October 31, 2013
The Canterbury Tales: exposing the corruption of the church?
Many of the stories and characters on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales involve the Catholic Church, an omnipresent institution in the Middle Ages. The author himself was very aware of the Catholic Liturgy as shown in different passages from this book. “It has been pointed out for many years in various ways by scholars that Chaucer was a Catholic, and as such, of course, posessed some knowledge of the beliefs, practices, and customs of the Church” (Rosenfeld 357). These Tales are intended to an audience who is, as Chaucer himself, outraged by the corruption of the Church, as Rosenfeld points out: “His awareness of the abuses inside the Church is obvious in some of the characters of the Canterbury Tales, notably in the scornful and unsavory portrait of the Pardoner”. On the other hand Chaucer was a devout Catholic. A renowned scholar, John Tatlock, has suggested that “Toward the church he was critical, though not unusually so, and he was probably not unsympathetic to the concrete criticism directed at her by other vigorous and earnest souls of his day. We have no reason to doubt that he went to mass at least on Sundays and holy days, and to confession and communion at least once a year” (Tatlock 268). Different clergymen are characterized in The Canterbury Tales, and not all of them are shown as corrupt. In the Prologue, Chaucer describes the Parson (who unlike the Friar is not a member of a religious order) as a pious and dedicated clergyman: “He was a poor country parson / But rich he was in holy thought and work. / He was a learned man also,
a clerk, / Who Christ's own gospel truly sought to preach; / Devoutly his parishioners would he teach. / Gracious he was and wondrously diligent, / Patient in adversity and well content” (Chaucer v. 480-486). This description of the Parson seems to coincide with the ideal of a priest in the eyes of Chaucer. The Church was a dominant...
Cited: Tatlock, John S.P. "Chaucer and Wyclif." Modern Philology. 14.5 (1916): 268. Web.
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Rosenfeld, Mary-Virginia.“Chaucer and the Liturgy” Modern Language Notes. 55.5 (1940): 357.
Web. 30 Oct. 2013. < http://www.jstor.org.library.collin.edu/stable/2910990>.
Kuhl, E.P. "Chaucer and the Church." Modern Language Notes. 40.6 (1925): 324. Web.
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Chaucer, Geoffrey “The Canterbury Tales” The Norton Anthology of English Literature-The
Middle Ages. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. New York: W.W.Norton, 2012. Print.
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