Chaucers Lyf of Seynte Cecile - NAOSITE

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Chaucer's "Lyf of Seynte Cecile"
Hira, Toshinori
長崎大学教養部紀要. 人文科学. 1973, 14, p.31-45
Issue Date
This document is downloaded at: 2014-10-28T17:41:08Z
Chaucer's "Lyf of Seynte Cecile"
In keeping with the calling of its teller Chaucer assigns the "lyf of Seynte
Cecile" to a Nun who is included among the Canterbury pilgrims. The =lyf of
Seynte Cecile" told by the Nun is thus entitled the Second Nun's Tale. As the
Nun, who is mentioned as chaplain to the Prioress, accompanies her superior in
the pilgrimage to Canterbury, so she is known by the name of the Second Nun.
Suited to its teller, the "lyf of Seynte Cecile" was not written, originally for
the Second Nun. She inappropriately applies to herself the words an "unworthy
sonne of Eve" (1. 62) in the "Invocacio ad Mariam" of her Tale. It is beyond
question, therefore, that the legend of St. Ceclia had been composed before the
Canterbury Tales was begun. It is usually dated shortly after 1373 (but not later
than 1382), when Chaucer came back from Italy. On the date between 1373 and
1382 opinion is not divided. The period covers nearly much of the so-called
Italian Period (1373-1384), to which belong many of Chaucer's works he himself
refers to in the earlier version of the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women (c.
1385), such as religious writings Boece (1377-1381), and the lost "Origenes upon
the Maudeleyne," not to mention the "lyf of Seynte Cecile"; such as poems as
well, which deal with matters of courtly love- the "Palamon and Arcite" (13821385), the House of Fame (c. 1379), the Parliament of Fowls (c. 1382), and Tγoilus
and Criseyde (completed before 1385). To these, works which were written under
the influence of Italian writers, and were afterwards used as stories told by the
Canterbury pilgrims may be added: the Monk's Tale and the Clerk of Oxford's
Tale; and the Tale of Melibeus and the Parson's Tale. Chaucer is much indebted
Italian writers, lay and ecclesiastical alike, of this period. He borrows the love
story of Palamon and Arcite, and the tale of the double sorrow of Troilus in
love from Boccaccio; again he borrows the tale of patient Griseld from Petrarch,
and the stories of Adam, Hercules and Nero in the Monk's Tale from Boccaccio,
and the story of Ugolino in the same Tale from Dante. The legend of St.
Cecilia from Jacobus de Voragine, who was appointed Archbishop of Genoa in
1292, the treatise on the Sins in the Parson's Tale from Guilielmus Peraldus and
the sermon on Penitence in the same Tale from Raymund of Pennaforte. Likewise, Chaucer uses the ideas and expressions of Dante and Boccaccio for several
portions of the House of Fame and the Parliament of Fowls. These works of his
indicate that he took a warm interest in matters of courtly love and of Christian
faith. The same matters of love and faith are characteristic of the works prior
to and following the period. He wrote the A B C of the Virgin before 1372, and
between 1386 and 1394 was, it seems, at work on "of the Wreched Engendrynge
of Mankynde" (now lost) mentioned in the Prologue to the Legend (A (G)
version, c. 1394) and in the Man of Law's Tale (c. 1390) as well. A romance like
the Book of the Duchess belongs clearly to the French Period (the years before
1372), and a love story like the Franklin's Tale, which Chaucer derived from II
Filcolo of Boccaccio, to the English Period (the years from 1386 onwards). These
works, secular and religious, written throughout the whole period of his literary
activity contain the same material on love or faith. However, they reveal in
their gradual development the human understanding which he increased as he
grew older.
It is supposed that Chaucer acquired a clearer conception of both human
nature and traditional faith from his two journeys to Italy-, the first to Genoa,
Pisa and Florence in 1372-1373, the second to Milan in 1378. He was one of the
commissioners who were sent to Genoa on the King's mission to negotiate for
the loan of the money necessary for the King's wars, and to Milan on his
mission to treat on military matters with Barnabo Visconti, Duke of Milan. The
King's mission took Chaucer to Padua in 1373 and he may have met Petrarch.
Whether or not Chaucer made the personal acquaintance of Petrarch, it is
uncertain, but it is not an improbability. Chaucer refers to Petrarch in the
Clerk's Tale. In any case he must have been moved by him. The same may be
said of Visconti, to whom Chaucer refers in the Monk's Tale. His visit to Milan
afforded an opportunity of getting acquainted with Visconti. Chaucer learnt
much from what he read in Boccaccio, Petrarch and Dante. He shares with these
Italians an interest in humanity; it admits of no doubt that his human interest
was promoted by them. It may easily be supposed, on the other hand, that
Chaucer was influenced by what he saw and what he heard. He may have seen
magnificent cathedrals with his own eyes, attended masses, and in saints'days
Chaucer's "Lyf of Seynte Cecile"
heard the lives of some saints being read in churches. It is conceivable that he
perceived the authority of the Church which she had exercised over men's
minds. Certainly the Church authority so acted on him as to reflect upon
matters of the soul. Chaucer formed the translation of Boethius's De Consolatione
Philosophiae, and composed the "lyf of Seynte Cecile." Both were religious works.
f氾pular in the Middle Ages. His legend of St. Cecilia is said to contain most of
the traditional account of the saint's life. He derives this legend, for the most
part, from Jacobus's Legenda Aurea, which was written, between 1260 and 1270,
for the name days of the patrons and patronesses of the Church. He again
seems to have made partial use of the Sanctuarium of Simeon Metaphrastes. I
will give an account of the legend of St. Cecilia of Chaucer with a summary;
"shortly for to tellen" the saint's life in the words of Chaucer, it may be
summarized thus.
Cecilia, who was of Roman blood and of noble birth, was cradled in the
teachings of Christ and bore His Gospel in her mind. When she grew to
womanhood, she never ceased to love and fear God, praying Him to protect hervirginity. Mated with a man named Valerian, she, wearing a hair shirt, attended.
a wedding. While the organ made its melody, she sang to God in her mind to・
keep her soul and body unspotted by the world. Night came, and she was to、
bed with her husband. She seized the opportunity to tell him on a promise ofー
secrecy that a guarding angel would slay him on the spot the moment he would
touch or love her ignobly, and that the angel, instead, would love him as much,
as her if he replaced sensual love by protective one. Chastened as God willed,
Valerian answered that he would do as he had been requested to have a protective affection for her on condition of seeing the angel. Cecilia urged upon him
the necessity of believing in God and being baptized before he could see the
angel. He was well advised to go but three miles along the Appian Way, and
tell the j沿or folk living there that she sent him to them, and to be introduced
to Pope Urban and be purged of sin. Valerian went to the place and met Urban
who lurked among saints'graves. Valerian told his errand to Urban, and the
Pope thanked God, with tears of grateful joy, for sowing the seed of chastity
in Cecilia. At these words, appeared an old man in white, with a book in his
hand, and stood before Valerian. The old man read from the book about one
Lord, one faith and one baptism, and then asked him if he believed in this
thing or not. Given a positive answer, the old man disappeared; Urban christened
him in the very place. Valerian came home and saw Cecilia standing in his
room with an angel, who bore two coronals of lilies and roses in his hands. The
angel gave the lily coronal to Cecilia, and then the rose coronal to her husband.
He asked them to cherish with pure soul and unspotted body these coronals
which he brought to them from Paradise. He offered to get Valerian anything
he wanted. Valerian requested the angel to grant his beloved brother the grace
to know the truth. The angel said to Valerian that he and his brother would
both bear the palm of martyrdom. With those words, his brother Tiburce came.
He smelled the untimely savour of lilies and roses, but wondered as to where it
came from. Valerian explained the matter to his brother: Tiburce smelled the
sweet savour casted by the coronals at his brother's prayer, and he could see
the coronals provided that he accepted the truth. Tiburce was dubious what to
do. Valerian told his brother how to know the truth. Tiburce discerned the
truth, as his brother guided him towards the renouncement of the idols
which enabled him to see the coronals of flowers God sent to them by His
angel. Cecilia told Tiburce of the love of Christ which matched her with
Valerian and allied his brother with her in the same manner; she advised Him
to go with his brother and make himself clean. Tiburce said: he did not know
whom he seeked for. Valerian replied to Tiburce that he would lead his brother
to Pope Urban. Tiburce was afraid of seeking for the Pope who had often been
condemned to die. Cecilia instructed him that he did not need to be afraid of
being killed, saying that there is, God's Son declared, an after life which never
be lost, and that God the Son created all things, and all that were created are
endued with souls by the Holy Ghost who proceeded from the Father. Tiburce
demanded explanation from her as to her contradictory saying about one God
and the triune God. The explanation was given that as a man has three
faculties, memory, imagination and intelligence, three Persons can be found in
one divine being. Then, she preached to him how God's Son was to be lodged
in this world to bring forgiveness to all mankind bound in sin. By the Grace of
God, then, Tiburce everyday saw the angel of God.
Apart from many wonders Christ wrought for the two, their conversion to
Christianity came to Almachius's knowledge. This prefect of, Rome sought them
out to question them. They were to be sent to the idol of Jove. Maximus, one
Chaucer's 〃Lyf of Seynte Cecile"
of the officers of Almachius, who questioned them, listening to them, led them
to his house and he and his men, there, were converted to Christianity.
The faith of Valerian and Tiburce was sufficient enough to bring them to
disown their false beliefs and trust in God. When night fell, Cecilia came with
priests and they baptized them all. Morning broke, and Valerian and his brother
were called before Jove, but, being confident of being the soldiers of the Lord
who put on the armour of righteousness, would by no means do sacrifice. They
lost their heads with a steadfast devotion. Seeing their souls go upward to
heaven, Maximus wept and many were converted to Christianity. Almachius
stroke Maximus with a leaden whip on the ground that he made many conversions, and put him to death. Cecilia buried him beside Valerian and Tiburce.
Almachius, who meant to see her and induce her to incense Jove, called Cecilia
before him. After having asked her what she was, he directed a question to her
religion and faith. She called him a fool; he censured her for her rude remark
and denounced punishment upon her. He made a display of his power of life
and death which his princes bestowed on him. They ordered, Almachius said,.
that he should inflict a penalty upon every Christian unless he renounced his.
belief. Almachius urged her to renounce her faith and do sacrifice. But she
gainsaid his mortal power. He demanded that she should retract an insult to his.
gods, though he would brook the insult she offered him. Far from obeying him
she preached down idol worship. She disapproved of his false gods; on the
contrary, she pronounced God Almighty in Heaven to be worthy. He was angry
at what she had said, and ordered men to burn her to ashes in a bath of her
house. They did so as they had been ordered. Notwithstanding all the flame and
heat of the bath, she day and night sat there cold and neither felt a pain nor
was all of a sweat. Almachius ordered her to be killed by a weapon. The
executioner smote her three strokes on the neck, but could not succeed in
smiting her head off. Forbidden from smiting the fourth stroke, he left her
lying there and went his way. Three days she lived in pain but never ceased to
preach the Christian folk. And she bequeathed her goods, movables and her
right in everything to them; she committed them to Urban. Said she: =I requested
God to grant the delay of three days to me, that I might commend to you these
souls I fostered there, and that you might build my house for an enduring
church." Saint Urban and his deacons secretly fetched her body and buried it by
night among his other saints. Her house came to be "Saint Cecilia's Church,"
which the Pope hallowed. Thus, Christ and His saint have been honoured in
this church to this day.
Chaucer adopts the legends of Saint Cecilia and of Saint Hugh of Lincoln as
evidence of the miracles of the Virgin Mary in the Canterbury Tales. The former
is assigned to the Second Nun, and the latter to the tender-hearted Prioress, a
superior of the Second Nun. Caution is, to be sure, observed in assigning and
adopting the legends. The legend of Saint Cecilia is fitted to its narrator who
appears to live chastely in her convent, while the legend of boy saint Hugh of
Lincoln is by adoption the tale of the Prioress who "modres pitee in hir brest
enclosed." Chastity was expected of nuns, who were allowed in a cloistral life,
as a rule, with the bow of chastity. Why Chaucer chose the legend of Saint
Cecilia among other legends of women saints, such as Saint Katherine and Saint
Juliana, is not known, but it seems probable that his choice of the legend of
Saint Cecilia is connected with his Italian journey. Both Roman saints, Cecilia
and Juliana, were the martyrs for their faith and chastity. They suffered
martyrdom with heroism on account of their defence of chastity. Together with
the legends of Saint Margaret and Saint Katherine, we have the early Middle
English legend of Saint Juliana, which is somewhat inferior, it is said, to that
of Cynewulf (M. Schlauch, English Medieval Literature, p. 108). But it is not
certain that Chaucer did know of the legend of Saint Juliana. Legend of Saint
Cecilia also is found in the early English verse hagiography (See J. L. Weston
e<ア, Chief Middle English Poets, pp. 72-78 ). It is imagined that he certainly did
not know of West Midland alliterative Sir Gawain, much less the legend of
Saint Cecilia written in Northern dialect ( Robinson's Chaucer, p., 202 ). Compared
with the legend of Saint Juliana, nevertheless, the legend of Saint Cecilia seems
Saint Cecilia draws strength from the description that Cecilia, wife of
Valerian, retained her virginity, converted her husband and his brother Tiburce
to Christianity, to whom Pope Urban administered baptism, strongly advocated
the Christian faith, and was put into a boiling bath.
Married to Valerian, Cecilia who was faithful to God decided to protect her
virginity. Her determined resolution to defend her chastity is found in her
prayer to God: "O lord, my soule and eek my body gye (guide) / Unwemmed
Chaucer's "Lyf of Seynte Cecile"
(Unsptted), lest that I confounded (destroyed in soul) be, "Skeat's Chaucer
136-137. Valerian was advised to keep his wife clean: "I ( i.e. Cecilia) have an
angel which that loveth me, / That with greet love, wher-so I wake or slepe, /
Is redy ay my body for to kepe.-.And if that ye in clene love me gye, / He
wol yow loven as me, for your clennesse, / And shewen yow his Ioye and his
brightnesse," 152-161. Moreover, she persuaded her husband of the advantage of
having belief in the Christian faith.
On the other hand, the young, beautiful heroine of Saint Juliana, faithful to
God, wanted to keep her chastity, but she was betrothed to Heliseus, a pagan
official of Nicomedia, who had fallen in love with her. Her father Africanus
betrothed her to him. She could marry Heliseus only on condition that he should
profess Christianity. But she could not obtain his consent by persuasion. On the
contrary, turned over to Heliseus for judgment by her father who had been
protested to by Heliseus and expostulated with her in vain, Juliana was persuaded to yield and to renounce the Christian faith by her betrothed. The
chastisement to which she was subjected is no less heavier than the punishment
Cecilia suffered, although both saints, guarded by God, did suffer no pain.
Juliana, stark-naked, was thrashed and then was hung by the hair on a tree.
After having been induced to yield by a devil transformed into an angel, Juliana
was put into a vat of boiling lead. But Juliana is surpassed in the defense of
Christianity by Cecilia. Certainly Juliana suffered much to keep her virginity
and defend the Christian faith. She is advised to yield to Heliseus's wishes:
"this is the biginnunge / of the sar (suffering) thet tu schalt ant of the
scheome (shame) drehen (suffer) / if thu nult to ure wil buhen ant beien
(submit). Ah yet/thu maht (can) if thu wult burhe (protect) the seolfen. ant /
if thu mare (further) with seist (refuse)? alre monne (all men) wurthe
(deserve) / him wurst (worst) of wa (woe) ant of wontreathe (hardship) the
ne wurche (behave shockingly) the meast (most)," d'Ardenne's Edition, Bodley
Text 34 216-222. (The spelling of the quotation is partially normalized.) And
she refused to accept his advice about to shift her worship in favour of idolworship: HHaldeth (Hold) longe / ne leaue (abandon) ye neauer (never), for
nulle ich leauen his / luue (love), thet ich on leue (believe), ne for luue.
nowther (neither) ne / for luther (wicked) eie (fear)," 231-234. 0n the other
hand, Cecilia militantly advocates the Christian faith. Disputing with Almachius
who vainly boasts of his worldly power, Cecilia sets forth her argument by
saying that "It is a shame that the peple shal / So scorne thee, and laughe at
thy folye; / For comunly men woot it wel overal, / that mighty god is in his
hevenes hye, / And thise images, wel thou mayst espye, / TO thee ne to
hem-self mowe nought profyte, / For in effect they been nat worth a myte,"
Perhaps Chaucer may have forgotten to change "unworthy sonne of Eve" to
"unworthy doghter of Eve." As for the words "Preestes thre" he seems to have
failed to change "thre" for "a" priest. He does not portray each of three. Among
them he assigns a tale only to a Nun's Priest. The Canterbury Tales remains
unfinished; so that two other priests may have been intended to be story-tellers.
It seems likely that an Invocation to the Virgin Mary was meant for Chaucer
himself, not for the Second Nun in the latter half of 1370's when Chaucer
originally wrote the Legend of Saint Cecilia. Unchanged by the author the
words "unworthy sonne of Eve" were assigned to the Second Nun. He would
have had a chance to change "sonne" for "doghter," if he had finished the
Canterbury Tales. From the linguistic viewpoint Skeat identifies "sonne" with
"doghter." He comments on the word "sonne," saying that "sonne was probably
still feminine in English in Chaucer's time" and draws the example of the old
use of Hsonne" from Chaucer's Astrolabe (Complete Works of Chaucer, vol. V, p.
404): "To fynde the degree in which the sonne is day by day, after hir cours
Whether the invocation "unworthy sonne of Eve" is employed to mean fictitious Chaucer or the narrator of the Legend of Saint Cecilia makes little
difference. It can be imagined that judged from the glorious legend which the
Second Nun tells us of Saint Cecilia, the narrator is a devout nun, although the
author does not depict the narrator as a pious nun nor as a corrupt one. Where
her tale of the woman saint is concerned, this conjecture respecting its narrator
is correct. However, conjectures vary between noble and disreputable characters.
It can be interpreted that the Second Nun is a nun of the same sort as her
superior the Prioress. The Prioress, whom she was chosen to accompany on the
way to Canterbury, is a fine nun, ostensibly a pious nun, but the author
deliberately makes fun of her. Without directing keen ridicule against her
Chaucer makes her say something that will excite ridicule. It can readily be
Chaucer's HLyf of Seynte Ceciler
imagined that she said to fictitious Chaucer that she makes "Amor vincit
omma" her motto to the cloistral life. But we feel a difficulty in proving that
she dedicates her life to the celestial love. The jest lies in the motto. Chaucer
might have interpreted "Amor" as earthly love. She does not act on the motto
that the celestrial love conquers all. Nun as she is the Prioress herself does not
keep the cloistral rule. On the contrary, she takes the utmost pains in imitating
a court lady. Earthly love as well as courtly manners is regarded as matters of
her chief concern. This suggestion is supported by her creator's description of
the Prioress corresponding to court ladies of medieval romances. The Prioress
"of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy-- / Hir nose tretys, hir eyex greye
as glas, / Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed; / But sikerly she
hadde a fair forheed; / It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe; / For, hardily,
she was nat undergrowe," Prologue to the.Canterbury Tales 119-156. Granting
that the prioress, who is presumably the lord of manors in the neighborhood of
her convent without mentioning the head of her convent, delights in courtly
manners, she is a subject for satire as an elegant lady described in romances.
Her motto supplies a ground for her longing for profane love (cf. A. W.
Hoffman, Chaucer's Prologue to Pilgrimage, E. Wagenknecht ed., Modern Essays
in Criticism, p.39 ). Medieval literature gives us not a few of corrupt regular
clergy, both monks and nuns. A good example of nuns'love is the Court of
Love, in which nuns complain of control of their own fire of love: "we fayn
perfeccion, / In clothes wide, and lak our liberte; / But all the sin mote on our
frendes be. / For, Venus wot, we wold as fayn as ye, / That ben attired here
and wel besene, / Desiren man, and love in our degree, / Ferme and feithfull,
right as wold the quene: / Our frendes wikke in tender youth and grene, /
Ayenst our will made us religious; / That is the cause we morne and wailen
thus," 1104-1113. The same complaint made by monks and friars appears in
1128-1134: "We serve and honour, sore ayenst our will, / Of chastitとthe goddes
and the quene; / Us leffer were with Venus byden still, / And have reward for
love, and soget been / Unto thise women courtly, fressh, and shene. / Fortun色,
we curse thy whele of variaunce! / There we were wele, thou revest our
plesaunce." Of course Chaucer was well aware of the degraded clergy. Without
mentioning the description of many a "gentil" churchman who is ironically
portrayed, we can see a considerable satire in that of the ideal priests when
Chaucer gives no hint of satire to them. If the phrase Hunworthy sonne of
Eve," though "sonne" was forgotten to be changed to "doghter," is intended for
the Second Nun, it can not easily be imaginable that she as a chaplain to her
superior lives an abstemious life worthy of a nun (cf. H. E. Thomas, Medieval
Skepticism and Chaucer, p. 97). Apart from the narrator of the Legend of Saint
Cecilia, if the word "sonne" is interpreted to be meant for the author of the
Second Nun's Tale as was originally meant for the same author, the word can be
meant for a joke, his favourite joke. Chaucer treats serious matters humorously
or amusedly. On the other hand, he treats frivolous matters with a serious face.
Or he, by implication, looks upon serious matters ironically when he deals with
them seriously. He tells us serious matters innocently but it is in the light of
the context of the matters expressed that we see the joke (as is seen, for
instance, in the description of ideal Canterbury pilgrims). The truth is that he
employs serious matters as a subject of satire (cf. H. R. Patch, On Rereading
Chaucer, pp. 155f.). It may probably be conceivable, therefore, that he innocently
put his Legend of Saint Cecilia into the Second Nun's mouth but concealed
satire in the glorious legend. It can of course be imaginable, at the same time,
that he took a consideration of the effect of contrast between religious and
non-religious tales (see M. Chute, Geoffrey Chaucer of England, p. 305). According
to the best MSS classified by Skeat as available, the blasphemious Canon's
Yeoman's Tale comes next to the pious Second Nun's Tale.
However we have many things we know to the contrary. Chaucer himself
came to be an "unworthy sonne" as he grew old. About the same period as his
assigning the Legend of Saint Cecilia to the Second Nun he was skeptical over
the traditional beliefs. He takes a somewhat skeptical view of the revealed
truth in the opening lines of the Legend of Good Women. It seems to me probable
that he presents as evidence of his questionings about ideal courtly love his
skepticism over established beliefs. In the later version, not in the earlier
love faith, by suggesting that "Men shal not wenen every thing a lye / But yf
himself yt seeth, or elles dooth; / For, God wot, thing is never the lasse sooth, /
Thogh every wight ne may it nat ysee. / Bernard the monk ne saugh nat all,
pardee!" 12-16. The god of Love and God are interchangeable in courtly love.
Religion of the god of Love has many a echo of Christian faith. Why Chaucer
did tell of such glorious legends of good women who were faithful to the god
of Love when he was making plans for the Canterbury Tales is not known; it is
Chaucer's HLyf of Seynte Cecile*
because he seemed to take a consideration of the King's (or the Queen's)
patronage. In fact Chaucer was doubtful of the ideal love current in court
circles. (Cf. I. Robinson, Chaucer and the English Tradition, p. 285. His criticism
on love, whether for court lady or for God, is based on the modern view of
human love, but in so far as he regards seriousness as real attitude towards
criticism on life, he does not accept as valid a courtly entertainer's light-heartedness.) He raised the questionings about it in the House of Fame; he introduced
into the Parliament of Fowls the realistic view of bourgeois love which was
contrary to the ideal view of courtly love. The Goose says: "She wol love hym,
lat hym love another," 567. And Criseyde forsook Troilus for Diomede in Troilus
and Criseyde. So he showed a tendency to value "experience" above "auctoritee.""
Where established beliefs are concerned,, Chaucer makes, for reasons not known,
a kind of a formal retraction of what he told against God at the end of the・
Canterbury Tales. But his own skepticism, from the secular point of view, is at
any rate proved by the retraction. He proves to have been an "unworthy sonne
of Eve," and a "renegat" in the religious sense of the word (cf. B. Ten Brink,
History of English Literature, vol. II, p. 57). There can of course be no conclusive
proof as to Chaucer's flat.denial of belief and faith. Taking the side of a doubter he does not dellounce the immorality of churchmen, nor does he give an
explicit expression to unorthodox doctrines. Contrary to our expectation he
always detaches himself from the controversial matters, both political and
religious, of his time. Chaucer was a court official as well as a court poet. So
he must have been cautious of giving offence to his patrons. Apart from love
matters in which Christian faith is reflected, he, by implicity, alludes to social
realities, by suggesting that he does not know who his Merchant is, agrees.
with his Monk who is of opinion that he cares nothing for studying and
labouring as "Austyn bit," or for the requirements of "seint Maure or of seint
Beneit," the "thilke text" having no use for "the world," or notices his Franklin
hanging at his girdle an "anlaas" (dagger) and a "gipser" (purse) of the kind
worn by a man of the gentry class. Thus he individualizes most of his Canterbury pilgrims as they appeared to him, although he observes great caution in
introducing to us each individual pilgrim who is not connected with the vital
problems of the time. He seems to participate in his court readers'feelings.
Courtiers comprised in his readers were supposed to be heterogeneous members
of society - knights and clerics raised from humble birth, wealthy merchants
and franklins, and the sergeants of law or doctors of physic, not to mention
aristocrats. These gentry were used for various offices. The King was under
the dire necessity of raising up forces and defraying war expenses. The chronic
war with France and the dreadful visitations of pestilence resulted in the
so-called bastard feudalism in the fourteenth century. The middle-class men's
way of thinking seems to have an echo in the Canterbury pilgrims'views of
things. The Monk is no great exception. It seems likely that Chaucer deals
personally with the Monk's skeptical views but his skepticism connects him with
the wide-spread skepticism of the time. Chaucer's questionings about orthodox
faith can be seen by reference to the tendency of the time.
The established belief so long widely prevalent was now threatened with
skepticism due to the realistic and human way of thinking. The Church's
precepts were certainly contrary to the middle-class men's way of thinking.
The Church's precepts prevented ordinary people from putting their lofty ideal
into practice. A sermon on the deadly sins, for instance, was edifying, but in as
far as good control over human passions is required of people, it is hardly
practiced. Ordinary people must have found the preaching difficult of access.
Even preachers themselves were contrary to their preachings; they were sinners
while they should warn their parishioners against sins. Many common people
may have felt that they could hardly expect help from corrupted priests. They
suffered miseries from those repeated visitations fo pestilence, the chronic war
with France or poverty. Miracles were not wrought. They prayed in vain for
God's mercy. Langland denounces the illiterate who believe no longer in the
the sothe," C xii 35-39. And it was felt by the illiterate thaちthe world compensating for this miserable world was not the other world that they were taught
to believe in. No one had ever been to there. Nothing could prove the existence of it. People's criticism of the idea of hell, not of heaven, appears in A
Literary Middle English Reader (p. 283): "many men wenen that ther is no helle
of everelastynge peyne, but that God doith but threten us, and not to don it in
dede - as is pleyinge of myraclis in sygne, and not in dede." Experience is
valued above revealed truth. Whether people reject the idea of heaven or they
Chaucer's HLyf of Seynte Cecile"
reject that of hell will not be much the matter. They believed in what they
saw and what they heard as was suggested in Chaucer's Legend. Much reliance
could, they must have felt, be placed on the evidence of their own eyes. There
must of course have been many good men and women who believed, for all
that, in what the.Church taught them to do.
Going with the skept幸cal spirit which was prevalent in the times heresy
spread widely. Lollards who, eagerly following Wyclif's heretical views on the
Church authority, muttered against the uselessness of the Church services and、
the sinfulness of the preachers found support in various classes of society.
Wyclif, though at first advocated the reform in the Church on the lines of herideal stand, proceeded, in 1380, to reject the miraculous performances of the
Church services and the worship of idols and saints as formal and absurd. He
dropped the formality for the substance. To him the Eucharist presented, as it
were, the shadow, not the substance. He was certain Euchanstic bread was not
changed into Christ's flesh by sinful priests. He was assured of the presence
of the body. In the same way he refused to accept image-worship and saintcult. Errors were, he believed, caused by such worship. He regarded canonisation
in a ceremony-loathing spirits (see F. D. Matthew ed, The English Works of
Wyclif, p. 469 ). Langland attributed priests'ignorance of saints'lives to their
Ages were not an age of Christianity propagation when heroes or heroines of
the cross made martyrs of themselves for their faith. Saints'insensibility to their
physical sufferings from tortures must perhaps have been made incomprehensible
by the miracles God worked. People must beyond doubt have felt certain that
saints'personalities and deeds were to be praised by all ages, but it could not
be almost unbelieved that various tortures left saints unharmed. At the same
time the Church's precepts were neglected; many priests are said to have hardly
known the Ten Commandments and to have delighted in hare hunting, caring
nothing for their spiritual duty. Wyclif thus planned on rendering the Bible
into the vernacular; he is said, in reality, to have translated only the New
Testament or part of it, and the rest of the Biblical translation was done by
Nicholas Herefo姐For IWyclif translated the English rendering of the Bible as
the spiritual link connecting an individual soul and God, not by means of sinful
priests and absurd Church services, but by the Scriptures. Says he: =It semyth
first that the wit of Goddis lawe shulde be taught in that tunge (English) that
is more knowun, for this wit is Goddis word" K. Sisam ed., Fourteenth Century
Verse & Prose, p. 117. It may be regarded certain that with the rise of middleclass men the literate Englishmen, citizens and country gentlemen alike, grew
gradually in number. Among courtiers who comprised many middle or lower
class men the English language was adopted in place of French. Arthur and
Merlin (G. H. Mcknight, Modern English in the Making, p.6) says: "Many noble
ich have yseighe / That no freynsche couthe seye." The English language
seems to have established itself in royal circles by the end of the fourteenth
century. It was adopted as a literary language, as was shown by John Gower
in his Confessio Amantis ( Macaulay ed., English Works of John Gower ) Prologus
22-24, 48-55: "And for that fewe men endite / In oure englissh ,1 thenke make /
had me doo my besynesse / That to his hihe worthinesse / Som newe thing I
scholde boke, / That he himself it mihte loke / After the forme of my writynge."
Apart from the rise of the English language, the authority of the medieval
Church was threatened by Wyclifites who brought about the vernacular Scrip-
tures for the moral instruction of people and also by mystics who were certain
that they intended for direct contact with God by their own personal religious
experience. Mysticism finds its specific expression of direct union with God by
contemplative experience, for instance, in the English Writings of Richard Rolle of
Hampole and the Book of Margery Kempe. Less heretical than Wyclifites were
mystics; they were rather orthodox in their belief. In terms of personal
religious experience they meditated on the Passion, saw visions and sought for
direct communication with God without connection with the Church hierarchy
and her spiritual observances. Sings Rolle of his religious sentiments: "Langyng
es in me lent (aright), for lufe that I ne kan lete," A Song of Love-longing to
Jesus 25. Margery makes a report on her spiritual experiences that she was
spoken to by Christ, the Virgin and saints, and that she saw the Virgin, Christ,
Saint Magdalene and the Apostles in a vision. "Sche saw in hir sowle owr Lady,
Seynt Mary Mawdelyn, & the xii apostelys. And than sche be-held wyth hir
gostly eye how owr Lady toke hir leue of hir blysful Sone, Crist Ihesu, how he
kyssed hir & alle hys apostelys & also hys trewe louer, Mary Mawdelyn. Than
Mr thowt it was a swemful partyng & also a joyful partyng-- Sche felt many
Chaucer's "Lyf of Seynte Cecile"
an holy thowt in that tyme whech sche oowde neuyr aftyr. Sche had forgetyn
alle erdly thyngys & only ententyd to gostly thyngys," ed. Meech and Allen p.174.
Mystics value their own mystical experience above Church Hauctoritee." There
seems to have been a general tendency that experience, "though noon auctoritee /
Were in this world, is right ynogh" in common people and in courtiers as well,
as is complained of in Walsingham's Historia Anglicana (quoted from Thomas's
Medieval Skepticism, p.60): "Some ascribed the cause of evils to the sins of the
lords, who lacked faith in God; for certain of these believed, as it was claimed,
there was no God, there was no Sacrament of the altar, there was no
resurrection after death; but that, as the animal dies, so also ends man." Both
mysticism and Wyclifism were beyond doubt suspected of heretical tendencies.
They were both grounded on the same evaluation of the individual, doubtings
and questionings having been had as to the clerical degeneration and the
miraculous performances of services. Chaucer deliberately avoids referring to
these. There are nevertheless some doubtful points in his remarks on the
Parson's emphasis upon Christ's teaching and on the Cook's reference to
substance and accident in the Pardoner's Tale. It can not be altogether unimaginable that Chaucer might insidiously have suggested that the Parson was a
Wyclifite poor parson and the subject of substance and accident bore reference
to Wyclif's doctrines. It may be probable in the same way that Chaucer might
specifically have made a critical reference, in another form, to saint-worship.
He may probably have done it by writing saint-worship as it ought to be. At
any rate it may at least be said with certainty that the legend of Saint Cecilia
was seriously taken by its author, and being far from the comprehension of the
day, miraculous legends showed a downward tendency.