Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Host wears many hats

Chaucer's Host tells his guests that they will "stand at his judgment" and he will "tell them what to do." Does his plan please the pilgrims? Apparently it does. When he directs them--without more talk--to raise their hands as a sign of acceptance, they respond immediately and ask him to do even more. He tells them he will be their guide, and they ask him, in addition, to be their governor and reporter.
     So, how do we accomplish the task we've set for ourselves in this blog? How do we recognize Christ in these roles? Perhaps we don't , but in the 14th century each specified role was based on a traditional image of Christ.
     For example, Chaucer himself, in his translation of Boethius says, "God governs all things in the world . . . ; and all things will obey [are obliged to ] Him." And Cursor Mundi, which we've drawn from before, refers to Christ as "our Lord and God / And evermore our governor." John Lydgate, addressing the Eucharistic Christ, beseeches Him to "govern and guide us."
     Chaucer, in several works, shares this point of view as he calls upon God as guide of mankind, and indicates that it is God who leads men. Here, in the General Prologue, the Host freely offers himself as guide for the pilgrimage.
     And what about being a reporter? Christ, in the Chester Play of the Last Judgment, is addressed as "informer of all things," and the Grail Legend portrays a sinner asking Christ to have pity and mercy "my sins to report."
     Who receives the report? That's clarified in Cynewolf's Last Judgment. Men will come before "God's Son" and "the Father . . . will learn / how . . . [men] have guarded their souls" while on earth. And, in Wyclif's Gospel of John, Jesus asks if men expect him to accuse them before God the Father. Today, we are probably more comfortable when the Bible calls Christ our "advocate" with the Father.
     The Host will hand down verdicts, his guests swear oaths to abide by his directives. We are aware that the Host's proposal and pilgrims' agreement are overlaid with terms too serious, decisions to automatic. This could be interpreted as comedy on the surface. But, in an underlying interpretation, the scene portrays the  resignation of profound inevitability--man's inescapable submission to God's plan. The weightiness of oaths and verdicts informs us that these are more that mere friendly interactions.
     The activity described is universal; it is daily life--man bound to accept each day, though he knows not what lies ahead. The circumstance dramatizes God's prerogative. As Chaucer's Parson counsels: "Always a man shall put his will subject to the will of God."
     With the Host's position assured and agreements reached, it is time for sleep. We will pick up the story next week as the pilgrims prepare to depart on their journey.

1 comment:

  1. If I were setting off on a journey in the company of this group of pilgrims, I would certainly want to know that we had a strong leader in control! Chaucer's Host seems to fill the bill.

    Sometimes, the situation in today's world is almost overwhelmingly frightening to me, but then I remember the One who is leading my "pilgrimage." He is in control, so I don't have to worry. I can CHOOSE to worry, but I don't need to. I'm traveling through this world with some wonderful people and some real scoundrels. I thank God that He is the one who will judge them and not I, and that He will judge me through the filter of grace.