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Views on Religion and Faith in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Poetic Novel ‘The Canterbury Tales’

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The middle ages or Medieval times can be best described as the [footnoteRef:1]‘Age of Faith’ through the eyes of the church. Its stature and placement at the time, provides a clear understanding to its reputation of power and influence on society as a whole. [footnoteRef:2]For example, in a period of hardship, invasions and unpredictable political structure, the Catholic Church took control and began to amalgamate society, eliminating discrimination of wealth or social class, ultimately providing society with a sense of hope in a time where it did not exist[footnoteRef:3]. This essay will cover Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetic novel, ‘The Canterbury Tales’, discussing his views on religion and faith through his characters, diving into the underlying messages of each character’s pilgrimage purpose, as well as the differences between faith and religious corruption. [1: Joy, Maddie. 2019. ‘The Age Of Faith’. Prezi.Com. https://prezi.com/0fmwhocdvmvk/the-age-of-faith/. ] [2: Stewart, Summer. 2019. Study.Com. https://study.com/academy/lesson/quotes-about-religion-in-the-canterbury-tales.html] [3: Ibid. Stewart, Summer. 2019]

Geoffrey Chaucer, marks religion and faith as a characterizing trademark, in his novel of 15th-century ballads ‘Canterbury Tales’.[footnoteRef:4] The tales shadows the lives of twenty-nine travellers recounting accounts of each other, on a pilgrimage to Canterbury to Saint Thomas’ resting site. Chaucer portrays his thoughts on religion, faith and the church through each character and their stories. Moreover, many of his characters are seen as either devoutly religious, from the church or using religion as a form of personal gain. These characters make it difficult for the readers, to overlook the deep nature of religion and Chaucer’s personal views in his writing, thus showing the development of faith as one of the main themes. [4: Chaucer, Geoffrey. 2019. ‘Geoffrey Chaucer’. Christian History | Learn The History Of Christianity & The Church. https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/poets/geoffrey-chaucer.html. ]

First and foremost, in order to adequately analyse the topic of Faith and religion in the style of a pilgrimage, we must first define a pilgrimage as well as understand what is meant by ‘Religion’ in Chaucer. [footnoteRef:5]A pilgrimage is most commonly defined as a journey of faith, in search of spiritual or moral significance. This definition coincides with Chaucer’s views as he touches on faith and religion, through his characters and each of their journeys. The concept of [footnoteRef:6]‘Religion’ in Chaucer, demonstrates that there are aspects of religion throughout his writings. Canterbury Tales, from the very beginning, makes evident that a pilgrimage or journey has various religious dimensions. Furthermore, seven specific pilgrims, are made known throughout the general prologue, as being most connected to the church: The Pardoner, Clerk, Monk, Parson, Friar, Summoner and the Prioress, each a character of the church, displaying characteristics that contradict the church’s teachings. Each character presents a life that appear to be more or less further away from what may be customary in individuals of their calling; for example, the Prioress weeps over dead mice, overly feeds her pet dogs and tends to wipe her mouth before drinking her wine. It seems as though the Parson is living a true Gospel life, the Clerk is intensely immersed in his studies, the Monk owns horses for hunting purposes and rarely prays, eluding to the fact that they must cost a fair bit of money and seems not to pay as often as he should. Others, however, have lives set apart by gluttony, sexual obscenity and greed, the Summoner and Pardoner appearing to be especially a long way from the Christian standards. Thus, depicting that although people of the church and are supposed to be living their lives in accustom to Christian ideals, they portray flaws that are presented in the author’s use of ironic language. In relation to this, as each pilgrim embarks on their journey, the reader is left pondering on the aspect that life itself is customarily thought of as a journey or pilgrimage. This then, may prompt the idea that in Christian ideology, the objective of a pilgrimage is God’s judgment, and that for the pilgrims of the time, at least, this opened the possibility of heaven and hell, paradise and damnation. A pilgrimage conceivably offers a period of reflection, atonement, and transformation, whereby those going to Hell can alter their course and make a fresh start. The ironic as well as satiric undertones can be seen in Chaucer’s descriptions of each character, using words such as “good and “perfect”. [footnoteRef:7]the Shipman is a ‘good felawe,’ the Doctor a ‘verray, parfit praktisour,’ the ‘good Wif’ of Bath is a ‘worthy woman.’ the Summoner is ‘a gentil harlot and a kynde, a better felawe should men naught fynde.’ These descriptions give a good indication of the irony and Chaucer’s satiric form of writing, as he allows the readers to form their own judgments on each character, whilst giving readers an opportunity to see the reality of each pilgrim behind closed doors. [5: Cleft, Jean Darby; Cleft, Wallace (1996). The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning. The Paulist Press. ] [6: Brother Anthony of Taize, 2019. ‘Chaucer And Religion’. Anthony.Sogang.Ac.Kr. http://anthony.sogang.ac.kr/Religion.htm.] [7: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” ]

Further examination brings readers to the Pardoners tale, which tells a story of three rioters, who are gambling, drinking and blaspheming in a tavern. The three suddenly learn of the death of a friend. Chaucer brings not only a sense of humour to this story, but a religious perspective as he demonstrates the lack of examination of conscience in the three pilgrims, rather they make oaths to each other and set out on their own quest of revenge, hoping to defeat death himself. They set out on their journey, with a lack of understanding to the immensity of their endeavor; a message is given to them by the Prioress on a brooch [footnoteRef:8]‘Amor vincit omnia’, (love conquers all). This quote eludes to the question, how much love do they really have. Furthermore, she may have also told them that Christ can be the only one to conquer death: [footnoteRef:9]’Death is swallowed up in victory (I Corinthians 15) depicting the center of the Christian gospel. Thus, the three continue, setting out to echo his work, by the oaths they have made, [footnoteRef:10]’Criste’s blessed body they torrent. [8: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” (707)] [9: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” (707)] [10: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chauser and Religion” (707)]

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Their next experience follows their meeting with a poor elderly man. He welcomes them with humble religious affability, [footnoteRef:11]’lordes, god yow se’, and in return, he is insulted for being so old; by this, the tale of Wife of Bath, young man rings a bell. The old man recounts his very own patient zeal for a death that is yet to come. He then teaches them the appropriate way to speak to the elderly, citing the bible. The three make no sense of his words, acquire nothing, and neglect to see he finished by blessing them. They leave the old man, only asking where they can find death, he points to a route leading to an old oak tree in a grove, where of course they find a pile of gold. [11: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chauser and Religion” (713)]

This tale brings light to a lot of religious components. As they embark on their pilgrimage and get to their end goal, they must turn away from the right path. In the old testament, the oak tree and the grove are vague areas, occasionally holy, such as the oak of Mamre, the burial site of Abraham[footnoteRef:12], which on occasion, has been consecrated to false gods. In guiding the three there, the elderly man recalls two expressions, he first preaches that ‘the love of money is the root of all evils’, although he himself embodies the love of money[footnoteRef:13], and secondly ‘the wages of sin is death’. Finally, the elderly man’s last words to the three is this, [footnoteRef:14]‘God save yow, that boghte agayne mankynde, And yow amende’. Here, readers discover a reference to humanity. This reference illustrates a need for Gods redemption, offered to all who seek it and work to transform themselves for the better, ultimately completely giving of themselves to his will[footnoteRef:15]. Moreover, the old man is left shocked and completely helpless, as the rioters enter into their perpetrated fates, for all that is left for them is the prayers of the old man, which at this point will not do a great amount for them. This tale helps readers understand the strength of faith in the Lord when it is used wholeheartedly as well as the human error of challenging God’s greatness out of arrogance or for self-gain, further it enlightens the minds of readers, as Chaucer makes evident that no matter the journey, faith in general and faith in God is essential to reach a goal that is far from self-doom. [12: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” (713)] [13: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” (713)] [14: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” (764-5)] [15: Ibid., Brother Anthony of Taize “Chaucer and Religion” (764-5)]

Moreover, Geoffrey Chaucer’s text, Canterbury tales coincides with my findings, as the evidence provided, allows readers to witness his use of biblical text, through his characters. Furthermore, Chaucer not only uses the themes of Religion and faith in his storytelling but allows the audience to make their own judgments on his portrayed characters. This further permits his audience to dive into his stories as pilgrims themselves, alongside his characters.

Furthermore, Geoffrey Chaucer’s text, Canterbury tales can be considered a reliable source as it identifies with the medieval time of the 15th century. It also allows the audience to uncover what life was like in medieval times through a fictional setting. Although it is fictional, it brings an interesting spin on historical evidence, through its poetic power, value, nobility and entertainment, it illustrates the differences of social structure of the time, the church, lower class as well as upper-class citizens, clothing worn and the language used, thus demonstrating its reliability.

Bibliography

  1. Brother Anthony of Taize, 2019. ‘Chaucer And Religion’. Anthony.Sogang.Ac.Kr. http://anthony.sogang.ac.kr/Religion.htm.
  2. Joy, Maddie. 2019. ‘The Age Of Faith’. Prezi.Com. https://prezi.com/0fmwhocdvmvk/the-age-of-faith/.
  3. C. David Benson. ‘Varieties of Religious Poetry in The Canterbury Tales: The Man of Law’s Taleand The Clerk’s Tale.’ Studies in the Age of Chaucer 1986 (1986): 159-167. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed August 23, 2019).
  4. Chaucer, Geoffrey. 2019. ‘Geoffrey Chaucer’. Christian History | Learn The History Of Christianity & The Church. https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/poets/geoffrey-chaucer.html.
  5. Cleft, Jean Darby; Cleft, Wallace (1996). The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning. The Paulist Press.
  6. Joseph, James. 1957. Chaucer’s Presentation of The Church in The Canterbury Tales. Accessed from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1e3c/39baece1e7b83e2147b207cd625f77a3592d.pdfPg 13-50
  7. Stewart, Summer. 2019. Study.Com. https://study.com/academy/lesson/quotes-about-religion-in-the-canterbury-tales.html

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Views on Religion and Faith in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Poetic Novel ‘The Canterbury Tales’. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/views-on-religion-and-faith-in-geoffrey-chaucers-poetic-novel-the-canterbury-tales/
“Views on Religion and Faith in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Poetic Novel ‘The Canterbury Tales’.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/views-on-religion-and-faith-in-geoffrey-chaucers-poetic-novel-the-canterbury-tales/
Views on Religion and Faith in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Poetic Novel ‘The Canterbury Tales’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/views-on-religion-and-faith-in-geoffrey-chaucers-poetic-novel-the-canterbury-tales/> [Accessed 3 Feb. 2023].
Views on Religion and Faith in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Poetic Novel ‘The Canterbury Tales’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/views-on-religion-and-faith-in-geoffrey-chaucers-poetic-novel-the-canterbury-tales/
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