20

The Girl Who Reversed Agincourt

 

Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years. She embodied the natural goodness and valour of the human race in unexampled perfection. Unconquerable courage, infinite compassion, the virtue of the simple, the wisdom of the just, shone forth in her. She glorifies as she freed the soil from which she sprang.

Sir Winston Churchill

By the death of King Henry V in 1422 it seemed as if the English had succeeded in conquering France.  Then God chose otherwise.  Three years old at the time of Agincourt, by the time of the end of her short life on May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc had set in motion forces that would result in the utter defeat of the English.  She transformed a squalid dynastic squabble into a crusade for the French.  One of the examples of the direct intervention of God in human affairs, the brief history altering life of Saint Joan of Arc has attracted the admiration of the most unlikely of men, including the Protestant Sir Winston Churchill, and the agnostic Mark Twain who called his book on Joan of Arc the finest thing he ever wrote.  She was not canonized until 1920, but almost all of her contemporaries who met her had no doubt that she was a saint sent by God.  Some of the English who were present as she was burned at the stake cried out that they were all damned because she was a saint.   Jean Tressard, the Treasurer of Henry VI, King of England, wrote the following soon after the execution of Joan:   ”We are all lost for it is a good and holy woman that has been burned. I believe her soul is in the hands of God, and I believe damned all who joined in her condemnation”.  With Saint Joan humanity came into contact with a messenger from God, and the result to her was as predictable as it was lamentable.  However, the outcome of her mission was exactly as she had predicted.  The weak Dauphin that she had crowned would reign as Charles VII and end the Hundred Years War in victory for France, something that none of his contemporaries thought remotely possible before Joan embarked on her mission.  With courage and faith she altered the course of the history of France and of all the world.

On January 26, 2011 Pope Benedict spoke of Saint Joan:

 

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.

Saint Joan, we Catholics today live in a time when we have much need of courage.  Intercede with God holy Maid and ask God to give us some small part of your courage and faith.

Share With Friends
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

20 Comments

  1. “Some of the English who were present as she was burned at the stake cried out that they were all damned because she was a saint.”

    Andrew Lang, a Scotsman and therefore an impartial historian in the English and French quarrels, although he notes the rôle of the Scottish Free Companies, has a remarkable passage on this remark, which was made by one of Henry VI’s secretary: “They were all lost. The curse of their cruelty did not depart from them. Driven by the French and Scots from province to province, and from town to town, the English returned home, tore and rent each other; murdering their princes and nobles on the scaffold, and slaying them as prisoners of war on the field; and stabbing and smothering them in chambers of the Tower; York and Lancaster devouring each other; the mad Henry VI was driven from home to wander by the waves at St. Andrews, before he wandered back to England and the dagger stroke—these things were the reward the English won, after they had burned a Saint. They ate the bread and drank the cup of their own greed and cruelty all through the Wars of the Roses. They brought shame upon their name which Time can never wash away; they did the Devil’s work, and took the Devil’s wages. Soon Henry VIII was butchering his wives and burning Catholics and Protestants, now one, now the other, as the humour seized him.”

  2. Ah! Dr Johnson thought otherwise. Contrasting the Scots and the Irish, he remarked, “The Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of their countrymen. No Sir, the Irish are a fair people; they never speak well of each other.”

  3. A true love of Jesus equates to a true love of neighbor. It can not be otherwise. Hero’s and Heroine’s are selfless and grounded in love that defys gravity. I love the Saints.
    Their conquests are inner first, than exterior thereafter. That too can not be otherwise.
    The beauty of life in God is that the soul becomes radiant and pure, how it was when it was created. The stories of the Saints teach us that regardless of our souls current condition, we too with patience, prayer and grace, can recognize the pristine condition of our own souls when they were formed, if only we conquer ourselves.
    Thank you Donald for sharing this great Saint with us, Joan.

  4. I admit to knowing almost nothing of this war. At the time, Spain was still fighting the Moors, the Turks were attacking the Hapsburg Empire and the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth and Portugal was navigating the African West Coast.

  5. Philip: “Their conquests are inner first, than exterior thereafter. That too can not be otherwise.
    The beauty of life in God is that the soul becomes radiant and pure, how it was when it was created. The stories of the Saints teach us that regardless of our souls current condition, we too with patience, prayer and grace, can recognize the pristine condition of our own souls when they were formed, if only we conquer ourselves.”
    Sovereignty over oneself is sovereign personhood, the pursuit of Happiness. St. Joan’s mission in life, her vocation, is her pursuit of Happiness, achieved is her destiny, of which no state may interfere. This post is remarkable. The comments are remarkable.

  6. “No Sir, the Irish are a fair people; they never speak well of each other.”

    A fair amount of truth in that, as in this saying of Dr. Johnson:

    DR. JOHNSON: Sir, it is a very vile country.
    MR. S: Well, sir, God made it.
    DR. JOHNSON: Certainly he did, but we must remember that He made it for Scotchmen. Comparisons are odious, Mr. S, but God made Hell.
    Dr Samuel Johnson, A journey to the “Western Islands of Scotland, 1775

  7. “God made Hell.” God was forced to make hell. God, in respect to man’s free will, will not force any soul to heaven. Every soul is destined to heaven, but not every soul wills to go to heaven.

  8. Mary De Voe.
    God is remarkable.
    A soul that finds Grace detestable on earth, will find Heaven detestable as well, hence Hell.
    In Hell the soul finds what it longs for on earth, namely; greed, hatred, malice, selfishness, pain, and darkness. These are comforts to a soul which has fought the truth during its lifetime on earth. This Hell is home for them.

    B.Franklin once penned a truth that was used at the end of a movie that I can’t presently name, however the quote went something like this; ” I firmly believe that the action’s of man in this life will determine his destination in the next.” God doesn’t send souls to hell. We make the choice. Grace helps us to understand love, (aka Jesus on the Cross.)
    With grace we cooperate in our souls mission from the very beginning… To Love as Christ loves.

  9. Not only Pope Benedict and Churchill: G. B. Shaw wrote the play, “St. Joan.”
    .
    Until recently Ireland was a Catholic nation. Scotland and Wales not so much.
    .
    Among the Irish, Scotch, and Welsh, the Irish stand alone as the subject people that made themselves a nation once again; and a republic. The others remain [fill-in your own insult]. .
    .
    I may be the only person that sees the irony wherein when for nearly 300 years they’ve fought and died for other countries, and yet it’s, “Scotland the Brave.” And, how can a subjugated province of England have a national anthem? I don’t much care for United Kingdom the Brave, either.
    .
    And, after Culloden, the English maltreated the Scotch so as to make post-Civil War Reconstruction look like a Sunday picnic.
    .
    If you’re not Irish, it’s okay to look down your nose at the Irish. No Irishman cares what a low-caste, English (Johnson) serf thinks.

  10. A bit of trivia: the actress in your clip, Leelee Sobieski, is a descendant of someone else you’ve written about.

  11. There is much to dislike about modern French culture that has largely turned away from the Church. However, I just can’t ever see France as lost because she has the best female saints. With such patronesses, how could God ever really turn away. Joan, Therese, Bernadette, Jeanne Jugan, are the few that come to mind.

  12. Our Lady of LaSalette; “Rome will loose the Faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.”
    To me, it seems that France was/is a particularly favored land by our Queen and Lady. To witness it’s decline in faith is telling of our time we live in. All the more to pray as never before.

  13. Mrs Zummo wrote, “I just can’t ever see France as lost because she has the best female saints”
    I have always admired Frémiet’s statue of the Maid in the Place des Pyramides in Paris. It marks the spot where the maid was wounded, trying to storm the city wall.
    http://tinyurl.com/q6g7swm
    There are many such statues throughout France and ceremonies are held there on 8 May, which is both the Fête de la libération (a national holiday) and the anniversary of St Joan’s raising the siege of Orléans in 1429.

  14. T Shaw wrote, “And, after Culloden, the English maltreated the Scotch so as to make post-Civil War Reconstruction look like a Sunday picnic.”
    The British government treated the Catholic clergy with unexampled savagery after the failure of the ’45.
    Of the priests who had accompanied the Prince, Rev Mr Colin Campbell of Morar was killed at Culloden, shot down in cold blood by Hessian mercenaries, whilst trying to rally the fugitives for one last charge. Rev Mr Allan MacDonald, rector of the illegal, but tolerated, seminary at Scalan, near Glenlivet was imprisoned for a year in a military garrison and then ordered to leave the country. Scalan itself was burned on the orders of the Duke of Cumberland, as a “nest of traitors.”
    Rev Mr Aeneas McGillis of Glengarry was put to the horn (outlawed) and fled the country.
    Of those who had stayed at home, but had “prayed for the Pretender,” Rev Mr Neil McFie of the Rough Bounds, Rev Mr Alexander Forrester of Uist and Rev Mr James Grant of Barra were bundled on board ship and deported to France, without the formality of a trial.
    Rev Mr William Harrison of the Rough Bounds was later captured carrying Jacobite dispatches and similarly deported.

    Bishop Hugh, the Vicar Apostolic had to rebuild the Church more or less from scratch. Himself the son of Alexander MacDonald of Morar and of Mary, daughter of Ranald MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart, he recruited his priests mostly among the Highland gentry; ordained “ad titulum patrimonii sui” and unpaid, they stayed with relatives, or with influential friends, and served their native place. Thus we have Alexander MacDonald of the Scotus family living in Knoydart; Austen MacDonald of Glenaladale in Moidart; Allan MacDonald of Morar living in the Morar area; James MacDonald, son of John MacDonald of Guidall in the Rough Bounds, and so on. Bishop Hugh was succeeded by his nephew, John MacDonald.

  15. Today more than in the more or less recent past, we should also remember Saint Joan’s saying that “The men at arms will give battle, God will grant the victory”.

Comments are closed.