The Canterbury Tales: a View of the Medieval Christian Church

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In discussing Chaucer's collection of stories called The Canterbury

Tales, an interesting picture

or illustration of the Medieval Christian Church is presented. However,

while people demanded more

voice in the affairs of government, the church became corrupt -- this

corruption also led to a more

crooked society. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as just church

history; This is because the

church can never be studied in isolation, simply because it has always

related to the social, economic

and political context of the day. In history then, there is a two way

process where the church has an

influence on the rest of society and of course, society influences the

church. This is naturally because

it is the people from a society who make up the church....and those same

people became the

personalities that created these tales of a pilgrimage
to Canterbury.

The Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England was to take place in a

relatively short period of time,

but this was not because of the success of the Augustinian effort. Indeed,

the early years of this

mission had an ambivalence which shows in the number of people who hedged

their bets by

practicing both Christian and Pagan rites at the same time, and in the

number of people who

promptly apostatized when a Christian king died. There is certainly no

evidence for a large-scale

conversion of the common people to Christianity at this time. Augustine was

not the most diplomatic

of men, and managed to antagonize many people of power and influence in

Britain, not least among

them the native British churchmen, who had never been particularly eager to

save the souls of the

Anglo-Saxons who had brought such bitter times to their people. In their

isolation, the British Church

had maintained older ways of celebrated the major festivals of Christianity,

and Augustine's effort to

compel them to conform to modern Roman usage only angered them. When

Augustine died (some

time between 604 and 609 AD), then, Christianity had only a precarious hold

on Anglo-Saxon

England, a hold which was limited largely to a few in the aristocracy.

Christianity was to become

firmly established only as a result of Irish efforts, who from centers in

Scotland and Northumbria

made the common people Christian, and established on a firm basis the

English Church.

At all levels of society, belief in a god or gods was not a matter of

choice, it was a matter of fact.

Atheism was an alien concept (and one dating from the eighteenth century).

Living in the middle ages,

one would come into contact with the Church in a number of ways.

First, there were the routine church services, held daily and attended

at least once a week, and the

special festivals of Christmas, Easter, baptisms, marriages, etc.. In that

respect the medieval Church

was no different to the modern one. Second, there were the tithes that the

Church collected, usually

once a year. Tithes were used to feed the parish priest, maintain the fabric

of the church, and to help

the poor. Third, the Church fulfilled the functions of a 'civil service' and

an education system. Schools

did not exist (and were unnecessary to a largely peasant society), but the

Church and the government

needed men who could read and write in English and Latin. The Church trained

its own men, and these

went to help in the government: writing letters, keeping accounts and so on.

The words 'cleric' and

'clerk' have the same origin, and every nobleman would have at least one

priest to act as a secretary.

The power of the Church is often over-emphasized. Certainly, the later

medieval Church was rich and

powerful, and that power was often misused - especially in Europe. Bishops

and archbishops were

appointed without any training or...
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