A Man Moved Upon by the Spirit
Christopher Columbus was fulfilling prophecy.
Christopher Columbus once wrote to Amerigo Vespucci (the explorer for whom America is named): “I feel persuaded by the many and wonderful manifestations of Divine Providence in my especial favor, that I am the chosen instrument of God in bringing to pass a great event-no less than the conversion of millions who are now existing in the darkness of ism.” (1) Columbus was not just out to find a direct passage to India by sailing to the west, he felt a commission to take the word of the Lord to those who were without the gospel of Jesus Christ as he understood it.
Brigham Young said: “The Almighty…moved upon Columbus to launch forth upon the trackless deep to discover the American Continent.” (2) Elder George Q. Cannon said: “Columbus was inspired to penetrate the ocean and discover the Western continent, for the set time for its discovery had come; and the consequences which God desired to follow its discovery have taken place.” (3)
Nephi had seen Columbus in vision: “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) Columbus himself said: “With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies…This was the fire that burned within me…Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit.” (4) Christopher Columbus was an instrument in laying the initial foundations for others to follow, also led by the Spirit of the Lord, to bring about the setting for the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and, as Columbus had desired, “the conversion of millions” to Christ who were then in darkness.
Excerpts from Columbus’ Writings
It is not known whether Christopher Columbus was formally educated but he was learned and brilliant by some accounts and his favorite book was the Bible. He was drawn to the sea and had an undying curiosity and drive. His desire to set out on what was then considered an impossible voyage and a mission of madness was unconquerable. For years he worked to see his dream come true. He wrote to Ferdinand and Isabelle: “The Lord purposed that there should be something clearly miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies…I spent seven years here in your royal court discussing this subject with the leading persons in all learned arts, and their conclusion was that it was vain….But afterwards it all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ has said, and as he had spoken earlier by the mouth of his holy prophets.” (5)
Columbus began his personal journal with these words. “IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.” His faith in God and his undying trust in the Lord were hallmarks of his personality. He often referred to the Lord in his writings and gave Him credit for his achievements.
As he left the known world he wrote the following to the King and Queen of Spain: “I set sail from the port, on Friday, the third of August, half an hour before sunrise, and steered for the Canary Islands of your Highnesses which are in the said ocean, thence to take my departure and proceed till I arrived at the Indies…For this purpose I determined to keep an account of the voyage, and to write down punctually every thing we performed or saw from day to day, as will hereafter appear…I intend to draw up a nautical chart, which shall contain the several parts of the ocean and land in their proper situations; and also to compose a book to represent the whole by picture with latitudes and longitudes, on all which accounts it behooves me to abstain from my sleep, and make many trials in navigation, which things will demand much labor.”
Further into the voyage he wrote: Monday, 17 September: “The Admiral [Columbus] here says that these signs were from the west, ‘where I hope that high God in whose hand is all victory will speedily direct us to land.’ This morning he says he saw a white bird called a water- wagtail, or tropic bird, which does not sleep at sea.”
A heart-stopping event took place on Tuesday, September 25th: “At sunset Martin Alonzo called out with great joy from his vessel that he saw land, and demanded of the Admiral a reward for his intelligence. The Admiral says, when he heard him declare this, he fell on his knees and returned thanks to God, and Martin Alonzo with his crew repeated Gloria in excelsis Deo, as did the crew of the Admiral. Those on board the Nina ascended the rigging, and all declared they saw land.” Such was not the case, the reports were false, the men grew more uneasy as they had been sailing now for more than fifty days. The men grew scared. False traditions and legends could swallow them up faster than the sea itself. Columbus kept pressing forward into the unknown.
Dr. Hugh Nibley wrote: “All are agreed that Columbus was an imaginative and a visionary man, often carried away by his own enthusiasm. But on one thing he was clear and specific–he was called for a definite mission…And [then Dr. Nibley quoting from] Samuel Eliot Morison: For he was not, like a Washington, a Cromwell or a Bolivar, an instrument chosen by multitudes to express their wills and lead a cause; Columbus was a Man with a Mission. . . . He was Man alone with God against human stupidity and depravity, against greedy conquistadors, cowardly seamen, even against nature and the sea. Always with God, though. . . . Men may doubt this, but there can be no doubt that the faith of Columbus was genuine and sincere, and that his frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement.” (6)
Dr. Nibley continued: “Sailing into a perfect blank on the map, Columbus infallibly did the right thing: ‘He did not make a single false move in the entire voyage!’ says the geographer Professor Nunn. He maintains that Columbus must have been the discoverer of the Trade and prevailing Westerly Winds since it was only by taking fullest advantage of both that his journey was possible–yet his subsequent voyages show that Columbus knew nothing about the wind system. This was not Columbus’ doing. Neither was the flight of birds that appeared just in time to keep the ships from turning back, nor the sudden rising of the sea that at another time inspired the expedition to continue. Call it what you will, Columbus was convinced he was being helped.” (7)
From Columbus’ journal we read: “Wednesday, 10 October. Steered west-southwest and sailed at times ten miles an hour, at others twelve, and at others, seven; day and night made fifty-nine leagues’ progress; reckoned to the crew but forty-four. Here the men lost all patience, and complained of the length of the voyage, but the Admiral encouraged them in the best manner he could, representing the profits they were about to acquire, and adding that it was to no purpose to complain, having come so far, they had nothing to do but continue on to the Indies, till with the help of our Lord, they should arrive there. Thursday, 11 October. Steered west-southwest; and encountered a heavier sea than they had met with before in the whole voyage. Saw pardelas and a green rush near the vessel. The crew of the Pinta saw a cane and a log; they also picked up a stick which appeared to have been carved with an iron tool, a piece of cane, a plant which grows on land, and a board. The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land, and a stalk loaded with rose berries. These signs encouraged them, and they all grew cheerful. Sailed this day till sunset, twenty-seven leagues. After sunset steered their original course west and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight, going ninety miles…” (8)
Nibley explains: “Finally a day came when he was forced to give the whole fleet his solemn word that he would turn back within two days if land was not discovered–and on the morning of the second day land was discovered. About eight or nine hours before the discovery, at sunset on October 11, Columbus gave a strange and sudden order for a marked change of course. ‘Why he did this, nobody explained,’ writes Professor Morison, a very sober historian and a nautical expert. But he assures us that if he had not done it, the great discovery of October 12, 1492, would have been a tragic discovery of deadly reefs that lay but a short distance dead ahead of the little fleet on its original course.” (9)
Let All Rejoice
Columbus himself summarized his gratitude and joy of his journey in a letter dated 1493: “Therefore let the king and queen, the princes and their most fortunate kingdoms, and all other countries of Christendom give thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has bestowed upon us so great a victory and gift. Let religious processions be solemnized; let sacred festivals be given; let the churches be covered with festive garlands. Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven, when he foresees coming to salvation so many souls of people hitherto lost. Let us be glad also, as well on account of the exaltation of our faith, as on account of the increase of our temporal affairs, of which not only Spain, but universal Christendom will be partaker. These things that have been done are thus briefly related. Farewell.” (10)
1. Garr, Arnold K. Christopher Columbus: A Latter-day Saint Perspective. Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1992, p. 30. (Throughout this article the words of Columbus will be bold and italicized.)
2. Journal of Discourses, 7:13.
3. Ibid, 14:55.
4. Garr, Christopher Columbus, p. 3.
5. Ibid, p. 29.
6. Nibley, Hugh. The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1989, pp. 50, 51.
7. Ibid, p. 52.
8. Medieval Sourcebook: Christopher Columbus: Extracts from Journal (emphasis added)
9. Nibley, p. 52.
10. Letter from Christopher Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabelle, King and Queen of Spain, dated 1493.