Monday, February 9, 2015

The Whole World as a Gift

When Indiana Jones unfolds a worn and tattered map, or when Laura Croft examines a dry and dusty manuscript with the largest of magnifying glasses, we know they are both in search of hidden treasure. But the finding of hidden treasure is not confined to tales of fiction. The archaeologist armed with pick-ax and shovel now and then finds a broken piece of pottery on which are written strange words and cryptic characters; or he may find a monument bearing strange inscriptions, and by deciphering these words he may find the key to an entire historical epoch.

A friend recently made such a discovery, not so earth-shaking perhaps, but startling enough to make him change the way he views history and current events. In an idle hour at the library, he came across a history of the Philippines, remarkable for its mammoth size and scrupulous detail.  Published during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, this ponderous fifty-five volume history contains hundreds of letters and official communiqu├ęs between Spain and the newly-discovered colony of the Philippines.

The very first of these documents is the Papal Bull of 1493, also known by its Latin title, Inter Caetera, which I am told, means “Among Other Things.”  But this letter from Pope Alexander VI to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain is anything but a collection of miscellaneous, routine matters. Instead, this letter gives Ferdinand and Isabella all the lands to be discovered by Christopher Columbus; and this included Canada, America, Central America, the islands of the Caribbean, South America, and the islands of the Pacific. This grant was not merely jurisdictional; all these lands became the personal property of Ferdinand and Isabella.

But why would Pope Alexander VI give Ferdinand and Isabella such an unimaginably large gift?  The reason for the grant, as explained in the letter, was the piety of the King and Queen, and their great desire to spread the Christian faith, as proven by their liberation of Spain from Moslem rule, referred to in the letter as “the yoke of the Saracens.”  Ferdinand and Isabella did indeed free Spain from the Moslems, and in the words of the letter:

as your noble and worthy deeds have declared in manner to the whole world, in that with all your study, diligence, and industry, you have spared no travels, charges, or perils, adventuring even the shedding of your own blood, with applying your whole minds and endeavors hereunto, as your noble expeditions achieved in recovering the kingdom of Granada from the yoke of the Saracens in these our days, do plainly declare your deeds with great glory of the divine name. For the which, as we think you worthy, so ought we of our own free will favorably to grant all things whereby you may daily with more fervent minds, to the honor of God and the enlarging of the Christian empire, prosecute your devout and laudable purpose most acceptable to the immortal God.

“Adventuring even the shedding of one’s own blood” refers to the fact that Ferdinand and Isabella followed their armies into battle and encamped beneath the walls of Granada, the last Spanish city to be liberated from Muhammad XII, the Moslem ruler. After reading this document, one cannot be free from the impression that the grant of the New World to Ferdinand and Isabella was a reward for expelling the Moslems from Europe.

Also found in this fifty-five volume history of the Philippines are many letters written over a span of centuries requesting protection from the Moslem inhabitants of the Philippines, the Moros. One letter, written in the early 1500s, reports that out of all the native inhabitants of the Philippines, the Mohammedans were the one group most violently opposed to Christianity; and the writer of the letter refers to them as Ismaelites, warning that “Genesis 16 is written on their hearts,” and that “Ismael, the son of Hagar, the servant girl of Abraham, will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s against him.” (Genesis 16:12) Piratical attacks by Moslems are another constant theme of the letters.
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What then is the hidden treasure to be found by re-discovering this long-forgotten document?  The hidden treasure is this. America exists primarily not for the purpose of liberty, equality, tolerance, or increased material prosperity, but for the furtherance of the Gospel; and far from being a nation in which Christianity is to be excluded from government, America must look to divine providence as the explanation for her origin, her higher purposes, and her ultimate destiny.

More information about how Ferdinand and Isabella sent Columbus on his voyages of discovery after freeing Spain from the Moslems can be found in Oliver Otis Howard’s book “Isabella of Castille,” available online at the Baldwin Project, a resource for homeschoolers.