Free will?

One aspect of our discussion today that interested me, was how the “fendys” were the cause, or instigators, of the sin in “The Incestuous Daughter” and “The Jealous Wife.”  In the former, we (and the Bishop) see them dragging the woman with a chain around her neck, obviously leading her in the path of sin.  In the later, the husband automatically attributes his wife’s behavior (of murdering their children and herself) to the fiends.  Even in “The Knight who Forgave his Father’s Slayer” and “Sir Cleges,” there is much moral ambiguity.  As we discussed in class, there is no distinct explanation of why the first Knight killed the father, only that the son Knight should avenge his father’s death because it’s “right” to do so.  In “Sir Cleges,” the Knight’s generosity leads to his own poverty, and after complaining (and some violence) God graces him with more riches than he had before.  Their religion in the end saves them, but  I wonder what their behavior has to do with it.

The last two texts particularly made me wonder what role free will served in Medieval Catholicism.  It seems that the fiends lead the characters into great folly that is only saved through their (or their loved one’s) religious repentance.  Admittedly, I know very little about Catholicism, but I wondered, what role did “free will” have in the middle ages–in these texts the characters’ bad actions are attributed to the Devil(s) while their good actions of prayer and contrition are their own and worthy of God’s mercy.  I guess, as Exemplum works, this emphasized the importance of God’s will and mercy over that of humans.

1 thought on “Free will?

  1. It’s useful to see the fiends as ‘instigators’–as tantalizing catalysts to sin. This, I think, goes a good way to resolving the conundrum of your second paragraph: The fiends don’t do the acts themselves, but lure the humans to do so. The humans sin, and thus need forgiveness, the whole focus of the two poems. Your last sentence is, I think, a very important one to these two poems.

    I do want to clarify re: “The Knight Who Forgave His Father’s Slayer,” where you say “there is no distinct explanation of why the first Knight killed the father, only that the son Knight should avenge his father’s death because it’s ‘right’ to do so,” that here we’re seeing one moral code in conflict with another: it’s certainly not right, in medieval Christianity, for the knight to get revenge. The forgiveness, rather than revenge, is what’s rewarded and encouraged in the poem.

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