February 17, 2014

Radix malorum est cupiditas

by Clint Archer

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a collection of entertaining stories narrated by Medieval pilgrims to pass the time on their journey. One storyteller who spins a yarn for his ambulant audience is the Pardoner. He is a priest whose job it s to dole out penance and grant pardon to the penitent for their sins. As it turns out, this empathetic Pardoner is himself intimately acquainted with the very debauchery he so liberally pardons. His findings are encapsulated in the Latin dictum: Radix malorum est cupiditas (literally, “the root of evil is greed”).Money on the brain

The plot of the Pardoner’s Tale concerns three men who blame Death for all the pain and suffering in the world. (Bear in mind that the Pardoner’s opinion is that greed is to blame, not death).

The three friends vow to find Death and kill him once for all. On their quest they meet a old, poor man, who tells the determined young hunters where to locate Death. He promises that they will find Death waiting for them under the old oak tree. They bravely head out to said tree.

When they arrive at the designated oak, what they find astonishes them: a huge stash of gold coins. The gold is enough to make all three of them rich for the rest of their lives, if split equally. But, naturally, they all covet more than their rightful share, and they each begin to ponder ways of acquiring a larger slice of the pie.


They neglect their quest to kill Death, and forgot the old man’s prediction that they would all find Death under the oak tree. Since evening is approaching, they decide to stay at the tree and guard their treasure until the safety of daylight. But their rumbling tummies demand food. Not trusting each other, they draw straws to determine who will fetch some food while the others watch the treasure…and each other. The youngest draws the short straw.

As he departs, the other two hatch a plot to get his share of the gold. When he returns with supper and wine, they summarily kill him, and celebrate their increased wealth. However, as soon as they have eaten and drunk their fill, they begin to notice the effects that come from being… poisoned. Dun-dun-dah! The greedy young man had laced the wine with rat poison so that he could keep all the gold for himself. And thus Death really did find them under the old oak tree.

I’ll leave you with that cheerful story, but first a few verses to contemplate:

1 Cor 5: 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

moreLuke 12: 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Col 3: 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

1 Tim 6: 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs [such as imbibing rat poison under an oak tree!].

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • It’s a good message, but let’s be honest: we let the wealthy slide at church, regardless of how outwardly materialistic they are, and really hone in on the other, more ickier sins instead. They’re the best tithers, so we shrug and let them sit under that designated oak.

    • Ha! If being rich really did equate to being “the best tithers” then yes, I suppose that would be a temptation for church leadership. I think Jesus and a particular miteless widow would struggle to grant your premise. Also, in my experience its the indebted who are flashier with their possessions (or the bank’s) than the truly wealthy. But it’s hard to generalize either way. As Proverbs says, “One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.”(Prov 13:7). Thanks for your comment.

      • Thanks for humoring my ranting. Pardon, I’ve got a bunch of planks to scrape out of my eyes now…

  • Lyndon Unger

    And I recently read a few prosperity preachers who claim that the REAL reason they crave more wealth is so that they can “spread the gospel better”. Seems legit…no wait…