A Description of a Good Pastor
Posted on 11 Sept., 2017
Geoffrey Chaucer was born, the son of a vintner, in London in about 1342. His value as an Englishman was such that Edward III paid a part of his ransom in 1360 after he had been captured while fighting the French.
He was well versed in the doctrines of the Christian faith. He knew the Fathers and quotes freely from all the Scriptures as well as the Apocrypha. In his career as a statesman, he made two journeys on behalf of the king to Italy, first to Genoa in 1372 and a second to Milan in 1378, where, presumably he encountered the dawn of the Renaissance.
Providentially, it would seem, he was deprived of his offices in December of 1386 when the Duke of Gloucester, no fan of Chaucer, replaced John of Gaunt, a friend of Chaucer. (He would be returned to his office upon John’s return to his office in 1389.) Thanks be to God, it was during that interim – without his office – that he composed The Canterbury Tales.
He died on 25 October, 1400.
The prologue to The Canterbury Tales contains an introduction to the several characters of whom he writes. One of those is the church pastor/priest in part as follows:
A holy-minded man of good renown
There was, and poor, the Parson to a town,
Yet he was right in holy thought and work.
He was also a learned man, a clerk,
Who truly knew Christ’s gospel and would preach it
Devoutly to parishioners, and teach it . . .
Wide was his parish, with houses far asunder,
Yet he neglected no in rain or thunder
In sickness or in grief, to pay a call
On the remotest, whether great or small,
Upon the his feed, and in his had a stave
This noble example to his sheep he gave,
First following the word before he taught it
And it was from the gospel he had caught it. . .
For if a priest be foul in whom we trust
No wonder that a common man should rust;
And shame it is to see – let priests take stock –
A shitten shepherd and a snowy flock . . .
He did not set his benefice to hire
And leave his sheep unencumbered in the mire
By singing masses for the wealthy dead,
Or find some Brotherhood and get enrolled.
He stayed at home and watched over his fold
So that no wolf should make the sheep miscarry.
He was a shepherd and no mercenary.
Holy and virtuous he was, but then
Never contemptuous of sinful men,
Never disdainful, never too proud or fine,
But was discreet in teaching and benign.
His business was to show a fair behaviour
And draw men thus to Heaven and their Saviour,
Unless indeed a man were obstinate;
And such, whether of high or low estate,
He put to sharp rebuke to say the least.
I think there never was a better priest.
He sought no pomp or glory in his dealings,
No scrupulosity had spiced his feelings.
Christ and His Twelve Apostles and their lore
He taught, but followed it himself before.