When I was growing up, October 12 was known as Columbus Day, a time to celebrate the European “discovery” of the Americas by the Italian explorer and navigator, Cristobal Colon.
I was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia (one of eleven cities so named throughout the US, the largest being in Ohio), so our community pride only added to the significance of the day. In 1968 Columbus Day became a federal holiday in the US and is now so designated on the second Monday in October, although it is not celebrated in all states.
However, in recent years some much of our society has denigrated Christopher Columbus, and protestors in Berkley, California in 1992 called for the holiday to be re-named “Indigenous People’s Day”. That sentiment has gained some traction in various cities and states.
It is easy for many of us today to exhibit “present-ism” and exercise our own judgements on peoples of the past based of our current set of values, but a more tolerant and reasonable approach would take into account the knowledge, values and mores of their own historical times.
But what about Columbus the man? What do we know of him? Fortunately, he left extensive writings that recorded his own thoughts and motivations. He apparently sincerely believed that his voyages to the Americas were inspired by God as he wrote:
“Who doubts that this illumination was from the Holy Spirit? I attest that he [the Spirit], with marvelous rays of light consoled me through the holy sacred Scriptures…encouraging me to proceed, and, continually, without ceasing for a moment, they inflame me with a sense of great urgency. Our Lord wished to perform the clearest miracle.”[i]
This doesn’t sound at all like the Columbus whom modern left-leaning academics would have us believe was such a monster in 1492. Of course these attempts to discredit and destroy noted figures of the past are not new. As early as 1828 in his biography of Columbus, noted author Washington Irving wrote:
There is a certain meddlesome spirit, which, in the garb of learned research, goes prying about the traces of history, casting down its monuments, and marring and mutilating its fairest trophies. Care should be taken to vindicate great names from such pernicious erudition. It defeats one of the most salutary purposes of history, that of furnishing examples of what human genius and laudable enterprise may accomplish.[ii]
Fortunately, as Latter-day Saints we have “another witness” not only of Christ, but in this case of the meaning and motivations of Christopher Columbus, and his rightful place in history. Six hundred years before Christ, Nephi wrote:
“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
Modern prophets have confirmed the divinity of this mission of Columbus, and that his discoveries were vital to preparing the way for the Restoration of the Gospel and the ultimate gathering of Israel:
“The Almighty . . . moved upon Columbus to launch forth upon the trackless deep to discover the American Continent” – Brigham Young (JD 7:13).
“This same angel (Moroni) was with Columbus and gave him deep impressions, by dreams and by visions, respecting this New World.” . . . “The angel of God helped him—was with him on the stormy deep, calmed the troubled elements, and guided his frail vessel to the desired haven”. – Orson Hyde (JD 6:368)
(God) “inspired a little boy, Christopher Columbus, to stand on the quays in Genoa, Italy, and yearn for the sea. He was filled with the desire to sail the seas, and he fulfilled a great prophecy made long, long ago that this land, chosen above all other lands, should be discovered. And so when he was mature, opportunity was granted to him to brave the unknown seas, to find this land . . . and to open the door, as it were.” President Spencer W. Kimball[iii]
“These events were preliminary steps leading up to the gospel being restored and taken to the entire house of Israel.” . . . “few people think of the discovery of America, the Revolutionary War, and the establishment of a constitutional form of government here as being steps toward the fulfillment of the Lord’s ancient covenant with Abraham. But it is a fact that they were. –Apostle Mark E. Peterson[iv]
In a 1992 FARMS publication, Grant Hardy noted that historian Pauline Watts had discovered in Columbus’s own words how much he resonated with Nephi’s prophecy. In a book that Columbus began writing but never finished, she found the he was eager for “the final conversion of all races on the eve of the end of the world”, and that he paid particular attention to John 10:16: “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold” (see also 3 Nephi 16:3) Watts said that Columbus took seriously his mission of spreading the Gospel of Christ as he wrote in 1500, “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth . . . he showed me the spot where to find it.”[v]
Indeed, the courage and insight and the spiritual sensitivity of Columbus was essential to the founding of America, the restoration of the Gospel, and the gathering of Israel. In 1903 President Joseph F. Smith said,
“This great American nation the Almighty raised up by the power of his omnipotent hand, that is might be possible in the latter days for the kingdom of God to be established in the earth. . . . “if the Lord had not prepared the way by laying the foundations of this glorious nation, it would have been impossible (under the stringent laws and bigotry of the monarchical governments of the world) to have laid the foundations of his great kingdom. The Lord has done this.”[vi]
So just like April 6th and the Fourth of July, and Pioneer Day, October 12th is a significant date in the Lord’s timetable.
Happy Columbus Day!
Robert Starling has been a writer and producer for the NBC Television Network and has worked at Schick Sunn Classic Pictures, Osmond Productions, and the media production department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His recent book “A Case for Latter-day Christianity” is available in many bookstores, on Barnes and Noble, and on Amazon.com in printed and e-book versions. He lives in Riverton, Utah with his wife Sharon. They have four adult children and eleven grandchildren.
i Christopher Columbus, Letter from the Admiral to the King and Queen, in Libro de las profecias, 105.
ii Washington Irving, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: G. & C. Carvill, 1828), 1:38
[iii] The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 427
[iv] Mark E. Peterson, The Great Prologue, 1975
[v]pauline watts, “prophecy and discovery: on the spiritual origins of christopher columbus’s ‘enterprise of the indies,”’ american historical review (february 1985):
[vi] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 409).