“When the fox preaches, beware our geese.”
— English Proverb

In regard to my cartoon series, “Blind Foxes” the question has come up over the years, “why the image of a blindfolded fox?

The Short Answer

The short answer is that I first chose the Fox for my cartoon series because of how I remember him as a kid reading Aesop’s fables.  The fox was alway a cunning and deceptive animal that should be approached with caution.

I chose to make the Fox blindfolded, because I think many of the leaders in the church lack any real self-awareness of their own deception.  The Blind Fox is a product of the Age and culture in which we live.  He or she lacks the perspective to recognize they are really blind leaders, leading the blind.

 The Long Answer

The cool part about choosing the fox for my cartoon, is that when I put some time into exploring this I found that there is really a long tradition of depicting deceptive leaders as foxes.

A German chromolithograph trade card of a fox preaching to geese c.1895

In The Christian Scripture

According to David Lyle Jeffrey,

In OT Semitic contexts, the fox was a creature of low cunning, generally considered to be a nuisance and undesirable (cf. Neh. 4:3). Ezekiel compares the ideal prophets of Israel in his time to denned up foxes (Ezek. 13:4ff.); foxes are the inhabitants of wasted ruins of Zion (Lam. 5:18)… The love poet of the Song of Songs allusively warns of “the little foxes that spoil the vines” (Cant. 2:15)…

My favorite passage, however, comes from this exchange between two young lovers in the Song of Songs.

Song of Solomon 2:13–15 (ESV)

13 The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. 14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 15 Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”

The couple is ready to enjoy the pleasures of sex in their bond marriage.  They have saved themselves in sexual purity for the perfect season, but in v. 15 they implore the Chorus to stay on guard against those “foxes” who would seek to steal the young couples purity for their own pleasure.

In Folk Art & Literature

Again, Jeffrey gives some great background for the fox.

Fox preaching to hens and goose Image taken from Book of Hours. Originally published/produced in S. Netherlands; 1310-1320.

The slyness of the fox has earned him a devilish role in almost all folk literature within his habitat, much of which is so bound up in biblical allusion to the fox that it becomes nearly indistinguishable from it. Accordingly legends such as those of Reynart, Reinhard, or Reinart de Vos color the reception of patristic commentary which sees the fox as a symbol for seductor of the faithful (e.g., St. Gregory, Comm. in Cant., sup. 2.15 [PL 79.500]; Glossa Ordinaria [PL 114.283]). In medieval art the fox sometimes appears with a miter, signifying not only a false prelate but probably also the Antichrist who, if possible, “would deceive even the very elect” (Matt. 24:24).

A Fox Preaching to Geese. Hexham Abbey relief in the town of Hexham, Northumberland, in northeast England

In the 14th cent. the fox is represented on carved misericords as a Franciscan friar, preaching to geese and other barnyard fowl or occasionally a rooster, the former symbolizing the flock of the faithful, the latter typically a parish priest. Chaucer’s Chaunticleer in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, who only narrowly escapes the devilish “coal-fox” Russell, is thus likely providing a warning to clergy and others against suspect friars. Heywood’s adage, “For though this appeare a proper pulpet peece, / yet whan the fox preacheth, then beware your geese” (Proverbs [1546], 2.7.67), still echoes in Jonson’s Volpone, where the devilish “Fox fares ever best, when he is cursed” (5.3.119). After Dryden’s conversion to the Catholic faith he styles Protestantism as tending toward the Socinian heresy, and characterizes it in his The Hind and the Panther as “False Reynard.”…

Der Fuchs als Gänsepediger (The Fox as Goose Preacher), 15th century cookie mold.

References to devilish foxes have become a literary cliché and relatively few of them require biblical contextualization… Thoreau’s discussion of the “Economy” in Walden quotes Matt. 8:20 to highlight his argument that “in modern civilized society not more than one-half the families own a shelter.” Ruskin quotes the same passage (as well as Cant. 2:15) to take up a similar issue: “Oh—you queens—you queens; among the hills and happy greenwood of this land of yours, shall the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; and in your cities shall the stones cry out against you, that they are the only pillows where the Son of Man can lay His head?” (Sesame and Lilies, “Of Queen’s Gardens”)1.

In Church History

Charles Spurgeon in his magazine, “The Sword and The Trowel” comments on the image below with this warning about the foxes in preist’s clothing.

In the frequent quarrels between the priests and monks of the Church of Rome, the two parties of rogues were silly enough to expose each other’s villanies. On the edifices belonging to monasteries, priests were caricatured in the stonework; and on the churches built by priests, the monks and friars were held up to ridicule. A great deal of real truth was thus brought out by their mutual recriminations. The ancient carving above is a specimen of a common caricature representing the clergy as foxes with geese in their hoods; a very admirable picture whether monks or priests were intended. Popery, with its secret confessional and priestly interference at dying beds, is essentially a fox.useyism, pretending to be Protestant, and gradully bringing in all the foolery of Rome, is a deep fox indeed. Yet there are geese silly enough to be deceived by priests in this nineteenth century; and so long as the supply of such geese is kept up, the foxes will never cease to prowl.

Reader, do you believe that men like yourself have priestly power? Do you think that they can regenerate infants by sprinkling them, and turn bread and wine into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ? Do you think that a bishop can bestow the Holy Ghost, and that a parish clergyman can forgive sins? If so, your head can be seen in the picture peeping out from the cowl of the fox. You are the victim of crafty deceivers. Your soul will be their prey in life and in death. They cajole you with soft words, fine vestments, loud pretensions, and cunning smiles, but they will conduct you down to the chambers of death, and lead you to the gates of hell. Silly goose, may grace make thee wise! Jesus Christ is the true Priest who can forgive all your sins; go to him at once, without the intervention of these pretenders. Make confession to him! Seek absolution from him! The Holy Ghost alone can cause you to be born again, and the grace of God alone can bring you to glory. Avoid Puseyite and Romish foxes, for they seek to make a gain of you, and lead you not to Jesus, but to their Church and all its mummeries. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and not in these deceivers.2

No. 22.—Sword and Trowel Tracts, November 1865

That covers the history of the fox and I hope you find value in my modern interpretation.  Please take some time to LIKE Blind Foxes on Facebook!

FOOTNOTES

1. Al Jeffery quotes in this post are from David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

2. C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1865 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865), 149.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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