Pardoner preaches against greed, the irony of the character is based in the Pardoner’s hypocritical actions. He admits extortion of the poor, pocketing of indulgences, and failure to abide by teachings against jealousy and avarice. He also admits quite openly that he tricks the guiltiest sinners into buying his spurious relics and does not really care what happens to the souls of those he has swindled.
The Pardoner is also deceptive in how he carries out his job. Instead of selling genuine relics, the bones he carries belong to pigs, not departed saints. The cross he carries appears to be studded with precious stones that are, in fact, bits of common metal. This irony could be an indication to Chaucer’s dislike for religious profit—a pervasive late medieval theme hinging on anti-clericalism. Chaucer’s use of subtle literary techniques, such as satire, seem to convey this message.
However, the Pardoner might also be seen as a reinforcement of the Apostolic Authority of the priesthood, which, according to the Catholic Church, functions fully even when the one possessing that authority is in a state of mortal sin, which in this case is supported by how the corrupt Pardoner is able to tell a morally intact tale and turn others from his same sin. Thomas Aquinas, an influential theologian of the late medieval period, had a philosophy concerning how God was able to work through evil people and deeds to accomplish good ends. Chaucer may have also been referencing a doctrine of St. Augustine of Hippo concerning the Donatist heresy of fourth and fifth century Northern Africa in which Augustine argued that a priest’s ability to perform valid sacraments was not invalidated by his own sin. Thus, it is possible that with the Pardoner, Chaucer was criticizing the administrative and economic practices of the Church while simultaneously affirming his support for its religious authority and dogma.