illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Parson’s Tale Summary

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Last Updated November 10, 2022.

The Parson speaks a theological treatise about penitence, confession, satisfaction, and sin. Working systematically, he explains what penitence is, how it works, and why it is important. Its elements, he says, are contrition, confession, and satisfaction, and he describes each of these in great detail.

Contrition is sorrow for sin, and people are moved to contrition by both love for God (and especially for Jesus in his suffering) and fear of punishment. They hope for forgiveness, grace, and the happiness of heaven through their total and universal contrition that God uses to deliver them from sin.

Confession, the Parson then explains, is the outward sign of contrition. The Parson describes how sin came into the world and what sin is (disobedience to God). He distinguishes between venial and deadly sin. Then he proceeds to present the seven deadly sins: pride, anger, envy, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lechery. He defines each one, speaks of its component sins, and lists the virtues that serve as remedies.

The Parson then returns to his discussion of penitence, explaining the details of confession and the attitudes, including humility, that a person must have to make a good confession. He ends with a presentation on satisfaction for sin and a warning to avoid despair, for Christ is merciful toward all people who show true penitence.

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