Skip to content

Columbus Day: Romanus Pontifex

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. The indigenous people whom he would meet, he, in God’s name, would subdue.

Christianity has a nasty history of endorsing violence, slavery, genocide, and many other atrocities using God’s name and the Bible. Just last night, our congregation had a discussion on 1 Peter 2:18-20, a passage used to tell slaves in America that they ought to submit to the cruelty of their masters. As a white man working in a congregation of people who have lived their whole lives having to deal with racism and hatred from people proclaiming to be Christians, I felt embarrassed and totally unequipped to handle this subject.

But these passages, and others, that have been used to justify these horrific, ungodly acts, need to be faced head on, and we must deal with them regardless of how uncomfortable it may make us.

The reason is that there are people of other beliefs, or of no belief at all, who wonder if Christianity may engage in another unholy war or if we will use the genocide card that has been used so many times by people wearing the name of Christ.

One of the documents that allowed Christopher Columbus and his contemporaries to kill, enslave, and steal the land from indigenous people is called Romanus Pontifex. This document was written by Pope Nicholas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal in 1454. A portion of it gave King Alfonso V permission

to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens [Muslims – DR] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit

Muslims, pagans, and any group deemed enemies of Christ apparently had no right to their lives, land, or possessions. All this was done, shockingly enough, with the apparent intention of

seeking and desiring the salvation of all, wholesomely ordains and disposes upon careful deliberation those things which he sees will be agreeable to the Divine Majesty and by which he may bring the sheep entrusted to him by God into the single divine fold, and may acquire for them the reward of eternal felicity, and obtain pardon for their souls

In other words, convert to Christianity or you forfeit your right to live.

So much for loving your enemies, huh?

This document is what served as a basis for what is called the Doctrine of Discovery that would later justify Christopher Columbus’s actions . Here is one comment he made in a letter to the Spanish monarchs in 1493:

“It is possible, with the name of the Holy Trinity, to sell all the slaves which it is possible to sell….Here there are so many of these slaves…although they are living things they are as good as gold.”

This is one of the reasons why preterism is so important. Its emphasis on the heavenly nature of the kingdom that has no need for land, borders, walls, or weapons liberates us from the violent potential of an earthly kingdom established in the name of God. It calls us to wage war, but the weapons of our warfare are spiritual:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4

What would the world look like had Constantine, Columbus, Slave traders, and others had understood the nature of the kingdom?

“Well, Daniel, be thankful for Columbus because without him we wouldn’t have the United States, etc., etc., etc.”

To that I say, who cares? If people would adopt these principles of the heavenly kingdom, we would have something exponentially better than any current country, state, or nation because the majority of nations today are built upon violence, bloodshed, and the death of people for whom Christ died.

I would give up anything if it meant preserving the life of others and promoting life and peace.

I am thankful for the country in which I live, and I am thankful for the freedoms that I enjoy. I also understand how violence and the unjust treatment of African Americans has been used to bring about these freedoms. The United States isn’t the gold standard of how life ought to be; the kingdom of Heaven is. I am a proud American, but I am an abundantly more proud citizen of God’s kingdom.

I’m not trying to change the past.

But I’m also not going to make excuses for the past or justify their horrible actions such as slaughter, slavery, and rape.

We must show that there is a better way.

A way that is extraordinarily better than anything the United States, the EU, Russia, China, or any other nation or state can offer.

“That’s not realistic.”

Then why did Jesus die? Why did Jesus preach? Why did John say that the tree of life is for the healing of the nations?

We have done such a good job at postponing that healing for the next life because of our futurism.

It’s time to actually believe what Jesus taught, harness the power of the tree of life, and bring healing to the nations. The gospel is good news for this life.

That is the future of preterism. That is Christianity.

Note: special thanks to my good friend Brian McLaren’s book “The Great Spiritual Migration,” and Rob Bell and Don Golden’s “Jesus Wants to Save Christians” for their efforts in exposing how the Bible has been used to justify fear, hatred, and anger and for offering alternative ways of reading the text through a New Exodus perspective

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.