The Root of All Evil


Geoffrey Chaucer the great English author of the Canterbury Tales, wrote one of his tales in that monumental work about the terrible effects of greed. It is called The Pardoner’s Tale. Chaucer wrote the entire poem as a satire on the conditions of English royalty, the clergy and the common folk at the time. His use of satire was genius in that it used humor to hold a mirror up to the people of the time showing them the foolishness of their ways. Chaucer died in October of 1400. He was a man of the high Middle Ages whose genius was formed by his Christian faith. He was a keen observer of his times and he saw the corruption of the times and wrote about it in the hope that people would want to reform their ways and that the society would turn away from its sinful ways.

Each of his tales was based on a moral theme. The Pardoner’ Tale was written on the theme of “radix malorum est cupiditas,” which translates to, “The root of all evil is greed.” Chaucer’s main character in this tale is called the Pardoner, which in those days was a priest who was given a commission to go about the country hearing people’s confessions and bringing them back to God. But this Pardoner’s intentions are far from spiritual. He cynically pardons sins, alright, but only in reference to how much one could pay him for his “service.”

“And keep you from the vice of avarice!
My holy pardon frees you all of this,
Provided that you make the right approaches,
That is with sterling, rings, or silver brooches.”

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Greed is the love of money for its own sake. It is one of the seven deadly sins. It is a true danger to the soul. For the one who is greedy, puts all of his or her hopes in that which is material, finite, and ultimately corrupting, rather in that which is nourishing, life giving and eternal. Paul says it well, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” In Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale three men find a pot of gold under a tree in the middle of a field. In their greed they begin to commit several terrible sins. First they determine that “finder are keepers and losers are weepers” and plan to keep this pot of gold to themselves. They wish to celebrate their lucky find and decide that one of their company should go into town to purchase wine and bread for their celebration. They pull straws to determine which should go into town. The youngest of the three gets the shortest straw and heads into town. The other two figure, in their greed, that they could split the money between themselves if they killed the young man on his return. The young man figures, in his greed, that he could have it all to himself, so he buys the wine then poisons two of the three bottles. On his return he is, indeed, killed. The other two drink from the poisoned bottles and die as well. Yes, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.”

This was a cautionary tale for the people of Chaucer’s time, and for us. Greed, the love of money, is known to make people “wander from the faith.” The great unseen irony, in every case, is that they eventually and inevitably, “pierce themselves with many griefs,” for the lack of money can cause the greedy to partake in other deadly sins like envy and the kind of anger that turns into rage and vengeance. Still, the draw of money is a very powerful thing. It was so in Paul’s time, just as much as it was in Chaucer’s time, and it remains so in our own time. We must guard against this temptation with great effort. As we learned in yesterday’s devotional on the verses preceding this one, “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (verse 7) Our greatest wealth is in our faith and in the godliness through which we live that faith. The love of material wealth, or money, will rot the soul. The wealth of faith is eternal, and can only lift the soul to glory.

Lord, help us to turn our hearts only to you. Only in you do we find real joy, both in this life and in the next. Fill our hearts with your generous love so much that they will overflow and it will pour out of us for the good of all others. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.