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Geoffrey Chaucer’s the Canterbury Tales

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The Holy Friar

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories about medieval times and those individuals involved during this time. Chaucer’s Friar assumed the responsibilities of a medieval Friar, such as administering the sacraments of confession and marriage. Even though he himself took on the life of poverty as a Friar, he liked to make friend with landowners, barmaids, noblewomen, and tavern owners (Geoffrey Chaucer 252). To earn money while living this life he begged for money, but also sold the church's forgiveness during confession. He did this by accepting bribes from his wealthy friends, that allowed him to live the life that he desired. He didn't live a life of poverty like most Friars, as he loved to gain money and wore expensive clothing instead of the cloaks of a beggar. The traditional Medieval Friar wandered around truly living the life of poverty and delivering sermons. They were not allowed to beg for cash or accept donations during preaching, they could only accept food or clothing. The Friar that Chaucer describes lived a life that was not similar to all other medieval Friars, as they followed a holy and modest life unlike him who did not take on the same life of poverty and humility.

In The Canterbury Tales, the Friar assumes the same responsibilities as the traditional Friar. Like every Friar this one has the ability to administer the sacraments: “For he was qualified to hear confessions, or so he said, with more than priestly scope; he had a special license from the pope.” (Chaucer 222-224). Unlike the other Friars, Chaucer's Friar sold the church's forgiveness during this sacrament; he would accept bribes from his rich friends. By doing this he broke away from the other friars as they were not allowed to accept money. Medieval Friars were not allowed to accept cash, so him doing this was forbidden by the church. The Friar that Chaucer describes followed the lifestyle of his choice instead of following the life of his other medieval brothers.

Being a Friar during this time required a life of poverty, they were required to live among the poor. The Friar in this story did not live a life of poverty, moreover he did not like to be seen among the poor. Instead he made friends among some of the wealthiest in society. Chaucer describes his feelings on the Friar when he notes, sarcastically, “It’s not fitting with the dignity of his position, dealing with a scum of wretched lepers; nothing good can come of commerce with such slum and gutter dwellers, but only with the rich and victual-sellers.” (Chaucer 248-252). He explains that the Friar would rather make friends with the wealthy of society, because what he considered to be the dignity of his position. He believes that nothing good will come out of commerce with the poor, so he makes friends with the wealthy landowners, barmaids and old tavern owners. This position on the poor of society is not shared among other medieval friars of his time, and it is seen as wrong because part of their duty as friars is to be brothers with everyone including the poor.

Medieval Friars were commonly part of an order of brothers, who followed a certain kind of lifestyle which was based off of how Jesus and his disciples lived. Various orders of friars existed during the medieval times. Most of the orders required each brother to live a simple life with little possessions. Most Friars were humble and modest while the one Chaucer describes is jolly. Chaucer describes him as “a wanton one and merry, a limiter, a very festive fellow.” (Chaucer 212-213). This shows the Friar as having a different attitude than the other medieval friars. This is more evidence of how Chaucer's Friar is not one of the holiest in this story and does not follow the other characteristics of medieval friars.

The teachings of St. Francis were the foundation of the monastic orders during the middle ages and still till this day.

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