Plagued By The Bubonic Plague Theology Religion Essay
The Crusades are perhaps the most famous holy wars to take place in history, but the church’s success in the crusades only created a power and money hungry institution that worsened with age. In the prologue of the Canterbury Tales, a very successful knight, “Of mortal battles he had fought fifteen…And always won he sovereign fame for prize” (Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, 61, 67) is introduced; he represents the epitome of the church’s success in the Crusades. The success created an institution that slowly drifted from the original values of the Christian faith and created a society more focused on money and material possession than anything else. Even members of the clergy, supposedly the most holy of men, were taking part in excessive spending, bribes, and sexual affairs. The Canterbury tales feature a Monk who disagrees with St. Benedict’s code of poverty and who “was a rider day and night; [and] since riding and the hunting of the hare were all his love, for no cost would he spare.” (Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales, 189, 191-192) And a Friar whom “intimate was he…with the worthy women of the town.” (Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales, 215-217) Perhaps the worst is Novel 4 of the Decameron which features “A monk [who] lapses into a sin meriting the most severe punishment,” being found with a woman in his chambers, and “censures the same fault in his abbot, and thus evades the penalty.” (Boccaccio, the Decameron, 1) Equally as bad were the nuns in Day 3 Novel 1 who eagerly slept with a man pretending to be dumb. If clergymen could not follow their own bylaws how did they expect the people of Europe to respect them or follow any of the laws they were bound to.
Sins of the flesh were not the only sources of corruption in the Christian church that caused the shift in attitudes. The church and eternal salvation was no longer based on a strong relationship to God, but it was based on how much you could donate to your local diocese or the Vatican to support their gluttonous lifestyles. The irony of this can be seen when during the Pardoner’s tale he announces “Behold how dearly, to be brief and plain was purchased this accursed villainy; Corrupt was all this world with gluttony!” (Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales, 40-42) He is basically stating that gluttony and greed has caused so many problems in the world when he, himself, if selling fake pardons and view of fake holy relics to lazy sinners who are not truly repentant for their sins in order to support his own gluttonous lifestyle. Friars, such as the one in Novel 6 of the Decameron, would even persecute citizens at the requests of other in order to “increase the weight of his own purse by the florians, which he might, as he did, receive,” (Boccaccio, the Decameron, 6) or they would sell false sanctity to even the worst sinners such as “San” Ciappelletto to turn a profit. Because the church and salvation were based on money, the poor were automatically unworthy of salvation in the eyes of the leaders of the Christian church. No matter how holy a life they lived they would be subject to eternal damnation because they did not give enough in their mortal lives. This factor aided in causing a hugely negative shift in attitude towards the church because of the sheer amount of peasants and poor Europeans, who saw through the sham that the church was peddling to the rich.
With the church’s power came the control of any laws they wanted to create or take away, and they used this control to instill fear into any foolish person that would fall for it. Anyone who did not regularly receive pardon for their sins was at risk for an eternity in hell. The church also declared that any non-Christian, even if they believed in God, would go to hell, which is exemplified by Novel 3 of the Decameron where “Jehannot, observing Abraham’s loyalty and rectitude, began to be sorely vexed in spirit that the soul of one so worthy and wise and good should perish for want of faith. Wherefore he began in a friendly manner to plead with him that he should leave the errors of the Jewish faith and turn to the Christian variety.” (Boccaccio, the Decameron, 5-6) Upon going to Rome, Abraham met with what he described as “gluttonous, wine-bibbers, and drunkards,” (Boccaccio, the Decameron, 20) yet he still converted to Christianity. Speaking out against the church or against anyone who had given them enough money in donations could mean horrible consequences for the offender. There was the constant threat of excommunication from the entirety of the institution of the church. Excommunication however, eventually aided the shift in attitudes towards the church when formerly excommunicated church members started separate Christian movements against the corrupt church.
Finally the corruption of the church, consequently, caused a corruption in humanity itself. Perhaps it was depicted best in the Pardoner’s tale when the old man stated to the three drunkards that death was up the crooked path, and when the three drunks arrived they came to find bushels of gold... which led to their deaths. In fact it was a common belief that the Bubonic Plague was meant to be a punishment for all of the corruption that was present in the Late Middle Ages in not only the church but in the population as well. However not all Christians were blinded by the corruption of the church. Those who truly believed in the salvation of God did not fall for any shams; such as the Host in the Canterbury Tales who denied the offer of the Pardoner to see the relics by stating “Why, you would have me kissing your old breeches, and swear they were the relics of a saint though with your excrement 'twere dabbed like paint.” (Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales, 486-488) Those who saw the church’s deceptive ways, consequently, fought to end the reign of the corrupt church and reestablish a new order, and with time they succeeded.
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