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Medivial Christianity Essay

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.

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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 a desire to
know God and achieve
intimacy with the divine. Leading a life pleasing to God was the uppermost
concern, and the wide
diversity of medieval piety is simply because people answered the question,
‘How can I best lead a holy
life?’ in so many different ways. Beginning with The Pardoner’s Tale, the
theme of salvation is truly
paramount. Chaucer, being one of the most important medieval authors, uses
this prologue and tale
to make a statement about buying salvation. The character of the pardoner is
one of the most
despicable pilgrims, seemingly along for the ride to his next gig as the
seller of relics. For myn
entente is nat but for to winne,/ And no thing for correccion of sinne,
admits the pardoner in his
prologue. As a matter of fact, the pardoner is only in it for the money, as
evident from this passage:
I wol none of the Apostles countrefete:
I wold have moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete,
Al were it yiven of the pooreste page,
Or of the pooreste widwe in a village —
Al sholde hir children sterve for famine.

Nay, I drinke licour of the vine
And have a joly wenche in every town.

In his tale, the Pardoner slips into his role as the holiest of holies and
speaks of the dire
consequences of gluttony, gambling, and lechery. He cites Attila the Hun
with, Looke Attila, the
grete conquerour,/ Deide in his sleep with shame and dishonour,/ Bleeding at
his nose in
dronkenesse. The personification of the deadly sins, along with his story
of the three greedy
men that eventually perish at the hands of their sin is a distinct medieval
device. The comic twist that
Chaucer adds to the device, though, is that the Pardoner in himself is as
the personification of sin, as is
evident from the passages of his prologue. At the conclusion of his tale,
the Pardoner asks, Allas,
mankinde, how may it bitide/ That to thy Creatour which that thee wroughte,/
And with his precious
herte blood boughte,/ Thou art so fals and unkinde, allas?. He then goes on
to offer each
pilgrim a place…for a price, of course.

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The Pardoner’s place in Chaucer’s idea of redemption becomes evident in
the epilogue of the tale.

After offering the host the first pardon (For he is most envoluped in
sinne and, supposedly, the
equivalent of Chaucer), the host berates the pardoner, saying, I wolde I
hadde thy coilons in
myn hond,/ In stede of relikes or of saintuarye./ Lat cutte him of. By
this, the idea of the
pardoner as the most important man on the pilgrimage is brought to fruition
and Chaucer makes the
main point of this tale: Salvation is not for sale. Another example of the
medieval obsession with

However, some did not accept this and questioned the church — It was
what they wanted other
than a holy life with a Old-Testament God; That style of thinking
evenually lead to a more gentle,
mother-figure as a goddess — The Cult of the Virgin. The eminent question
then becomes, Why
would people change from a long-lasting, Old-Testament God to a mother-like
goddess ? The answer
is simply because they thought their new found Goddess would never be as
harsh on people as the
often criticized male like aspect of God. In both current Catholicism and
that of the medieval period,
Mary is worshipped with more fervor than even God or Jesus. Church after
church was (and still is)
erected in her name. Her likeness graced statues and stained glass with as
much frequency as Jesus’
bloody head. The worship of Mary is fervent, institutionalized, and approved
of by the Christian church.

Is she not a goddess? Mary simply took the place of the female aspects of
the spirit that were once
worshipped as Roman or Anglo-Saxon goddesses.

The medieval period, stretching approximately from the late seventh
century to the early sixteenth,
was bound together under one constant–Roman Catholic Christianity. But
beneath this curtain of
Christianity many legends were being formed and passed down, as old pagan
traditions became
assimilated into a newly Christian society. The two religious forms were
becoming intertwined. They
seemed at this time to be tolerant of each other, not entirely distinct. A
peoples habits and thought
processes are not easily changed, and being that the Anglo-Saxons of Britain
were not Christians until
the mid-600’s, a period of transition can be expected . At least, a
fascination with their pagan ancestors
existed, at most, the practice of the old ways. Examples of a fascination
with magic, worshipping more
than one god-like figure, and a continuing love for worshipping goddesses,
exist in many texts written in
this period. Yet, this does not mean that every village had a sorceress in
their midst, but literature
usually reflects the society within which it emerges. At the time of The
Canterbury Tales, many of a
people who were Christians officially, politically, and in most cases at
heart, saw that there were elements
of paganism and sorcery which is tolerated and respected. The society in
which Chaucer writes these
stories is Christian as well, politically and spiritually–could it be that
they tolerated and respected
paganism and magic? Perhaps the separation of the two is not necessary and
was not complete at this
point in time.

Not only was magic a pagan tradition that persisted throughout the
Middle Ages..another tradition,
changing at the time, reflected the transition from worshipping the unseen
forces in the world as many
gods, to one, omnipotent God. Although the people were Christians, they took
the separation of spiritual
powers far beyond the creation the Trinity. The specific powers or emphasis
given to each saint
carries on even into today’s Catholic tradition. The medieval period may
have had some of this
(although many of the saints were not even born yet…) but in their
literature, many immortal and
powerful creatures are found. This form of Paganism existed in Britain of
the Middle ages, full of
spiritual beings, full of magic, alive with heavenly power existing on
Earth. It has been the nature of the
Christian men in power through the ages to, for fear, deny their people the
knowledge of the un-Christian
richness in their ancestry, and so the traditions that were not masked as
Christian are lost to students
of Christian history and literature. But it seems this period had not seen
such extensive discrimination.

The two ways of the world were not quite so separate then, and matters of
the occult were not yet
labeled as evil. This again implies that perhaps the two forms of religious
thought do not have to be
completely separate. There are strong similarities for them to coincide and
complement each
other, and for an entire people trying to make the Christian transition,
maybe this complementing was
necessary. However, the age of forceful patriarchy and witch-burning would
not come about for several
hundred years.

Each new way of leading a holy life was thought to be progressively
more acceptable to God
by its proponents than the ones that had gone before. Such ‘new ways’ were
normally inspired by a
desire to break away from the corruption and worldliness which was percieved
in the older or more
established forms of Godly living. These new ways often became corrupt
themselves and over time
breakaways from them were hailed as a newer and more perfect way of
following God. This
roller-coaster ride of corruption and reform is basically the story of
popular medieval religion as man
battled to define and discover what it really meant to be a Christian.

In an effort to escape persecution, but to also flee the evil, prevalent in
the world and to seek God
free from many ‘ worldly ‘ distractions, monks began to assemble as
communities of Christians . These
communities, although they had little organization, were regarded as
possessing the best Christian life
by having a solitary, ascetic, celibate existence where the ‘ world ‘ had
been totally renounced and had
been entirely replaced with heavenly contemplation. These ‘ new ‘ martyrs
were usually just called
monks: theirs was a life of daily martyrdom as they constantly died to self
and lived totally for God.

The monks paid particular veneration to the physical remains of the martyrs
(relics) and were therefore
connected to the martyrs who they replaced. The rise of ascetic monasticism
and relic worship however
was quite controversial — Both the worship of relics and ascetic
monasticism however became
mainstays of this Medieval religion, and the idea that monks were a new form
of martyr persisted
over time. Both monks as well as martyrs were looked upon as holy men.

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In relating this solitary world to readers, there is also a monk in
Chaucer’s work — He is someone
who combined godliness and worldliness into a profitable and comfortable
living. He was the
outrider or the person in charge of the outlying property….which lead him
to enjoy hunting, fine foods,
and owning several horses. Monks renounced all their worldly belongings and
by taking vows of poverty,
chastity and obedience, joined a community of monks. Their lives were spent
in communal worship,
devotional reading, prayer and manual labour all under the authority of the
abbot of the monastic house.

Particular monks often had particular jobs- the cellarer or the infirmarer
for example, and these like every aspect of monastic life were laid down in
the ‘Rule’. Monks were nearly always of noble extraction (one
had to have wealth in order to give it up) but could also be given to the
monastery as children (called
oblates) to be brought up as monks.

Hindsight has blurred our vision of the Medieval monk and the result is
that the modern Christian
mindset has condemned him for his selfish escapism from the world and for
his apparent neglect of those
who needed Christ outside of the cloister. The Medieval mindset was very
different. The monastery was
an integral part of the local community — it probably owned most of the
farming land in the area- and the
fortunes of the people in any area were bound up with the spirituality of
its monastic house. The monks
were on the front line of the spiritual battle-it was they who did battle in
prayer for their community, who
warded off devils and demons and who prayed tirelessly for the salvation of
the souls of those in their
community. Rather than being the cowards of Christianity unable to take the
strain of living a Christian
life in the real world, the monks were like spiritual stormtroopers
interceeding for an area against its
supernatural enemies in mudh the same way as a local lord in his castle
protected an area against its
physical enemies. The people gave gifts to both lord and abbot in return for
a service.

The Pardoner also represents the tradition of faith — in respect to
the church of his time. The Pardoner is
representative of the seamy side of the corrupt church and a broken or
twisted (if you will) faith. The
faith of a bureaucracy, which is what the church had become. The Pardoner
was a church official who
had the authority to forgive those who had sinned by selling pardons and
indulgences to them. Although,
the Pardoner was a church official, he was clearly in the church business
for economic reasons. The
Pardoner, a devious 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.

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Medivial Christianity Essay

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

2018-12-31 18:05:11
Medivial Christianity Essay
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