The Canterbury Tales

The Pardoner as Con Artist

The Pardoner of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is representative of the darker side of the corrupt church of the Middle Ages. A 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, they were almost always part of the church for only economic reasons. The Pardoner of this tale is typical of this kind of person: a devious and fraudulent individual whose only goal was to get the most money for pardons and indulgences by almost any means of coercion necessary.

Although today most people view the indulgences these pardoners sold only as a wicked practice of the Medieval Church, the practice of selling indulgences and pardons actually began much earlier than the Middle Ages, and with noble intentions. The official definition of "indulgence", as stated by the Roman Catholic Church, is "a partial remission of temporal punishment due for a sin after the sin has been forgiven through the sacrament of penance." Originally, indulgences remitting punishment for sin could only legitimately be granted to persons who confessed their sins to their own parish priests, rather than pardoners. If the condition...

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