Joan of Arc

 

  A Discussion for Older Readers

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE STORY OF HER LIFE FOR YOUNGER READERS: PLEASE CLICK HERE

WHY MY INTEREST IN JOAN OF ARC?

A few years ago when I visited Chinon castle and saw the display there of Joan's recognizing the Dauphin, the King to be, who was hiding from her in a crowd, it occurred to me that I really didn't know her story at all. So when I got home I read the biography by Vita Sackville-West, and was impressed. I also happened to run across this wonderful music, on display in a music store, by Richard Einhorn (his "Voices of Light" CD) that celebrated her "passion" (events leading to her martyrdom). I also obtained and watched the classic 1928 silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc," based on the court records of her final trial, which had inspired Einhorn to compose his music. Does this make me a Joan of Arc expert? No, just an admirer and a wonderer.

WHAT'S THE POINT?

The main point of the story I have written for younger people (see link above) is to show that something very different and exciting happened a long time ago, a real live miracle of sorts. I don't go into all of these details in the story, but I think Mark Twain had it right: Joan of Arc stands out among all of humanity as an unexplainable enigma. She was a typical home-educated peasant girl, illiterate, a teenager. She walked off the farm and led an army to a series of victories, crowned a reluctant King, answered a panel of learned Church judges twice, once to be vindicated and once to her doom, but each time with a savvy and confidence that makes her stand out in truly heroic proportions, larger than life. And all of it is attested in credible historical documents, including complete minutes of the final court proceedings against her.

Mark twain's book "Joan of Arc," was, according to himself, his greatest work.
 

A NOTE ABOUT JOAN'S FATHER AND MOTHER

I wrote this story (linked above) for young people several years ago and then more recently read a book that caused me to make some changes in the story, on April 2, 2000.  The book I was reading was a recently published English translation of "Joan of Arc, Her Story," by Regine Pernoud and Marie-Veronique Clin, translated (and enhanced with biographical material) by Jeremy Duquesnay Adams (1998, St. Martin's-Griffin).

The change was a simple one, but important to understanding Joan: her father and mother were peasants, true, but were not serfs in a feudal society.  Her father was a farmer who owned land and his own home and had official duties, like making sure weights and measures used in businesses were fair, in his village.  They were neither rich nor poor, and were respected members of their community.

Her mother played a greater role than (it is my impression) other books had heretofore suggested.  Both Sackville-West and Twain (who did years of research with original materials, he was not writing his usual baseless fiction) make it a big point that Joan's father and her "uncle" (actually the husband of a niece) came to the crowning of the king in Reims.  I had always thought it odd that the mother stayed home.  Well, Pernoud, Clin and Adams make quite a forceful point on their page 64:  "Joan's father and mother, Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romee, were also present at the coronation."

In fact the second name of Joan's mother, Romee, was a badge of accomplishment, it meant she had fulfilled a recognized pilgrimage, presumably to Rome.  Sackville-West's book (p. 28) suggested she could also have inherited the right to that title, which seems strange.  She had this name already well before she went on a short pilgrimage with her daughter and the company of several others, during the time Joan was being investigated, on behalf of the French king-to-be, at Poitiers.  March 25, 1429, saw a sizable group make a few days' journey to a famous relatively-nearby place of pilgrimage at that time, where her mother, along with the others, helped pick a very good man to be Joan's chaplain and confessor.  This confessor stayed by her side until after her campaign to liberate Orleans, wrote an eyewitness report of that series of battles, and gave important testimony for the trial that was later held to nullify the trial that sent her into the flames.  The outcome of the nullification trial, after her death, was that the first trial was irregular and political, and she was not guilty of the charge for which she was burned.

According to Sackville-West, it was mother Isabelle, at the old age of 60, who petitioned the Pope in Rome to do an investigation into Joan's trial.  According to my newer source, Pernoud, Clin and Adams, it was the French King, Charles VII, who owed his crown to Joan, who, when he liberated Rouen 18 years after her death in that city, set the nullification trial in motion with the appointment of his own counsellor to do a preliminary investigation.  The results of that investigation (perhaps with having been informed by Isabelle's letter as well) led to the Pope getting involved through three appointed prelates.  Their first witness was mother Isabelle, who came to Paris' famous Notre Dame cathedral to tell them in person that Joan had been a faithful believer who had been betrayed in "a perfifious, violent, and iniquitous trial, without shadow of right . . . they condemned her in a danmnable and criminal fashion and made her die most cruelly by fire."  A year long intensive investigation that produced testimony from many witnesses to Joan's life, the trial, and death, a treasure trove for historians of those times, ended up fully agreeing with Isabelle.  Isabelle lived to celebrate the outcome of that year-long trial with her neighbors in Orleans, where she both lived and had been supported for many years as a gift of gratitude from the town's people for Joan's miraculous liberation of that city.

DID SHE, OR DID SHE NOT, HAVE "TRUE" REVELATIONS?

Fascinating question. Of course there is a whole range of thought on this issue, some saying that this was a dementia brought on by cultural stress coinciding with and concentrating on a sensitive girl just entering puberty. Others saying yes, these were indeed the voices and visions of angels sent by God to stop the common people's suffering, generation after generation, during 75 years of war. They may both be true, they may neither be true, the only thing incontrovertibly true is a remarkable life, the life of Joan of Arc. She accomplished miraculous things under the guidance of an intelligence, or intelligences, clearly beyond her capacity and experience.

It is one of those questions you can only ask and answer for yourself from within yourself.

WHAT DO WE LEARN ABOUT THE PROCESS OF REVELATION FROM JOAN'S STORY?

Very little, since she kept the details of her revelations to herself pretty well. She flatly refused to discuss these details with the panel of judges that was trying her at Rouen.

They were adamant that she tell, she replied that only the Pope could hear these details, so "take me to the Pope." They said he was too far away, and so there was a stalemate. She mentioned clouds of light and voices of at least three Saints, and claimed to have seen their faces. But some of her claims conflict, and since she was clearly trying to avoid answering the curiosity of her judges, we can't take any of this supposed contradiction in minutia too serious.

The judges took contradictions very serious. In the end they decided that no matter who had spoken to her, it could not have been a message from God because God would not contradict His own established order on Earth, and would not give instructions counter to the very authorities He had established to guide and direct the lives of his people: the leaders of His own Church --themselves!

So because the voices contradicted the opinion and judgment of the Church in the English-held side of France (a previous hearing on the French side, also with learned Church men, had been requested by the Dauphin because he wanted to be sure of her before giving her an army: that hearing recommended her to the Dauphin as a genuine receiver of Divine revelation!) the voices were obviously from the Devil and Joan was therefore a witch and deserved to be burned alive!

Some of Joan's biographers say she never could grasp this intricate point of her not being obedient to local Church authority being the crux of the case against her, because she was so simple. I disagree. She saw that no matter what she confessed to in terms of the origins of her voices, she was trapped. So perhaps to keep her relations with her voices out of the mire of learned debate, she refused to satisfy the judges' curiosity and toyed with them by giving them clearly concocted stories at times to show she was not going to take them serious. She said at one point that they were mere men, and she was obeying angels. That is exactly the point over which she was going to be immolated! She did understand!

A CATHOLIC PROPHETESS?

My model for genuine revelation used to be exemplified by the ecstatic mystics of the Catholic tradition. So imagine my surprise on steeping myself in the life of Joan of Arc and finding there little of the emotional and ecstatic, lots of matter of fact discussions with angelic beings who tell her what to do and when to do it and who give her foresights, some detailed and accurate and quite remarkable, others a bit more fuzzy.

She did what she was told and achieved amazing successes, had a few disappointments, and ended up in the hands of her enemies and was martyred.

What I read in West's biography (pp. 335-336) was essentially true: that she is different from the ecstatic mystics of her own religious tradition in that she was not ecstatic, not mystical, but just her practical self at all times. West catalogs all of Joan's known prophecies and miracles, some quite remarkable and others not (pp. 359-363). Her parting shot is: "The 'miracles,' properly speaking, thus do not appear to amount to very much. The real miracle was the whole career, not a few isolated incidents." In other words, close inspection of trees does not automatically give one an appreciation of a forest.

And there is, in the case of Joan, the remarkable fact that even faced with the threat of death she refused to tell details of her revelations to her 'judges,' demanding she instead be taken to the Pope for that type of discussion. Hence the sketchy details about voices in lights, her first vision in a strange cloud of light, have to be balanced with very sensate descriptions of crowned angelic faces that were seen and touched and smelled. There is more to this woman's experience then she was willing to tell her enemies, and her short career of just a couple of years of battling the English and their allies on the field, and battling a seemingly spineless Dauphin into becoming King of France, left her no time to confide in friends by person or letter.

After 75 years of war, Joan's nation was about to give up the ghost and the hereditary leadership was doing nothing to stop the English takeover. Instead they were hiding in their remaining enclaves taxing the peasantry and living lives of relative ease and luxury while their subjects suffered both privations and fell victim to the slowly progressing but still deadly war. At 13, Joan was called to crown France's reluctant and unworthy King, a symbolically important task, and to rout the seemingly unstoppable English-Burgundian alliance, a very difficult and practical task.

Listening closely to her voices' instructions, she managed to walk off the farm as a seventeen year old and do both in two years. It took 25 more years to fully throw out the English, but the turning point was this one single, solitary (literally) life.

{Some newer thought on this issue of Joan's revelations is contained in a new book called "Fresh verdicts on Joan of Arc," edited by Wheeler and Wood, (Garland Publishing Inc. New York 1996).  I read it in May of 2000 and as a consequence rewrote the discussion of the revelatory process exemplified by Joan of Arc [Catholic] and Joseph Smith [Mormon] to which I provide a link here).

I was privileged to spend time in France, and over a number of years was able to visit many places of importance to Joan, such as the ones linked below.  (What is also interesting is how many places have plaques simply stating that "Joan passed through here in her travels, such as to Reims and other places, she is very well remembered!)

Domremy

Chinon

Orleans

Reims

St. Denis

Rouen .}

A very orthodox and accurate historical account of her life may be found at this external link:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08409c.htm

A brand new 2007 book that I will read myself is described on this website (and the page of links on this website show a phenomenal breadth of materials available to persons interested in all aspects of Joan's life):

http://www.maidofheaven.com/

And finally, this teenager named "Hanka" in the Czech Republic has produced a phenomenal website dedicated to Joan (you have a choice between Czech and English when you get to its front page at http://www.joan-of-arc.euweb.cz/ ), she has created dozens of nice quality videos about Joan taken from publicly available sources (including some of my photos from Domremy for example) and posted them on YouTube.  If you go to YouTube and search for Joan of Arc her work will be among the best of the numerous videos displayed there!

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