Towards Understanding Revelation


Good morning! We are on the cusp of the Renaissance: the fifteenth century. This will be pretty short because there isn’t much about Revelation in this century. Bernard McGinn’s VISIONS OF THE END has a number of entries for this century, but he is looking at apocalypticism in general and not Revelation specifically. The people he talks about are often highly political and therefore seeing everything through that lens, or, they are having their own ‘revelations’ and visions that may borrow imagery from Revelation, but really are not about illuminating it. These visions are mostly about local politics or their concurrent royalty and/or popes. (And there are a whole lot of similar ‘prophets’ today on the internet!)

So, to cap off the fifteenth century we will talk about the last person mentioned in VISIONS OF THE END: Christopher Columbus.

According to, Columbus made four exploratory trips from Spain, in 1492, 1493, 1498 and 1502. Here’s a run down of his history:

“Christopher Columbus, the son of a wool merchant, is believed to have been born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. When he was still a teenager, he got a job on a merchant ship. He remained at sea until 1476, when pirates attacked his ship as it sailed north along the Portuguese coast. The boat sank, but the young Columbus floated to shore on a scrap of wood and made his way to Lisbon, where he eventually studied mathematics, astronomy, cartography and navigation…

“At the end of the 15th century, it was nearly impossible to reach Asia from Europe by land. The route was long and arduous, and encounters with hostile armies were difficult to avoid. Portuguese explorers solved this problem by taking to the sea: They sailed south along the West African coast and around the Cape of Good Hope.

“But Columbus had a different idea: Why not sail west across the Atlantic instead of around the massive African continent? The young navigator’s logic was sound, but his math was faulty. He argued (incorrectly) that the circumference of the Earth was much smaller than his contemporaries believed it was; accordingly, he believed that the journey by boat from Europe to Asia should not only be possible, but comparatively easy via an as-yet undiscovered Northwest Passage.

“He presented his plan to officials in Portugal and England, but it was not until 1492 that he found a sympathetic audience: the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Columbus wanted fame and fortune. Ferdinand and Isabella wanted the same, along with the opportunity to export Catholicism to lands across the globe…Columbus’ contract with the Spanish rulers promised that he could keep 10 percent of whatever riches he found, along with a noble title and the governorship of any lands he should encounter.

“On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in three ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. On October 12, the ships made landfall — not in the East Indies, as Columbus assumed, but on one of the Bahamian islands, likely San Salvador.

“For months, Columbia sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the ‘pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices. and other objects and merchandise whatsoever’ that he had promised to his Spanish patrons, but he did not find much. In January 1493, leaving several dozen men behind in a makeshift settlement on Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he left for Spain…

“About six months later, in September 1493, Columbus returned to the Americas. He found the Hispaniola settlement destroyed and left his brothers Bartolomeo and Diego Columbus behind to rebuild, along with part of his ships’s crew and hundreds of enslaved indigenous people. Then he headed west to continue his mostly fruitless search for gold and other goods…In lieu of the material riches he had promised the Spanish monarchs, he sent some 500 enslaved people to Queen Isabella. The queen was horrified — she believed that any people Columbus ‘discovered’ were Spanish subjects who could not be enslaved — and she promptly and sternly returned the explorer’s gift.

“In May 1498, Columbus sailed west…for the third time. He visited Trinidad and the South American mainland before returning to the ill-fated Hispaniola settlement, where the colonists had staged a bloody revolt against the Columbus brothers’ mismanagement and brutality. Conditions were so bad that Spanish authorities had to send a new governor to take over…Christopher Columbus was arrested and returned to Spain in chains.

“In 1502, cleared of the most serious charges but stripped of his noble titles, the aging Columbus persuaded the Spanish crown to pay for one last trip across the Atlantic. This time, Columbus made it all the way to Panama — just miles from the Pacific Ocean — where he had to abandon two of his four ships after damage from storms and hostile natives. Empty-handed, the explorer returned to Spain, where he died in 1506.”

Mr. McGinn takes up the story in VISIONS OF THE END:

“During the winter of 1501 to 1502, a fifty-year-old pensioner of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, was engaged in putting together what he called THE BOOK OF PROPHESIES with the help of a friendly friar, Gaspar Gorritio. To this book of excerpts from Scripture, the Fathers, and miscellaneous prophets, Christopher Columbus prefixed a letter to their royal highnesses in which he showed how his three earlier voyages of exploration  under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were intimately connected with the project that he now proposed, the recovery of the Hoy Sepulcher. In the work itself the aging Admiral of the Ocean Seas reminded the rulers of the great things predicted of them: ‘Not unworthily nor without reason, Most Splendid Rulers, do I assert that even greater things are reserved for you, when we read that Joachim the Calabrian Abbot predicted that the future ruler who would recover Mt. Sion would come from Spain.’

“To those accustomed to see the discovery of America as the work of a hard-headed practical seaman flouting the traditions of the past, the picture of Columbus as a religious visionary strongly influenced by centuries of apocalyptic hopes may seem strange, but the existence of this element in the great explorer’s complex personality is undeniable, and its force became stronger as he neared the end his adventurous life…Columbus thought that his own divinely inspired mission to open up a new path to Asia, coupled with a Spanish ruler’s conquest of Jerusalem, would herald an age of universal conversion that would precede the End of the world. He was the first, but by no means the last, to interpret the discovery of the New World in the light of an optimistic Joachite vision of the dawn of a more perfect age.”

While Columbus has little to do with Revelation, I was amazed that Christopher Columbus had this added dimension, so I had to include him. He and his patrons wound up with a big place in history, just not the place he wanted. Again, it is so easy to see a special place for ourselves in prophecy, that isn’t really there.

That’s it for today. Next time we start with books from the Renaissance. Until then, I will be praying that we all have a similar added dimension in our lives…a dimension that includes divine inspiration, but without a self-centered place in prophecy.

2 responses to “7/30/22 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS”

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