The Parson is one of the few religious characters within ”The Canterbury Tales” that actually appear to be faithful and true to his profession and calling. In this lesson, we’ll discuss his character and the sermon he makes to his fellow travelers.
Characters in ‘The Canterbury Tales’
The 29 pilgrims that tell the tales that make up The Canterbury Tales are an eclectic bunch of characters. There are the lower-class workers, like the Plowman (the Parson’s brother and traveling companion); the religious but crooked, like the Monk and the Friar; and of course the fighters for good, such as the Knight. But the Parson is seen to stand apart from all that. As a person who faithful, and completely as he seems, the elderly Parson holds a unique position in the group as the only religious figure that is pious and humble.
The Only Faithful
A parson during the days of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ was a priest of an independent church, not tied to the Catholic Church of the day. Due to the fact that the parson is not obligated to a higher church, he is has more freedom to be in control of his own actions. A parson has full control of the direction and belief structure of his church.
This one is no different: He is seen by the Host as a shining example of a religious figure. The Parson lives the life he wants his church congregation to live, without fail. He is known to visit his people even when he is not well, and works hard, and does not brag about his work or his church. Additionally, during this time frame, parsons were not required to stay near their church, they could be absent. However, the Parson did not believe this was his role. Instead he felt responsible in leading his people so that they could go to heaven. He saw himself as a caretaker and took his role seriously.
Although the Parson could use his role to steal from his people, instead he is poor, and lives a quiet life, meant mostly as an example to others. He appreciates the small things and needs nothing extravagant to bring him happiness.
The Last Tale
The Parson is slightly judgmental of the more secular stories that are told within the group, and stands his ground when he is asked to tell a story by refusing to tell any ”fable,” or rhyme. He instead does what priests do, he preaches. The Parson appears to want to educate the rest of the company on the Lord and perhaps also show them their sins. His sermon is on the seven deadly sins and the way that people can find their way to heaven. During this time, religion was very strict, and trying to live a sinless life was of the highest order. However, as seen by the tales, the Church institution and some of the people working for the Church were known for corruption. The Parson appears to want to root it out and lead this ragtag group to heaven, just like he does in his parish.
Chaucer seemed to have a plan as he listed out the stories within The Canterbury Tales. Throughout the tales, he has religious characters telling of their crooked lives, yet he ends with one religious figure who is truly pious and faithful. This is thought to be intentionally done by Chaucer–because of the dark and bawdy nature of the rest of the stories, he ends with a sermon as a way to redeem the book. This is supported by Chaucer’s retraction that follows the final tale, where he speaks of his intention for the work to be used as a tool for moral instruction.
The Parson, or priest, in The Canterbury Tales is the only shining example of religion as it should be. He works hard for his congregation and believes in being the example he expects from his parish. His tale is the last one of the story, and it is a sermon instead of a poem or fictional tale. It is believed that the Parson was intentionally put last to show the positive side of religion after the book spent most of it length showing the unsavory side.