Medieval religious fundraising instrument. A pardon, normally a document, offers those who own, that is, purchase it, and do what it says (say prayers etc.), pardon from performing the penance they would normally have to do for their sins. The pope understood himself to have power to offer such pardons, deriving from St. Peter himself; and to delegate this power to institutions such as hospitals. The pope theoretically drew on a “treasury of merits.” Here the pardon could be monetized; you could purchase the pardon as a charitable contribution to a fundraising effort. The Pardoner’s job is to collect such contributions. Many historical pardoners were highly respectable; not here.
Medieval institutions depended entirely on private funds: monasteries, colleges, hospitals, schools, libraries. Many of these funds took the form of endowments, i.e. in wills, often in return for prayers to be said for the soul of the donor. Fund-raising campaigns, however, also needed smaller donations, and the pardon was an important instrument of such campaigns. The pardon usually made a demand on the recipient, pardon to be given only once certain prayers were said. Modern institutional fund-raising does not use pardons, nor does it use the logic of reciprocity – money for prayers. It does use an equivalent logic – money for virtue and sometimes money for praise (your name on a building). It also depends on an equivalent system of institutional values, an ideal of what the middle ages called “common profit.” What we now call the “non-profit” sector – large institutions such as Harvard included – would be the “common profit” sector in medieval parlance. A common term used across the ages is charity.
Pardoner’s Prologue reveals his fund-raising efforts as lacking charity, that is, good intention (403ff). Entente He reveals his own entente as Avarice, not the profit of others (427-8) He reveals his means of fulfilling his entente as fraudulent, dependent on claims that are faked and a pulpit manner that is impressive but hollow, also based on false relics, supposedly holy objects (357ff) He reveals his practice as the opposite of that practiced by the apostles (443ff) The Pardoner is thus an example of two sins, Avarice and Hypocrisy (410) Nonetheless, he claims to be able to tell a moral tale, if only “by rote” (459ff, 332) Questions, then: 1) is this claim plausible? 2) Why does the Pardoner reveal himself to us? 3) Underlying question: what kind of satire is this? How does this relate to Chaucer’s other “institutional” tales, of the Friar and the Summoner?
Avarice the avaricious man is likned unto helle, that the moore it swelweth, the moore desir it hath to swelwe and devoure. (The Tale of Melibee 1618-19) “The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil” (I Tim 6:10) Hypocrisy Ypocrite is he that hideth to shewe hym swich as he is, and sheweth hym swich as he noght is. (Parson’s Tale 394-95) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27) The Tavern Sins Drunkenness, gluttony, lechery, dicing, swearing. An evil inversion of the Christian virtues associated with community and the ceremonies of the Christian church, including the Mass. “Tearing the body of Christ”
1. The Pardoner does not identify himself with these sins, although his tale-telling is associated with drinking 2. The sins themselves are perhaps inconsequential, mostly an occasion for oratory on his part. These are “set pieces,” examples of successful sermon rhetoric 3. However, they create a collective atmosphere of moral pessimism, reducing humanity to its baser desires and pleasures 4. The Pardoner’s attacks on these sins also harp endlessly on bodies and their dismemberment. 5. Since the theme of the tale itself is violent death, this is appropriate 6. It’s also appropriate because the world of the tale is entirely materialist. Bodies, their desires and needs, are all that matter
During the Black Death of 1348-49. About one third of the population of Europe died; the cause, bubonic plague
1. The tale reverses the message of one of Jesus’ famous parables: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. (Matthew 13:44) 2. The tale parodies the Last Supper and the Mass that Commemorates it. The Rioters “drink to their own damnation” For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.… For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. (I Corinthians 11)