The Portrayal of Religion and the Clergy in The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, felt that the Church's turmoil experienced during the fourteenth century contributed to the a declining trust of clergy and left the people spiritually devastated. The repeated epidemics that the European Church experienced weakened the church by highlighting the clergy's inability to face adversity. The clergy's inability to provide relief for the people during a period of suffering did not turn people away from the church, but it did cause the people to question the value of the Church's traditional practices. People looked for ways to gain greater control over their own spiritual destines and altered their perception of the clergy, who were too weak to bring the people complete salvation. (Bisson51-52) "The times are out of joint, the light of faith grows dim; the clergy are mostly ignorant, quarrelsome, idle, and unchaste, and the prelates do not correct them because they themselves are no better." (Coulton 296) In The Canterbury Tales Chaucer makes us highly aware of the clergy's obvious and hidden intensions. Chaucer shows his awareness of the shortcomings of the Church in his portrayal of those who exercise spiritual authority during the pilgrimage. (Bisson 51-52)
Chaucer uses the pilgrimage to balance the possibility of religious devotion against the actuality of the fallen state of humanity. Primary religious motivations for going on a pilgrimage might include seeking cures and favors, eliminating a sense of guilt, or completing a penance, but the religious aspect of Chaucer's pilgrimage is minimized due to the corruptness of his characters. They quarrel, drink to excess, swear, deceive others, and exhibit many other vices. Although the explicit purpose of the pilgrimage is religious, the gathering of the pilgrims, the moment of departure, the association with food and drink establishes humanity's physical dimension. The eagerness...
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