Chaucer and the Catholic Church Essay

Chaucer and the Catholic Church Essay

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By the late 14th century, the Catholic Church was the main influential power in Europe. As the clergy’s influence increased, the continent’s wealth began to decline. Amidst a century of poverty, plague, and unemployment, criticism of the church arose. The people deemed the clergy hypocritical for preaching against greed, but yet keeping all of the wealth to themselves. Cathedrals were built as shrines, embellished in gold and rich jewels; meanwhile the people of Europe were slowly dying from scarcity of essential resources. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales represents his critiques, both conspicuous as well as obscure, of the corrupt Catholic Church during the medieval period. Pilgrims such as the Prioress, Monk and Friar all exemplify different degrees of hypocrisy in Chaucer’s assessment of the church, revealing the abundance of religious corruption amid that era.
Chaucer portrays his first and minimal degree of hypocrisy in the Prioress. A traditional prioress was a nun who ranked below an abbess. They were head of a house of a certain order of nuns, and lived under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They either dedicate their lives to service of others, or become an ascetic and live in prayer at a monastery. Chaucer’s Prioress acts as a foil to the conventional prioress. Her priorities are far from those of a devout religious woman as she strives to impersonate courtly manners although she is not part of the royal court. She “spoke daintily in French...French in the Paris style she did not know." (l 122,124), took great care in achieving impeccable table manners, and demonstrated a “courtly kind of grace” (l 137). She is also described as terribly sensitive and “all sentiment and a tender heart” (l 148): "She was so cha...


... middle of paper ...


... dwellers,
But only with the rich and victual-sellers.
But anywhere a profit might accrue" (l 242-248)
As well as declaring that he is more qualified than a priest to hear confessions, he also boasts about his begging abilities, from which the revenue he keeps for personal benefit. The Friar is described as pleasant, joyous, and charming: a satirical façade to aid with his begging.
Chaucer effectively uses the Prioress, the Monk, and the Friar as mechanisms to portray his utter dismay for the greed of the medieval Catholic Church. His intentional scathing critique caused the people of the 14th century to question the rapacious power of the clergy, and continues to do so for modern society. Although the reader must come to a conjecture with the details provided, it is clear that Chaucer wanted to share his frustration with the unscrupulous governance during his era.

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