|TITLE:||PRIVY SPEECH: SACRED SILENCE, DIRTY SECRETS IN THE "SUMMONER'S TALE"|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 40 no3 263-88 2006|
In the Summoner's Tale Chaucer presents a satirical portrait of a gluttonous friar who--to put it bluntly--spreads the Word as a means of enhancing his own flesh. Friar John's sermon to his lay charge Thomas, an excessive performance that consumes more than half of the tale, shows that he preaches in order to get donations from lay people and, more broadly, to exert his authority over them. As has often been noted, Friar John's preaching style reveals his particular affection for glossing, a form of scriptural interpretation that, according to the friar, compensates for the comprehension problems that will indubitably confront his lay audience(FN1) The friar thus evokes late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century debates on scriptural glossing and vernacular translation, practices that, in accommodating popular understanding, seemed to entail a loss of clerical control over sacred texts.(FN2) Although Friar John speaks to these medieval lay-centered initiatives, he himself does not gloss to enable lay access to scriptural meaning but rather to secure his clerical power, which is evident, for instance, in his appeal to a nonexistent scriptural passage that contains Christ's special blessing of friars.(FN3) Scriptural interpretations meant to sanction the friar's own authority pervade his sermon to Thomas, who responds by presenting Friar John with an equally illustrious, if vulgar, gift. Thomas's donation, a fart delivered into the friar's hand, has inspired a great deal of scholarship, some of which has regarded it as an echo of the friar's own long-winded performance.(FN4) Following this critical impulse to read the fart as a defiant response to the friar's sermon, I consider what else their exchange discloses about how clerical and lay subjects speak, hear, and control sacred discourse.
In this essay I contend that the Summoner's Tale reflects Chaucer's investment in representing sacred verbal performances, which perhaps is most obvious in the friar's self-serving sermon yet also apparent in the tale's allusions to a specific type of medieval devotional ritual: eucharistic prayers. To understand the significance of Chaucer's references to eucharistic prayers in the Summoner's Tale, we must first acknowledge how they were performed in the medieval liturgy. From the time of the early church until the Protestant Reformation and, in Catholic worship, until Vatican II, the celebrating priest recited the Mass's Canon, the twelve prayers that comprised the eucharistic consecration, in an inaudible whisper.(FN5) In addition to its various allegorical meanings, medieval liturgical commentaries offered a practical reason behind this silence: to keep these prayers secret from the lay worshippers who, it was presumed, would vulgarize the eucharistic formula or misunderstand the sacred mysteries.(FN6) Although scholars have frequently addressed how the Latin language impeded lay understanding of Scripture and the liturgy, they have overlooked almost entirely the importance of this devotional practice and its impact on lay participation in the Mass. Chaucer's interest in late medieval discourses on scriptural glossing and vernacular translation suggests the nature of his interest in liturgical silence.(FN7) This devotional practice epitomized how clerical power entailed control over sacred discourse, a paradigm mirrored in Friar John's homiletic performances that promulgate his authority over his lay charges even while misleading them. Chaucer's allusions to liturgical silence thus illuminate the tale's depiction of lay-clerical relations, particularly as these involve access to sacred discourse. More specifically, however, the tale interrogates the terms of clerical knowledge about and lay exclusion from eucharistic secrets. It ultimately endorses lay private devotional speech, which Chaucer portrays as subversive of clerical authority. Furthermore, he questions whether any human speech can communicate with the divine or aptly articulate sacred mysteries.
In the first part of this essay I attend to how Friar John insinuates references to the silent Canon when preaching to Thomas and his wife in order to bolster his claims about clerical superiority and lay degeneracy. Besides exposing the friar as an appallingly bad homilist, his lengthy sermon shows that he defines his clerical power in terms of his mastery of sacred discourse, which includes, of course, his interpretation and preaching of Scripture. The friar also intimates his knowledge of sacred secrets and ability to engage in divine conversation, broad claims that evoke in particular clerical access to eucharistic secrets. Friar John contends, for instance, that lay people are not privy to the friars' knowledge of "Cristes secree thynges" (III 1871), which, I argue, represents the silent part of the Mass that medieval liturgical commentaries commonly called "the secret." Although he mentions this fraternal privilege to make an impact on his lay charge, the friar's sermon to Thomas itself includes grounds for critiquing his clerical authority as it is predicated upon his use of sacred speech. The holy examples that he cites in his sermon each contain embedded references to various forms of proper clerical speech, which the friar himself clearly flouts. Although Friar John appeals to the silent Canon because of the clerical authority that it connotes, his corrupt verbal performance in fact exemplifies a proclivity for vulgar speech that was ascribed to lay worshippers and invoked to justify their exclusion from hearing liturgical secrets.
The lay people's commentary that follows the friar's sermon is the topic of my discussion in this essay's second part. Thomas's infamous reply to Friar John not only exposes his abuse of clerical speech but also, more importantly, evinces Chaucer's desire to examine notions of sacred speech and its human speakers that underlie the Canon's silent recitation. The eucharistic symbolism of Thomas's bodily offering that Friar John is to share with his twelve fellow friars is unmistakable. The particular significance of the fart "hyd in pryvetee" (III 2143) to liturgical silence becomes evident in late medieval devotional texts that use the word privy and its variants to describe the eucharistic Canon. Thomas's fart represents both the priest's formulaic "privy prayers" that the laity could not hear and also the "privy prayers" that lay worshippers themselves said during the silent Canon, which thus allowed them to engage in individual conversations with God. To be sure, Thomas's fart calls to mind the word privy's scatological nuances and, by extension, the lay people's debased sensibilities that precluded their knowledge of eucharistic secrets. As a response to the friar's gluttony-driven sermon, however, Thomas's fart also hints at a mystical, alternative order of human speech that is able to circumvent the tongue and its sins. Although Thomas's fart epitomizes diverse ideas about how humans utter sacred speech, the pseudo-eucharistic mystery of its equal division lodges a pointed antifraternal and, more generally, anticlerical critique. The solution contrived by Jankyn the squire satirizes clerical privilege to sacred discourse in arranging for Friar John's convent to enjoy Thomas's private contribution. Furthermore, Jankyn's ingenious interpretation of this mock eucharistic riddle, which he frames as a response to Friar John's errant preaching, also authorizes lay speech, in particular, lay privy prayers. Taken together, Thomas's fart and Jankyn's solution serve both to problematize the friar's view of sacred speech as a reflection of clerical authority and also to suggest a type of lay devotional speech capable of divine communication.
The silent Canon's significance to the Summoner's Tale is implicit in its critically noted mock liturgical elements, such as the friar's parodic sermon and Thomas's pseudo-eucharistic offering to Friar John.(FN8) I argue that the tale's investment in the liturgy and, specifically, liturgical silence, is evident in the friar's initial verbal performance. We first meet Friar John when he is leaving mass, where he has been preaching on the value of trentals, a series of masses said for the dead. He endeavors to sell trentals to lay churchgoers by explaining to them how effectively the friars perform these private masses. Unlike priests, who delight in ritualistic performances and thus can eke out "nat but o masse in a day" (III 1728), friars value efficiency. They will "hastily" (III 1726) say an entire trental in a single day in order to expedite the release of souls from purgatory. The friar's boast speaks to the popularity of private masses, which, according to medieval critics of this practice, capitalized upon popular superstitions about the Mass's marvelous benefits.(FN9) Chaucer alludes to this perceived excess of private masses and thus implicates friars for their hyperactive recitation of sacred liturgical formula, which, in Friar John's case at least, served as but a means of getting donations from lay people. While evincing the friars' exploitation of a certain type of clerical speech, their hurried performance of private masses also intimates a contributing factor behind the Canon's silence. The noted liturgical scholar Josef A. Jungmann describes the unique method designed for saying numerous private masses; the first Mass would be sung to the Canon and then continued in silence while a second Mass began at another altar.(FN10) Carlos A. Lewis, in his study of the silent Canon, observes that while this arrangement for the performance of private masses was not solely responsible for the introduction of the silent Canon, it could have helped establish its routine ritual practice.(FN11) In its incisive portrait of his method of saying private masses, Friar John's opening advertisement for trentals introduces two animating tensions manifest in the tale's representations of liturgical silence. On the one hand, the friar declares his mastery of clerical speech, which, in turn, offers him a venue for taking advantage of his lay charges. On the other, he unwittingly discloses his abuse of the clerical privilege to say Mass, which is apparent in his hasty--and most likely, thoughtless--recitation of the liturgy. Although the silent Canon could denote reverence for sacred mysteries, in Friar John's recitation of trentals, silence would reflect on a Mass streamlined for maximal profit.
After leaving mass, Friar John heads to the home of Thomas and his wife, where he makes a series of subtle references to the silent Canon. In particular, he invokes clerical access to these sacred secrets and lay exclusion from them in order to authorize his own verbal performance, thus to collect on his choice clerical privilege: receiving nourishment from his lay charges. Indeed, upon his arrival at Thomas's house, Friar John wastes no time in requesting a sumptuous feast, the eucharistic nuances of which are evident when considering the specific items for which the friar has begged when leaving mass: cakemeal, cake ("a Goddes kechyl" [III 1747]), a "Goddes halfpeny" (III 1749), and a "masse peny" (III 1749).(FN12) Taken together, these eucharistic goods and the friar's planned feast indicate how his gluttony affronts the Eucharist's capacity for spiritual satiation, a trope that underlies the parodic "gluttons' Masses" performed in medieval monasteries.(FN13) Just before Thomas's wife leaves to prepare this mock eucharistic feast, she divulges that her little boy died shortly after the friar's last visit. Although Chaucer might at first seem to gloss over this recent tragedy in Thomas's household, this detail is not lost on the friar, whose sermon contains several canny details that would have reminded Thomas of his dead son. The friar delivers an exemplum on ire in which an enraged King Cambyses kills the son of one of his lords. Elsewhere in his sermon, Friar John claims that if friars were to become so poor that they had to sell their books, they would not be able to preach, a predicament that would "bireve out of this world the sonne" (III 2113).(FN14) In light of the tale's mock liturgical framework, its subtextual and explicit references to dead sons signify vulgarized renditions of Christ's sacrificial death.
In his immediate reaction to the news of Thomas's son's death, Friar John evokes the liturgy's commemoration of Christ's death in the silent Canon and, in turn, clerical knowledge of sacred secrets recited during it. Friar John tells Thomas's wife that, thanks to divine revelation, he already knew her child had died. His description of his convent's ritual commemoration of the son's death contains a not-so-subtle endorsement of fraternal authority:
"Oure orisons been moore effectueel, And moore we seen of Cristes secree thynges, Than burel folk."
In arguing for the special efficacy of friars' "orisons," Friar John recalls his earlier boast about their expedient recitation of private masses. Assuming that his broad categorical claim about fraternal prayers includes those recited during private masses, the friars' cryptic knowledge of "Cristes secree thynges" also suggests its liturgical analog, namely, eucharistic secrets. The connection between "Cristes secree thynges" and eucharistic secrets becomes more evident when considering that medieval liturgical commentaries often identify the silent Canon as "the secret" and variations thereof.(FN15) Although "Cristes secree thynges" in fact connote nothing but Friar John's dubious knowledge of Thomas's son's death, when read allegorically it recalls the account of Christ's death related in the silent Canon. And in his tacit appeal to this liturgical practice, the friar intends to substantiate his larger claim about fraternal divine favor, which is manifest in friars' facile use of sacred speech.
"Cristes secree thynges" come to resemble eucharistic secrets even more in the friar's subsequent explanation about why the "burel folk" do not know them. In making a case for the lay people's depravity, the friar notes their predilection for oral sins, gluttony in particular. Friar John contends that unlike friars, whom he portrays as masters of appetitive restraint, lay folk have a gluttonous weakness for "mete and drynke" (III 1875). The deeper import of the friar's allegation becomes apparent when considering how late medieval catechetical texts classify oral sins; the Ayenbite of Inwyt and Book of Vices and Virtues, fourteenth-century English pastoral texts derived from the compendious Somme le Rcy, yoke "glotonye" with "wikkede tonge" as twin branches of the capital "synne of mouþ."(FN16) The Book of Vices and Virtues speaks to the rationale behind this organizational scheme: "þe moup haþ tweie offices, wher-of þat on serveþ to þe swelewyng of mete and drynke, Pat oper serueþ to speche."(FN17)
In light of this affiliation of these two types of oral sin, the gluttonous tendencies that Friar John ascribes to the lay folk suggest a similar tendency toward wicked speech, which was offered as a practical reason behind liturgical silence. The fear that the laity would vulgarize or corrupt eucharistic prayers canonized in the early Middle Ages underpins a legend found in medieval liturgical manuals: when the Canon was popularly known, shepherds sang it in their fields, an infraction for which they were duly struck down from the heavens.(FN18) This just-so story about lay exclusion from the silent Canon resonates with the friar's claim about the lay people's corrupt orality, that is, their gluttony that precludes their right to knowledge of "Cristes secree thynges."
Further context for reading lay gluttony as indicative of wicked speech can be derived from the friar's own preaching practices. Gluttony has led him to corrupt his own spoken rendition of sacred secrets, which, in the most immediate sense, includes scriptural mysteries that he should explain to his lay charges rather than gloss to his own benefit. Although the friar's allegation of lay gluttony seems ironic if not unjust, his boast about his knowledge of--and lay exclusion from--sacred secrets will render lay assertion of control over eucharistic secrets later in the tale all the more dramatic.
Friar John's claim about fraternal appetitive restraint provides a point of departure for his bloated sermon to Thomas, during which the friar attempts to impress upon his lay charge the fact of clerical, in particular, fraternal superiority over lay people. To this end, the friar subtly invokes the silent Canon, a liturgical custom that epitomizes and also exhibits this clerical authority over sacred discourse. While alluding to this clerical performance in order to authorize his own homiletic speech, the friar unwittingly refers to other types of clerical speech that his errant sermon plainly does not embody. So although the friar's sermon is meant to endorse his vocation, it also includes grounds for critiquing how he uses clerical speech and, by extension, how he views his clerical authority over lay people. This issue of clerical speech and its constituent authority underlies the friar's appeal to Aaron, Moses, and Elijah as examples of prophets who fasted in order to communicate with God. In Friar John's interpretation, they serve as Old Testament analogues for medieval friars, whose rigorous "fastynge" (III 1883), according to the friar, "Maketh that Grist accepteth oure preyeres" (III 1884). Given the friar's proclivity for interpreting Scripture loosely, however, it is not surprising that one of his examples proves not quite apt. As Leviticus 10.8-9 reveals, Aaron did not fast before praying but rather abstained from intoxicating drink.(FN19)
Seeing how Aaron, Moses, and Elijah did not all fast, we must consider what these holy men do have in common. As Friar John discloses, each holy man enjoyed his audience with God while physically separated from the people. Furthermore, each of the removed locales in which these divine revelations transpired suggests the liturgy's silent Canon, in particular, its exclusionary function. Friar John notes that Aaron conducted his priestly duties within the "temple" (II 1894), a place better known as the sanctum sanctorum. Although the Old Testament sanctuary fostered the priest's spatial remove from the people, medieval liturgical commentaries would invoke it to explain the silent Canon's significance. For instance, William Durandus's Rationale divinorum officiorum, a late thirteenth-century exhaustive work on which successive commentaries were based, describes the silent Canon in terms of the Old Testament means of clerical seclusion:
The temple at that time was divided into two parts by a veil in the middle of it. The first part was called the Holy Place, the inner part the Holy of Holies. Whatever part of the office of the Mass cometh before "the secret" is performed as if it were in the first place. Whatever is in "the secret" is performed as if it were within the Holy of Holies.(FN20)
This incidental detail about Aaron's entry into the temple thus brings to mind an image that was applied to medieval priests' insider knowledge of liturgical secrets. While Friar John putatively cites Aaron as an inspiration for the friars' holy fasting, he in fact uses this example to position friars at an imaginative remove from the lay people.
In the friar's portrait of Moses's and Elijah's private conversations with God, he makes further insinuations about how fraternal privilege is offset by lay depravity. Friar John's references to Moses's audience with the "heighe God" (III 1886) and Elijah's with the "hye God" (III 1892) evoke, in the most immediate sense, the locations in which each man received his sacred revelation: Moses on Mount Sinai, and Elijah on Mount Horeb. The friar's repetition of this divine designation, however, serves to pique our attention when he uses it yet again in the same passage. To sum up the merits of religious fasting, Friar John impresses upon Thomas that friars' prayers are "to the hye God moore acceptable / Than youres, with youre feestes at the table" (III 1913-14). When the friar identifies the audience for the friars' prayers as "hye God," he divulges his key motivation for alluding to these Old Testament prophets. As with Aaron, he does not appeal to Moses and Elijah because of their fasting practices per se, but rather because of the physical remove in which each man carries them out in order to facilitate conversation with God. Furthermore, Friar John approves of how this clerical seclusion reflects on lay unworthiness to engage in divine conversation, which is evident in his claim that friars' prayers are "moore acceptable" than gluttonous lay worshippers' are. As did "Cristes secree thynges" known to friars, this privileged fraternal exchange with the "hye God" suggests the silent Canon. Like the medieval "gluttons' Mass," the lay people's indulgent "feestes at the table" parody the priest's secret consecration of the eucharistic meal at the altar. Once again, the friar alleges that the lay people's depraved oral impulses prohibit their participation in a divine exchange, as if their vulgar mouths would corrupt its sacred speech.
The purpose behind Friar John's discourse on these Old Testament figures is to define friars in terms of their aptitude for divine conversation, a clerical privilege that, in medieval devotion, was exemplified in their knowledge of liturgical secrets. The friar, however, overlooks a critical aspect of Moses's and Elijah's mythology, one that evinces how he himself abuses the clerical privilege to preach in order to satisfy his own gluttony. Both Moses and Elijah had to contend with pagan Baal worship, which would have included the practice of ventriloquism. For early Christian commentators such as Origen and John Chrysostomos, ventriloquism, or "belly speech"--so-called after pagan prophets' practice of swallowing air to make oracular "voices" sound in their stomachs--epitomized non-Christian depravity. A rubric that included various types of corrupt speech produced by pagan oracles, idols, and prophets, "ventriloquism" denoted speech that came from anywhere other than its legitimate source in the human mouth.(FN21) Chaucer's wide-ranging classical learning implies that he knew about pagan ventriloqual speech as well as its perceived spuriousness.(FN22) Thus, Chaucer was surely aware of Elijah's famous contest at Mount Carmel with the Baal prophets, ventriloquists who pretended to receive oracular messages and, in doing so, perverted legitimate divine revelation from the "hye God." Elijah's face-off against these pagan prophets was tacitly predicated on the propriety of sacred speech.(FN23) Indeed, the ventriloquists' bogus prophecies were markedly different from Elijah's divine revelation in which he heard God in a "still small voice," which was, presumably, in silence.(FN24) With his wordy and gluttony-driven sermon, Friar John does not emulate Elijah's silent communication with the "hye God" on Mount Horeb so much as the specious prophecies delivered by pagan belly-speakers who vied against him on Mount Carmel.
Friar John, who is apparently oblivious to this subtext about ventriloqual speech that underlies his reference to Moses and Elijah, persists in preaching to Thomas in the hopes of satisfying his own gluttony. In his next rhetorical maneuver, the friar appeals to Thomas's saintly namesake, Thomas the apostle, perhaps expecting to pique his lay charge's interest in his tedious sermon. In doing so, however, the friar unwittingly conjures a holy person whose life exhibits a sustained investment in the integrity of sacred speech, clerical and liturgical speech in particular. Friar John alludes to Saint Thomas's apostolic mission in order to get the disdainful peasant Thomas to donate money "for to buylden Cristes owene chirche" (III 1977). Although Friar John contends that one can find support for his church-building fund drive in "Thomas lyf of Inde" (LQ 1980), medieval lives of Thomas disclose, in fact, that the saint subordinated the building of churches to evangelizing and, more broadly, the proper use of sacred speech, which Friar John obviously abuses even while delivering his sermon.
The Legenda Aurea and the South English Legendary both describe, for instance, how pagan authorities, having tired of Thomas and his evangelizing, command him to worship an idol. Thomas, of course, does not do so but instead exposes the idol's resident devil that speaks through the mute stone.(FN25) This scene--a confrontation between the saint and pagan rulers before their idol--is a familiar hagiographic trope, one that appears elsewhere in the Canterbury Tales, namely, in Chaucer's recounting of Cecilia's life in the Second Nun's Tale. Given that pagan idolatry often entailed ventriloquism, this hagiographic contest serves to define Christian speech, which derives from a sacred source, over and against pagan prophecies, which come from man-made apparatus.
In addition to this well-rehearsed example, Saint Thomas's affinity for speech that is distinctively Christian transpires in another moment recorded in several of his lives. Ungracious guests at a wedding celebration, the saint and his disciples refused to partake in the feasting, an oral indulgence that was topped off by yet another, namely, wicked entertainment. The homily for Thomas's feast day that is included in the Speculum Sacerdotale relates how a Hebrew girl entertained the wedding company with her "mynstralcye," a sin of the tongue deemed especially reprehensible in medieval England.(FN26) Thomas's act of absenting himself from the wedding festivities thus demonstrates his particular aversion to "synne of mouþ" and, in turn, his concern about sacred speech, which, for him, would include preaching the Word to convert non-Christians.
An obscure episode in Thomas the apostle's life reflects how his investment in the integrity of sacred speech included correct recitation of the liturgy, especially its Canon, which served as a means of cultivating clerical authority. John of Hildesheim's Three Kings of Cologne, a fourteenth-century English translation of the Latin legendary account of the Magi's travels in the East, portrays Thomas ordaining them along with other new priests. To mark their clerical vocation, Thomas teaches them "the manere and þe fourme to sey a masse."(FN27) The apostle also divulges Christ's words spoken at his proto-liturgical Last Supper, prayers that comprised the part of Mass that the celebrating clergyman would recite in silence: "þe wordys Pat crist seyde to his disciplys whan he made his soper Pat nyGt þat he was betraied, þorwe wich wordys he made & ordeyned þe sacrament of þe autere."(FN28)
Close examination of an important medieval devotional practice discloses the terms of Thomas's association with the eucharistic Canon. Although lives of Thomas do not show him revealing eucharistic secrets to new priests, his connection with the silent Canon is implicit in his popular identity as "doubting Thomas," a nickname that Friar John wisely suppresses when addressing his dubious lay charge. Because the eucharistic transubstantiation was concealed from lay worshippers in silence, the host's elevation was introduced into the liturgy to signal to them when this miraculous change had occurred. The lay zeal for gazing upon Christ's body in the elevated host is suggestive of Thomas's need to see Christ's body in order to believe in his resurrection.(FN29)
Furthermore, the popularity of lay sacramental gazing helps account for the late medieval devotion to "doubting Thomas," whose groping of Christ's side was a scene frequently depicted in iconography.(FN30) In the Summoner's Tale we find this famous exchange reformulated in Thomas's invitation to the friar to "grope ... / Bynethe my buttok" (III 2141-42) to retrieve the special gift interred therein. If medieval worshippers' ardent gazing on Christ's body in the transubstantiated host intimates their companionship with "doubting Thomas," it also signals the church institution's impulse to exclude them from sacred discourse that they, it was presumed, would only vulgarize. In Friar John's allusion to Saint Thomas, he thus invokes a figure significant to the silent Canon and, in particular, the power dynamic between the clergy and the laity that underlies it. Had he recognized this aspect of Thomas's life chronicled in The Three Kings of Cologne, the friar surely would have capitalized on Thomas's explicit endorsement of clerical privilege to sacred eucharistic prayers and, by extension, lay exclusion from them. The terms in which this clerical privilege is defined, however, through proper production of liturgical speech, serves to expose the friar's own errant speech, which is manifest in his misdirected evangelism.
Sensing that he has not inspired his lay charge's generosity but rather incurred his anger, Friar John launches into a series of exempla on the sin of ire, a verbal foray that continues to illustrate how he abuses clerical speech for his own gain. Although Friar John's sermon treats the sin of ire and not sins of the tongue per se, the theme of sacred speech is present in its subtext. The friar's sermon is but one of several instances in the Canterbury Tales in which Chaucer yokes corrupt speech with ire, a connection likewise found in medieval catechetical literature.(FN31) Friar John's exposition of King Cambyses's ire offers Chaucer a pretense for insinuating how the friar himself exploits sacred speech for personal benefit. The friar tells how Cambyses, while in a fit of drunken rage, killed the son of one of his lords who had dared to criticize him. Although this exemplum is meant to deter Thomas from indulging his own anger against Friar John, the conclusion that the friar comes to is that one should watch one's speech--but only when talking to powerful men:
"Syngeth Placebo and 'I shal, if I kan,' But if it be unto a povre man. To a povre man men sholde his vices telle, But nat to a lord, thogh he sholde go to helle."
As the friar means it, singing placebo reflects its connotation in catechetical texts, which include placating, disingenuous speech as a type of "wikkede tonge."(FN32) The exemplum's moral clearly speaks to the friar's own execution of his pastoral duties, during which he will curb his impulse to correct a rich man lest he risk upsetting a prospective benefactor. The friar's corruption of proper clerical speech is also apparent when one considers that singing placebo also meant performing the office of the dead, so-called because it began with the word placebo. In the context of the exemplum that the friar tells, the clergyman who literally did sing placebo would properly commemorate the son's death and thus exercise an appropriate use of clerical speech. While the friar undoubtedly knows that singing placebo signifies this clerical practice, he instead chooses to exemplify its less illustrious nuance.
In addition to these two contrasting types of speech, the friar's reference to singing placebo also evokes the silence observed during the eucharistic portion of the liturgy. As was mentioned earlier, the lord's dead son is but one of several absent sons in the tale. And given the Summoner's Tale's mock liturgical elements, the friar's account of the son's death suggests Christ's death and its commemoration in the silent part of the liturgy. As if to flout the sacred liturgical ceremony, Friar John gives a quick-and-dirty summary of the son's tragic death at Cambyses's hands: "His sone was slayn; ther is namoore to seye" (III 2073). In the most immediate sense, this brief blurb strikes one as an especially crass treatment of the son's death. If taken allegorically, however, the friar's comment speaks to his own misinterpretation of the eucharistic silence that commemorates Christ's sacrificial death. As it functions in the friar's exemplum, silence does not memorialize the slain son nor, by extension, Christ's sacrifice. Rather, silence merely transpires as a rhetorical effect.
The friar expeditiously wraps up his exemplum in order to pronounce its moral on the virtue of singing placebo, which, as Friar John means it, represents an improper use of silence. The clergyman who would ignore a rich man's faults as Friar John recommends would not exercise corrective speech appropriate to a clergyman, but instead would say whatever his potential meal ticket wanted to hear while remaining silent about his sins.(FN33) In effect, this act of singing placebo distorts how silence should function in confession. The "seal of confession" bound the confessor to remain silent about a person's sins after these had been disclosed to him, not before. In this sense, confessional silence serves a different yet related purpose as eucharistic silence: it deters wicked speech. For the friar, however, silence in a confessional context does not prevent but rather enables his corrupt speech, thus implicating him in the vice that precluded lay worshippers from hearing eucharistic secrets.
The friar soon winds down his sermon and finally gives Thomas, who has remained silent throughout this performance, a chance to offer his notorious reply. The fart that Thomas dispenses into Friar John's hand has been read as a critique of the friar's own overblown sermon and, more broadly, a redress for his abuse of his clerical privilege to preach. A remark that Thomas makes shortly before the fart, however, indicates its relevance to another type of clerical speech, namely, eucharistic secrets. Hoping that he has convinced Thomas that he is, at the very least, guilty of ire, Friar John asks Thomas to make his confession. In response, Thomas says that he has already done so, and thus he "Nedeth namoore to speken of it" (III 2097). Thomas not only echoes the friar's abrupt chronicle of the son's death ("ther is namoore to seye"), but also appropriates silence as a strategy for withholding sacramental speech from the talkative clergyman. Thomas's mimicry of Friar John's use of silence thus evokes and subverts the practical function of liturgical silence: to prevent lay worshippers from hearing the sacramental formula recited at the altar.
Thomas's deferral introduces his more infamous response to Friar John's sermon, an episode that, while fabulously comical, also intimates Chaucer's desire to examine liturgical silence and the notions of sacred speech that it entails. The connection between Thomas's fart and the silent Canon becomes evident when one considers the scene's allegorical similarities to the Mass. Thomas's contention that he has already been shriven implies that he is prepared to receive the Eucharist, which he, instead, will now bestow upon the gluttonous clergyman. His offering, the fart "hyd in pryvetee" (III 2143) that Friar John is to share with the twelve friars in his convent, broadly parodies the orthodox celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, scholars have read the fart as both a mock eucharistic gift--noting this episode's parallels with the Last Supper, during which Christ offered his sacramental body to his twelve apostles(FN34)--and also as a simulation of the Pentecostal winds that descended on the apostles and gifted them with the power to preach.(FN35) Taken together, these interpretations suggest the significance of Thomas's fart to eucharistic speech. Until this point in the tale, the silent celebration of the Canon has served to exemplify one of Friar John's abiding claims: that sacred discourse and divine conversation should be reserved for the clergy and withheld from the laity. Thomas's fart checks the friar's assumption and reveals that the issue of propriety over sacred speech is, in fact, more open-ended.(FN36) Furthermore, the fart draws into focus various ideas about language that underlie eucharistic silence, thus raising more general questions about how human beings can produce sacred speech or engage in divine conversation.
In particular, Thomas's use of the word pryvetee to describe the fart both illuminates its relevance to the silent Canon and also intimates several types of "privy speech" that it connotes. The word privy and its variants characterize the silent portion of the Mass in the Lay Folk's Mass Book, a popular devotional text translated into English from a late thirteenth-century French work. For instance, "priuey prayers" are the priest's silent prayers with which he consecrates the Eucharist.(FN37) We cannot, however, read Thomas's privy, gift as an allusion to silent liturgical prayers without recalling Chaucer's noted fascination with sexual and scatological pryvetee in the Canterbury Tales.(FN38) The example most pertinent to Thomas's fart occurs in the Pardoner's invective against gluttony, in which he warns that a person who eats gourmet foods turns his throat into a "pryvee" (VI 527). Surprisingly or not, this abject pryvee-throat evokes the privy part of the Mass in the subsequent passage, in which the Pardoner portrays the glutton's gourmet feast as a mock eucharistic meal. As if taking a page from a parodic "gluttons' Mass," the Pardoner ascribes a pseudo-clerical power to the gluttons' cooks who "turnen sub-staunce into accident" (VI 539) while whipping up the sumptuous feasts. This perverse consecration conveys how the glutton's feast affronts the Eucharist's allegorical meaning as a holy meal. Furthermore, the cook's corrupt simulation of the transubstantiation symbolically demonstrates the glutton's exclusion from veritable knowledge of liturgical secrets. Just as the glutton's reverence paid to his own pryvee-throat flouts the orthodox celebration of the Eucharist, so does Thomas's privy gift threaten to undermine the sanctity of liturgical secrets.
A by-product of Thomas's own appetite, the fart lends support to Friar John's theory that lay people are indeed gluttonous and thus excluded from knowing about "Cristes secree thynges," among them, the secret rites through which the host becomes Christ's body. In light of gluttony's close tie to verbal sins, we can see how Thomas's overfed utterance evinces both his general tendency to produce corrupt speech and also, given the context surrounding his privy performance, his particular corruption of eucharistic secrets. Right before he farts, Thomas states his intention to remain silent rather than confess his sins to Friar John. His fart delivered "in pryvetee" fills this silence, thus denoting both a perverse rendition of the priest's privy prayers and, by extension, Thomas's proclivity for vulgar speech that would preclude his knowledge of them.
If we take Thomas's fart "hyd in pryvetee" to symbolize these liturgical privy prayers, we can only conclude that Chaucer intends to remark on the most sacred part of the Mass through what is arguably the basest performance in all of the Canterbury Tales. Although the fart mocks sacred silence by breaking it so unceremoniously, in doing so it also reflects on silence's purpose: to protect sacred secrets from corruption by crude speakers. Practically speaking, these were the lay people. More broadly, however, the Canon's silence exhibits the failure of any human speech to address the divine. The latter speaks to a view associated with mystical language theory, which may have been familiar to Chaucer due to Saint Thomas Becket's special interest in the late fourth- or fifth-century Syrian writer known as pseudo-Dionysius.(FN39) Perhaps Chaucer intended the irreverent Thomas to represent the "hooly blisful martir" himself (I 17), in which case we can justify reading the fart in terms of the notion of divine ineffability that pervades pseudo-Dionysian thought. In his depiction of the fart as "hyd in pryvetee," Chaucer calls to mind the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, the late fourteenth-century English translator of pseudo-Dionysius's mystical works, who often uses the words hyd 0and privy to portray a deity who is both unknowable and unnamable.(FN40)
This concept of divine ineffability--and the human depravity that it connotes--underpins liturgical commentaries on the silent Canon. William Durandus, for instance, identifies the human incapacity to understand divine secrets as a reason for the Canon's silence:
It is called "the secret" because these things are hidden from us, since human reason can by no means fully grasp so great a mystery. To signify this, it is rightly performed in a "secret" voice.(FN41)
A similar estimation of human faculties transpires in the fourteenth-century lay devotional text "A Treatise on the Manner and Mede of the Mass":
Wiþ al þe priuete of þe Mes Serteyn wiþ-oute delay þat couþe a mon neuere so muche of art He mihte not telle þe tenpe part, þauG he hedde þouGt to say.(FN42)
In this text the word associated with Thomas's fart, pryvetee, describes the Canon's mysteries as they transcend human powers of speech. This treatise implies that the priest's silent recitation of the Canon does not exclude the laity from hearing these sacred texts so much as it demonstrates the inability of any human to articulate them.
Whether the Canon's silence reflected the general human failure to utter or to understand sacred mysteries, this mortal deficiency was associated with lay worshippers and used to explain their exclusion from hearing liturgical secrets. Although the practical purpose of liturgical silence was to preserve the integrity of ritual formula and the sanctity of sacred mysteries, it also worked to foreclose lay involvement in the formal service even more than did the poor comprehension of Latin. In a related yet slightly different way, silence also impacted the lay people's participation in devotion during parts of the liturgy that they could hear. By the time that Chaucer was writing, the laity not only could not hear the Canon but also did not participate in the voiced parts of the liturgy as much as they once did; clerks recited what had traditionally been the lay response to the priest, the responsio populi.(FN43) Popular devotional works seem to collaborate with this effort to make the lay experience of the liturgy a silent one. They tell the worshipper to remain "stille as ston" and to "kepe his silence whan the masse is in doing."(FN44) Although silence's pervasive role in the medieval Mass may suggest that lay liturgical devotion was of a passive sort, it in fact could work to afford lay worshippers active control over their worship. Along with instructions to be silent, medieval devotional works include directions to their audience to pray privately during silent parts of the liturgy. In doing so, these devotional texts guided their lay readers in a loosely organized service that was simultaneous with, yet distinct from, the liturgy commemorated at the altar. The Lay Folk's Mass Book even goes so far as to imply that lay worshippers could appropriate liturgical silence for their own devotions while the priest just goes about his business at the altar: "when þo preste praies in priuete / tyme of prayere is þen to þe."(FN45) Furthermore, the Lay Folk's Mass Book tells lay worshippers that they could indeed speak to God during liturgical silence, a notion that contradicts Friar John's claim that divine conversation is a clerical privilege. For example, before directing its audience to say a short silent prayer, the text insinuates the prayer's divine audience: "saye þese wordis with stille steuen / prively to god of heauen."(FN46) While liturgical silence reserved formal privy prayers for the clergy and kept them from vulgarization, it also absorbed the laity in their own privy prayers--during which they could talk inwardly to God.
As a representation of these lay privy prayers, Thomas's fart bestowed "in pryvetee" to Friar John demonstrates how this form of popular devotion signifies an active subversion of clerical authority, including its alleged entitlement to sacred discourse. As a response to Friar John's gluttony-driven sermon, the fart also raises questions about what sort of speech should be used to articulate sacred mysteries, and, in particular, whether the human mouth is an appropriate organ for them. Despite its designation by early Christian commentators as the proper source of Christian speech, the mouth was also the source of numerous vices. Chaucer realizes the mouth's sinfulness in Friar John, who himself personifies "synne of mouþ" and its twin categories "glotonye" and "wikkede tonge."
More broadly, the promotion of "synne of mouþ" to a capital sin in medieval catechetical texts reflects on the campaign begun by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) to name, teach, and extirpate verbal sins,(FN47) an initiative that, practically speaking, identified the mouth as an origin of deadly vice. If we interpret the practice of liturgical silence in terms of this notion of oral degeneracy, we can recognize that the Lay Folk's Mass Book's instruction to pray "with stille steuen" in fact discloses a desire to imagine speech that is not produced by the mouth. A similar impulse underlies devotional texts that advise the worshipper to pray in his or her heart. Although this direction for silent prayer may seem obvious, its importance becomes more evident in light of lay devotional texts that tell worshippers to pray with their hearts as well as their mouths even during voiced parts of the liturgy, lest their prayers be mere eloquence with no deeper substance.(FN48) While it is easy to see how heart-prayer is more sincere than lip service, are we to apply these terms to the fart and thus judge Thomas's internally generated speech to be a more deeply felt utterance than the friar's oral-centered sermon? And while the fart may indicate an attempt to subvert the mouth's sins, doesn't Thomas's ass-speech also connote ventriloqual corruption of the Christian voice, and thus echo rather than correct Friar John's execrable sermon? More fundamentally, why should we think that Chaucer intended Thomas's fart to exemplify an idealized form of extra-oral communication rather than have it savor of, say, the fart in the Miller's Tale?
Although Thomas's performance may readily bring to mind Nicholas's faux-oral utterance, it is in fact a different set of illustrious performances in the Canterbury Tales that offers context for reading Thomas's fart as an earnest sublimation of mouth speech. The Prioress's Tale and the Second Nun's Tale portray holy persons miraculously producing speech through unconventional physical means, namely, after their throats have been cut. Furthermore, close attention to these samples of throatless speech reveals that they serve both to evoke and also to authorize lay privy prayers said during liturgical silence. The Second Nun relates how Cecilia, who would become the patron saint of music, would also, somewhat ironically, eschew liturgical noise and pray privately:
And whil the organs maden melodie, To God allone in herte thus sang she.
Cecilia's silent devotion is thrown into relief by her pagan tormentors' worship of "dombe" and "deve" idols (VIII 286) capable only of ventriloqual speech, which would be fabricated through chicanery or acoustic tubes that piped in their voices from elsewhere.(FN49) More significantly, the saint's private heart-prayer that removes her from the formal ceremony intimates the extraordinary potential of lay people's privy prayers, during which they could communicate with God though unaided by ritual ceremony. An allegory for lay privy prayer also underlies the Second Nun's description of Cecilia's ultimate miracle. When her neck is "ycorven" (VIII 533) by the pagans who are trying to execute her, Cecilia does not immediately die, or, for that matter, fall silent. Rather, she continues to preach, a defiant act that implies the subversive import of lay privy prayers said during liturgical silence.
As if mimicking this early Christian saint, the little clergeon of the Prioress's Tale persists in singing the Marian hymn O Alma Redemptoris even after the Jews have cut his throat in an attempt to silence him. The locale in which the clergeon begins his postmortem performance--the "privee place" (VII 568) where the Jews have unceremoniously disposed of his body--implies that Chaucer meant his song to represent lay worshippers' privy prayers. The little clergeon's privee-song further evokes these private liturgical prayers when the bishop discovers its source: the "greyn" (VII 662) found on his tongue, a curious image with obvious eucharistic nuances.(FN50) Cecilia's and the little clergeon's miraculous performances suggest how lay privy speech is authoritative despite and because of institutional attempts to silence it. In addition, these holy examples of throat-less speech evince how lay privy prayer embodies the Augustinian notion of a tongueless speech able to bypass conventional language, a transgressive discourse that Augustine likewise associated with silence.(FN51) Although Thomas's fart is not as patently devout as Cecilia's wondrous sermon or the choirboy's unstinting rendition of 0 Alma Redemptoris, it does exemplify an extra-verbal order of communication, one that is perhaps best suited for speaking to God or about the ineffable. Considering how mouth-speech has been compromised in the tale, namely, through Friar John's preaching borne of his gluttony, Thomas's privy speech intimates a type of human utterance able to circumvent the tongue and its sins.
Thomas thus complicates Friar john's easy presumption of privileged clerical access to sacred discourse by questioning not only which--but also how, or even if--human speakers can articulate it. The practical conundrum that Thomas poses when he farts--how to divide this gift equally among the friars--offers a premise for the tale's characters to examine the assumptions about sacred language that underpin liturgical silence. In the course of their debate over Thomas's dilemma, the fart becomes the center of a mock Mass. Eager to recount the insult that Thomas has just dealt him, Friar John finds a sympathetic audience in one of his lay charges, the "lord of that village" (III 2165). This lord, whom the friar happens upon while at table, assumes the role of a celebrating priest in a vulgarized liturgy during which the fart is commemorated. Like the liturgical account of Christ's sacrificial death, the friar's report of Thomas's perverse offering is received in awed silence. Even the orally overactive friar can hardly bring himself to speak. Not knowing how to respond to the friar's tragic tale, the lord's wife is "stille" (III 2200), the term that devotional texts use to depict how the laity should comport themselves during the Mass.(FN52) If we regard the lord in his capacity as a lay person who meditates on the clergyman's pseudo-eucharistic performance, we can apprehend in his silence the "stille" worshipper's inward speech:
The lord sat stille as he were in a traunce, And in his herte he rolled up and doun, "How hadde this cherl ymaginacioun To shewe swich a probleme to the frere?"
The choice subject of the lord's silent thoughts does not reflect all that well on the meditation that engrossed the lay worshippers during liturgical silence. In fact, it seems only to substantiate received notions of lay depravity to which Friar John has alluded in his sermon.
We must remember, however, that the lord does not meditate simply on a fart but also on a specific riddle that Thomas has posed: how to capture and spread his fart's sound and scent equally among the friars. This dilemma cannot but call to mind the theological question of how Christ was physically present in each and every eucharistic host, a sacramental mystery that came under heterodox scrutiny in Wycliffite discourse, with which Chaucer was most likely familiar. While the silent Canon does not explicitly address this eucharistic mystery, it does include the transubstantiation prayers, the ritual formula that accomplishes the miracle of Christ's real presence in the sacrament. In the Summoner's Tale, the lord tackles the puzzle by accounting for the way sound behaves, an approach that suggests his meditation on this pseudo-eucharistic conundrum also has implications for its ritual celebration in silence. Having narrowed his area of inquiry, the lord discovers new obstacles to solving the friar's problem when he observes that sound
"Nis but of eir reverberacioun, And evere it wasteth litel and litel awey. Ther is no man kan deemen, by my fey, If that it were departed equally."
The lord's characterization of sound, as a vibration that emanates from its source and then gradually dissipates, speaks to Chaucer's discourse on sound's movement in the House of Fame. Explaining to the dreamer how every sound will eventually come to "Fames Hous" (786), the eagle compares sound's resonance to the concentric circles generated when a stone is thrown into water:
"And ryght anoon thow shalt see wel That whel wol cause another whel, And that the thridde, and so forth, brother, Every sercle causynge other Wydder than hymselve was."
The image that the eagle invokes to describe sound's movement, a series of progressively widening wheels, illuminates the logic behind the cartwheel solution that the lord's squire ultimately proposes.(FN53) Given how these "wheels" work to circulate sound in the House of Fame, it stands to reason that using a cartwheel to divide Thomas's fart would alleviate the lord's concern that the fart will "wasteth litel and litel awey" and thus fail to satisfy each friar in John's convent. As each of the infinite number of hosts disseminated at Mass encompasses Christ's transubstantiated physical presence, so will the cartwheel transform and perpetuate the fart's elusive essence after it departs from Thomas's body.
In addition to broaching the question of Christ's bodily presence in every transubstantiated host, the lord's speculation on the fart's dwindling reverberations also reflects on the ritual silence that shrouds eucharistic mysteries. In particular, the lord ruminates on how silence aids in keeping eucharistic secrets secret. He notes that, as the fart wastes away, the question of how its sound behaves becomes more and more inscrutable. If we take the fart's eventual silence to represent eucharistic silence, we can grasp the deeper significance of the lord's privy thought: eucharistic mysteries would be understandable to the lay folk if they could plainly hear them. As a comment on the lay experience of liturgical silence, the lord insinuates that silence does not guard knowledge of sacred mysteries per se, but rather helps mystify knowledge that would otherwise be readily apprehensible.(FN54) And thus in protecting sacred formula from the lay people, silence serves to protect this clerical privilege.
The lord's discourse on the problem of the fart's division thus provides a wry commentary on eucharistic secrets and the practical effects of their concealment in silence. An even more blatantly anticlerical critique underlies the ingenious solution to the friar's dilemma that is contrived by the lord's squire, Jankyn. The squire has observed the friar in action earlier that day at Mass where he, as a lay worshipper, would have been excluded from hearing the eucharistic secrets. It is he, however, who now holds the privileged knowledge of how to crack Thomas's pseudo-eucharistic mystery. He shares his revelation with his lord, an exchange that evokes the lay folk's private conversations with God held during liturgical silence. The logic behind Jankyn's unique solution--that Thomas should fart at the hub of a cartwheel so that its sound and smell can travel along the wheel's spokes to each of the friars--has piqued critical curiosity.(FN55) When read in terms of the Summoner's Tale's mock liturgical context, the cartwheel solution brings to mind eucharis-tic imagery, namely, iconographic depictions of the Last Supper that show Christ and the apostles sitting at a circular table.(FN56) A more familiar religious analogue for the cartwheel is the Round Table of Arthurian legend, a eucharistic society that is poorly emulated by Friar John's convent despite medieval friars' claims to an apostolic mission.
One specific stipulation of the squire's solution responds quite directly to the friar's claim about privileged fraternal access to divine secrets. Jankyn insists that Friar John put his nose right under the wheel's "nave" atop which Thomas will fart (HI 2266), an arrangement that suggests John the Evangelist's pose at the Last Supper. Medieval legends portray John with his head in Christ's lap (i.e., his "nave") during this proto-liturgical meal as a sign of the apostle's favor with Christ. The homily for Saint John's feast day in the Speculum Sacerdotale, for example, describes the apostle's special vantage in terms that speak to Friar John's choice experience of Thomas's gift: "he lay at the breste of his maister Crist and saw there the preuytees of heaven."(FN57) Friar John has pretended to such intimacy with Christ in his claim that he has privileged knowledge of "Cristes secree thynges," as do all friars. Unlike his apostolic namesake who becomes acquainted with sacred "preuytees," Friar John is entitled to the vulgar offering that Thomas has "hyd in pryvetee." The circumstances of the fart's division thus offer a striking comment on the tale's treatment of sacred secrecy and, in particular, eucharistic secrecy. Friar John's claim to special knowledge of Christ's secrets due to his rigorous fasting is transmuted into his privileged contact with the fart, a secretion that emanates from his gluttonous lay charge.
After disclosing the cartwheel solution to his lord, the squire recalls the religious experience that has inspired this revelation. Jankyn says that he has been at Mass earlier that day and has heard Friar John preach:
"He hath to-day taught us so muche good With prechyng in the pulpit ther he stood, That I may vouche sauf, I sey for me, He hadde the firste smel of fartes thre."
Heartily commending Thomas's response to the sermon, the squire divulges that he too inwardly scorned the friar while he was "prechyng in the pulpit." Jankyn's meta-commentary on his solution indicates that it is meant to redress Friar John's abuse of his authority to preach, which he has exhibited both at Mass and in his performance at Thomas's house. More importantly, in the squire's candid impression of Friar John's sermon, the clergyman's errant speech is juxtaposed with the lay person's private meditation held during it. The squire thus authorizes lay devotional speech and, given the eucharistic nuances of Thomas's riddle and his solution to it, lay privy prayers said during the liturgy. In the action that follows Friar John's sermon, the Summoner's Tale represents lay people having the last word in their samples of privy speech: inward revelations that reflect, critique, and also subvert clerical authority over sacred discourse.
University of Kentucky
1. On Chaucer's representation of scriptural glossing in SumT, see Lawrence Besserman, "'Glosynge Is a Glorious Thyng': Chaucer's Biblical Exegesis," in Chaucer and Scriptural Tradition, ed. David Lyle Jeffrey (Ottawa, 1984), 65-73; Mary Carruthers, "Letter and Gloss in the Friar's and Summoner's Tales," Journal of Narrative Technique 2 (1972): 208-14; Martha H. Fleming, "'Glosynge is a glorious thing, certeyn:' A Reconsideration of The Summoner's Tale," in The Late Middle Ages, ed. Peter Cocozzella (Binghamton, N.Y., 1984), 89-101; Edmund Reiss, "Biblical Parody: Chaucer's 'Distortions' of Scripture," in Chaucer and Scriptural Tradition, ed. David Lyle Jeffrey (Ottawa, 1984), 47-61.
2. Fiona Somerset, "'As just as is a squyre': The Politics of 'Lewed Translacion' in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 187-207, attends to Chaucer's depiction of the controversy over vernacular translations as they entailed a loss of clerical prerogative.
3. Regarding Christ's designation of friars as the "povere in spirit" (III 1923), Friar John remarks, "I ne have no text of it, as I suppose, / But I shal fynde it in a maner glose" (III 1919-20). All citations from the Canterbury Tales are taken from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987).
4. Readings of the fart's significance to the friar's sermon most often interpret SumT as a parody of the feast of Pentecost, on which divine winds gifted the apostles with the power to preach. See Roy Peter Clark, "Wit and Whitsunday in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale," Annuale Mediaevale 17 (1976): 48-57; Alan Levitan, "The Parody of Pentecost in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale," University of Toronto Quarterly 40 (1971): 236-46; Bernard S. Levy, "Biblical Parody in The Summoner's Tale," Tennessee Studies in Literature 11 (1966): 45-60; Glending Olson, "The End of The Summoner's Tale and the Uses of Pentecost," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 209-45; and Penn R. Szittya, "The Friar as False Apostle: Antifraternal Exegesis and The Summoner's Tale," Studies in Philology 71 (1974): 19-46.
5. To my knowledge, the only extended treatment of the silent Canon is Carlos A. Lewis, "The Silent Recitation of the Canon of the Mass," Diss. Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome, 1962).
6. This particular reason for the Canon's silent recitation is explained, for example, in pseudo-Hugh de St. Victor, On the Sacraments of Christian Faith, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Cambridge, Mass., 1951): "It is called secret because it is said secretly, lest it become worthless. Once it was spoken with high voice, but we read that shepherds, while they sang it in the field, having learned it by the daily practice of listening to it, were struck from heaven, and so the custom is thought to have been changed" (319). In another version of the same legend, the shepherds recite the transubstantiation formula over a piece of bread, which they successfully turn into flesh before being struck down. See "The Noble History and Exposition of the Mass," in The Golden Legend as Englished by William Caxton, ed. F. S. Ellis, 7 vols. (London, 1900), 7:239.
7. While I have not discovered that medieval "proto-Reformers" were invested in abolishing the Mass's silence, I believe that they tacitly address it in discourse about the use of the vernacular in devotion. Protestant Reformers, in addition to fostering vernacular devotional initiatives, would critique the silent Canon, which w-as recited aloud in Reformed liturgies. For an example of Reformers' opinions of the silent Canon, see Martin Luther, "The Abomination of the Secret Mass," in Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut X Lehman, trans. Abdel Ross Wentz, 55 vols. (Philadelphia, 1955-86), 36:503-25.
8. James Andreas, "'Newe Science' from 'Olde Bokes': A Bakhtinian Approach to The Summoner's Tale," Chaucer Review 25 (1990): 138-51, reads the tale as influenced by contemporary liturgical parodies. For other examples of mock masses in CT, see Joseph E. Grennen, "The Canon's Yeoman's Alchemical 'Mass,'" Studies in Philology 62 (1965): 546-60; Clarence H. Miller and Roberta Bux Bosse, "Chaucer's Pardoner and the Mass," Chaucer Review 6 (1972): 171-84; and Martin Stevens and Kathleen Falvey, "Substance, Accident and Transformations: A Reading of the Pardoner's Tale," Chaucer Review 17 (1982): 142-58.
9. Josef Andreas Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, trans. Francis A. Brunner, 2 vols. (New York, 1951-55), 1:131.
10. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, 1:130.
11. Lewis, "Silent Recitation," 83. Lewis's work is helpful for its exhaustive discussion of reasons behind the Canon's silent recitation. See "When and Why was the Silent Recital Introduced?," 35-83. He discusses the contributing factors on which I focus, namely, the establishment of clerical authority, reverence for the sanctity of sacred mysteries, and the desire to preserve liturgical formula from corruption. He also includes many other considerations, such as the Latin language's gradual fall into desuetude as a "vernacular" tongue and emulation of the Eastern practice of enclosing the altar with a tetravela.
12. H. Ansgar Kelly "Sacraments, Sacramentals, and Lay Piety in Chaucer's England," Chaucer Review 28 (1993): 5-22, notes that "hali-bread" distributed after Mass served as a substitute for the Eucharist (8).
13. On the late medieval liturgical parody known as the "gluttons' Mass," see Martha Bayless, Parody in the Middle Ages: The Latin Tradition (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1996). Hugh T. Keenan, "-The Franklin's Feast and Eucharistic Shadows," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 79 (1978): 36-40, contends that Chaucer's description of the Franklin's lavish table in GP (I 341-54) evokes medieval notions of the Eucharist's bountiful spiritual rewards.
14. David G. Allen, "Death and Staleness in the 'Son-less' World of The Summoner's Tale," Studies in Short Fiction 24 (1987): 1-8, argues that Friar John's sermon is fraught with images that recall for Thomas his dead son. Allen thus contends that Friar John's thoughtlessness is what prompts Thomas's outburst. Andreas regards the son who dies and is "born to blisse" as an allusion to Christ's death and resurrection ("Newe Science," 147).
15. Jungmann notes that from the eighth century on, "secreta" came to designate the silent Canon (1:91). For an overview of the word secret and its variants as they were applied to the Canon, see The Lay Folk's Mass Book- or, The M1anner of Hearing Mass, with Rubrics and Devotions for the People, in Four Texts, and Office in English According to the Use of York, from Manuscripts of the Tenth to the Fifteenth Century, ed. Thomas Frederick Simmons, EETS OS 71 (London, 1879), 265-67.
16. See The Book of Vices and Virtues, ed. W. Nelson Francis, EETS OS 217 (London, 1942), 46-68; and Dan Michel's Ayenbite of Inwyt or Remorse of Conscience, ed. R. Morris, EETS OS 23 (London, 1901-3), 50-70. See also Speculum Christiani, a Middle English Religious Treatise of the Fourteenth Century, ed. Gustaf Holmstedt, EETS OS 182 (London, 1933). Although the text does not include sins of the tongue with gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins, it does include them together in a general list of "peccata oris" (82-86).
17. Book of Vices and Virtues, ed. Francis, 46.
18. See "The Noble History and Exposition of the Mass," 239; pseudo-Hugh de St. Victor, On the Sacraments of Christian Faith, 319.
19. "Dixit quoque Dominus ad Aaron: Vinum, et omne quod inebriare potest, non bibetis tu et filii tui, quando intratis in tabernaculum testimonii, ne moriamini; quia prae-ceptum sempiternum est in generationes vestras." This passage is taken from Biblia Sacra luxta Vulgatam Clementinam, 5th edn. (Madrid, 1977).
20. William Durandus, Rationale divinorum officiorum, ed. A. Davril and T. M. Thibodeau, 3 vols. (Turnholt, Belgium, 1995), 1:243: "Sane olim templum erat in duas partes, interposito velo divisum; pars prior vocabatur sancta, interior vero sancta sanctorum. Quicquid ergo in officio misse ante secretam agitur, quasi in ede priori est; quod autem in secreta agitur, intra sancta sanctorum est" (IV, i, 13, lines 100-104). All Latin translations are mine.
21. Stephen Connor, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford, 2000), comments on the Church Fathers' aversion to ventriloqual speech: "[S]peech from the mouth and the head was the image of the divine Word, while speech from elsewhere in the body, or speech that did not proceed from and through the mouth, was a monstrous, misbegetting of speech, and a vicious parody of the Word" (105).
22. On Chaucer's interest in pagan ventriloqual practices, see A. J. Minnis, Chaucer and Pagan Antiquity (Cambridge, Eng., 1982), esp. "'Goddes speken in amphibologies': The Ambiguous Oracle," 135-43.
23. Robert A. Koch, "Elijah the Prophet, Founder of the Carmelite Order," Speculum 34 (1959): 547-60. The significance of divine speech in Elijah's showdown with the Baal prophets is manifest in the so-called Biblia Pauperum, a late twelfth-century scriptural survey for poor preachers that was widely used by friars. A late fifteenth-century version included woodcuts, one of which depicted Elijah's contest with the Baal prophets alongside a rendition of Pentecost, when the apostles received the gift of tongues.
24. I Kings 19.12. On God's revelations to Moses and Elijah as they relate to SumT, see Ian Lancashire, "Moses, Elijah and the Back Parts of God: Satiric Scatology in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale," Mosaic 14 (1981): 17-30.
25. This legend appears in Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York, 1969), 45; and the South English Legendary, ed. Carl Horstmann, EETS OS 87 (London, 1887), 585.
26. Speculum Sacerdotale, ed. Edward H. Weatherly, EETS OS 200 (London, 1936), 252. On the moral degeneracy ascribed to minstrels, see John Southworth, The English Medieval Minstrel (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1989).
27. Joannes of Hildesheim, The Three Kings of Cologne, ed. Carl Horstmann, EETS OS 85 (London, 1886), 110, lines 29-30.
28. Hildesheim, The Three Kings of Cologne, ed. Horstmann, 110, lines 30-34.
29. The fourteenth-century manual for priests, Henry of Langenstein, Secreta Sacerdotum, qtd. in Tracts on the Mass, ed. J. Wickham Legg (London, 1940), reflects how the mythology of doubting Thomas problematized lay desire to see the host elevated. The text relates a practical circumstance that the consecrating priest should engineer to test the lay worshippers' faith. When the host is elevated, people will rush forward and crane their necks to be able to see it. Despite the people's great desire to gaze upon the host, the priest needs soon to lower it "so that they believe who nevertheless do not see. For such believers are blessed. Even so it was said to Thomas: Blessed are those who do not see but believe" (236). Significant to SumT is this text's description of the priest wheeling around ("girantibus") so the lay audience can see the sacrament, an image that resonates with the cartwheel's distribution of the fart. This "wheeling around" was perhaps a singular usage, but the language is suggestive and raises the question of why a wheel is used to disseminate the fart. The monstrance, the instrument used to display the Eucharist, looks like a wheel and would indeed allow "every man" to get his share.
30. On Thomas's legend and its relevance to SumT, see Roy Peter Clark, "Doubting Thomas in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale," Chaucer Review 11 (1976): 164-78. Clark notes the visceral language, especially the word "grope," that is used in medieval texts to describe Thomas's inspection of Christ's wound.
31. See Edwin D. Craun, Lies, Slander and Obscenity in Medieval English Literature: Pastoral Rhetoric and the Deviant Speaker (Cambridge, Eng., 1997), esp. "Restraining the Deviant Speaker: Chaucer's Manciple and Parson," 187-230; Fleming, "Glosynge," 89-101; and Jill Mann, "Anger and 'Glosynge' in The Canterbury Tales," Proceedings of the British Academy 76 (1990): 203-23.
32. On the various nuances of placebo that inform Friar John's use of it, see John Fleming, "Chaucer's 'Syngeth Placebo,' and the 'Roman de Fauvel,'" Notes and Queries 210 (1965): 17-18.
33. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (1976; repr. New York, 1990). The friar's placating performance speaks to Foucault's notion of silence as a strategy, an unspoken element that inhabits explicit discourse (27).
34. See Levitan, "The Parody of Pentecost," 236-46; and Szittya, "The Friar," 19-46.
35. Readings of SumT as a Pentecostal parody include: Clark, "Wit and Whitsunday," 48-57; Levitan, "The Parody of Pentecost," 236-46; Levy, "Biblical Parody," 45-60; Olson, "End," 209-45; and Szittya, "The Friar," 19-46.
36. In a somewhat similar vein, Peter Travis, "Thirteen Ways of Listening to a Fart," Exemplaria 16 (2004): 323-48, explains how the fart represents various different types of noise. As do the other authors of articles in that volume, Travis argues for the cultural importance of noise--for example, a fart given by a churlish lay person to a greedy friar--that does not merely interrupt meaningful communication but rather generates manifold meanings in its own right.
37. For example, see The Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 26: "Pen Po prest gos to his boke / his priuey prayers for to loke" (lines 279-MO). Tellingly, the text's reference to these "priuey prayers" frames them in terms of lay worshippers' exclusion from knowing them (i.e., their inclusion in the priest's "boke").
38. On Chaucer's sustained fascination with pryvetee, see Joseph L. Baird, "The Devil's Privetee," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 70 (1969): 104-6; Robert Boenig, Chaucer and the Mystics: The Canterbury Tales and the Genre of Devotional Prose (Lewisburg, Pa., 1995); and Robert Hanning, "Telling the Private Parts," in The Idea of Medieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer and Medieval Culture in Honor of Donald R. Howard, ed. James M. Dean and Christian Zacher (Newark, Del., 1992), 108-25.
39. Boenig, Chaucer and the Mystics, 14.
40. For the Cloud author's frequent use of the words hyd and privy to describe the divine, see The Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of Privy Counselling, ed. Phyllis Hodgson, EETS OS 218 (London, 1944).
41. Durandus, Rationale divinorum officiorum, 1:414. The Latin text reads: "Secreta dici-tur quasi nobis occulta, quia humana ratio nequaquam plenarie tantum misterium capere potest, ad quod significandum merito secreta uoce celebratur" (IV, xxxv; 2, lines 24-26).
42. "Treatise on the Manner and Mede of the Mass," in Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 128-47, at 132, lines 156-60.
43. Simmons, ed., Lay Folk's Mass Book, introduction, xxvii.
44. "Treatise on the Manner and Mede of the Mass," in Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 138, line 373; The Thirde Order of Seynt Franceys, for the Brethren and Susters of the Order of Penitentis, ed. Walter W. Seton, EETS OS 148 (London, 1914), 53. While these injunctions evoke the familiar cautions against jangling during Mass, they also suggest how this preoccupation with lay jangling may in fact reflect on silence's pervasive presence in the liturgy.
45. The Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 4, lines 29-30.
46. The Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 28, lines 312-13.
47. On the post-Lateran IV pastoral investment in verbal sins, see Craun, Lies, Slander, and Obscenity, 11-15.
48. For instance, The Book of Vices and Virtues warns worshippers who just "mouen here lippes" that God will turn "a def eere" to their prayers and reserve his attention for "þe biddynge þat comeþ from a depe herte" (ed. Francis, 233-34).
49. Valentine Vox, I Can See Your Lips Moving: The History and Art of Ventriloquism (North Hollywood, Calif., 1993), 12.
50. For example, see Kathleen M. Oliver, "Singing Bread, Manna, and the Clergeon's 'Greyn,'" Chaucer Review 31 (1997): 357-64.
51. On this Augustinian notion of speech, see Margaret W. Ferguson, "Saint Augustine's Region of Unlikeness: The Crossing of Exile and Language," Georgia Review 29 (1975): 842-64; Cynthia Hahn, "Speaking Without Tongues: The Martyr Romanus and Augustine's Theory of Language," in Images of Sainthood in Medieval Europe, ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Timea Szell (Ithaca, N.Y., 1991), 161-80; Joseph Anthony Mazzeo, "St. Augustine's Rhetoric of Silence," Journal of the History of Ideas 23 (1962): 175-96.
52. For example, The Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 28, lines 312-3; and "Treatise on the Manner and Mede of the Mass," in The Lay Folk's Mass Book, ed. Simmons, 138, line 373.
53. On the wheel's use to amplify sounds, see Britton J. Harwood, "Chaucer on 'Speche': House of Fame, the Friar's Tale, and the Summoner's Tale," Chaucer Review 26 (1992): 343-49.
54. Karma Lochrie, Covert Operations: The Medieval Uses of Secrecy (Philadelphia, 1999), uses a Foucaultian framework to explain how secrecy works to structure knowledge: "Secrecy is thus not so much a matter of secrets as it is a manner of rhetoric, and its power lies less in what is kept hidden than in the dynamic between the 'knows' and the 'know-nots'" (93).
55. Critics who invoke religious iconography to explain the wheel image include: V. A. Kolve, "Chaucer's Wheel of False Religion: Theology and Obscenity in 'The Summoner's Tale,'" in The Centre and Its Compass: Studies in Medieval Literature in Honor of Professor John Leyerle, ed. Robert A. Taylor, James F. Burke, Patricia J. Eberle, Ian Lancashire, and Brian S. Merrilees (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1993), 265-96; Levitan, "The Parody of Pentecost," 236-46; Levy, "Biblical Parody," 45-60; Phillip Pulsiano, "The Twelve-Spoked Wheel of the Summoner's Tale," Chaucer Review 29 (1995): 382-89; and Szittya, "The Friar," 19-46.
56. Levitan includes iconographic depictions of the Last Supper in which the apostles and Christ are seated in a wheel-like configuration ("The Parody of Pentecost,"