Religion in The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
The Decameron was written in the thirteenth century, and can be considered as a medieval masterpiece. The novel consists of a hundred different stories told by seven women and three men. The author did an excellent job of framing his work by using stories within stories. This literary technique gave Boccaccio the opportunity to illustrate and discuss different aspects of life. The author states a new world vision against a background of social chaos. The goal of this essay is to describe Giovanni Boccaccio’s attitude towards the religion and prove it true. For this purpose the Bible and some historical sources are used.
The first chapter of the novel is called Day I. It consists of ten different stories, which are told by ten different people. In the first story of the Day I, Giovanni Boccaccio criticizes Catholic religion. The author tells a story about a sinful man with no conscience or principals. This man by the name Ciappelletto went to Burgundy. Not long after that he got very sick. The owners of the place did not know what to do with him because he was so sinful that no church would agree to bury him, but the man told them not to worry. He asked them to invite the holiest and worthiest friar they had. They agreed and found a monk who was a venerable brother of holy and good life. Ciappelletto lied to the monk in his confession. The monk believed every word he said and after Ciappelletto died, announced him “holy.” His body was taken to church and after a long service, where the priest was telling people how “holy” the man was, everyone rushed to kiss Ciappelletto’s hands and feet. They tore his clothes off him just to take home “a holy” piece.
In this story, Giovanni Boccaccio demonstrates his attitude towards the Catholic Church. He openly mocks at people who do not know much about God, but they blindly follow the religion and its traditions. They turn anybody who lives a righteous live into “Saint”. Such behavior takes its rise in the fourth century. The first Christians had been prosecuted by the Roman Empire for many years until Emperor Constantine came to power. He became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion. However, worshiping many different gods for centuries had a significant impact upon the Roman Christianity. Some people practiced both Christian and pagan rituals. They prayed and worshiped God and at the same time, carried on praying and worshiping their gods (Hitchcock 56). Such approach to Christianity gave the beginning of praying and worshiping Virgin Mary and many other saints. It is contrary to the Bible: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (The Word in Life Study Bible, Mat. 4.10).
The author also criticizes the confession to a priest, which is also wrong according to the Bible. It is clearly said about it in the Book of Acts: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). Jesus said in the Book of John: “No man comes to the Father, but by Me” (Joh. 14.6). It is not written in the Bible that people have to come to God through a priest. Thus, Boccaccio is right in his criticism.
In the second story of the Day I, the author tells us about two friends. One of them was a Christian, and the other was a Jew. The Christian man tried to convince his Jewish friend to accept Christianity. Eventually, after many arguments, the Jew agreed, but before making his final decision, he wanted to go to Rome and find out more about Christianity. His Christian friend tried to stop him from going there. He was afraid that if the Jew saw how sinful and far from God all the bishops, the Pope, and Cardinals were, he would never want to become a Christian. Nevertheless, the Jew went to Rome and saw the debauchery of all so-called “holy” people. Unexpectedly for the Christian friend, the Jew saw it from a different perspective. Instead of turning away from Christianity, he decided to become a Christian. The reason for his reaction was that the Jew had seen all those “holy” people as the ones who were trying to destroy Christianity, but in spite of it Christianity kept growing. In this story, the author shows that people must not use anybody as an example, but God only.
In the first story of the Day II, Boccaccio tells a story about a man who pretended to be a cripple, and after he touched the body of Saint Arrigo he acted as if he was healed. His lie was soon discovered. The man was punished, and the judge wanted to hang him for such disrespect. However, when the Lord of the city heard the story, he laughed and let him go. Moreover, instead of the punishment the man got a suit of apparel. Once again, Boccaccio criticizes Catholic traditions.
In the first and tenth stories of the Day III, as well as in the fourth story of the Day I, the author demonstrates the sin of lust among people who were supposed to be holy. The first story is about a man who pretended to be deaf and mute. He got a job of a gardener in a convent, and all the nuns had sex with the man. The tenth story describes a young innocent girl who left her home to find out the truth about Christianity. Eventually, she stayed with the “holiest” monk who lived alone and away from people. Lying to the naive girl, the monk convinced her to have sex with him. The fourth story of the Day I, tells us about a monk who had sex with a girl and had to be punished. However, he did not get the punishment because the abbot had sex with the same girl as well.
In these three stories, Boccaccio mocks the Catholic law that forbids marriage to “holy” people. Apostle Paul says about marriage: “Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7.1). He means that it is easier for a man to serve God if he does not have a family because a married man often focuses more on his family than on serving God. Nevertheless, in the next verse he states: “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1Cor. 7.2).
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Jesus often called His Church a Bride. In the Book of Revelation the Catholic Church is described as a woman: “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (Rev. 17.4). The purple and scarlet colors, gold and precious stones are mentioned intentionally. They signify the colors of clothes of the religious elite who decorate themselves with gold and precious stones. Abominations and filthiness of her fornication signify all crimes and sins that were committed by so called “holy” people. That is why Boccaccio’s criticism is fair and well deserved.