By Ron Kirk
What was Christopher Columbus like at the “dangerous age” of thirty years? Historian and scholar Samuel Eliot Morison says thirty is dangerous “to youthful ambition, to ideals and visions; the age that makes rovers settle down, drains the fire from ardent youth, turns men into tabby-cats content to sit by the fire.” Not so Christopher Columbus the man, says Morison, in his book Admiral of the Sea.
Because of his comfortable station in life, Columbus could have enjoyed a life of ease, with “a neat house and garden overlooking the Tagus where you can watch the pretty ships come and go.” No, a unique individual, Columbus did not fall into that trap.
Most descriptions of Columbus come from friends and family. His son Ferdinand described him as “affable and cheerful in speaking,” but also:
Eloquent and boastful in negotiations; he was serious in moderation, affable with strangers, and with members of his household gentle and pleasant, with modest gravity and discreet conversation; and so, could easily incite those who saw him to love him. In fine, he was most impressive in his port and countenance, a person of great state and authority and worthy of all reverence. He was sober and moderate in eating, drinking, clothing and footwear; it was commonly said that he spoke cheerfully in familiar conversation, or with indignation when he gave reproof or was angry with somebody: “May God take you, don’t you agree to this and that?” In matters of the Christian religion, without doubt he was a Catholic and of great devotion; for in everything he did and said or sought to begin, he always interposed “in the name of the Holy Trinity I will do this….
He was a gentleman of Great force of spirit, of lofty thoughts, naturally inclined (from what one may gather of his life, deeds, writings and conversation) to undertake worth deeds and signal enterprises; patient and long-suffering…and a forgiver of injuries, and wished nothing more than that those who offended against him should recognize their errors, and that the delinquents be reconciled with him; most constant and endowed with forbearance in the hardships and adversities which were always occurring and which were incredible and infinite; ever holding great confidence in divine providence.
This is how others who knew him well saw Christopher Columbus, Morison says. Then he adds:
Certain defects will appear, especially lack of due appreciation for the labors of his subordinates; unwillingness to admit his shortcomings as a colonizer; a tendency to complain and be sorry for himself whenever the Sovereigns, owing to these shortcomings, withdraw some measure of their trust in him. These were the defects of the qualities that made him a great historical figure.
Today, Columbus increasingly suffers due to people who seek to establish a particular political position through destroying his personal reputation. Together with misrepresenting an opponent’s position, Ad hominin attacks are among the lowest ways of forwarding an idea. Yet, in our sinful, fallen state, such remains the greatest human tendency. We ought not to establish personal superiority at the expense of another. Yet, the present tendency to gain sympathy as a victim requires an ostensible enemy to blame. Every petty dictator removes opposition of real or imagined adversaries. Thus, Hitler slaughtered Jews. In my reading of the first volume of Plutarch’s Lives, I learned that every one of the great Greek and Roman historic figures of the Classical Era, every beloved public hero, died a violent death, murdered by the public mob when that leader finally declared a position against popular or party sentiment. The only exception was a few who took their own lives so as not to give the mob satisfaction. This very day we mourn the loss of over fifty lives slaughtered in the worst mass shooting in American history. No doubt the murderer thought himself justified for some reason. We already today hear that certain public figures, for example a CBS vice president, on the left openly declare that the murders of today were justified or understandable because the victims were Republican or conservative country western music fans! A teacher tweeted a prayer that only Trump supporters died. Such political hatred emphatically contradicts Scripture. Jesus requires us to love our enemies, and requires good to those who despitefully use us.
It is not difficult to find character flaws in any historic figure, or any person we know including ourselves. Thus, the political left would destroy the reputation of every historic figure in the Christian heritage to displace its legitimacy and the Biblical worldview. Natural man hates God. Accordingly, they hate His people. Yet we also find this bad practice even among certain Christian leaders willing to establish a nonessential theological/political view through the character assassination of those with whom they disagree. No man can claim absolute righteousness. The godly must resist the tendency to focus on men when viewing history—either for undue praise or undue condemnation. We should rather focus on the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Providential God who takes miserable sinners and makes them capable of doing historic good in the world. We ought to be thankful for Christian progress. At least, we must learn to focus on godly positions, learn from historic examples—good and evil—and apply the lessons we learn better lives and ever better historic contributions to the kingdom of Christ, even as we acknowledge our miserable failings, need of God’s mercy and grace, and our absolute dependency on it.
Rather than overly praise Christopher Columbus, or unrighteously condemn Another’s servant (Romans 14:4), let us praise the God Who providentially prepared Christopher Columbus for his great accomplishments, honor Columbus the man of God (Romans 13:7), and with sympathy for our mutual sinful failings remember Columbus and Columbus’s God.
The historic content and quotes on Christopher Columbus for this article came from Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942), Chapter V, “The Man Columbus,” 43-46.
To learn more of the early American Christian view of life, government and education, see the Nordskog Publishing title by Ron Kirk Thy Will Be Done: When All Nations Call God Blessed.
Ron Kirk is the manuscript review and theology editor for Nordskog Publishing, author of NPI title Thy Will Be Done: When All Nations Call God Blessed, and the editor of this newsletter. A family man, ordained minister, and missionary, Ron crafted a thoroughly Biblical approach to child and adult education called Get Wisdom!, making use of the best examples of history over three decades—work which continues to this day.