So where did Christopher Columbus get the idea that he could travel west to go east; that is, let Europe go west and end up in India? In fact, it has been a very old understanding that the Earth was round when he departed.
The man who embraced the idea that the people of Columbus’s day still thought the Earth was flat was none other than Washington Irving, in his fictional work, “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus” published in 1828. One may have known that Irving was pulling away . readers’ feet after reading “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.
One of Columbus’s contemporaries made many astronomical observations that led to an understanding of the structure of the universe.
This is Nicolaus Copernicus from Poland. Copernicus is known for his theory of “Heliocentrism,” the idea that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun, not the other way around (all revolve around Earth).
Copernicus was highly educated and lived from 1473-1543. Still, Galileo would prove Copernicus right.
Shifting gears, but still in the same era, we have the next two leading theologians. Martin Luther was born before Columbus discovered America and died afterward. His life spanned 1483-1546. Another theologian, a little younger and a little less famous, is Menno Simons, who lived from 1496-1561.
Martin Luther, of course, started the Protestant Reformation, even though he didn’t want to. He just wanted to fix a few things (about 95 of them, nailed to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517) in the Catholic Church.
Martin Luther had a number of radical ideas at the time. For example, salvation comes through grace, not works. In addition, he had the radical idea that parishioners should be able to read the Bible in their own language. In several of his later works, Luther held unfavorable views of others who were not his thinking, including Jews, Roman Catholics and Anabaptists, among others.
Which brings us straight to Menno Simons.
Menno Simons is a Roman Catholic priest from the Low Countries (Netherlands, Belgium and others). He also disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church and was part of the Protestant Reformers. Today, his followers are called Mennonites.
People of this heritage are also called Anabaptists, but I will leave it to my Mennonite friends to explain this precisely, as I fear I will not get this completely right. These men managed to have enemies all around – the Roman Catholic Church, the followers of Martin Luther, and the government. Terribly persecuted, they were driven from central Europe via Switzerland. I have visited a well where one of his followers was martyred in Bern, Switzerland.
If you have the privilege of visiting the Mennonite Church today, you will find them singing at a very slow pace in honor of their martyred ancestors. In the days of Menno Simons, they would sing when someone was killed (I think drowning was the favorite punishment of the persecutors) and the opposition in attendance would dance and laugh. Therefore, they decided to sing slowly, blocking their tendency to dance.
Today, Mennonite and other “Old Order” religions can be found in the United States, Canada, Belize, and other South American countries. There are still a few Mennonites in Russia, although many fell victim to Stalin’s purges in the 1920s and 1930s.
The persecution of the faithful has a long history. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (by John Foxe – 1516-87), with its almost constant updates, is an interesting read for those who wish to see one side of the story of the persecution of Christians.
Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro Middle School and the University of Cincinnati. He lives in Duluth, Ga. Dan is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He can be reached at [email protected]