Religion and Sin in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Religion and sin play an important part in The Canterbury Tales, as well as in the time period the story was written in. Nearly all of approximately two dozen characters in the story represent one or more of the Seven Deadly Sins, which are; sloth, greed, envy, lust, wrath, gluttony, and pride. In the Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner shows that perhaps the worst of all the Seven Deadly Sins is greed.

Back in the time period of The Canterbury Tales, pardoners where people who granted papal indulgences. The idea of indulgences was that if you made a donation to the church, you would be absolved of the sin you committed. Many people objected to this and thought that it was greedy of the church itself, since many believed the church did not have the authority to do this, and since the church would often spend the money on luxurious things. Many of the people who pardoners sold indulgences to were very poor.

The Pardoner in the story is an especially greedy person. Ironically though, he preaches against greed in his sermons. He keeps the money he gets from selling indulgences for himself. He mocks how stupid the poor are for giving him money for indulgences when they can barely feed their families. It is doubtful the Pardoner is selling them indulgences because he is concerned for them and their sins, but rather he just wants money for himself. Greed makes him prey on the poor and take their money. The Pardoner also carries around a bag full of fake relics to sell to the local townspeople and churches.

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Greed makes the Pardoner commit other wrongdoings such as lying and taking from the poor.

In the tale that the Pardoner tells, greed is literally deadly. After the drunks in the story that searching for Death come across a mound of gold, they are secretly plan to kill each other to take all of the gold for themselves, when there was enough for them to share. In the end, nobody gets any of the gold, because they all end up killing each other over it. Because of their greed, they were prepared to murder their friends over it.

Both of these stories show how greed can drive people to commit other sins, even murder. Greed is nearly the only of the Seven Deadly Sins that causes actually harm to other people. For example, if you envy someone, a person would only hurt themselves, and if someone is slothful and gluttonous, most of the time they are the one who is negatively impacted by it. Greed can cause you to take from someone who doesn’t have enough, and not to share with those who need help.

Even today, greed is a serious problem. Society could stamp out hunger and homelessness if more people who had a large surplus of money would help the underprivileged instead of buying three yachts, a private jet, or a 500 dollar pair of jeans. But sadly, some people feel as if they never have enough material items, when there are people who have much less than they do. Some people have to suffer because of other people’s greed. Most people who are very greedy will never feel that what they have is sufficient, and will always want more.

At the beginning of the Pardoner’s prologue in The Canterbury tales, the Pardoner himself even mentions the phrase “Radix malorum est Cupiditas”, which translates from Latin into “Greed is the root of all evil”. Between the Pardoner’s prologue and the Pardoner’s story, Chaucer makes it very clear how ugly greed can be.

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Religion and Sin in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. (2023, Feb 13). Retrieved from

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