Explorer sought faster route to the Indies because he believed the End Times were coming.
A little talked-about reason that spurred on Christopher Columbus’s voyages was his deep Christian belief about the “End Times.” The man we honor on this Columbus Day chose to approach India in a westerly direction because he believed it would be a quicker route. The reason for his haste?
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Columbus believed that Satan had settled in India and was disrupting the spread of the Gospel and delaying the Second Coming of Christ.
“According to his eschatological calculations, the time for the return of Christ was nearly at hand,” the Encyclopaedia Britannica says. “Thus, India had to be reached by the shortest way possible so that the last bulwark of Satan might be removed through Christian missions.”
The encyclopedia entry on Columbus’s life paints an explorer with a voracious appetite for gold. Everywhere he went, it seems, he had more interest in the precious metal than in the salvation of souls. But, according to Carol Delaney, author of Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, his quest for wealth was not only for himself but for a higher purpose, to fund a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims before the end of the world.
Delaney, a cultural anthropologist and long-time professor at Stanford University, explained in a 2017 interview with Columbia magazine, the monthly periodical of the Knights of Columbus:
A lot of people at the time thought that the apocalypse was coming because of all the signs: the plague, famine, earthquakes and so forth. And it was believed that before the end, Jerusalem had to be back in Christian hands so that Christ could return in judgment. Columbus actually calculated how many years were left before the end of the world. He seemed to think of his whole voyage as a mission, which was part of this apocalyptic scenario.
Honor and fortune were a large part of Columbus’s motivation, but faith also was a big part of his life. According to Christianity Today, Columbus estimated the size of the Atlantic Ocean from reading the apocryphal Second Book of Esdras. That book states that God created the world in seven parts, six of them dry land and the seventh water. Columbus thus calculated that the ocean separating Portugal from Japan was one-seventh of the earth’s circumference, or about 2,400 miles, Christianity Today says. He figured that by sailing 100 miles per day, he could reach the Indies in 30 days.
And, though he had his faults, the Admiral of the Ocean Seas was keen to instill the habit of religious observance in the men on his ships. Again, Christianity Today notes:
During Columbus’s voyages, the ships’ crews observed religious rites. Every time they turned the half-hour glass (their primary means of keeping time), they cried: “Blessed be the hour of our Savior’s birth / blessed be the Virgin Mary who bore him / and blessed be John who baptized him.” They finished each day by singing vespers together (although reportedly they sang out of tune).