In medieval times, the Church had become predominate in both the culture and domestic affairs of everyday people. The Church was in charge of governing laws, taxing people, and was a big participant in every form of social event from baptism to the funeral. Sadly, with power comes corruption, and the Church was not above this standard. Many churches began to abuse their power and took advantage of the ignorance of the common people. Chaucer’s Pardoner is the embodiment of a stereotypical church official who has become corrupt with power. None of his actions relate to his perceived moral principles, clerical status, or to the theme in his tale.
The Pardoner spins a tale about how materialism leads humans astray; however, the Pardoner himself indulges extravagantly in materials. In the Pardoner’s Prologue claims, “Radix malorum est cupiditas” (line 4). This translates into “The roos of evil is desire” (1 Timothy 6:10). Right after he declares that he preaches against the desire for money, the Pardoner goes on to explain how he deceives people to earn money. He peddles many false relics and even claims that he desires to get money no matter the cost to those who give it. This is exemplified in lines 26-29 when the Pardoner states “I mean to have money, wool and cheese and wheat/Though it were given me by the poorest lad/Or poorest village widow, though she had/A string of starving children, all agape.”
As if his behavior being contrary to his declared moral themes, his very status as a clergy is contradictory. A Pardoner is supposed to be responsible for pardoning people of their sins; however, this greedy and conniving man uses the guilt people feel to milk every last cent out of them. The apostles are constantly stated as emphasizing it is better to live in poverty than overindulge, but the Pardoner completely opposes this. The Pardoner would never imagine living in poverty when he can utilize the power given to him by the church to have everything he ever needs to live luxuriously.
It is saddening how a man can declare other’s wicked and sinful for committing the same acts that he himself is guilty of. The theme of the Pardoner’s tale is to avoid the deadly sins, focusing mainly on drunkenness, gluttony, and avarice. The tale he spins is of three drunken reprobates who seek to rid the area of a person known only as “Death.” The Pardoners tells how during their search for death they stumbled upon some golden florins underneath an oak tree.
The greed each man felt drove them to plot against one another so that they might have the gold all to themselves; however, it was this very plotting that lead to all of their deaths. The moment after he finishes his tale, the Pardoner begins to advertise the “relics” that he has. He collects a multitude of money from the people in the tavern who have no idea that the relics he is selling are nothing more than fakes. The Pardoner, who was given the task of caring for the community, commits many sinful acts that undermine his morality, clergy position, and the theme of his tale. If one takes Chaucer’s illustration of the Pardoner, one can see how he relates to many of the corrupt practices followed by the church.