[The] advantage was with the Christian world at first. The papacy had realised that that fox, Reynard, had infiltrated the Holy Church and was fermenting discord amongst the congregation. The Holy Church counter-attacked with a series of etchings and stained-glass windows depicting a fox in priest’s garb preaching to an unwary flock. It had the intended effect. In reality it was the Holy Church that was foxily preying on the congregation; Reynard was merely a rationalist. The irony was, of course, palpable.
Pushed out of the Old World by a vindictive Holy Church, Reynard made his way to the Americas and settled amongst the indigenous peoples of the New World. Centuries later the Holy Church was to intrude on Reynard again. This time it was in the form of conquistadors who, heady with the conquest of the Aztec Empire, set their sights on Peru and the Incas. Once again Reynard found himself facing the Holy Church, and on the side of the powerless. This time, however, Reynard could hardly consider his position to be that of the rationalist. By virtue of the sinewy twists and turns of his mind, by virtue of the sinewy twists and turns of the dens in which he made his home, Reynard had come to be seen as a shaman of sorts, a mystic, to the Incans. The irony was palpable, of course.
It was on or around 1834 that Reynard met his end. The Holy Church had long brought South America to heel: Catholicism was the official religion and the language of the conquistadors was the most widely spoken. To the southern tip of this great continent – Isla San Pedro, Chile, to be exact – came one Charles Darwin. Darwin, whose rationality, as articulated so beautifully in his soon to be completed On the Origin of Species, would turn on its head the understanding of the natural world, approached the old fox Reynard and, in the name of science, bashed him in the head with a geological hammer. The irony, of course, was palpable.
Written on Tuesday, 28 September 2010