In researching Geoffrey Chaucer’s collection of stories named The Canterbury Tales, an interesting illustration of the Medieval Church becomes evident. A crooked society exists within the corrupt, medieval church community. Not all of the clergy’s intentions were corrupt, but as Chaucer, through his character the Pardoner,so well put it,“Radix malorum est cupiditas”, ( Love of money is the root of all evil). Many corrupted evils, such as greed, drove the clergy to deviate from the spirituality that religion was originated from.
At that time, in all levels of society, belief in God or gods was not a matter of choice, it was a matter of fact. Atheism was an alien concept and this is why the church was so powerful. Sometimes, people of the church would take advantage of that power. Leading a life pleasing God was one of the most significant concerns of the medieval man. The existence of God was never questioned and the one thing that man wanted most was to be with the divine. In order to do this, he had to achieve salvation.
The simplest way to achieve salvation was to buy it. The character of the Pardoner is truly one of the books most evil-hearted and despicable, for he is the person who can “sell” salvation. He takes total advantage of his position intimidating people into buying his pardons, indulgences, and holy relics. The Pardoner has no real concern for the sinners, he only wants his money, as shown on page 243, where he says “Out come the pence, and specially for myself, for my exclusive purpose is to win and not at all to castigate their sin.
Once dead what matter how their souls may fare? They can go blackberrying for all I care. ” The pardoner is the biggest hypocrite in the book because he preaches to follow the path of God, yet he admits that he likes money, rich food, and fine living. After his tale, he also tries to sell his relics and pardons to the other pilgrims for a price, as seen on page 257, “ One thing I should have mentioned in my tale, dear people. I’ve some relics in my bale and pardons too, as full and fine, I hope, as any in England, given me by the Pope.
This is evident proof that the clergy of the Medieval Christian Church in that era were quite corrupt in their search for financial support other than from the church. Another corrupt clergy character that Chaucer offered to his readers was the Friar. Chaucer described the Friar as “the finest beggar of his batch”. This Friar used every immoral and vicious method to extract money from the parishioners, so when Chaucer says(pg. 9 in the prologue)“Natural gifts like his were hard to match” he is being ironical.
Chaucer writes, “Sweetly he heard his penitents at shrift, with pleasant absolution, for a gift. He was an easy man in penance-giving where he could hope to make a decent living; It’s a sure sign whenever gifts are given, to a poor Order that a man’s well shriven…” Chaucer himself writes that the church especially helps out those who have the money for it. The Friar also spends most of his time in bars and the taverns instead of at the places that need it. “He knew the taverns well in every town, and every innkeeper and barmaid too, better than lepers, beggars and that crew.
Here Chaucer clearly states that the English clergy are dedicated to their work only when their greed is satisfied. In his book, Geoffrey Chaucer equally divides the amount of corruption with the amount of good-faith and sincerity that lies within the church at that time. The significant point being that since the church did have such an influence on society, it was quite difficult to freely express one’s view on the church if it happened to be in a negative light. That’s why Chaucer is considered a pioneer. He was a realist that wrote about the truth of corruption that occurred in the religious world.