Skip to comments.On St. Joan of Arc
Posted on 01/26/2011 9:48:20 PM PST by ELS
On St. Joan of Arc
"Joan's Judges ... Did Not Know They Were Condemning a Saint"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 26, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall. He focused his reflection on the figure of St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).
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Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about Joan of Arc, a young saint from the end of the Middle Ages, who died at age 19, in 1431. This French saint, quoted many times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is particularly close to St. Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and Europe, of whom I spoke in a recent catechesis. In fact they are two young women of the people, lay and consecrated in virginity, two committed mystics, not in a cloister, but in the midst of the most dramatic realities of the Church and of the world of their time. They are, perhaps, the most characteristic examples from among those "strong women" who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly took the great light of the Gospel to the complex vicissitudes of history.
We could place her next to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to Jesus crucified, and Mary, His mother, while the apostles fled and Peter himself denied Him three times.
In her times, the Church lived the profound crisis of the great Western schism, which lasted almost 40 years. When Catherine of Siena died, in 1380, there was a pope and an anti-pope. When Joan was born, in 1412, there was a pope and two anti-popes. In addition to this laceration within the Church, there were continuous fratricidal wars between the Christian peoples of Europe, the most tragic of which was the interminable 100 Years War between France and England.
Joan of Arc could not read or write, but she can be known in the depth of her soul thanks to two sources of exceptional historical value: the two trials she underwent. The first, the "Trial of Conviction," contains the transcription of the long and numerous interrogations of Joan during the last months of her life (February-May of 1431), and includes the words of the saint herself. The second, the "Trial of Nullity of the Sentence," or of "rehabilitation," contains the testimonies of close to 120 eye-witnesses from all the periods of her life (cf. Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 3 vol. and Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 5 vol., ed. Klincksieck, Paris l960-1989).
Joan was born in Domremy, a small village located on the border between France and Lorraine. Her parents were well-off farmers, known by everyone as very good Christians. From them she received a good religious education, with notable influence from the spirituality of the Name of Jesus, taught by St. Bernardine of Siena and spread in Europe by the Franciscans. To the Name of Jesus is always joined the Name of Mary and thus, in the framework of popular religiosity, Joan's spirituality was profoundly Christocentric and Marian. From her childhood, she showed great charity and compassion toward the poorest, the sick and all who suffered in the tragic context of the war.
From her own words, we know that Joan's religious life matured experientially beginning at the age of 13 (PCon, I, p. 47-48). Through the "voice" of the Archangel St. Michael, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself personally to the liberation of her people. Her immediate response, her "yes," was the vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily attendance at Mass, frequent confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified or before the image of the Virgin. The compassion and commitment of the young French peasant girl in face of the suffering of her people became more intense because of her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of the holiness of this young girl was precisely the connection between mystical experience and political mission.
After the years of hidden life and interior maturation, the brief but intense two-year period of her public life followed: a year of action and a year of passion.
At the beginning of the year 1429, Joan began her work of liberation. The numerous testimonies show us this young woman who was only 17 years old as a very strong and determined person, capable of convincing unsure and discouraged men. Overcoming all obstacles, she met with the dauphin of France, the future King Charles VII, who in Poitiers subjected her to an examination by some theologians of the university. Their judgment was positive: They did not see anything evil in her, [finding] only a good Christian.
On March 22, 1429, Joan dictated an important letter to the king of England and his men who were besieging the city of Orleans (Ibid., p. 221-222). Hers was a proposal of true peace in justice between the two Christian peoples, in light of the names of Jesus and Mary, but this proposal was rejected, and Joan had to commit herself in the fight for the liberation of the city, which took place on May 8. The other culminating moment of her political action was the coronation of King Charles VII in Rheims, on July 17, 1429. For a whole year, Joan lived with the soldiers, carrying out among them a real mission of evangelization. Numerous are the testimonies about her goodness, her courage and her extraordinary purity. She was called by everyone and she herself described herself as "the maiden," namely, the virgin.
Joan's passion began on May 23, 1430, when she fell prisoner in the hands of her enemies. On Dec. 23 she was taken to the city of Rouen. Carried out there was the long and dramatic Trial of Conviction, which began in February of 1431 and ended on May 30 with the stake. It was a grand and solemn trial, presided over by two ecclesiastical judges, Bishop Pierre Cauchon and the inquisitor Jean le Maistre, but in reality led entirely by a large group of theologians of the famous University of Paris, who took part in the trial as consultants. They were French ecclesiastics who had political leanings opposed to Joan's, and who thus had a priori a negative judgment on her person and her mission. This trial is a moving page of the history of sanctity and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church that, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is "at the same time holy and always in need of being purified" (Lumen Gentium, 8). It was the dramatic meeting between this saint and her judges, who were ecclesiastics. Joan was accused and judged by them, to the point of being condemned as a heretic and sent to the terrible death of the stake. As opposed to the holy theologians who had illuminated the University of Paris, such as St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Duns Scotus, of whom I have spoken in other catecheses, these judges were theologians lacking in charity and humility to see in this young woman the action of God. Jesus' words come to mind according to which the mysteries of God are revealed to those that have the heart of little ones, while they remain hidden from the learned and wise who are not humble (cf. Luke 10:21). Thus Joan's judges were radically incapable of understanding her, of seeing the beauty of her soul: They did not know they were condemning a saint.
Joan's appeal to the pope's intervention on May 24 was rejected by the court. On the morning of May 30 she received holy Communion for the last time in prison, and immediately after she was taken to her ordeal in the square of the old market. She asked one of the priests to put in front of the stake the cross of the procession. Thus she died looking at Jesus crucified and pronouncing many times and in a loud voice the Name of Jesus (PNul, I, p. 457; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 435). Almost 25 years later, the Trial of Nullity, opened under the authority of Pope Calixtus III, concluded with a solemn sentence that declared the condemnation null and void (July 7, 1456; PNul, II, p. 604-610). This long trial, which includes the statements of witnesses and judgments of many theologians, all favorable to Joan, highlights her innocence and her perfect fidelity to the Church. Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 by Benedict XV.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Name of Jesus, invoked by our saint up to the last moments of her earthly life, was like the breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart, the center of her whole life. The "mystery of the charity of Joan of Arc," which so fascinated the poet Charles Peguy, is this total love of Jesus, and of her neighbor in Jesus and for Jesus. This saint understood that love embraces the whole reality of God and of man, of heaven and of earth, of the Church and of the world. Jesus was always in the first place during her whole life, according to her beautiful affirmation: "Serve God first" (PCon, I, p. 288; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 223).
To love Him means to always obey His will. She said with total confidence and abandonment: "I entrust myself to my Creator God, I love Him with my whole heart" (Ibid., p. 337). With the vow of virginity, Joan consecrated in an exclusive way her whole person to the one Love of Jesus: It is "her promise made to our Lord to protect well her virginity of body and soul" (Ibid., p. 149-150). Virginity of soul is the state of grace, the supreme value, for her more precious than life: It was a gift of God that she received and protected with humility and trust. One of the best known texts of the first trial has to do with this: "Asked if she knew that she was in God's grace, she replied: 'If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to put me there'" (Ibid., p. 62; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2005).
Our saint lived prayer as a form of continuous dialogue with the Lord, who also enlightened her answers to the judges, giving her peace and security. She prayed with faith: "Sweetest God, in honor of Your holy Passion, I ask You, if You love me, to reveal to me how I must answer these men of the Church" (Ibid., p. 252). Joan saw Jesus as the "King of Heaven and Earth." Thus, on her standard, Joan had the image painted of "Our Lord who sustains the world" (Ibid., p. 172), icon of her political mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice, which Joan carried out in charity, out of love for Jesus. Hers is a beautiful example of holiness for the laity who work in political life, above all in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every choice, as another great saint would testify a century later, the Englishman Thomas More. In Jesus, Joan also contemplated the reality of the Church, the "triumphant Church" of Heaven, and the "militant Church" of earth. According to her words, Our Lord and the Church are one "whole" (Ibid., p. 166). This affirmation quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context of the Trial of Conviction, in face of the judges, men of the Church, who persecuted her and condemned her. In the love of Jesus, Joan found the strength to love the Church to the end, including at the moment of her conviction.
I am pleased to recall how St. Joan of Arc had a profound influence on a young saint of the modern age: Thérèse of the Child Jesus. In a completely different life, spent in the cloister, the Carmelite of Lisieux felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and taking part in the sufferings of Jesus for the salvation of the world. The Church has joined them as patronesses of France, after the Virgin Mary. St. Thérèse expressed her desire to die like Joan, pronouncing the Name of Jesus (Manuscript B, 3r); she was animated by the same love for Jesus and her neighbor, lived in consecrated virginity.
Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous testimony, St. Joan of Arc invites us to a lofty level of Christian life: to make prayer the guiding thread of our days; to have full confidence in fulfilling the will of God, whatever it is; to live in charity without favoritisms, without limits and having, as she had, in the love of Jesus, a profound love for the Church. Thank you.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Joan of Arc, one of the outstanding women of the later Middle Ages. Raised in a religious family, Joan enjoyed mystical experiences from an early age. At a time of crisis in the Church and of war in her native France, she felt God's call to a life of prayer and virginity, and to personal engagement in the liberation of her compatriots. At the age of seventeen, Joan began her mission among the French military forces; she sought to negotiate a just Christian peace between the English and the French, took an active part in the siege of Orleans and witnessed the coronation of Charles VII at Rheims. Captured by her enemies the next year, she was tried by an ecclesiastical court and burnt at the stake as a heretic; she died invoking the name of Jesus. Her unjust condemnation was overturned twenty-five years later. At the heart of Saint Joan's spirituality was an unfailing love for Christ and, in Christ, for the Church and for her neighbor. May the prayers and example of Saint Joan of Arc inspire many lay men and women to devote themselves to public life in the service of God's Kingdom, and encourage all of us to live to the fullest our lofty calling in Christ.
I am pleased to greet the student groups from Hong Kong and the United States of America, as well as the group of Army Chaplains from Great Britain. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience I cordially invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he greeted the youth, sick and newlyweds present:]
And now a particular greeting to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today is the liturgical memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, disciples of St. Paul. Dear young people, like these faithful servants of the Gospel, I invite you to make your following of Jesus ever more strong and convinced, to be true witnesses in this society. I invite you, dear sick, following their example, to make your own the sentiments of Christ, to find comfort in Him, who continues His work of redemption in the life of every person. And you, dear newlyweds, discover every day in conjugal life the mystery of God who gives Himself for the salvation of all, so that your love is ever more true, lasting and solid toward others.
[Translation by ZENIT]
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Thanks for sharing this interesting post!
Oh, Joan’s my saint. We went to Domremy, so very interesting. Also saw the tower where she was imprisoned in Rouen and the spot where she was burned at the stake (’brulee’).
Mark Twain, of all people, wrote the definitive work on St. Joan of Arc, which also must be one of the most exhaustively researched biographies ever. It was Twain’s crowning achievement, and the work of which he was most proud.
Twain, at the time an agnostic, spend over 12 years in research, much of it with primary source documents in France itself. The divine miracles of Joan’s life, perhaps unique in history, were documented by not one, but two rigorous, thorough, fact-seeking and confirming trials.
For those questioning the existence of God and/or divine intervention, I invariably direct them to Twain’s cornerstone “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”.
He was an agnostic?
“There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory. The invention of Hell measured by our Christianity of today, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the deity nor his son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.”
- Mark Twain
There is some ambiguity about that claim. I have read varying account about the timeline, depth and consistency of his alleged unbelief. Twain seemed to enjoy playing the Cheshire cat about a lot of things, including his Faith.
Additionally, many people of that era would use a phrase like “our Christianity” in the historical, cultural sense, as in Christianity being the dominant religion of western civilization of which Twain was a part.
Islam must be contained. Christianity did it once, and can do it again. What better point of origin than France?
An interesting supposition in light of Joan d’Arc’s fate, for myself I wonder if she had not been burned at the stake if she would have had the place in history she currently occupies?
What baffles me is she was offered Communion before being executed, if she were a heretic then why offer her a Sacrament right before the same body doing the offering is going to put her into the fire?
Therein is the peril of politics and religion, the Church should not have involved itself in such a trial as the proper verdict would have been “not guilty” the proper political verdict was “guilty” and the politic won the day.
Luc Beson’s Joan of Arc is a fantastic film on this subject.
Joan of Arc is one of my favorite saints. Her story is beautiful and has touched some of the hardest hearts in history.
"Se non vi sono, Dio mi voglia mettere; se vi sono, Dio mi voglia custodire in essa."
Joan was convicted by one corrupt bishop in the pay of the English. Her trial violated all sorts of canonical norms, and was therefore illegitimate. It would have been right to overturn her conviction on procedural grounds alone. Blaming her conviction on "the church" is like blaming "the government" or the Constitution for the illegal acts of one corrupt official.
Odd, the Bishop was in an office of..the Church, that is where he claimed his Authority from, thusly “the Church”.
A Institution cannot both install Officials, then alternately disown the acts enabled by that official, that is an absurdity, as if a medievil Bishop was working for a Temp agency and went rogue.