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Wolves and Christianity
Edwin Wollert / Education Coordinator / Wolf Song of Alaska
Did you know?
Perhaps the strongest example of wolves being portrayed as vicious, even evil, hails back to early Biblical times. By that time, human civilization was growing, and the wilderness had become something to be feared, conquered. The Book of Genesis tells us to subdue the earth. Since the wilderness was dark, unhallowed, flawed, it had to be improved by human hands.
"For I know this, that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock."
- Acts, 20: 29
Unfortunately for the wolves, the metaphors became much more specific. Jesus was often depicted as a shepherd, protecting his flock of faithful from evil. This basic imagery grew more intensified since the wolf is the symbol of pagan Rome's founding, the culture in which Jesus lived and preached. It was not long before the wolf became a symbol of evil, a threat to those in Christ's flock. Accordingly, wolves were hunted to an extreme. This symbol of a hostile wilderness (both in Europe and in the developing American lands) was equated with the devil's own servants.
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
- Saint Matthew, 7: 15
A more positive Christian view of the wolf appears in the story of St. Francis of Assisi. He lived during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, a time long before the notions of wildlife conservation or environmental ethics developed. He is fondly remembered for his giving nature, and his unrelenting dedication to fundamental Christian virtues, particularly charity, chastity and poverty. Francis was raised in wealthy, noble circumstances, but the European wars and their effects on the masses convinced him to make significant personal changes.
Francis is known in wolf-lore for defending a lone wolf against the townsfolk of Gubbio, Italy. This wolf was simply hungry, and had already attacked and consumed some of the local livestock. Francis encouraged the people to show mercy and charity, and they followed his lead in feeding the wolf, so that all might live more harmoniously.
The overwhelming sympathy for animals remains strong with Franciscans today, as Franciscan monks are known to live in idyllic settings, peacefully co-existing with wildlife. St. Francis even managed to persuade those in power to enact a law which would care and provide for both animals and the poor, all the more remarkable in a feudal society, which during that period saw commoners as fodder and animals as things to be merely utilized or consumed.