of his flaws he is one of “history’s greatest monsters” is to deny the words of both ancient and modern prophets.
Christopher Columbus was a brave, God-fearing man who listened to the voice of the Spirit and acted in faith. It is interesting to note that the voyage of Columbus is the first event that Nephi mentions that sets in motion the Restoration of the Gospel. Soon after, Nephi sees the Revolutionary war that established a government so as to allow the Gospel to be restored and preached. Columbus laid the foundation for both of these events and appears to have believed such. On one occasion he said, “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoken of it through the mouth of Isaiah; and he showed me the spot where to find it.”
We ought to be careful about maligning the character of men such as Columbus or other inspired individuals, especially when it becomes popular to do so. Yes, they had their flaws. But certainly, we would not want to be remembered for every wrong thing that we did. As President Benson taught, “When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to God for it.”8Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 604
|↑1||https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEw8c6TmzGg (mark 1:18)|
|↑2||Varela, Consuelo, and Juan Gil, eds. Christobal Colon: Textos y documentos completos. p 492.”|
|↑3||Christopher Columbus, Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen, in Libro de las profecias, p 105|
|↑4||Colon, Fernando. Historia del almirante. 1892.|
|↑5||Hinckley, Clark B. Christopher Columbus. p 104|
|↑6||“Celebration of the Fourth of July” Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, July 4, 1854|
|↑7, ↑8||Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 604|