Discuss the character of the Parson in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

There was a religious-minded poor Parson in the group of pilgrims riding to Canterbury in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. He was highly virtuous in thought and work. He was a true scholar who knew Christ’s gospel quite well and would teach and preach it with devotion. He was gentle and hard-working and also patient in adversity as had been tested many times. He was averse to forcing his parishioners to pay his fees rather he would give them money in their need out of what he had received from the rich or from his own pocket. The little that he had was enough for him. His parish was very wide with the houses far apart. With a staff in hand, he never forgot to visit his distant parishioners-be they rich or poor in their sickness or grief despite rain or thunder. He thus set a noble example for his parishioners and practised what he preached.

Out of the gospel, he took those words and to them added this saying, “If gold can rust what will then iron do?” That is because if a priest, whom we trust, is evil then we should not be surprised at the corruption of the common man. A priest should know that a defiled shepherd cannot expect a clean sheep. A priest should, therefore, set an example of cleanness and teach his parishioners as to how they should live clean. He never left his ecclesiastical responsibilities to a stranger and leave his parishioners to get corrupted. This Parson did not run to London to make money by singing masses for the souls of the wealthy people who are dead now or to become a chaplain in one of the guilds. He stayed at his parish and took care of the spiritual needs of his people so that they are never misguided by the devils. He was a true priest and not a money-minded fellow. He was personally holy and virtuous but did not hate the sinners. His manner of speaking was neither haughty nor scornful but he was kind and gentle in his guidance. His objective was to lead the people to heaven by fair example. If, however, anyone proved obstinate irrespective of whether he was rich or poor, the Parson did not hesitate to rebuke him severely. In fact, there was no better priest anywhere. He expected no pomp or glory in his dealings and his conscience was not pliant. He first followed and only then taught the gospel of Christ and his twelve apostles.

The Parson described by Chaucer is an ideal parish priest, a rare example of the religious persons during the medieval days. Unlike other ecclesiastical characters in The Prologue viz the Pardoners and the Summoner he was not corrupt and money-minded. He was sincere, virtuous and simple and took good care of his people at all
times. This man was not a selfish person running to London to promote and advance his own interests.

According to the poet, this man was both kind-hearted and hard-working and never lost his balance in adverse circumstances. Though he was personally clean and upright he was never harsh towards the sinners. A great quality of this man was that he preached only what he personally practised. But despite his soft-spoken, kind nature he never tolerated arrogance and was not hesitant to rebuke a person, when needed, irrespective of whether he was rich or poor. His sole aim was to täke care of the spiritual and other needs of the people but in return, he never expected any praise or show.

Chaucer through this character has shown how a good person should be and indirectly what practices and behaviors a true priest should avoid.