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Columbus before the Council at Salamanca

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the January 1867 Sword and Trowel


OUR FRONTISPIECE REPRESENTS an interesting scene in the life of the discoverer of the New World. A plainly-attired, earnest-looking mariner, with that steady determination which characterises all true men whose convictions are strong and whose faith is steady, is meeting the objections of a number of learned professors of the sciences, dignitaries of the Romish Church, and learned friars, and defending the theory of the rotundity of the earth. An obscure navigator, strong in his belief, scouted by the illiterate, seeks in the Dominican convent in Salamanca, the great seat of learning in Spain, the sympathy and co-operation of the most erudite assembly his country can muster. Does he gain either sympathy or help? History answers, No. In the first place, anything new, however true, was stigmatized as heresy in those Inquisition times, and Columbus might well fear the consequences of indulging any thought that savoured of heresy. Priestcraft, that great curse of mankind, was sure to oppose a new theory which overturned the testimony and traditions of the Church. Then, too, the scholastic body had too much learned pride to yield to a simple navigator. "It was requisite," says Las Casas "before Columbus could make his solutions and reasonings understood, that he should remove from his auditors those erroneous principles on which their objections were founded;" which Columbus could not do, as the Ptolemaic plan had not yet been reversed, Copernicus not having at that time discovered the true theory of the solar system. Very small hope for Columbus to convert so stubborn an audience!
    It is noteworthy how admirably Columbus replied to his objectors. He combated the fancies of the philosophical world with great ability. "Las Casas," says Irving, "and others of his contemporaries have spoken of his commanding person, his elevated demeanour, his air of authority, his kindling eye, and the persuasive intonations of his voice. How they must have given majesty and force to his words, as, casting aside his maps and charts, and discarding for a time his practical and scientific lore, his visionary spirit took fire at the doctrinal objections of his opponents, and he met them upon their own ground, pouring forth those magnificent texts of Scripture, and those mysterious predictions of the prophets, which, in his enthusiastic moments, he considered as types and annunciations of the sublime discovery which he proposed." Notwithstanding the dense bigotry and stupidity of his audience, a few were convinced of the reasonableness of the new theory, and these converts, doubtless, shielded Columbus from the ecclesiastical censures of the prejudiced. But the greater number doggedly persevered in their old opinions, and the poor navigator, as our readers well know, had to fight an uphill battle for years, and had to conquer many adverse circumstances before he saw the "Land of the Free."
    The nobility of genius is often best seen under the most disadvantageous circumstances, and with the spiritual life the same thing holds good. Columbus braves the ridicule of the learned and the bigotry of the ecclesiastics, because he is convinced of the truthfulness of his position. So the jeers, taunts and reasonings of an ungodly world, though unpleasant and grievous, are to the Christian things to be borne with calmness and magnanimity, because his faith is in the ultimate realization of the hopes which the world derides. The deep convictions of his heart are not to be disturbed or uprooted because others will not be convinced of the superiority of the future life to that in which they now grovel. Whoever prefers to follow the theories and practices of the "old man," the godly man aspires after a perfect knowledge of the "new life." With him old fancies have passed away, and behold all things have become new. The enmity and ridicule created by this antagonism between the conventionalities of life and the earnestness and devotion to the prospects of the more glorious future are intensely strong. A teetotaller was struck down a few days ago and killed merely because he would not treat some rascals to a drop of beer; and many a man has been slandered simply because of the distinguished purity of his character and life. Nevertheless, if we believe in the world to come, and feel its power, we must not be slow to declare our convictions at all hazards, and, like Columbus, play the man.
    That which many learned philosophers may not perceive, the simplest Christian may discover. True, it takes a wise man to be a Christian; nevertheless, the most advanced in worldly wisdom are dull in spiritual things. Columbus ultimately gained the object of his ambition, and his name continues to be honoured as one of the greatest benefactors of his race, while for his opposers naught is reserved but the ridicule which their own foolishness has heaped upon their memories. And the man possessed of even the mustard-seed of divine grace shall yet find his way to the kingdom above, where honour and renown shall through the eternal ages attend him; while those who sympathized not with the aspirations of his heart, but scoffed and ridiculed his godliness, shall yet learn the emptiness for good of everything that is not based upon the truth of God. Courage, persecuted comrade, truth's victories are slow but sure.

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