The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Parson's Tale and Chaucer’s Retraction Summary

The sun is low in the sky by the time the Manciple finishes his tale. The Host asks the Parson to tell the final tale. The Parson says he will not tell a fable, because the Epistles say not to. Instead, he gives a lengthy sermon about penitence.

He begins by defining the three parts of penitence: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Then, he explains the causes of contrition at length, with multiple references to the Bible. Next he discusses confession, or the truthful revelation of a sin to a priest. Sin itself is described as the result of a struggle between a person’s body and soul for dominance. Because the struggle is between two parts of a person, there are two types of sin: venial (minor) and deadly (serious).

The third part of the sermon describes the seven deadly sins as the branches of a tree, of which Pride is the trunk. The Parson argues that Pride is the worst sin because it is the one from which the other six spring. The Parson also gives the spiritual remedy for each sin and the rules for oral confession of one’s sins. The final lines of the sermon use images of the sun and morning to build a vision of Paradise, which can only be reached by spiritual poverty and avoiding sin.

After the Parson’s Tale comes Chaucer’s Retraction. In it, the narrator, speaking in the first person, begs that anyone who reads the Parson’s Tale and likes it thank Jesus. If they find anything they dislike, the narrator begs they will blame Chaucer’s ignorance, not his will – he would have written better if he were smart enough to do so. He then asks the readers to pray for him.

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