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Winning people for Jesus, Chaucer style.

by on March 15, 2014

Here’s one of the most inspiring writings on gospel ministry ever. From the 1300s.

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the narrator meets a troop of pilgrims heading for the shrine at Canterbury. One of them is a parson. Chaucer has a lot to say to us about gospel ministry, through his parson. I think you might like him.

NB I’ve updated the language a bit, and tried to keep it poetic. If you haven’t read Chaucer before, be aware that the thoughts flow over from one line to the next, as in 

…full patient

He oft was proved to be, by trials beset.



A good man was there of religion

And was a poverish Parson of a town

But rich he was of holy thought and work

He was also a learned man, a clerk

Who Christ’s own gospel truly he would preach.

His parishers devoutly would he teach.

Benign was he, and wondrous diligent,

And in adversity, full patient

He oft was proved to be, by trials beset.

And loath was he to force men’s tithes by threat

But he would rather give, without a doubt

Unto his poor parishioners round about

From th’ offerings and from his substance too –

Himself, he could with little well make do.

Wide was his parish, houses far asunder

But he would not leave off, for rain nor thunder

In sickness nor in trouble, still to visit

The farthest-off, whe’r rich or poor, whoisit

Upon his feet, and in his hand a stave.

This noble example to his sheep he gave:

That first he wrought, and afterward he taught

– an idea he had from the gospel caught!

He also this proverb added thereto:

“That if gold rust, then what shall iron do?”

For if a priest be foul, in whom we trust

No wonder if a common man should rust!

Shameful it is – let priests here caution keep –

A shitten shepherd and a clean sheep.

A priest a good example ought to give

By his own cleanness, how his sheep should live.

He did not put his living out to hire

And leave his flock, a-sinking in the mire

And run to London, seeking at St Pauls

A cushy job, a-chanting mass for souls

Or rest, as chaplain of a guild retained –

But dwelt at home, and his sheep-fold maintained.

So that the wolf could not steal in and harry

– He was a shepherd, not a mercenary.

And though he holy was and virtuous

He was to sinners not contemptuous

Nor in his speaking haughty or above

But he would teach discreetly and with love.

To draw folk up to heaven by the fairness

Of his example – this was his main business.

But any person sinning obstinate

Whate’er he was, of high or low estate

Him would the parson chastise without fears

– A better priest, I trust, there nowhere is.

He looke´d not for pomp and reverence

Nor over-spiced with laws his conscience,

But Christ’s good word and his apostles twelve

He taught – but first he followed it himself.

From → General

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