By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Tangled Web of Individuals

While on an errand, I made an impromptu stop at a coin shop in a small town. Lo and behold, the coin dealer had a fine collection of very old Spanish pieces of eight supposedly from a shipwrecked Spanish vessel on the way to the Spanish colony of New Orleans in 1784 (see link). These pieces of eight or Spanish dollars were the currency of the thirteen American colonies--they were the first American "dollars." There is even one theory that the ubiquitous dollar sign ($) comes from the ribbon draping the pillars on the coin. The coin dealer whom I spoke to favored this particular theory about the origin of our dollar sign.

Pillars of herculesImage via Wikipedia

The pillars on the coin are the Pillars of Hercules, Gibraltar, the limits of the known world until Columbus. Prior to Columbus, the Spanish coat of arms proclaimed in Latin: Ne Plus Ultra ("Nothing More Beyond"). After Columbus, the Spanish dropped the negative "Ne" so that today the coat of arms reads Plus Ultra--"More Beyond."

History is indeed a tangled web. The fact that the "Catholic Kings"/Los Reyes Católicos of Spain in 1492, after literally just completing the reconquest of Spain from the Muslim invaders, decided to take a chance on Columbus' quixotic quest made the world  in which we live today.

 It is a lesson to remember: individuals make a difference (Columbus, the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella). Ideas make a difference (the goal of reclaiming all of the Iberian Peninsula for Christianity and also a possible New World). The more we reflect on history the more we see how various individuals got up one morning intent on accomplishing something big, and the result is the very texture of the world that we live in every day.

The lesson for me is that there is always more in life, a "more" rooted in the courage to dare. Regardless of the undisputed defects of so many historical actors, that daring is unquestionably very Christian: Plus Ultra-- a very nice motto for all of us as we discover new worlds.