Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Christopher Columbus: A Man of God?

The Historiographical Battle
Over Columbus' Legacy

In light of my post below on Columbus Day, I thought this might be an interesting look at how some religious groups still hold strong to the notion that Christopher Columbus (a murdering, control freak, religious fanatic) was an inspired man of God.

If we look at the historiography of Columbus and his journey, we can see that it is only in recent years that his story has been judged with a more critical eye. In 1892 (the 400th anniversary of Columbus' "discovery") the historical record is saturated with glowing praise for the man and his God-given mission to the New World. In addition, Columbus essentially became an "adopted" American citizen, whose voyage became synonymous with American patriotism.

In the past 20 years, however, the study of Columbus and his voyage has taken a turn towards skepticism and critical analysis. As a result, the man and his mission have been examined through the dark lens of mass murder, religious fanaticism and navigational ineptitude, as opposed to some mission of divine intervention.

Yet despite this new trend there are still those who hold to the "traditional" interpretation of Columbus. Usually these supporters are religious conservatives who, despite the record of murder, rape and violence, still credit Columbus with having performed God's holy errand. In 1992 (the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery) Dr. De Lamar Jensen of Brigham Young University wrote the following article in the October issue of the Ensign a monthly Mormon magazine that is produced for the general membership of the church. In the article, Jensen passionately defends both Columbus and his divine mission to discover the New World:
This has not been a good season for Christopher Columbus. The 500th anniversary of his discovery of America has been marked by more condemnation than commendation, especially in the popular press. There is ample reason, however, to recognize Columbus’s courage, persistence, and unshakable convictions.

Most people living one hundred years ago and celebrating the quadricentenary of Columbus’s first voyage honored Columbus as a hero who almost singlehandedly battered down the walls of medieval ignorance. This heroic image was perpetuated partly due to his accomplishments and partly due to the myth-making of several nineteenth-century authors.

This view extended far and wide. For many, Columbus had become a world hero, slaying the dragons of dogmatism, superstition, and prejudice while carrying the banner of nineteenth-century nationalism. Writers in many countries have tried to claim Columbus as their own native son. In the past one hundred years he has been presented as Armenian, Castilian, Catalan, Corsican, English, French, German, Greek, Majorcan, Norwegian, Portuguese, even Russian. At one time, there seemed no limit to the fantasies of Columbian mythology.

Many of these myths have been debunked over the years, including the notion that Columbus was the only person of his day to believe the earth was round and that Queen Isabel pawned her jewels to finance the first voyage. These and other legends die slowly. Many still resist any attempt to show Columbus as a human being, with vices as well as virtues.

Some of the debunkers, however, have become overenthusiastic, even slanderous, in their attempts to demythologize Columbus. Their approach often serves to bolster a political cause rather than promote a search for truth. Such activity is counterproductive, not because it tears down the heroic myth, but because it merely sets another myth in its place—the equally false myth of Columbus as a villain.

What, then, do we know of the real Columbus? What were his motives in pursuing his world-changing enterprise? Perhaps the greatest motivating feature of his life was his faith. His writings and the records kept by his contemporaries indicate that Columbus had unshakable faith that he was an instrument in God’s hands.

And, indeed, the Book of Mormon affirms that he was. In vision, Nephi “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 … 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 Ne. 13:12.)

Columbus’s understanding of that design may well have been limited, but his conviction of being a part of it gave him a self-assurance, even stubbornness, that both amazed and exasperated his contemporaries.


Columbus had little formal education, but he became highly competent in languages, cosmography, and nautical science, attributing all his skills to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “For the execution of the enterprise of the Indies, I made use of neither reason nor mathematics, nor world maps,” he wrote.

Perhaps nothing irked his contemporaries more than Columbus’s frank assertion that he was divinely chosen. “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 Isaiah,” Columbus wrote to a friend and confidant of the queen, “and he showed me where to find it.”

Columbus was convinced that the key to his enterprise was the spiritual gifts given him by the Lord: “He bestowed the arts of seamanship upon me in abundance, and has given me what was necessary from [astronomy], geometry, and arithmetic; and has given me adequate inventiveness in my soul.” Columbus was certain that God provided these gifts to be used in His service, “encouraging me to go forward, and without ceasing they inflame me with a sense of great urgency.”

We have no way of knowing how or when “the Spirit of God … wrought upon the man.” Perhaps it came in his youth in Genoa, or during his early voyages in the Mediterranean. Maybe his enthusiasm developed after he came to the busy port of Lisbon as a young man of twenty-five and met his future wife, the noble Portuguese lady Dona Felipa Perestrelo. Perhaps inspiration came while he and his bride lived in the Madeira Islands, some four hundred miles out in the Atlantic. Or it might even have been while on trading expeditions, north as far as Iceland and south along the Guinea coast of Africa. We only know that by the time he presented his project to the king of Portugal in 1484 he was obsessed with the idea of finding a western route across the Atlantic to the Indies.


After surviving a violent Atlantic storm on the return voyage, Columbus reached Palos only hours before Pinzón’s arrival. Pinzón died within a few days, leaving Columbus to receive sole praise for the discovery. Columbus himself deflected much of that praise to God. In a letter to the monarchs he wrote: “The eternal God our Lord gives to all those who walk in his path victory over things that seem impossible. And this is notably one; for, although men have talked or written of these lands, all has been conjecture. … All Christendom ought to feel delight and make great feasts and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity with many solemn prayers for the great exaltation they shall have in the turning of so many people to our holy faith.”

Nevertheless, disappointment accompanied Columbus’s ensuing voyages. On the second he found that the men he had left at La Navidad had been slain by the natives, and his explorations failed to produce much wealth. On the third voyage, he was unable to control the open rebellion that had broken out in the new colony he had founded on his second voyage. In October 1500, Columbus was arrested and deported to Spain in chains.

The humiliation was overwhelming. In a letter to a friend, Columbus wrote, “The only thing that sustains me is my hope in him who created everyone; his support has always been near. On one occasion not long ago, when I was deeply distressed, he raised me with his right arm, saying: ‘O man of little faith, arise, it is I, do not be afraid.’ ”

Later, during his fourth voyage, Columbus received another divine assurance during an extremely perilous moment when he was about to abandon all hope. “Exhausted, I fell asleep, groaning,” he reported to the sovereigns. “I heard a very compassionate voice, saying: ‘O fool and slow to believe and to serve thy God, the God of all! … Thou criest for help, doubting. Answer, who has afflicted thee so greatly and so often, God or the world? … Not one jot of His word fails; all that He promises, He performs with interest; is this the manner of men? I have said that which thy Creator has done for thee and does for all men. Now in part He shows thee the reward for the anguish and danger which thou hast endured in the service of others.’ I heard all of this as if I were in a trance, but I had no answer to give to words so true, but could only weep for my errors. He, whoever he was, who spoke to me, ended saying: ‘Fear not; have trust; all these tribulations are written upon marble and are not without cause.’ ”

Between the third and fourth voyages, Columbus busied himself with the compilation of his Book of Prophecies, in which he hoped to demonstrate the historical and prophetic meaning of his discoveries and his own role as “Christ-bearer.” 17

Most Columbus authorities have either ignored the Book of Prophecies, apologized for it, or else denounced it as the ranting of an unbalanced mind. That is unfortunate, because the book is vital to understanding Columbus’s thought and character. Columbus was a pious man and a diligent student of the Bible. He read it carefully, using the most reputable Bible commentators of his day. He also claimed to receive illumination from the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Prophecies, as compiled by Columbus with the help of his friend, Father Gaspar Gorricio, is a collection of biblical passages and interpretations of God’s plan for the unfolding of world events. Its principal themes are that prophecy was being fulfilled by the discovery of new lands and peoples and that the consummation of God’s work was fast approaching. Columbus suggested that before the final days, the gospel message must be taken to all the world and that Jerusalem must be redeemed and the temple rebuilt.

Columbus believed he was the human instrument called by God to carry out part of that divine plan. “With a hand that could be felt,” he wrote to the king and queen in a prefatory letter, “the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies, and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project. This was the fire that burned within me when I came to visit Your Highnesses. … Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures.”

In the book’s first section, Columbus presents a collection of sixty-five psalms that deal with his two major themes: the salvation of the world and the rebuilding of Zion. He calls special attention to several verses in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah that speak of the Gentiles as a people chosen to inherit the Holy Temple, their conversion in the last days, and the gathering to Zion. The inheritance of the Gentiles is further cited from St. Augustine, whose quoting of Ps. 22:27 is paraphrased by Columbus as “All the ends of the earth and all the islands shall be converted to the Lord.” After quoting Matt. 24:14, Columbus comments that the gospel has been preached to three parts of the earth (Asia, Africa, and Europe) and now must be preached to the fourth part.

The second section of the Book of Prophecies concerns prophecies already fulfilled. The theme is the ancient greatness of Jerusalem and its subsequent fall.

In the next section, Columbus deals with prophecies of the present and near future, emphasizing the theme of salvation for all nations. Isaiah is cited frequently. Columbus then furnishes several texts from the New Testament: Matthew 2:1–2; 8:11 [Matt. 2:1–2; Matt. 8:11]; Luke 1:48; and notably John 10:16, “And 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.”

The final section of the book deals with prophecies of the last days, which Columbus introduces by calling attention to Jeremiah 25 [Jer. 25], where the prophet predicts the restoration of Jerusalem prior to the Final Judgment. Finally, he quotes twenty-six scriptures that refer to the islands of the sea and their part in the last days.

The Book of Prophecies was not the ranting of a sick mind. It was the work of a religious man who was not afraid to put his ideas into action and his own life into jeopardy. Columbus knew the scriptures as well as he knew the sea, and he saw a connection between the two. The central theme of his book was that God had sketched in the Bible His plan for the salvation of all mankind and that he, Columbus, was playing a role assigned to him in that plan.


In our day the maligning has increased in intensity, but our awareness of what Columbus accomplished under God’s direction ought to remind us of our own indebtedness and responsibilities as benefactors of his fortitude. His chief concern, as ours should be, was not what people would think of him, but what God would think of him.
Yes, a unique interpretation of Columbus' voyage and mission to say the least, yet did you also notice the author's omission of the murderous atrocities committed by Columbus in the New World? How about mentioning the REASONS why Columbus was put in chains? And what about the fact that the Spanish Crown eventually condemned Columbus' acts of violence towards those Indians he was trying to convert?

Mundane details I suppose.


Marcus said...

I agree with the author here. Why do Americans insist on celebrating a man who never set foot on their country nor has anything to do with the United States or its colonies that preceded it? I feel like this would be similar to Russia creating a day of celebration for George Washington. It's just so strange.

I also agree that Columbus was a fanatic to the core. Why people want to remember a murdering war monger as a national treasure makes zero sense.

Daniel said...

It is certainly true that, in planning his voyage, Columbus did not consult reason or maps. The size and shape of the world had been known since before the time of Aristotle. Columbus' voyage was premised on an obviously false notion of the size of the earth. Following his seemingly deranged imagination, he convinced a King and a Queen to support him and he achieved great things. Maybe that is a sign that the hand of God was on him.

He was great. Good is another question. I agree that an honest appraisal should not ignore the nastiness.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brad, I'd rather you'd have made your own case against Columbus instead of grabbing a Mormon straw man and dissing him.

If you want to address "the notion that Christopher Columbus [was] a murdering, control freak, religious fanatic," then go ahead. But there's no need to assume the mocking straw man tactics of say, this abominable blog to tar "religious conservatives" with an unfairly broad brush.

If you want to attack the Mormon Church as a whole for printing Dr. De Lamar Jensen's article in the Mormon magazine, I guess that's your right as a [putative] Mormon. But I'm uncomfortable with this whole approach.

As for Columbus being a murderer, etc., his story is very similar to Andrew Jackson's, and I'm uncomfortable with that rhetorical approach to history as well.

Ray Soller said...

The most prominent nineteenth-century myth-maker who promoted "Columbus as a hero who almost singlehandedly battered down the walls of medieval ignorance" is none other than Washington Irving. See Inventing the Flat earth: Columbus and Modern Historians by Jeffrey Burton Russell.

Irving, first portrayed Columbus as a heroic figure in his 1828 historical novel The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. It was a best seller.

Later on, when it came time for Washington Irving to write a best selling biography of another American hero, George Washington, he, as was his custom, had no problem adding a bit of romantic fiction to the historical record. (You know, like when he described George Washington as adding the words "So help me God" to the presidential oath of office.)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am certain that many who were in the Churches we left for various convictions we had at the time, wondered why and how we could have such convictions.

Are we more civilized today, when we have Bernie Madoff's and other well-known public figures that do such for money, power, prestige?

Moral judgments are made and not all are "ideal" ethical stands because situations do not present themselves so clearly.

We all have interests and are human. So, it behooves the social contract to be honest about those interests, and desires. Then, negotiating the differences of interest can begin.

But, it seems in Columbus' case that conversion was a do or die situation. People who are bound in this "frame" are driven people and they do damage in many ways.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's an error to attribute Columbus' foibles to his faith. True, his unshakable faith in his own rectitude was the character trait that got him his ships and his voyage, and it's logical that would extend to his religious feelings too.

However, there have been other egotists and monomaniacs like Stalin and Mao who didn't accept even the slightest limits on their actions, and did far far worse than Christendom ever managed or imagined.

[And Angie, you seem to have been traumatized by a church or a pastor or something. But the important thing is that you broke away and are exploring truth for yourself. Whatever you find for yourself will be the only thing that will have meaning. Surely God didn't put us here just to follow the dots unquestioningly and then die. How completely boring.]

Brad Hart said...

EXCELLENT point, Ray. I totally forgot about Washington Irving. But you are 100% right about his role and impact on the Columbus myth.

Tom, I think you completely misunderstood my approach. This was simply a look at how the historiography has changed and how some religions still hold to "old school" ideas. I could have gone with a number of faiths, but I felt it best to use my own as an example.

Either way, I'm sure you'll be informing me as to how I could have done this without "attacking" somebody or some faith.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Already did, with Stalin and Mao.

That some religions hold to "old school" doesn't make the case for "new school."

You wanna call Columbus a murderer, etc., go ahead. But you can make your case on your own while leaving the "old school," Mormon or otherwise, out of it.

And my main counterargument is that Columbus' psychology had more in common with Stalin and Mao's then with [pick the faith of a "religious" straw man].

Brad Hart said...

Ray, did you ever read any of Hugh Nibley's stuff on Columbus?

Brad Hart said...

Tom, I'm not trying to make a case for the "old school" "new school" or any other school. I'm just pointing out some differences.

Every time somebody mentions "religious conservative" you shouldn't assume they are going on the attack. I sited the "old school" argument and let it stand on its own. There's no attack here. I noted some areas where the author is wrong. I think it's both proper and accurate.

jimmiraybob said...

...Stalin and Mao...

I would think that anyone reading/posting here would be aware of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Hitler and Torquemada and Jeffry Dahmer and Caligula etc., etc., and how each displayed individual pathologies that led to mass naughtiness. And I find it tedious that when someone mentions episode A, someone else counters with, "yeah but look at episode B which was just as bad or worse."

If I murder 2 people it doesn't really matter how many people Manson had killed.

With the exception of Dahmer they (and Columbus) were all able to wield their madness within a larger institutional environment that either passively allowed or actively encouraged those individual pathologies.

In the case of Columbus and Torquemada that institution would be the intersection of secular power and religious zealotry, whereby the rulers were able to accede to barbarous acts for the purpose of filling the treasury and to earn a place of pious righteousness within the eyes of the church and the church could maintain a stranglehold on Orthodoxy, while attaining greater wealth and power in secular affairs.

Dahmer was evil but lived in a secular institutional and legal framework tempered with religious and non-religious values at odds with those of the 15th-16th century.

Face it, Columbus was sanctioned and acting in a Christianized National interest that at the very least allowed these kinds of abuses if not actively encouraged (perhaps with some regret) the brutality of colonial conquest for God and the King.

It would appear that nations and the Church have, for the most part, moved beyond the worst.

jimmiraybob said...

No, I'm not suggesting that eating your neighbors would fly even in 15th-16th century Europe. I was just using Dahmer, imperfectly, as an example of evil acts in general.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You can be just as wack without religion as with it, in fact, perhaps more so. Simple scientific method, factor out the variable.

Religion simply isn't a factor here, it's just how Columbus' monomania assumed form.

Brad Hart said...

I agree with Tom that it wasn't religion that made Columbus do the things he did. People of all faiths and no faith have committed atrocities in every nation of this planet. Perhaps the ultra-Catholic climate of the era, which did (at least in a roundabout way) defend the use of violence against Muslim "incursion" made Columbus more likely to use the same violence against Native Americans. This would be a fun post to research (and I know Alan Taylor has written on such a topic). This, however, was not the main point of my post. I was looking at how the historiography surrounding Columbus and his journey has changed and how religious communities still hold to many of the "old school" ideas, which I think is, at least in part, historically inaccurate. Dr. Jensen (who isn't some Joe Shmoe by the way) completely ignores the violence and doesn't explain Columbus' religious motives. Now, I am forced to believe that Dr. Jensen knows of these facts. He is, after all, a fairly credible historian. So why promote the "old school" view of things in the light of obvious historical evidence?

My guess is that most religions are slow to change on things like this.

bpabbott said...

Tom makes a very good point.

As far as I know, religiousness has not been determined to be a well correlated variable with regards to tyranny ... much less determined to be the cause of tyranny.

Meaning that I see no evidence to conclude that religion manifests tyranny in its followers.

However, I expect tyrants have no problem manipulating religion (and I think eagerly do so) to achieve their goals.

Not that I find religion to be more susceptible to manipulation than political ideologies such as anarchism, conservatism, environmentalism, feminism, liberalism, nationalism, socialism, or communism.

If religion is to stand out, it is because it has more supporters to be manipulated.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Jensen seems to believe in the authenticity of Columbus's Book of Prophecies, and he most likely approved of Columbus''s treatment of the.......Lamanites.

jimmiraybob said...

If religion is to stand out, it is because it has more supporters to be manipulated.


I think that you missed my point. It wasn't about religiousness. It was about the intertwined and absolute power of church and state providing a framework institution supporting devastating and unchecked evil.

I know many religious people (even Roman Catholics - the tradition that I was raised in) and even churches that would not do what was done in the name of God in ages gone by. By the same token I know many atheists and agnostics that do not rally for Hitler and Mao.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It was about the intertwined and absolute power of church and state providing a framework institution supporting devastating and unchecked evil.

Like the Masons and the Salem witch trials, this stuff is overblown.

And if we examine the record, like the Divine Right of Kings in Britain, you'll find it's the state pushing the church around, and not vice-versa. The true story is much more interesting than the "common knowledge" of such things...

Establishing the new Inquisition in the Kingdom of Aragón was more difficult. In reality, Ferdinand did not resort to new appointments, he simply resuscitated the old Pontifical Inquisition, submitting it to his direct control. The population of Aragón was obstinately opposed to the Inquisition. In addition, differences between Ferdinand and Sixtus IV prompted the latter to promulgate a new bull categorically prohibiting the Inquisition's extension to Aragon. In this bull, the Pope unambiguously criticized the procedures of the Inquisitorial court, affirming that,

"...many true and faithful Christians, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people—and still less appropriate—without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many."

Nevertheless, pressure by Ferdinand caused the Pope to suspend this bull,[10] and even promulgate another one, on October 17, 1483, naming Tomás de Torquemada Inquisidor General of Aragón, Valencia and Catalonia. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII attempted to allow appeals to Rome against the Inquisition, but Ferdinand in December 1484 and again in 1509 decreed death and confiscation for anyone trying to make use of such procedures without royal permission.[11] With this, the Inquisition became the only institution that held authority across all the realms of the Spanish monarchy, and, in all of them, a useful mechanism at the service of the crown.


Daniel said...

Brad's point about historiography is an interesting one. It is certainly reasonable to think conservatives (religious or otherwise) would accept a more traditional view of history. It is also possible that religious folk would take a different view of historical revisionism, although it is not obvious what that view would be.

However, I don't think this example establishes much regarding that premise because we know that individuals and groups tend to believe charictarizations that are most consistent with their ideologies. Mormon belief may not require a positive view of Columbus, but it is most consistent with the positive view. And since Columbus bashers also tend to be bashers of the FFs, Mormons will be less likely to accept the bashers' arguments and charictarizations of history.

jimmiraybob said...

The picture that the Church was powerless to resist Isabella and Ferdinand is ridiculo. Sure, there were power struggles but if the Church had put its foot down it would have been effective - the monarchs deriving their authority in the matter from the Church.

And it shouldn't be forgotten, the inquisition was to enforce Latin/Roman Catholic Orthodoxy. That it could, in part, be hijacked to rid Spain of its Jews and Moors was a bonus to both the Monarchy (benefiting from the acquisition of abandoned or stolen wealth) as well as the Church (elimination of competition and benefiting from the acquisition of abandoned or stolen wealth).

Turning the actual execution over to the secular (devout Catholic) authorities was a formality to provide a good hand washing (as was the method of execution by fire to prevent the shedding of blood).

And to confine discussion of the inquisitions to just its Spanish manifestation helps mask its pervasiveness from the 12th to 19th centuries - an ebb and flow of inhumanity and terror carried out to squelch freedom of conscience, administered through the Holy Office and initially presided over by Bishops and archbishops and later by the Dominican and other Catholic orders.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're judging the past by 21st century standards, by standards that existed nowhere else on the planet at that time. That's not history, it's...well, you name it, it's not history.

The picture that the Church was powerless to resist Isabella and Ferdinand is ridiculo.

Make your case.

Sure, there were power struggles but if the Church had put its foot down it would have been effective - the monarchs deriving their authority in the matter from the Church.

Pls see


The irony is that even by your own argument, the problem wasn't that the church was too strong, but that it was too weak.

jimmiraybob said...

JRB - The picture that the Church was powerless to resist Isabella and Ferdinand is ridiculo.

TVD - Make your case.

The case is that the Inquisition was a RCC institution. The RCC could have withdrawn the use of this official office (the Holy Office) and made the "secular" monarchs pursue their plans for the reconquesta and new exploration on their own. But they didn't. They could have trotted out excommunication as an option (this might have been more effective with Isabella than Ferdinand). But they didn't. They were willfully complicit.

Why did they not move to stop the Spanish inquisition and torture and the killing, of which Columbus was a tiny part? Because the goals of the "secular" rulers and the goals of the Church were the same in all cases at the time. It was a partnership honed since the late antiquity of the Roman Empire.

As to the weakness of the Church, it was a moral weakness. They could have denied the authority of the institution that provided the engine (or at least the fuel injection) to act.

Were there counter voices from within the Church - I believe so but don't have the time to research and cite. But you're an honest broker so I would think you could find the resources if you pursued. If there was secular or religious opposition to the Inquisitions at the time then the argument that condemning it now is merely a result of looking at the actions through 21st century beer goggle....uh, lenses is moot.

Modern contemporary critique of Columbus and the excesses of the Church during the 15th-16th (maybe more) centuries does not constitute throwing out all of what we know as the western tradition and values.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you. My first counterargument is that the


had permanently weakened the Church's political power centuries before.

I did keep researching it, and this is my rebuttal, also printed in another thread, and explains why the Church started "inquisitions" in the first place, and why could not pull its support, as the alternative would have been worse. But if you say the church was too weak in opposing secular power, I already stipulated that the church was too weak, and not too strong, which is the opposite of 2009's "common knowledge":

I ran across this


on the Spanish Inquisition. The author, Thomas F. Madden, seems well-credentialed and well-respected as a medieval historian.

His take is that inquisitions [they'd been around hundreds of years before Spain's] were designed to keep mob rule from burning heretics, using proper theology and procedures.


"The power of kings rose dramatically in the late Middle Ages. Secular rulers strongly supported the Inquisition because they saw it as an efficient way to ensure the religious health of their kingdoms. If anything, kings faulted the Inquisition for being too lenient on heretics. As in other areas of ecclesiastical control, secular authorities in the late Middle Ages began to take over the Inquisition, removing it from papal oversight."

"...the constant drumbeat of accusations convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the matter of secret Jews should at least be investigated. Responding to their request, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull...allowing the crown to form an inquisitorial tribunal. Ferdinand...was not at first overly enthusiastic about the whole thing. Two years elapsed before he finally appointed two men. Thus began the Spanish Inquisition.

"...As the Inquisition expanded into Aragon, the hysteria levels reached new heights. Pope Sixtus IV attempted to put a stop to it. On April 18, 1482, he wrote to the bishops of Spain:

In Aragon, Valencia, Mallorca, and Catalonia the Inquisition has for some time been moved not by zeal for the faith and the salvation of souls but by lust for wealth. Many true and faithful Christians...have without any legitimate proof been thrust into secular prisons...deprived of their goods and property and handed over to the secular arm to be executed, to the peril of souls...causing disgust to many.

Sixtus ordered the bishops to take a direct role in all future tribunals... The accused were to have legal counsel and the right to appeal their case to Rome.

* * *

In the Middle Ages, the pope's commands would have been obeyed. But those days were gone. King Ferdinand was outraged when he heard of the letter. He wrote to Sixtus, openly suggesting that the pope had been bribed with converso gold...

In 1483 Ferdinand appointed Tomas de Torquemada as inquistor-general for most of Spain..."

"[T]he Spanish Inquisition...would henceforth be an arm of the Spanish monarchy, separate from ecclesiastical authority. It is odd, then, that the Spanish Inquisition is so often today described as one of the Catholic Church's great sins. The Catholic Church as an institution had almost nothing to do with it.

"The Spanish Inquisition, already established as a bloodthirsty tool of religious persecution, was derided by Enlightenment thinkers as a brutal weapon of intolerance and ignorance. A new, fictional Spanish Inquisition had been constructed, designed by the enemies of Spain and the Catholic Church.

Because it was both professional and efficient, the Spanish Inquisition kept very good records...They are a goldmine for modern historians who have plunged greedily into them. Thus far, the fruits of that research have made one thing abundantly clear the myth of the Spanish Inquisition has nothing at all to do with the real thing."

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - I posted a response to this above. So many Columbus posts, so little time.

However weakened they were due to this by the late 15th century they were negotiating with the crown powers on an equal footing.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sez you.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's right to go around condemning a man who did so much good and was trying to do so much good. Christopher Columbus was led by God to the Americas. Sure, Columbus made mistakes--some large and some small. We are all imperfect, and God uses imperfect people to do His work on this earth. Columbus was truly trying to do what is right, and Columbus was certainly a man of God. There are records of his constant praying and asking God for help as he journeyed through the ocean. God sent Columbus to discover the Americas so He could restore truth to the chosen land. Events after the discovery of America--including building the colonies, the Revolutionary War, and creating the Constitution of Independence--provided a way for the gospel to be restored. Columbus knew what he was doing was part of a greater plan, which the Lord was preparing. Christopher Columbus was a great man, who deserves the honor and praise that we give him.

raySoller said...

Here's an article, What Mormons Should Know About Christopher Columbus and the Restoration, that goes along with what Anonymous has posted.

Mandi said...

Christopher Columbus is a murderer you say? Did he violently kill people out of selfish desire to watch men suffer? No! Of course not, Christopher Columbus was a man of God. People like to twist the circumstances to make it seem like Christopher Columbus was a murderer, who killed the Natives for no good reason, but this simply isn’t the case. Natives were killed, yes, but they were killed because the Natives were killing Christopher Columbus’ crewmen (Ballard, Timothy. The American Covenant, One Nation Under God, Volume 1. pg. 106). There was death and bloodshed on both sides. We can’t ignore that and say that Christopher Columbus was an evil scheming man because he wasn’t that at all. Columbus was called of God by the Spirit to bring men out of religious captivity to the Americas where they could practice their religion freely. (The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:12-14, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981.) Christopher Columbus found the Americas because he was on God’s errand. In the journals of Christopher Columbus, we have record of him and some of his crew referencing God and asking Him for guidance (“Extracts from the Journal of Columbus.” Extracts from the Journal of Columbus < Before 1600 < Documents < American History From Revolution To Reconstruction and Beyond, www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/before-1600/extracts-from-the-journal-of-columbus.php ).