Michael Haug

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



A Study of the English Church in the Fourteenth Century reveals a dichotomy: on the one hand we find the sound doctrines of the Church and its faithful followers; on the other, widespread corruption, especially in many members of the religious orders. Although the teachings of the Church were basically sound Christian ethics, many of the religious and common people were alienated from the holy life. They were completely immersed in the mundane society of the day. In the midst of this decadence, many voices were raised against the corruption. Religiously sensitive people tried to pull others toward the ideal. During the Fourteenth Century vitriolic writings of significant figures are notable. People such as Wyclif, Langland, Fitzralph and Chaucer verbally attacked the Church's wealth and deviation from religious ideals. Wyclif, Langland, and Fitzralph vehemently attacked the social and religious discrepancies of the Church. With venomous reproach Wyclif attacked the social corruption of the Church, contending that it had no right to become involved in mundane affairs. Langland and Fitzralph attacked the religious corruption within the orders of the Church, basically the friars. Chaucer centered his criticism on both the social and religious corruption. After studying the charges brought forth by Chaucer's contemporaries, one is surprised at the moderation of tone which one receives while reading "The Prologue." Although the irony is biting, it falls short of the vehemence discharged by Wyclif, Langland, or Fitzralph. Because of Chaucer's unique ability to criticize without using the bludgeoning style of his contemporaries, Chaucer stands out as a profound critic of the fourteenth-century Church. However, Chaucer also held up an ideal in The Canterbury Tales. A study of them will reveal both the corruption and the ideal as Chaucer saw them and will allow some conclusion to be made about his beliefs with regard to the religious orders of the Medieval English Church. Before this can be done, the basic beliefs (and their sources) concerning the religious of the Medieval Church need to be investigated. This thesis, then, will first investigate not only the church doctrine applicable in the Fourteenth Century, but disclose the social and religious corruption which became an unpleasant reality in the fourteenth-century Church. Then, significant tales in The Canterbury Tales will be analyzed to determine Chaucer's view.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Chaucer, Geoffrey, -1400

South Dakota State University Theses



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University