On Bearing Christ to the World

Today is celebrated as Columbus Day in many places. His given name, Christopher, means “Christ bearer,” and that is fitting, since he saw his voyages as making possible the evangelization of new worlds. See some reflections here from a Catholic perspective, and also a paper I wrote in 1992: The Evangelization of the Americas: St. Francis as Conquistador.

In that paper I recounted:

Columbus’ son tells us that he was buried in the habit of the Secular Franciscan Order. And in the period after 1498, as he begins to dream of greater quests, Franciscan themes come to dominate his writing. He began work on a volume of apocalyptic mysticism which he called The Book of Prophecies. On his third voyage he claimed to have found the Garden of Eden in Venezuela. He began to theorize that the Indians were really long-lost Jews, whose conversion was another sign of the end. In 1501 or 1502 he wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella trying to get support for his greatest idea, the grandest achievement of the Reconquest: to capture and restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, decorating it with the treasures of King Solomon’s mines, which he also thought had been found in America. He quoted Joachim, who said that the rebuilder of Jerusalem was to come from Spain, and applied this prophecy to himself. He, Christobal Colon, was the Messiah, prophesied by Joachim, who would rebuild Jerusalem, convert the heathen, and bring on the end of the world.

Source: John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World. Second ed., rev. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1970), pp. 19-21.

But Columbus preached a gospel at the point of a sword, and came to brutalize those peoples he intended on saving.

You can’t honestly celebrate the role of Columbus in evangelizing the New World and ignore the sword in his hand. The Knights of Columbus sometimes forget to mention his legacy of brutality–but at least they are symbolically accurate in retaining the sword as part of the Fourth Degree formal regalia. I always thought the feathered chapeau and sword looked out of place in the religious processions and ceremonies in which the Knights take part. But they are being true to the legacy of Columbus, and his belief that the cross and the sword belong together.

Jesus took Peter’s sword away, however. Since that day, the only sword that a true missionary should be carrying is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.