Canterbury Tales – Medieval Church

and somewhat dubious individual had one goal: Get the most money for
pardons by almost any means of coercion necessary. A twisted and
ironic mind, has basically defined himself through his work for a
similarly corrupt church. In contrast, the Plowman has nothing but a
seemingly uncomplicated and untwisted faith. The Plowman has the faith
of a poor farmer, uncomplicated by the bureaucracy of the church. The
Pardoner is probably on this journey because he is being required to
go by the church or he sees some sort of economic gain from this
voyage, most likely from selling forgiveness to the other pilgrims.
The Plowman on the other hand is probably on this voyage because of
his sincerity and faith in its purpose. While this was the story of
religion at ‘grass-roots’ level, at the organisational and
hierarchical level, the church developed along a different line. It
became more organized, more bureaucratic, more legal, more centralized
and basically more powerful on a European scale. This process was
spearheaded by the papacy and reached its pinnacle under Pope Innocent
III in the early 13th Century. He embodied what became known as the
‘papal monarchy’ – a situation where the popes literally were kings in
their own world. The relative importance of spiritual and secular
power in the world was a constant question in the middle ages with
both secular emperors and kings, and the popes asserting their claims
to rule by divine authority with God’s commands for God’s people
proceeding out of their mouths. The power of the church is hard to
exaggerate: its economic and political influence was huge, as its
wealth, movements like the crusades, and even the number of churches
that exist from this period truly show its greatness. By the early
10th century, a strange malaise seems to have entered the English
church. There are comments from this time of a decline in learning
among churchmen and an increase in a love for things of this earthly
world. Even more of these lax standards had begun a decline in the
power structure of the church which included a decrease in acceptable
behavior amongst churchmen and a growing use of church institutions by
lay people as a means of evading taxes. Christianity affected all men
in Europe at every level and in every way. Such distances however, led
to much diversity and the shaping of Medieval religion into a land of
contrasts. One can also see how man’s feelings of extreme sinfulness
and desire for God are quite evident in these tales. Still, we are
told that history repeats itself because nobody listens to it, but
more realistically history repeats itself because man is essentially
the same from one generation to the next. He has the same aspirations,
fears and flaws; yet the way that these are expressed differs from age
to age. This is why each period of history is different. The fact that
man is the same yet different is what makes the study of the people
who formed the medieval church directly applicable to Christians’
lives and experiences today.