As we know, Christopher Columbus prayed on board ship, but he did not pray in public something like “bring is today to Cathay” before God working a miracle in which they had been washed ashore a coast very far from where he prayed in very short time.
Theoretically such a thing could have happened, we will examine why it didn’t.
But first how and why it could have. Remember God is both all powerful - omnipotent as the Latin word is - adn completely truthful.
Columbus sighted land (or one of his men did) on the day when he had promised the seafarers to turn back to Spain if he didn’t sight land. He hadn’t said specifically “if he didn’t sight Cathay”, he had said “if he didn’t sight land”.
Now, imagine it had been otherwise. Imagine after that promise (a few weeks before sighting land) a storm had ruined their chances of survival – and all provisions of water had been ruined, and sea water was of course undrinkable. Suppose that parched of thirst Columbus had cried out loudly to God and said in the distress of his soul : “bring us to Cathay!” and they had seen a coast. That would have been a coincidence of Providence, God would have shown His benevolence, but He would not have tied Himself down to the fact that the coast was Cathay – i e China. But if instead God had made the three ships run faster than motorboats do these days in a race, all of them spurting proportionally water to the sides, all of them avoiding the waves from each others’ spurt, and after three hours in this miraculous forward they would have arrived, then indeed God could only have been bringing them to Cathay and nowhere else. A miracle is God’s signature. So why did this not happen?
- First of all, God knew what Columbus did not know : that Americas were between Europe and Cathay.
So, couldn’t God have done such a miracle anyway, smiling benignly at the mistake of Columbus? No. Had God saved them in such an obviously miraculous way, He would have signed so to speak the prayer of Columbus as the prayer of an inspired miracle worker. He would have so to speak guaranteed it was Cathay. He might for instance have dragged the boats past the Americas, told Columbus through an angel “look what you are missing, come back later!” and then landed them in Macau. Which is in Cathay.
- Second, God could even in the nick of time have inspired even some geographic knowledge to Columbus, he could have said “bring us to the land that is before Cathay and Cipangu”, he would not have known how he came to say that, but he would have realized when he was being heard by a miracle that God had inspired him so because there was indeed a land before Cathay. The land now called Americas.
- Third, God could have inspired a caution in Columbus even without knowledge and Columbus could have shouted “God bring us to Cathay or if any land is before it, whichever is closest!”
And in bringing them even miraculously to where they landed, God would have signed not “Cathay” but “Cathay or if any land is before it, whichever is closest”. And Columbus would have been free to discover it was not Cathay, the miracle would not have been a lie.
- Fourth, God could have and very probably - nay very certainly - did prepare Columbus for the prayers he was praying on the voyage well before this voyage happened. He had studied under Franciscans. He knew very well it was wise to leave details in God’s good hands, and so even in an emergency, Columbus would have asked “God bring us to whatever land there be, soon before we die!” without specifying Cathay, and so God could have worked the miracle without signing an untruth.
- Fifth, what God actually did was also to see to it that they were never in the kind of emergency I have described, they were safe enough to pray for land and to need no miracle and thus God would not need to sign the exact words or terms of their prayers by bringing them miraculously anywhere, He brought them providentially but not miraculously to the Americas and not to Cathay and doing so signed no lie. Both because plenty of the prayers were termed more generally and because there was not one very specific prayer that God signed and singled out through a specific miracle. Thus, in bringing Columbus to Americas rather than Cathay, despite what Columbus expected, God was no liar. He never is.
Now hold this in mind while reflecting over Joshua chapter 10 and verse 12. I am not speaking about the result, which could in verse 13 just possibly purely theoretically be phenomenal language (even though St Robert in the Galileo process gave a good reason why that was not true : because the Moon stopped too), but I am speaking of the exact words of the miracle worker Joshua. Recall, it was before all the people that Joshua publically said to Sun and to Moon to stand still.
Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre University Library
(despite a sordid exposition of
"sex education" in the hall downstairs)
On the feast day of
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Virgin and Martyr