Winter Will Be Here Soon -- Study hard as finals approach...


 
  __________________ ____________________  

Canterbury Tales - Medieval Church

 

In discussing Chaucer's collection of stories called The 
Canterbury Tales, an interesting picture or illustration of the 
Medieval Christian Church is presented. However, while people demanded 
more voice in the affairs of government, the church became corrupt -- 
this corruption also led to a more crooked society. Nevertheless, 
there is no such thing as just church history; This is because the 
church can never be studied in isolation, simply because it has always 
related to the social, economic and political context of the day. In 
history then, there is a two way process where the church has an 
influence on the rest of society and of course, society influences the 
church. This is naturally because it is the people from a society who 
make up the church....and those same people became the personalities 
that created these tales of a pilgrimmage to Canterbury.

 The Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England was to take place in a 
relatively short period of time, but this was not because of the 
success of the Augustinian effort. Indeed, the early years of this 
mission had an ambivalence which shows in the number of people who 
hedged their bets by practicing both Christian and Pagan rites at the 
same time, and in the number of people who promptly apostatized when a 
Christian king died. There is certainly no evidence for a large-scale 
conversion of the common people to Christianity at this time. 
Augustine was not the most diplomatic of men, and managed to 
antagonize many people of power and influence in Britain, not least 
among them the native British churchmen, who had never been 
particularly eager to save the souls of the Anglo-Saxons who had 
brought such bitter times to their people. In their isolation, the 
British Church had maintained older ways of celebrated the major 
festivals of Christianity, and Augustine's effort to compel them to 
conform to modern Roman usage only angered them. When Augustine died 
(some time between 604 and 609 AD), then, Christianity had only a 
precarious hold on Anglo-Saxon England, a hold which was limited 
largely to a few in the aristocracy. Christianity was to become firmly 
established only as a result of Irish efforts, who from centers in 
Scotland and Northumbria made the common people Christian, and 
established on a firm basis the English Church. At all levels of 
society, belief in a god or gods was not a matter of choice, it was a 
matter of fact. Atheism was an alien concept (and one dating from the 
eighteenth century). Living in the middle ages, one would come into 
contact with the Church in a number of ways.

 First, there were the routine church services, held daily and 
attended at least once a week, and the special festivals of
Christmas, Easter, baptisms, marriages, etc.. In that respect the 
medieval Church was no different to the modern one. Second,
there were the tithes that the Church collected, usually once a year. 
Tithes were used to feed the parish priest, maintain the fabric of the 
church, and to help the poor. Third, the Church fulfilled the 
functions of a 'civil service' and an education system. Schools did 
not exist (and were unnecessary to a largely peasant society), but the 
Church and the government needed men who could read and write in 
English and Latin. The Church trained its own men, and these went to 
help in the government: writing letters, keeping accounts and so on. 
The words 'cleric' and 'clerk' have the same origin, and every 
nobleman would have at least one priest to act as a secretary.

 The power of the Church is often over-emphasized. Certainly, the 
later medieval Church was rich and powerful, and that power was often 
misused - especially in Europe. Bishops and archbishops were appointed 
without any training or clerical background, church offices changed 
hands for cash, and so on. The authority of the early medieval Church 
in England was no different to that of any other landowner. So, the 
question that haunted medieval man was that of his own salvation. The
existence of God was never questioned and the heart-cry of medieval 
society was a desire to know God and achieve intimacy with the divine. 
Leading a life pleasing to God was the uppermost concern, and the wide 
diversity of medieval piety is simply because people answered the 
question, 'How can I best lead a holy life?' in so many different 
ways. Beginning with "The Pardoner's Tale", the theme of salvation is 
truly paramount. Chaucer, being one of the most important medieval 
authors, uses this prologue and tale to make a statement about buying 
salvation. The character of the pardoner is one of the most despicable
pilgrims, seemingly "along for the ride" to his next "gig" as the 
seller of relics. "For myn entente is nat but for to winne,/ And no
thing for correccion of sinne," admits the pardoner in his prologue. 
As a matter of fact, the pardoner is only in it for the money,
as evident from this passage:

I wol none of the Apostles countrefete:
I wold have moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete,
Al were it yiven of the pooreste page,
Or of the pooreste widwe in a village --
Al sholde hir children sterve for famine.
Nay, I drinke licour of the vine

And have a joly wenche in every town. In his tale, the Pardoner slips 
into his role as the holiest of holies and speaks of the dire
consequences of gluttony, gambling, and lechery. He cites Attila the 
Hun with, "Looke Attila, the grete conquerour,/ Deide in his sleep 
with shame and dishonour,/ Bleeding at his nose in dronkenesse". The 
personification of the deadly sins, along with his story of the three 
greedy men that eventually perish at the hands of their sin is a 
distinct medieval device. The comic twist that Chaucer adds to the 
device, though, is that the Pardoner in himself is as the 
personification of sin, as is evident from the passages of his 
prologue. At the conclusion of his tale, the Pardoner asks, "Allas, 
mankinde, how may it bitide/ That to thy Creatour which that thee 
wroughte,/ And with his precious herte blood boughte,/ Thou art so 
fals and unkinde, allas?". He then goes on to offer each pilgrim a 
place...for a price, of course.

The Pardoner's place in Chaucer's idea of redemption becomes evident 
in the epilogue of the tale. After offering the host the first pardon 
("For he is most envoluped in sinne" and, supposedly, the equivalent 
of Chaucer), the host berates the pardoner, saying, "I wolde I hadde 
thy coilons in myn hond,/ In stede of relikes or of saintuarye./ Lat 
cutte him of". By this, the idea of the pardoner as the most important 
man on the pilgrimage is brought to fruition and Chaucer makes the 
main point of this tale: Salvation is not for sale. Another example of 
the medieval obsession with redemption.

However, some did not accept this and questioned the church -- It was 
what they wanted other than "a holy life with a Old-Testament God"; 
That style of thinking evenually lead to a "more gentle, 
mother-figure" as a goddess -- The Cult of the Virgin. The eminent 
question then becomes, "Why would people change from a long-lasting, 
Old-Testament God to a mother-like goddess ? The answer is simply 
because they thought their "new found Goddess" would never be as harsh 
on people as the often criticized male like aspect of God. In both 
current Catholicism and that of the medieval period, Mary is
worshipped with more fervor than even God or Jesus. Church after 
church was (and still is) erected in her name. Her likeness
graced statues and stained glass with as much frequency as Jesus' 
bloody head. The worship of Mary is fervent, institutionalized, and 
approved of by the Christian church. Is she not a goddess? Mary simply 
took the place of the female aspects of the spirit that were once 
worshipped as Roman or Anglo-Saxon goddesses.

The medieval period, stretching approximately from the late seventh 
century to the early sixteenth, was bound together under one 
constant--Roman Catholic Christianity. But beneath this "curtain of 
Christianity" many legends were being formed and passed down, as old 
pagan traditions became assimilated into a newly Christian society. 
The two religious forms were becoming intertwined. They seemed at this 
time to be tolerant of each other, not entirely distinct. A peoples 
habits and thought processes are not easily changed, and being that 
the Anglo-Saxons of Britain were not Christians until the mid-600's, a 
period of transition can be expected . At least, a fascination with 
their pagan ancestors existed, at most, the practice of the old ways.
Examples of a fascination with magic, worshipping more than one 
god-like figure, and a continuing love for worshipping goddesses, 
exist in many texts written in this period. Yet, this does not mean 
that every village had a sorceress in their midst, but literature 
usually reflects the society within which it emerges. At the time of 
The Canterbury Tales, many of a people who were Christians officially, 
politically, and in most cases at heart, saw that there were elements 
of paganism and sorcery which is tolerated and respected. The society 
in which Chaucer writes these stories is Christian as well, 
politically and spiritually--could it be that they tolerated and 
respected paganism and magic? Perhaps the separation of the two is not 
necessary and was not complete at this point in time.

 Not only was magic a pagan tradition that persisted throughout the 
Middle Ages..another tradition, changing at the time, reflected the 
transition from worshipping the unseen forces in the world as many 
gods, to one, omnipotent God. Although the people were Christians, 
they took the separation of spiritual powers far beyond the creation 
the Trinity. The specific powers or emphasis given to each saint 
carries on even into today's Catholic tradition. The medieval period 
may have had some of this (although many of the saints were not even 
born yet...) but in their literature, many immortal and powerful 
creatures are found. This form of Paganism existed in Britain of the 
Middle ages, full of spiritual beings, full of magic, alive with 
heavenly power existing on Earth. It has been the nature of the 
Christian men in power through the ages to, for fear, deny their 
people the knowledge of the un-Christian richness in their ancestry, 
and so the traditions that were not masked as Christian are lost to
students of Christian history and literature. But it seems this period 
had not seen such extensive discrimination. The two ways of the world 
were not quite so separate then, and matters of the occult were not 
yet labeled as evil. This again implies that perhaps the two forms of 
religious thought do not have to be completely separate. There are 
strong similarities for them to coincide and complement each other, 
and for an entire people trying to make the Christian transition, 
maybe this complementing was necessary. However, the age of forceful 
patriarchy and witch-burning would not come about for several hundred 
years.

 Each new way of leading a "holy life" was thought to be 
progressively more acceptable to God by its proponents than the ones
that had gone before. Such 'new ways' were normally inspired by a 
desire to break away from the corruption and worldliness which was 
percieved in the older or more established forms of Godly living. 
These new ways often became corrupt themselves and over time 
breakaways from them were hailed as a newer and more perfect way of 
following God. This roller-coaster ride of corruption and reform is 
basically the story of popular medieval religion as man battled to 
define and discover what it really meant to be a Christian. In an 
effort to escape persecution, but to also flee the evil, prevalent in 
the world and to seek God free from many ' worldly ' distractions, 
monks began to assemble as communities of Christians . These 
communities, although they had little organization, were regarded as 
possessing the best Christian life by having a solitary, ascetic, 
celibate existence where the ' world ' had been totally renounced and 
had been entirely replaced with heavenly contemplation. These ' new ' 
martyrs were usually just called monks: theirs was a life of daily 
martyrdom as they constantly died to self and lived totally for God. 
The monks paid particular veneration to the physical remains of the 
martyrs (relics) and were therefore connected to the martyrs who they 
replaced. The rise of ascetic monasticism and relic worship however 
was quite controversial -- Both the worship of relics and ascetic 
monasticism however became mainstays of this Medieval religion, and 
the idea that monks were a new form of martyr persisted over time. 
Both monks as well as martyrs were looked upon as holy men.

 In relating this solitary world to readers, there is also a monk in 
Chaucer's work -- He is someone who combined godliness and
worldliness into a profitable and comfortable living. He was the 
outrider or the person in charge of the outlying property....which 
lead him to enjoy hunting, fine foods, and owning several horses. 
Monks renounced all their worldly belongings and by taking vows of 
poverty, chastity and obedience, joined a community of monks. Their 
lives were spent in communal worship, devotional reading, prayer and 
manual labour all under the authority of the abbot of the monastic 
house. Particular monks often had particular jobs- the cellarer or the 
infirmarer for example, and these like every aspect of monastic
life were laid down in the 'Rule'. Monks were nearly always of noble 
extraction (one had to have wealth in order to give it up) but could 
also be given to the monastery as children (called oblates) to be 
brought up as monks.

 Hindsight has blurred our vision of the Medieval monk and the 
result is that the modern Christian mindset has condemned him for his 
selfish escapism from the world and for his apparent neglect of those 
who needed Christ outside of the cloister. The Medieval mindset was 
very different. The monastery was an integral part of the local 
community -- it probably owned most of the farming land in the area- 
and the fortunes of the people in any area were bound up with the 
spirituality of its monastic house. The monks were on the front line 
of the spiritual battle-it was they who did battle in prayer for their 
community, who warded off devils and demons and who prayed tirelessly 
for the salvation of the souls of those in their community. Rather 
than being the cowards of Christianity unable to take the strain of 
living a Christian life in the real world, the monks were like 
spiritual stormtroopers interceeding for an area against its 
supernatural enemies in mudh the same way as a local lord in his 
castle protected an area against its physical enemies. The people gave 
gifts to both lord and abbot in return for a service.

 The Pardoner also represents the tradition of faith -- in respect 
to the church of his time. The Pardoner is representative of the
seamy side of the corrupt church and a broken or twisted (if you will) 
faith. The faith of a bureaucracy, which is what the church had 
become. The Pardoner was a church official who had the authority to 
forgive those who had sinned by selling pardons and indulgences to 
them. Although, the Pardoner was a church official, he was clearly in 
the "church" business for economic reasons. The Pardoner, a devious 
and somewhat dubious individual had one goal: Get the most money for 
pardons by almost any means of coercion necessary. A twisted and 
ironic mind, has basically defined himself through his work for a
similarly corrupt church. In contrast, the Plowman has nothing but a 
seemingly uncomplicated and untwisted faith. The Plowman has the faith 
of a poor farmer, uncomplicated by the bureaucracy of the church. The 
Pardoner is probably on this journey because he is being required to 
go by the church or he sees some sort of economic gain from this 
voyage, most likely from selling forgiveness to the other pilgrims. 
The Plowman on the other hand is probably on this voyage because of 
his sincerity and faith in its purpose. While this was the story of 
religion at 'grass-roots' level, at the organisational and 
hierarchical level, the church developed along a different line. It 
became more organized, more bureaucratic, more legal, more centralized 
and basically more powerful on a European scale. This process was 
spearheaded by the papacy and reached its pinnacle under Pope Innocent 
III in the early 13th Century. He embodied what became known as the 
'papal monarchy' - a situation where the popes literally were kings in 
their own world. The relative importance of spiritual and secular 
power in the world was a constant question in the middle ages with 
both secular emperors and kings, and the popes asserting their claims 
to rule by divine authority with God's commands for God's people 
proceeding out of their mouths. The power of the church is hard to
exaggerate: its economic and political influence was huge, as its 
wealth, movements like the crusades, and even the number of churches 
that exist from this period truly show its greatness. By the early 
10th century, a strange malaise seems to have entered the English 
church. There are comments from this time of a decline in learning 
among churchmen and an increase in a love for things of this earthly 
world. Even more of these lax standards had begun a decline in the 
power structure of the church which included a decrease in acceptable 
behavior amongst churchmen and a growing use of church institutions by 
lay people as a means of evading taxes. Christianity affected all men 
in Europe at every level and in every way. Such distances however, led 
to much diversity and the shaping of Medieval religion into a land of 
contrasts. One can also see how man's feelings of extreme sinfulness 
and desire for God are quite evident in these tales. Still, we are 
told that history repeats itself because nobody listens to it, but 
more realistically history repeats itself because man is essentially 
the same from one generation to the next. He has the same aspirations, 
fears and flaws; yet the way that these are expressed differs from age 
to age. This is why each period of history is different. The fact that 
man is the same yet different is what makes the study of the people 
who formed the medieval church directly applicable to Christians' 
lives and experiences today.
In discussing Chaucer's collection of stories called The 
Canterbury Tales, an interesting picture or illustration of the 
Medieval Christian Church is presented. However, while people demanded 
more voice in the affairs of government, the church became corrupt -- 
this corruption also led to a more crooked society. Nevertheless, 
there is no such thing as just church history; This is because the 
church can never be studied in isolation, simply because it has always 
related to the social, economic and political context of the day. In 
history then, there is a two way process where the church has an 
influence on the rest of society and of course, society influences the 
church. This is naturally because it is the people from a society who 
make up the church....and those same people became the personalities 
that created these tales of a pilgrimmage to Canterbury.

 The Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England was to take place in a 
relatively short period of time, but this was not because of the 
success of the Augustinian effort. Indeed, the early years of this 
mission had an ambivalence which shows in the number of people who 
hedged their bets by practicing both Christian and Pagan rites at the 
same time, and in the number of people who promptly apostatized when a 
Christian king died. There is certainly no evidence for a large-scale 
conversion of the common people to Christianity at this time. 
Augustine was not the most diplomatic of men, and managed to 
antagonize many people of power and influence in Britain, not least 
among them the native British churchmen, who had never been 
particularly eager to save the souls of the Anglo-Saxons who had 
brought such bitter times to their people. In their isolation, the 
British Church had maintained older ways of celebrated the major 
festivals of Christianity, and Augustine's effort to compel them to 
conform to modern Roman usage only angered them. When Augustine died 
(some time between 604 and 609 AD), then, Christianity had only a 
precarious hold on Anglo-Saxon England, a hold which was limited 
largely to a few in the aristocracy. Christianity was to become firmly 
established only as a result of Irish efforts, who from centers in 
Scotland and Northumbria made the common people Christian, and 
established on a firm basis the English Church. At all levels of 
society, belief in a god or gods was not a matter of choice, it was a 
matter of fact. Atheism was an alien concept (and one dating from the 
eighteenth century). Living in the middle ages, one would come into 
contact with the Church in a number of ways.

 First, there were the routine church services, held daily and 
attended at least once a week, and the special festivals of
Christmas, Easter, baptisms, marriages, etc.. In that respect the 
medieval Church was no different to the modern one. Second,
there were the tithes that the Church collected, usually once a year. 
Tithes were used to feed the parish priest, maintain the fabric of the 
church, and to help the poor. Third, the Church fulfilled the 
functions of a 'civil service' and an education system. Schools did 
not exist (and were unnecessary to a largely peasant society), but the 
Church and the government needed men who could read and write in 
English and Latin. The Church trained its own men, and these went to 
help in the government: writing letters, keeping accounts and so on. 
The words 'cleric' and 'clerk' have the same origin, and every 
nobleman would have at least one priest to act as a secretary.

 The power of the Church is often over-emphasized. Certainly, the 
later medieval Church was rich and powerful, and that power was often 
misused - especially in Europe. Bishops and archbishops were appointed 
without any training or clerical background, church offices changed 
hands for cash, and so on. The authority of the early medieval Church 
in England was no different to that of any other landowner. So, the 
question that haunted medieval man was that of his own salvation. The
existence of God was never questioned and the heart-cry of medieval 
society was a desire to know God and achieve intimacy with the divine. 
Leading a life pleasing to God was the uppermost concern, and the wide 
diversity of medieval piety is simply because people answered the 
question, 'How can I best lead a holy life?' in so many different 
ways. Beginning with "The Pardoner's Tale", the theme of salvation is 
truly paramount. Chaucer, being one of the most important medieval 
authors, uses this prologue and tale to make a statement about buying 
salvation. The character of the pardoner is one of the most despicable
pilgrims, seemingly "along for the ride" to his next "gig" as the 
seller of relics. "For myn entente is nat but for to winne,/ And no
thing for correccion of sinne," admits the pardoner in his prologue. 
As a matter of fact, the pardoner is only in it for the money,
as evident from this passage:

I wol none of the Apostles countrefete:
I wold have moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete,
Al were it yiven of the pooreste page,
Or of the pooreste widwe in a village --
Al sholde hir children sterve for famine.
Nay, I drinke licour of the vine

And have a joly wenche in every town. In his tale, the Pardoner slips 
into his role as the holiest of holies and speaks of the dire
consequences of gluttony, gambling, and lechery. He cites Attila the 
Hun with, "Looke Attila, the grete conquerour,/ Deide in his sleep 
with shame and dishonour,/ Bleeding at his nose in dronkenesse". The 
personification of the deadly sins, along with his story of the three 
greedy men that eventually perish at the hands of their sin is a 
distinct medieval device. The comic twist that Chaucer adds to the 
device, though, is that the Pardoner in himself is as the 
personification of sin, as is evident from the passages of his 
prologue. At the conclusion of his tale, the Pardoner asks, "Allas, 
mankinde, how may it bitide/ That to thy Creatour which that thee 
wroughte,/ And with his precious herte blood boughte,/ Thou art so 
fals and unkinde, allas?". He then goes on to offer each pilgrim a 
place...for a price, of course.

The Pardoner's place in Chaucer's idea of redemption becomes evident 
in the epilogue of the tale. After offering the host the first pardon 
("For he is most envoluped in sinne" and, supposedly, the equivalent 
of Chaucer), the host berates the pardoner, saying, "I wolde I hadde 
thy coilons in myn hond,/ In stede of relikes or of saintuarye./ Lat 
cutte him of". By this, the idea of the pardoner as the most important 
man on the pilgrimage is brought to fruition and Chaucer makes the 
main point of this tale: Salvation is not for sale. Another example of 
the medieval obsession with redemption.

However, some did not accept this and questioned the church -- It was 
what they wanted other than "a holy life with a Old-Testament God"; 
That style of thinking evenually lead to a "more gentle, 
mother-figure" as a goddess -- The Cult of the Virgin. The eminent 
question then becomes, "Why would people change from a long-lasting, 
Old-Testament God to a mother-like goddess ? The answer is simply 
because they thought their "new found Goddess" would never be as harsh 
on people as the often criticized male like aspect of God. In both 
current Catholicism and that of the medieval period, Mary is
worshipped with more fervor than even God or Jesus. Church after 
church was (and still is) erected in her name. Her likeness
graced statues and stained glass with as much frequency as Jesus' 
bloody head. The worship of Mary is fervent, institutionalized, and 
approved of by the Christian church. Is she not a goddess? Mary simply 
took the place of the female aspects of the spirit that were once 
worshipped as Roman or Anglo-Saxon goddesses.

The medieval period, stretching approximately from the late seventh 
century to the early sixteenth, was bound together under one 
constant--Roman Catholic Christianity. But beneath this "curtain of 
Christianity" many legends were being formed and passed down, as old 
pagan traditions became assimilated into a newly Christian society. 
The two religious forms were becoming intertwined. They seemed at this 
time to be tolerant of each other, not entirely distinct. A peoples 
habits and thought processes are not easily changed, and being that 
the Anglo-Saxons of Britain were not Christians until the mid-600's, a 
period of transition can be expected . At least, a fascination with 
their pagan ancestors existed, at most, the practice of the old ways.
Examples of a fascination with magic, worshipping more than one 
god-like figure, and a continuing love for worshipping goddesses, 
exist in many texts written in this period. Yet, this does not mean 
that every village had a sorceress in their midst, but literature 
usually reflects the society within which it emerges. At the time of 
The Canterbury Tales, many of a people who were Christians officially, 
politically, and in most cases at heart, saw that there were elements 
of paganism and sorcery which is tolerated and respected. The society 
in which Chaucer writes these stories is Christian as well, 
politically and spiritually--could it be that they tolerated and 
respected paganism and magic? Perhaps the separation of the two is not 
necessary and was not complete at this point in time.

 Not only was magic a pagan tradition that persisted throughout the 
Middle Ages..another tradition, changing at the time, reflected the 
transition from worshipping the unseen forces in the world as many 
gods, to one, omnipotent God. Although the people were Christians, 
they took the separation of spiritual powers far beyond the creation 
the Trinity. The specific powers or emphasis given to each saint 
carries on even into today's Catholic tradition. The medieval period 
may have had some of this (although many of the saints were not even 
born yet...) but in their literature, many immortal and powerful 
creatures are found. This form of Paganism existed in Britain of the 
Middle ages, full of spiritual beings, full of magic, alive with 
heavenly power existing on Earth. It has been the nature of the 
Christian men in power through the ages to, for fear, deny their 
people the knowledge of the un-Christian richness in their ancestry, 
and so the traditions that were not masked as Christian are lost to
students of Christian history and literature. But it seems this period 
had not seen such extensive discrimination. The two ways of the world 
were not quite so separate then, and matters of the occult were not 
yet labeled as evil. This again implies that perhaps the two forms of 
religious thought do not have to be completely separate. There are 
strong similarities for them to coincide and complement each other, 
and for an entire people trying to make the Christian transition, 
maybe this complementing was necessary. However, the age of forceful 
patriarchy and witch-burning would not come about for several hundred 
years.

 Each new way of leading a "holy life" was thought to be 
progressively more acceptable to God by its proponents than the ones
that had gone before. Such 'new ways' were normally inspired by a 
desire to break away from the corruption and worldliness which was 
percieved in the older or more established forms of Godly living. 
These new ways often became corrupt themselves and over time 
breakaways from them were hailed as a newer and more perfect way of 
following God. This roller-coaster ride of corruption and reform is 
basically the story of popular medieval religion as man battled to 
define and discover what it really meant to be a Christian. In an 
effort to escape persecution, but to also flee the evil, prevalent in 
the world and to seek God free from many ' worldly ' distractions, 
monks began to assemble as communities of Christians . These 
communities, although they had little organization, were regarded as 
possessing the best Christian life by having a solitary, ascetic, 
celibate existence where the ' world ' had been totally renounced and 
had been entirely replaced with heavenly contemplation. These ' new ' 
martyrs were usually just called monks: theirs was a life of daily 
martyrdom as they constantly died to self and lived totally for God. 
The monks paid particular veneration to the physical remains of the 
martyrs (relics) and were therefore connected to the martyrs who they 
replaced. The rise of ascetic monasticism and relic worship however 
was quite controversial -- Both the worship of relics and ascetic 
monasticism however became mainstays of this Medieval religion, and 
the idea that monks were a new form of martyr persisted over time. 
Both monks as well as martyrs were looked upon as holy men.

 In relating this solitary world to readers, there is also a monk in 
Chaucer's work -- He is someone who combined godliness and
worldliness into a profitable and comfortable living. He was the 
outrider or the person in charge of the outlying property....which 
lead him to enjoy hunting, fine foods, and owning several horses. 
Monks renounced all their worldly belongings and by taking vows of 
poverty, chastity and obedience, joined a community of monks. Their 
lives were spent in communal worship, devotional reading, prayer and 
manual labour all under the authority of the abbot of the monastic 
house. Particular monks often had particular jobs- the cellarer or the 
infirmarer for example, and these like every aspect of monastic
life were laid down in the 'Rule'. Monks were nearly always of noble 
extraction (one had to have wealth in order to give it up) but could 
also be given to the monastery as children (called oblates) to be 
brought up as monks.

 Hindsight has blurred our vision of the Medieval monk and the 
result is that the modern Christian mindset has condemned him for his 
selfish escapism from the world and for his apparent neglect of those 
who needed Christ outside of the cloister. The Medieval mindset was 
very different. The monastery was an integral part of the local 
community -- it probably owned most of the farming land in the area- 
and the fortunes of the people in any area were bound up with the 
spirituality of its monastic house. The monks were on the front line 
of the spiritual battle-it was they who did battle in prayer for their 
community, who warded off devils and demons and who prayed tirelessly 
for the salvation of the souls of those in their community. Rather 
than being the cowards of Christianity unable to take the strain of 
living a Christian life in the real world, the monks were like 
spiritual stormtroopers interceeding for an area against its 
supernatural enemies in mudh the same way as a local lord in his 
castle protected an area against its physical enemies. The people gave 
gifts to both lord and abbot in return for a service.

 The Pardoner also represents the tradition of faith -- in respect 
to the church of his time. The Pardoner is representative of the
seamy side of the corrupt church and a broken or twisted (if you will) 
faith. The faith of a bureaucracy, which is what the church had 
become. The Pardoner was a church official who had the authority to 
forgive those who had sinned by selling pardons and indulgences to 
them. Although, the Pardoner was a church official, he was clearly in 
the "church" business for economic reasons. The Pardoner, a devious 
and somewhat dubious individual had one goal: Get the most money for 
pardons by almost any means of coercion necessary. A twisted and 
ironic mind, has basically defined himself through his work for a
similarly corrupt church. In contrast, the Plowman has nothing but a 
seemingly uncomplicated and untwisted faith. The Plowman has the faith 
of a poor farmer, uncomplicated by the bureaucracy of the church. The 
Pardoner is probably on this journey because he is being required to 
go by the church or he sees some sort of economic gain from this 
voyage, most likely from selling forgiveness to the other pilgrims. 
The Plowman on the other hand is probably on this voyage because of 
his sincerity and faith in its purpose. While this was the story of 
religion at 'grass-roots' level, at the organisational and 
hierarchical level, the church developed along a different line. It 
became more organized, more bureaucratic, more legal, more centralized 
and basically more powerful on a European scale. This process was 
spearheaded by the papacy and reached its pinnacle under Pope Innocent 
III in the early 13th Century. He embodied what became known as the 
'papal monarchy' - a situation where the popes literally were kings in 
their own world. The relative importance of spiritual and secular 
power in the world was a constant question in the middle ages with 
both secular emperors and kings, and the popes asserting their claims 
to rule by divine authority with God's commands for God's people 
proceeding out of their mouths. The power of the church is hard to
exaggerate: its economic and political influence was huge, as its 
wealth, movements like the crusades, and even the number of churches 
that exist from this period truly show its greatness. By the early 
10th century, a strange malaise seems to have entered the English 
church. There are comments from this time of a decline in learning 
among churchmen and an increase in a love for things of this earthly 
world. Even more of these lax standards had begun a decline in the 
power structure of the church which included a decrease in acceptable 
behavior amongst churchmen and a growing use of church institutions by 
lay people as a means of evading taxes. Christianity affected all men 
in Europe at every level and in every way. Such distances however, led 
to much diversity and the shaping of Medieval religion into a land of 
contrasts. One can also see how man's feelings of extreme sinfulness 
and desire for God are quite evident in these tales. Still, we are 
told that history repeats itself because nobody listens to it, but 
more realistically history repeats itself because man is essentially 
the same from one generation to the next. He has the same aspirations, 
fears and flaws; yet the way that these are expressed differs from age 
to age. This is why each period of history is different. The fact that 
man is the same yet different is what makes the study of the people 
who formed the medieval church directly applicable to Christians' 
lives and experiences today.
 



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