Corruption Within The Church Essay, Research Paper
Corruption Within the Church
The Catholic Church has long been a fixture in society. Throughout the ages, it has withstood wars and gone through many changes. It moved through a period of extreme popularity to a time when people regarded the Church with distrust and suspicion. The corrupt people within the church ruined the ideals Catholicism once stood for and the church lost much of its power. In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer primarily satirizes the corruptness of the clergy members to show how the Catholic Church was beginning its decline during the Middle Ages.
Chaucer aptly creates a picture that exposes how materialistic the clergy is. They all should be concerned with spiritual matters, yet they focus their attention on acquiring more mundane goods. The Monk makes no pretense of being poor and without luxuries. “I saw his sleeves were garnished at the hand with fine gray fur, the finest in the land, and on his hood, to fasten it at his chin he had a wrought-gold, cunningly fashioned pin. . .” (197-200, 110). Not only is this monk fat, and thus quite well fed, he has the money to afford details such as fur on his cloak. He is looking for attention by having such fine things. His station as a monk, however, requires him not only to work with the poor, but to be poor himself. Obviously, he is not following this requirement, much like the Prioress. Madam Eglantyne, appears at first glance to be proper for her station in life. However, a closer examination reveals “she wore a coral trinket on her arm, a set of beads, the gaudies tricked in green, whence hung a golden brooch of brightest sheen” (162-64, 109). A golden brooch serves no other purpose than being decorative. The Prioress has no right to be showing off her wealth by owning such a frivolous piece of jewelry. This shows that the women entering the church are not doing so for holy reasons. Most likely they are escaping an unwanted marriage or chasing after the comfort and stability the position offers. As a woman during the Middle Ages, you are only as valuable as your husband or father is. Joining a covenant is a way to escape from that role. The materialism abounding throughout the descriptions of the clergy shows that people do not truly desire to be a part of the church since they are still caught up in worldly goods.
The greed of the clergy is shown vividly in the Prologue. The Friar’s method of absolution shows his desire for money. “It’s a sure sign whenever gifts are given to a poor Order that a man’s well shriven. . . Therefore, instead of weeping and of prayer one should give silver for a poor Friar’s care” (229-36, 110). He will give almost no penance if the sinner simply bribes him with either gifts or money. The Friar is so desirous of wealth that he cannot even perform a simple service like confession without letting his greed become involved. By being so concerned with gaining money, he is neglecting his proper duties as clergy member. The Summoner also allows his duties to slip when there is a chance to make a profit. When he finds a person doing something they should not be doing, “he would instruct him not to be afraid in such a case of the Archdeacon’s curse. . . for in his purse the punishment should be” (672-75, 121). The Summoner will “overlook” the misconduct if he is paid enough for it. He assures people not to be worried about excommunication from the church. As long as he gets paid, he will not summon them to the church court as he should. The Pardoner also finds ways to make extra money on the side. He collects bones and bits of cloth and asserts that these are holy relics. “And with these relics, any time he found some poor up-country parson to astound, in one short day, in money down, he drew more than the parson in a month or two” (721-24, 122). The Pardoner dupes poor, gullible people into believing his worthless pieces of junk are truly holy relics that are worth paying money to see. By tricking the ignorant country folk, he is making much more money than an honest working man should be. His avarice for wealth leads the Pardoner away from what is right and moral. Greed is the base of all the corruption that tore away the Catholic Church’s incredible power.
All but one of the clergy among Chaucer’s pilgrims lives much differently than how he should. From her description in the Prologue, the Prioress seems like a perfect model of a nun during the Middle Ages in her attempts to be proper and clean. “Pleasant and friendly in her ways, and straining to counterfeit a courtly kind of grace, a stately bearing fitting to her place” (142-44, 108). By trying to act like a noblewoman “fitting to her place”, the Prioress is not acting according to her position as a nun. Her place as a nun is not to be concerned with having proper and courtly behavior, but instead to be working with the poor and the sick. By spending her time trying to have good manners, Madam Eglantyne is neglecting her duties as a nun. The Monk also allows his other passions to interfere with his proper responsibilities. “Hunting a hare or riding at a fence was all his fun, he spared for no expense” (195-96, 110). The Monk spends all his time outside hunting for pleasure when he should be inside his cloister studying scripture or working as Saint Augustine bade monks to do. He lives only for pleasure rather than for helping others. By not following the doctrine of proper monks, he is contributing to the decline of the Catholic Church. The Friar is also acting differently than he should. “He knew the taverns well in every town and every innkeeper and barmaid too better than lepers, beggars and that crew” (244-46, 111). The Friar cares only about pleasing himself and does not work to make other people’s lives better. He neglects the people he is supposed to help and instead spends his time with the rich. These members of the clergy are not devout Catholics and have no right to be masquerading as one. By pretending to be something they are not, they bring corruption into the church.
Clearly then, Chaucer shows us how people from within corrupted the Catholic Church and caused many to lose their faith in it. This same idea permeates the rest of society, even today. The immoral people are the ones who stand out and are remembered. It is because of this that they have the ability to make such an impact in people’s minds. Chaucer tells us that just a few corrupt people can ruin an entire society’s beliefs in something.