Changes Of The Catholic Church As Portrayed

In The Literature During The
Late Fourteenth Essay, Research Paper

Changes of the Catholic Church as Portrayed in the Literature during the Late


In reading the poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Geoffrey Chaucer?s

The Canterbury Tales, it is evident that the church played a major role in the

lives of the English people during the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church was

going through many changes during the late middle ages. After the people of

England were able to read the Bible many of them started to stray from the

church. During this time period many great works of literature were written that

expressed these ideas. Sir Gawain is an Arthurian romance written by an unknown

author in the late fourteenth-century. It is the story of Sir Gawain and his

adventure to find the Green Knight. Religious faith and the Christian idea of

chivalry play a large role in Sir Gawain?s adventure. The Canterbury Tales is

a collection of poems written by Geoffrey Chaucer. Many of the tales and

characters in the story have to do with the church and its corruption during

medieval times.

The poem ,Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, was written during the late 1300?s.

It is a story that was already hundreds of years old. In the poem, Sir Gawain is

being measured against a moral and Christian ideal of chivalry. Chivalry is the

moral code that

knights lived by during the Middle Ages. Chivalrous knights fought for glory

and the Christian purpose and not for profit or gain. In the poem, Gawain?s

chivalry, along with his faith, are tested to prove his worth as a knight. This

poem shows the importance of faith and the church, yet it also shows that

although knights are held to a code of chivalry and strict Christianity, they

are still human and make mistakes. The mistake, or sin that Gawain committed in

the poem showed the more human side of the knight. This was a change from the

more normal approach of a strict, almost unbelievably good character that a

knight usually portrayed in the Middle Ages.

Around the same time that the story of Sir Gawain was written Geoffrey

Chaucer wrote the poem The Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales is the story

of a group of people who decide to make a pilgrimage to the Canterbury

Cathedral. During their journey each person tells a story to the group. What

makes the tales interesting is Chaucer?s ability to know how different types

of people act. One of the interesting aspects of the story is the way the people

related to the church are portrayed by Chaucer. Chaucer portrays his clergy

member characters as ironic figures. He portrays some of them as greedy and

dishonest, despite their social status. The Nun, the Monk, and the Pardoner are

the religious characters in Chaucer?s work. By creating ironies between their

characterizations and their duties, Chaucer expresses the corruption of the

church during the late fourteenth-century. Chaucer also shows the human side of

the clergy. Even though the clergy were held to a higher standard, they still

made mistakes and had vices.

Chaucer?s character, the Prioress, is an interesting portrayal of a nun in

the late middle ages. She is described as a gentle woman, simple and coy. She

does not behave as you would think a nun should. She speaks an odd dialect of

French, but not to communicate or help others. She speaks this language for her

own vain reasons. She tries to act like she is in a more refined social class.

It is ironic that she is even on this pilgrimage. Normally a nun would stay

inside of the convent walls. One of the most ironic characteristics of the nun

is that she wears a large gold brooch around her neck, which reads, ?Love

conquers all?. This is wrong because nuns were not supposed to wear jewelry.

The Monk is another one of Chaucer?s characters that didn?t fit into

social norms. The Monk is described as noticeably sarcastic, piggish, and

selfish. Like the nun, he seems to be a vain servant of God. He wears expensive

clothing and is not separated from the world as a Monk is supposed to be. The

tale that he tells about hunting is looked at as a sexual connotation, the

hunting meaning hunting women. This would be improper for a Monk to think, let

alone talk about to a group of people. He seems to be a misguided servant of God

who does not fit the stereotypical description of a monk. The way Chaucer

describes him, as not caring for the monastic rules written by St. Maurus and

St. Benedict shows that the Monk was a corrupt figure in the church.

The Pardoner is probably the most vile and corrupt character in the story.

During the middle ages, pardoners were supposed to issue papal forgiveness from

sins in exchange for money. This money in turn was supposed to be given to the

sick, poor, or any other worthy cause. Many pardoners were frauds. They kept the

money for

themselves, and sold fake relics and pardons. This pardoner claimed to have

come ?straight from the court of Rome?, yet it is known that he has never

even set foot out of England. The pardoner uses stories to trick people into

buying his fake relics. In essence, he was a good B.S. salesman. Ironically, the

stories that the pardoner tells are all moral stories against greed, gluttony,

and other sins. The moral of his tale, ?money is the root of all evil? is

also very ironic, since all he seems to care about is money. The pardoner is an

excellent example of corruption in the Catholic Church during this period.

In closing, all of these stories have one thing in common. Whether it was Sir

Gawain and the sin he committed, or the mistakes and vices of the three corrupt

members of the church in The Canterbury Tales. They all knowingly committed

sins. This shows the more human side of the church. At a point when the rules of

the church were enforced strictly on the people of England, these stories show

that even the people who were supposed to set the example and represent the

church made mistakes and committed sins. With this corruption in the Church came

change. When the common people began to read the Bible written in the

vernacular, English, they realized that they didn?t need the corrupt Church to

tell them about the teachings of God. Around the time period that these stories

were written the Renaissance was beginning, and with the renaissance came new

ideas. Many of these new ideas, e.g. humanism, had an effect on the Church and

ultimately the monarch in England. As the saying goes, ?No Bishop, No King?.


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