Date of Award


Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Leah Parker

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Jameela Lares

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Nicolle Jordan

Committee Member 3 School



Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale is a sermon on penance told by a fictional late-fourteenth-century Parson in The Canterbury Tales. What the Parson preaches is incompletely aligned with Roman Catholic orthodox beliefs, as suggested both by accusations of Lollardy elsewhere in the Canterbury Tales and heterodox features of the sermon itself. The Parson’s soteriology—the theology of how to attain salvation—invites consideration of the sermon’s potential influence from the contemporary heretical movement known as Lollardy, including the theology of John Wyclif; this theology disagreed with orthodox Catholic penitential practices.

However, despite increasing anti-Wycliffite sentiment at the turn of the fifteenth century, Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale was not suppressed or censored as a heretical text. This thesis argues that Chaucer’s tiered lists in the structure of the Tale and abbreviated discussions of priests effectively conceal the potential heresy in the Parson’s presentation of penance. Building on prior scholarship identifying Chaucer’s orthodox and heterodox sources and cataloging manuscript witnesses of the Parson’s Tale, this thesis asserts that the Parson’s Tale’s convoluted structure made it possible for the sermon at the end of the Canterbury Tales to evade the label of heresy in the 1400s. This reading of the Parson’s Tale contends that whether or not Chaucer himself was aware of the tale’s possible heresy, the rhetorical strategies of the tale—employing tiered lists, presenting orthodox sources in heretical ways, and strategically placing references to priests—effectively hide the sermon’s more heretical points behind a veil of orthodoxy.