Two Perspectives on the Medieval Church

Essay by phoenixfire February 2008

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Two Perspectives on the Medieval ChurchIt is often said that the Church during the Middles Ages was greedy and corrupt. When making this statement, many people use literature from that era, such as the works of Chaucer, to substantiate their claim. While literature can often reflect what life was like throughout history, it can also distort reality and alter history according to the author’s personal feelings and bias toward the society in which they lived.

It is because of this that many people claim that the Church was not as corrupt as is often claimed. One such person who holds this opinion is Assistant Professor of medieval history at Calvin College, MI., Frans van Liere. Van Liere claims the argument that the Medieval Church was corrupt is an exaggerated myth, perpetuated by historical fallacies.

In The Pardoner’s Tale, the reader is introduced to the concept of religious corruption. This is done through the storytelling of a “Pardoner” (one who sold indulgences), who reveals to the reader that he is actually a corrupt hypocrite.

Asked by the Host to tell a “merry” tale to the group, the Pardoner tells of how he preaches about morality, while simultaneously admitting to being a drunk. By this point, the reader is led to believe that this is symbolic of the Medieval Church and its double standards. The Pardoner continues his story, telling of how he sells promises of salvation while asking for money in return. Again, this is a reference to the Church’s use of indulgences during the Middle Ages.

The Pardoner tells the group of a Flemish people obsessed with drinking and indulging in excess. Denouncing this behavior, the Pardoner then admits to engaging in it himself. Clearly, Chaucer is making a statement: the Church was nothing more than corrupt, hypocritical and full...