The Canterbury Tales: A view of the Medieval Christian Church

SUBJECT: English 243 TITLE: "The Canterbury Tales: A view of the Medieval Christian Church" 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 pilgrimmage 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 clerical background, church offices changed hands for cash, and so on. The authority of the early medieval Church in England was no different to that of any other landowner. So, the question that haunted medieval man was that of his own salvation. The existence of God was never questioned and the heart-cry of medieval society was