Monday, October 08, 2012

The Christopher Behind Columbus

So, as I'm sure you know, today is Columbus Day in the US. As you may also know, Christopher Columbus is a very controversial figure. I spent a good part of the day yesterday trying to learn more about the man and discern for myself whether he's a villain, a hero, or some mysterious mixture of both. I must say, I'm still undecided.

Nowadays, he appears to be more vilified than anything, although I noticed a trend in recent conservative scholarship to make a reappraisal of the man. As a Catholic, I'm not sure if I should be proud of this great Catholic discoverer of "The New World" or disgusted by him. Should I mount a defense of my brother in the faith, or count him among the other embarrassing moments in Church history?

Below, you'll find some articles that attempt to address the issue from a Catholic perspective. I'm not sure if any of them really resolve this issue in my mind. But, I did find them to be very informative, and perhaps you will too:

I would like to close by quoting from Samuel Eliot Morison, a renowned American historian and biographer of Columbus. In his book Admiral of the Ocean Sea, he presents an image of Christopher Columbus that would certainly appeal to any Catholic. He notes a similarity between the mariner and the saint who bears the same name:
"Why the parents of Columbus chose the name Christofaro for their son, born in 1451, we do not know, but in so doing, they furthered the natural bent of the boy's mind.

"Saint Christopher was a tall, stout pagan who yearned to know Christ but could not seem to do anything about it. He dwelt on the bank of a river in Asia Minor where there was a dangerous ford and by reason of his great stature and strength helped many a traveler to cross.

"One day when he was asleep in his cabin he heard a Child's voice cry out, 'Christopher, Christopher. Come and set me across the river!' So out he came, staff in hand and took the infant on his shoulders. As he waded across, the Child's weight so increased that it was all he could do to keep from stumbling and falling, but he reached the other bank safely. 'Well, now my lad,' said he, 'thou hast put me in great danger, for thy burden waxed so great that had I borne the whole world on my back it could have weighed no more than thee.' To which the child replied, 'Marvel not, for thou hast borne upon thy back the whole world and Him who created it. I am the Child whom thou servest in doing good for mankind. Plant thy staff near yonder cabin, and tomorrow it shall put forth flowers and fruit -- proof that I am indeed thy Lord and Savior.' Christopher did as he was bid, and sure enough, next morning, his staff had become a beautiful date-palm.

"From that day forth Christopher has been the patron saint of all who travel by land, sea, or air. In his name, Christopher Columbus saw a sign that he was destined to bring Christ across the sea to men who knew Him not. Indeed, the oldest known map of the New World, dated A.D. 1500, dedicated to Columbus by his shipmate, Juan de la Cosa, is ornamented by a vignette of Saint Christopher carrying the Infant Jesus on his shoulders.

"We may fairly say that the first step toward the discovery of America was taken by the parents of Columbus when they caused him to be baptized Christofaro in some ancient church of Genoa, one day in the late summer or early fall of 1451."

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

2 comments:

Barefoot Momma said...

http://www.columbusnavigation.com/

This site has his log, which is interesting reading. While it's popular to vilify him, perhaps reading his words first would be prudent ;-)

phatcatholic said...

Thank you! I think you're right!

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