What was Chaucer’s attitude toward the Catholic Church? Is it an institution he has respect for or is he mocking it? What distinctions are made between the Church as an institution and religion...

What was Chaucer’s attitude toward the Catholic Church? Is it an institution he has respect for or is he mocking it? What distinctions are made between the Church as an institution and religion in general? What characters from The Canterbury Tales can be used as examples?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Chaucer mocks the Catholic Church.  This can be seen in both The Prologue and in the tales.  Although he mocks the church and its practices, he is respectful of religion itself.  First, he uses the framework of a pilgrimage, which is a religious journey.  There are characters throughout who are religious, and Chaucer notes their devotion to religion in a respectful tone.  In his description of the Knight, while listing all the battles in which the knight had proved his valor, Chaucer notes:  “He had been in fifteen mortal battles/and fought for our fate at Tlemcen.”  When speaking of the Plowman, a simple, hard-working man, Chaucer says: “He loved God best, with all his heart, at all times, whether he was pleased or grieved.” 

In order to help the reader really understand his opinion toward the Catholic Church, Chaucer uses contrasting characters.  The characters like the Nun, the Monk, and the Friar, for example, are described as caring more about money, finery, or their hobbies than about religion.  The best examples of the corruption of the Catholic Church are the Pardoner and the Summoner.  The Pardoner sells pardons to people, telling them it is fine to sin as long as they pay him for forgiveness.  “And thus, with false flattery and tricks/He made monkeys of the Parson and the people.”  The Summoner’s job is to summon people to church court.  However, as long as they paid him, he was happy to excuse them.  “For a quart of wine he would allow/a good fellow to have his concubine/for a year and would excuse him fully.”   These two are a stark contrast to the good Parson, who serves his congregation well.  The Parson does all the things the Pardoner and Summoner would never do:  he helps his people, travels to see them no matter what the weather, and sets an example for them: “For if a priest in whom we trust be corrupt/it is no wonder if an ignorant man go to rust.”  The Parson does not take money from people; instead, he helps people using his own money.  Chaucer, while not a fan of the church and its corruption, definitely respected religion and religious people.

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