Most of us learned the basic life story of Christopher Columbus while in school, but a fact that is often overlooked is that Columbus believed his discovery of the New World was necessary in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Columbus, who was a member of the Third Order of Penance founded by St. Francis of Assisi, was a deeply religious man. When he went before the Vatican and the Spanish monarchy, a central theme in requesting funding for explorations was based on a prophecy about the destiny of the lands he would discover. The prophecy foresaw a “New World” arising in the West which would fight a final crusade against the powers of the Middle East.
In spite of the title, the Book of Prophecies is not a series of predictions made by Christopher Columbus, but rather a compilation of passages he selected from the Bible which he believed were pertinent to his mission of discovery. Columbus’ religious beliefs certainly influenced his interpretation of life and history and inspired his vision and purpose in life. His own writings prove that he believed God revealed His plan for the world in the Bible and that he was obeying the mission God staked out for his life when he set sail west across the Atlantic Ocean.
Columbus’ prophesies and revelations were written towards the end of his life, probably with the assistance of his friend, the Carthusian monk Gaspar Gorricio. Most of the prophecies from Isaiah which Columbus quotes, refer to the restoration of Jerusalem and its future glory. He most likely wrote the book between September 1501 and March 1502, making additions until 1505. The journal conveys a medieval notion that in order for the end of the world, or the second coming of Jesus Christ to occur, a number of events must occur. First there was the strong belief that Christianity must be spread throughout the world, a creed which Columbus strictly promoted during his encounters with native peoples. Many also believed the discovery of the Garden of Eden, thought to be on the top of a mountain, was a prerequisite for the second coming. When Columbus arrived in Venezuela in 1498, he thought that the green peaks of that country may have been home to the garden described in the Old Testament. Fulfillment of the millennial prophecy also called for a last Crusade led by a last World Emperor to take back the Holy Land. Because of their vast power and religious convictions, Columbus felt that the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, may have been suitable for this role.
The central theme for all the prophecies and scriptures quoted by Columbus reflect the spirit of the Crusades, not in the sense of a physical victory in the Holy Land, but of a spiritual victory of spreading Christianity. As early as 1493, Columbus wrote a letter to the Royal Treasurer of Spain in which he spoke of the discovery of the New World as a great victory. He noted however, that it was not a victory by force of arms, but one of bringing the truth to people who were sitting in the darkness of unbelief.
Many view this apocalyptical facet of Columbus as a myth, but Columbus had no doubt that he was the servant of the Lord in a very definite sense. He was a man who saw himself chosen by God “to fulfill my purpose,” as Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 46:11), but as history has shown, he did see the whole of his visions realized.