Latter-day Saints generally regard Columbus as having fulfilled a prophecy contained early in the Book of Mormon. Nephi1 recorded a vision of the future of his father's descendants. After foreseeing the destruction of his own seed, Nephi beheld a gentile "separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters," and saw that the Spirit of God "came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land" (1 Ne. 13:12).
Nephi appears to give an accurate account of Columbus's motives. Even though he was well-acquainted with the sciences of his day and his voyages have been viewed by some historians as primarily an economic triumph of Spain over Portugal, Columbus apparently had bigger motives for his voyage and felt himself spiritually driven to discover new lands. Newly acknowledged documents show that medieval eschatology, the scriptures, and divine inspiration were the main forces compelling him to sail. His notes in the works of Pierre d'Ailly and his own unfinished Book of Prophecies substantiate his apocalyptic view of the world and his feelings about his own prophetic role.
Among the themes of this book was the conversion of the heathen. Columbus quoted Seneca, "The years will come . . . when the Ocean will loose the bonds by which we have been confined, when an immense land shall lie revealed" (Watts, p. 94). He believed himself chosen by God to find that land and deliver the light of Christianity to the natives there. He was called Christoferens (the Christ-bearer). A map contemporaneous with his voyages depicts him bearing the Christ child on his shoulders across the waters. He believed that he was to help usher in the age of "one fold, and one shepherd," citing John 10:16 (cf. 3 Ne. 15:21), and spoke of finding "the new heaven and new earth."
Writing to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to gain financial support, Columbus testified that a voice had told him he had been watched over from infancy to prepare him for discovering the Indies. He felt that he was given divine keys to ocean barriers that only he could unlock (Merrill, p. 135). In a second letter, he emphasized his prophetic role: "Reason, mathematics, and maps of the world were of no use to me in the execution of the enterprise of the Indies. What Isaiah said [e.g., Isa. 24:15 ] was completely fulfilled" (Watts, p. 96). Unknowingly, Columbus also fulfilled Nephi's prophecy.
Merrill, Hyde M. "Christopher Columbus and the Book of Mormon." IE 69 (1966): 97—98, 135—36.
Nibley, Hugh W. "Columbus and Revelation." Instructor 88 (1953): 319—20; reprinted in CWHN 8:49—53.
Watts, Pauline Moffitt. "Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus's 'Enterprise of the Indies.'" American Historical Review 90 (1985): 73—102.
Louise G. Hanson