I dedicate these life lessons to the daughters of Erin who, because so pure, so brave, so true, must beyond all others find fulfilled in Blessed Joan of Arc, their ideal of patriotism, Catholicism, and heroism.
We’ll set thy statue in some holy place
And have thee reverenced like a blessed saint.
Employ thee, then, sweet virgin, for our good!’
King Henry VI, Act iii, Scene 3
The arrangements of Divine Providence are inexhaustible. We live in an age when the energies of women are of necessity taking new directions. The old home life is impossible or insufficient for many of them, and they have to go forth abroad to live often solitary lives, to work out a career unaided, and to enter upon pursuits which until recent times were confined to the stronger sex.
It is useless to ignore this tendency. It arises from causes, which cannot be controlled. But while this transformation and development of womanly activity goes on, it is all-important that the sacred characteristics which give to womanhood its power and its charm should not be overshadowed by the stress and toil which accompany the new conditions in which it is now placed.
And in this moment the Church of God sets up before our gaze the beautiful figure of Blessed Joan the Maid, called by God from home and given a work in which many brave men had failed. She did her work, she went in and out in camp and city, but she still remained the gentle, simple maiden.
May her story, told so eloquently by the writer of the following pages, teach our Catholic maidens, and women of every degree, how to do whatever God puts into their hands to do, and yet keep untouched and bright all the glory of their womanhood.
Chief Events in the Life of Blessed Joan of Arc
- 1412 – Birth at Domremy
- 1424 – First visitation
- 1428 – First interview with Robert de Baudricourt
- 1429 – Meets the Dauphin at Chinon
- 1429 – Raises the siege of Orleans
- 1429 – Coronation of Charles VII at Reims
- 1429 – Attack on Paris
- 1430 – Capture at Compiegne
- 1430 – Sold to the English, and brought to Rouen
- 1431 – Trial at Rouen
- 1431 – Condemnation and death
- 1456 – Rehabilitation by Pope Calixtus III
- 1909 – Beatification by Pope Pius X
This little volume of “Life Lessons from Joan of Arc” is offered to the world only because many of my friends, in different spheres and stations of life, have requested me to publish it.
Some have gone out of their way to assure me that what I have said in my various lectures and talks about the blessed heroine has in no small degree helped and encouraged them to fight the good fight, and to keep the faith. In other words, the inspiring example of blessed Joan of Arc has brought home to them the serious and sacred character of their own mission in life.
For instance, the Maid has forced her sex to learn from the study of her own life’s story that, till vital spirituality penetrates and permeates a woman’s everyday life, she cannot even pretend to exercise, in society and upon the world at large, that refining and spiritualizing influence which is her special charm as well as her principal prerogative and primal duty.
If to-day woman is losing her hold upon man for his good, if she is striving after the impossible, and seeking to shift her centre of social gravity in the hope of realizing herself in a sphere where God does not want her, and will not have her, the reason is not far to seek. Woman is neglecting her high call, her true mission, because she ignores those Christian ideals which should inspire and actuate the life of her sex, no matter in what state of being she may happen to be placed.
“The imperious need of to-day is ideals,” says a recent writer in the Times. “At no time,” he continues, “has there ever been a greater need for ethical and spiritual ideals than now, when on all sides the material things of life are apt to assume undue prominence.”
If this be so — and who that is observant will care to deny it? — then, no better service can be done to the man and woman of to-day than to lift up before them both the portrait of a womanly woman who, when the bugle call of duty summoned her, could become as a manly man, who always and everywhere, in peace and war, at Court, in camp, and at home, lived up to her high Christian ideals, and nowhere forgot her true womanly character and her divine mission.
Blessed Joan the Maid has something to say both to man and woman, to boy and girl, irrespective of their religion, their nationality, or their political outlook.
Hang this portrait of her on the line in that gallery of living pictures which follows you whithersoever you go, and in which you move and have your being, and the Maid will, in her own good time, deliver her message to you, and you will find life becoming dominated by the high principles and lofty ideals inseparable from the Christian character.
Chapter 1 – Her Childhood and Calls to Arms
“The foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong.” – 1st Corinthians 1:27-29
In the province of Lorraine, in France, lying south of Vaucouleurs, and beside the Meuse, there is a little village called Domremy. Here, in a cottage standing between the river and the village church, wasborn, on the vigil of the Epiphany, in the year 1412, Jacques and Isabelle d’Arc’s second daughter.
She was their fifth child, and they christened her Jeanne. The pretty, healthy Jeannette grew up with her brothers and sister full of frolic and fun, and full of sweet and simple piety. Dressed in russet serge and linen coif, the nimble-footed, laughter-loving child was conspicuously clever in whatever part she took, whether helping her father in the garden, or her mother in the house, or joining with the children in their games on the green.
When Jeannette was about seven, having learned the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary,” and the “Creed ” at her mother’s knee, she made her first Confession, and then her thoughts were occupied in preparation for the day of her first Communion. She has told us that from her mother she learned ” all that a child ought to do to be good.” She was a typical little French peasant girl—bright and lively, loving to sing at her work when alone, even more than to dance with the other children round the fairy trees. ” I loved to play under ‘Beau Mai,’ and hang garlands on the boughs with the other girls.”
But what delighted her still more than playing games was weaving garlands of flowers wherewith to festoon Our Lady’s statue in the village church, or buying with her scant earnings candles to burn before the shrine of our Lady of Bermont, whither she went with her sister out of devotion on Saturdays. Her love of the blessed Virgin was childlike and clinging.
For a child so young Jeanne was exceptionally pious, and it was a healthy, vitalizing piety. Not often do we hear of a girl breaking away in the midst of a game or a dance to conceal herself, as our heroine used to do, in the wood, there to fall upon her knees, and pour forth the treasures of her soul to her divine Lord and His blessed Mother. We are told, too, that such was her love of holy Mass that she failed not to hear it daily, while her practice of going to confession was, in the judgment of her confessor, somewhat too frequent. To holy Communion she went, weekly. Other tokens of her strong faith and simple piety were her love of the sick and of the poor, and of helpless children. A deep sense of duty was another conspicuous characteristic trait of Jeanne. Perrin le Drapsier, the bell-ringer of the church, when careless about his duty, she would often coax and bribe, with handfuls of wool from her sheep, to ring his bell more punctually. We are also reminded that on more than one occasion the dear Jeannette made her bed on the bare boards, in order to give up her own cosy one to some benighted wayfarer who craved a lodging of her father. These little traits reveal to us a child early saturated with true religion.
Till her thirteenth year Jeannette’s life ran evenly enough; it was pure as the stream that danced beside her home, bright as the bloom that decked her garden plot, sweet as the herbs hidden in the wood, and as full of the promise of summer as the love-songs of the birds that flew from tree to tree.
According to her playmates, Jeannette’s only fault was that she was much too pious, “quite a little saint” and they teased her, as children are wont to do, when one of their number outruns the others in strivings after piety.
So our little maiden grew up strong and lithe and well-built, as finely proportioned physically as she was morally- “a perfect Christian and a true Catholic,” as the village curb bore witness, ” without her like in the whole country around.”
During the course of her thirteenth year it was revealed to Jeanne that God had deputed her to a strangely wonderful and difficult mission. ” I was thirteen,” she tells us, ” when I heard a voice from God for my help and guidance. The first time I heard this voice I was very much frightened. It was midday in the summer in my father’s garden.”
What happened was this: Jeanne was one day turning up the soil in the old-fashioned garden dropping down to the river when she found herself enveloped in a great light. When presently she ventured to raise her eyes and look around she recognized the radiant form of Saint Michael, who was not alone, but was accompanied by a very host of angels. Naturally enough the child was at first not only startled but terribly frightened, but before the Archangel had left her she felt transported into an ecstasy of joy. Saint Michael told her to be a good child and to say her prayers, and then he passed out of sight, assuring her that both Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret would come to give her guidance and help.
Perhaps nothing in Joan of Arc’s eventful life shows forth more clearly her brave as well as her strong character than the three years’ silence she maintained about her ” Voices ” and ” visions.” Neither to her mother, nor even to her confessor, did this wondrous, self-possessed child drop even a hint about the tokens, which marked her off as a special favorite of Heaven. She kept her own counsel and no one who watched her at her daily round of home duties—running her father’s errands, gathering firewood, sweeping the floor, baking bread, or sewing beside her mother—could have guessed that the bright-eyed, dark-haired little Jeanne was on terms of loving intimacy with chosen ones in her Master’s heavenly court. Yet it was so, for her visitors now kept on coming to her two and three times a week. Gradually they unfolded to her the character of the mission with which she was charged. She was to ” go into France,” to ” raise the siege of Orleans,” and to ” crown the Dauphin.” More definitely did the Voices speak. ” Go,” they said, ” to Robert de Baudricourt, Captain of Vaucouleurs; he will furnish you with an escort to accompany you.”
We may well imagine how completely taken aback this unschooled country girl must have been to learn that she was chosen to undertake a task for which she felt totally unfitted, and altogether unworthy. It was in vain she pleaded with tears in her eyes that, being only a poor girl, knowing nothing of riding or fighting, she might be spared and released from a work for which she thought herself to be wholly unequal, both by nature and training.
To those, of course, who do not believe in the miraculous, La Pucelle’s Voices and visions have a subjective origin only. Maintaining that miracles do not happen, they refuse to accept the objective reality of the Maid’s visions. Against their contentions there is Jeanne’s own evidence of their reality. Does she not tell us again and again that she not only heard the voices of her heavenly visitors, saw their faces, and scanned their persons, but that she clung to their knees, embraced their feet, and that when they had gone, weeping she would kiss the very ground on which they had stood?
We must take our little heroine’s story as she herself tells it, or else reject it altogether. To a Catholic, of course, it presents no difficulty at all. It hangs together most wonderfully and beautifully well, and, if I may say so, reverently ; her life story once begun runs on as one might have expected it.
Her ” Voices ” having insisted on her taking up the task set her, La Pucelle de Dieu was not long in discovering some good excuse for going to Vaucouleurs, lying north of Domremy. The famous interview with Robert de Baudricourt seems to have taken place on Ascension Day, 1428. It was arranged by her uncle Durand, who was told by the governor to take the girl back and box her ears. Poor Jeanne returned home a little disappointed, but not at all discouraged by the reception she met with from the rude, rough captain. Had she known the world a little better, the greeting she received would have been exactly what she might have anticipated. God’s good time had not yet arrived, and meanwhile the Maid must be trained in the school of sanctity, suffering. Before reaping in joy, she must sow in tears.
Jeanne passed a very trying summer and autumn with the knowledge of a pressing mission ever before her, while the means of accomplishing it were not ready to hand. However, after much thought and more prayers, without announcing her intention to any one, early in January she once more turned her back upon Domremy, and pushed forward to Vaucouleurs, determined not to leave Baudricourt this time till he had promised to furnish her with an escort to the Dauphin at Chinon. She is at pains to remind us that nothing could have prevailed upon her to leave her home by stealth as she did except a call from God; but that once being certain God was actually calling her away, she would not have stayed—no, not if she had had a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers. How thoroughly this unschooled peasant child understood what is meant by being a creature, one belonging inalienably to God, and depending entirely on His Will!
It is not necessary to enter into the details of La Pucelle’s second interview with the Governor of Vaucouleurs. Suffice it to say that on this occasion God Himself helped her to win a way into the brusque soldier’s heart. This time Robert not only believed in Jeanne, but in her divine-sent mission. Accordingly, instead of ordering the child back to Domremy with the suggestion of a sound whipping, he sends her forward to the Castle of Chinon with a special escort.
Look at her and be sure you realize what is actually taking place. It is a cold, drizzling evening in February, and in a little group of seven horsemen, gathered beside the courtyard of Baudricourt’s house, observe well our little peasant girl, clad in riding-dress like a page-boy. See her leaping for the first time in her life into a saddle, about to undertake a ride of four hundred miles over wild and marshy land, and through a country infested with robbers, and held by Anglo-Burgundians, the enemies of the Dauphin, to whom she is the bearer of a message from God Himself. What an exquisite picture does this present us in its simple setting on the cobble-stones, and under the rude archway of Baudricourt’s house, where he himself is seen to give the Maid a send-off with the word: ” Go then, away, away, come what come may! ”
If you ask me what explanation I have to offer of the Maid’s extraordinary conquest of Robert de Baudricourt, my answer is: “The weak things of this world hash God chosen to confound the strong.” Leave God out of the case, and there is nothing to be said about it to satisfy any sane mind.
It was March the 6th when the Maid with her escort, after eleven days’ ride, drew rein under the archway leading into the courtyard of the fortress-castle standing high over Chinon. There it was that the Dauphin held court, and there he was wasting his time in frivolous festivities.
Baudricourt had dispatched letters informing the Dauphin of the Maid’s intended visit, but endless difficulties delayed the interview. La Tremoille, in whose hands the king was but a tool, relished, no more than did the Archbishop of Reims, the idea that aid should be forthcoming to France through the ministry of an untutored village girl. But the foolish things of this world God chooses to confound the wise; and so on March the 8th the summons came to the Maid to meet the Dauphin that evening. Charles, partly out of inordinate love of mischief, but still more to test the reality of her mission, concealed himself among his retainers in the great banqueting-hall, which was a mosaic of color when the Maid entered.
Can you not picture to yourselves that lithe, supple, well-built girl in doublet, hose, gaiters, and spurred boots, crossing the gorgeous threshold where for the first time she beholds before her a scene such as might well have turned the head of any ordinary girl? But when God takes possession of the heart, and He is known and entertained there in intimacy, scenes of earthly pomp and circumstance sink into mere insignificance. After all, they are but poor, paltry, and monotonous shows. Upon La Pucelle de Dieu, whose bosom friends were members of no earthly court, the sight in the banquet-hall with all its bravery made little or no impression.
Accoutered in riding gear as she was, with sword swinging at her side, Jeanne passed calmly and firmly over the rush-strewn floor of that great hall, intent upon one thing only: to find out where, amid that gorgeous assembly, stood the king. Her eye was not long in discovering him in the background, and forthwith approaching him, kneeling, she kissed his hand, and offered her homage with the salutation: ” God give you life, noble Dauphin.” Then, after vain protests from retainers that she was mistaken as to his identity, the Maid, still persisting in her opinion, continued: “I am Jeanne the Maid, and I am sent by God to regain for you the kingdom which is yours; and to make war on those English. Why do you not believe me?
I tell you the truth when I say that God has pity on you, and on your people.” Then to confirm her words the Maid drew his Majesty aside and whispered into his ear a secret which had been revealed to her by her Voices. The Dauphin, on this sign, readily believed the supernatural character of Jeanne’s mission; but before he could or would act upon it he summoned a commission of high ecclesiastics and learned professors at Poitiers, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Reims, whose business it was to examine into the nature of her claims, and to determine whether her mission was from a good or an evil spirit. So searching was the examination to which she was subjected, and so detailed the questions, that it seemed to the Maid it would never come to an end. ” There need not be so many words,” she said to her inquisitors: ” this is not a time for talking, but for doing.” She herself summed up for them the story of her mission, saying, ” I am a poor village girl ; a voice came to me and told me that God had taken pity on France, and that I was to go to her aid. Then I wept, but the Voices told me to fear nothing, but to go to Vaucouleurs, where I should find a captain who would send me to the king. And I went to him there, and behold now I am here.”
There is nothing in the story of the Maid’s eventful life so naive, so clever, so witty, and withal so humorous as her answers to the imposing bench of examiners before whom she was summoned and cross-questioned during three consecutive weeks.
We ask for some sign of the truth of what you have told us,” said the Archbishop.
“I did not come to Poitiers,” was her answer, “to give signs. Let me go to Orleans, and there you will know that my mission is from God.”
“But,” exclaimed the Bench, ” if your mission is from God, and He has sent you, why do you want soldiers? ”
“I want soldiers,” was her ready reply, to do the fighting, while God Himself will give the victory.”
“What language,” asked a provincial ecclesiastic, “do your Voices speak?”
The Maid, fixing her eyes upon the Dominican, who had a Limousin accent, retorted, ” A better language far than yours, sir.”
It is impossible to read through the history of her examination at Poitiers, or later on at Rouen, without realizing again and again the truth of Saint Paul’s saying, ” The foolish things of this world hash God chosen to confound the wise.”
Well might the commission, after their very diligent inquiry into the character of her life, recommend Charles to entrust her with the troops for which she asked, for they said, ” We have found in the Maid nothing but what is good.” Is it not remarkable that the Rouen commission should have so completely ignored the verdict passed at Poitiers, and should have so easily forgotten that La Pucelle had there said, “If I dress as a man they will forget I am only a girl,” and that the Archbishop of Reims had himself not only approved her resolution but had added, ” It is far more becoming, since these things have to be done in the company of men, that they should be done in male attire “?
After reading what the Archbishop and the Maid herself have to say about the adoption of male attire, it does seem truly pitiable and contemptible that for a moment in her trial at Rouen the verdict should have turned upon nothing more important than the use of male clothes, which, under the direction of her Voices and with the sanction of authority, the Maid had worn for three years.
It was April the 27th, 1429, when Joan of Arc, at the head of the Dauphin’s troops, left Chinon for the relief of Orleans. Look at her, the village maiden riding forth at the head of an army. She is clad in a complete suit of armor, helmet, gorges, steel corselet, with sword at side —a tall, graceful figure, all white in burnished steel, and sitting a charger raven black. Well might the mere sight of her inspire her own troops with a sense of coming victory, and in her foes a feeling of impending defeat.
When in spirit I follow the well-organized body of troops under the command of Xaintrailles, La Hire, and others, and headed by a maiden, who till lately was seen plying the spinning-wheel or following the plough, or else playing on the village green beside the Meuse, I feel my soul recalling once more the word of the Apostle, ” The weak things of this world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong.”
In the story of Joan of Arc’s childhood and call to arms there is for each one of us a lesson of vital importance to learn. The lesson I refer to is perhaps brought home to us more clearly and definitely by her than by any other heroine in all history. Neither Joseph in Egypt, nor David before Goliath, nor Daniel in the den of lions, is so wonderful as the peasant girl of Domremy. Yes, she is more wonderful than an Agnes or a Cecilia, an Aloysius or a Stanislaus. In fact, there is no one in story, profane or sacred, who is her counterpart. She is unique, and she teaches us, as no one else does or can, what is the meaning of being a creature. Her life tells us that it means being in the hands of God, as clay in the hands of the potter. It further tells us that in His hands prince, or peer, or peasant may be formed and fashioned into whatever He pleases. But the clay must yield to the pressure of His hand, and must in no sense resist being moulded into the vessel for which it is His good pleasure to destine it.
In other words, we too must try to realize, as did the peasant girl of Domremy, that each one of us has a mission in this world to fulfil, for God’s glory and the weal of souls. It may not be our vocation to fight and conquer some external foe, but certainly each one of us is called to fight and conquer self. The voice, which we must follow may not be that of an archangel or of a saint, but surely not less but more wonderful, not less but more truthful, is the voice actually warning, exhorting, commanding, or reprimanding us; for is it not the voice of God Himself, which speaks in language distinct and definite to the conscience of each? Our very first duty as intelligent beings, after realizing that we belong inalienably and absolutely to God, is to find out what it is that He does reveal to us through our conscience. It will tell us unerringly why God has sent us here; in other words, what our mission is, and what the special work is to which He has deigned to set us. No matter what that task may be, God Himself will infallibly guide us to the accomplishment of it, provided, like the Maid, we resolve not only to do, but to be the thing He wants. What God wants of each one is what each can give—an upright, brave, disinterested, generous, chivalrous character. Given character, God can do with us as He wills, make of us what He chooses.
Like the Maid, then, let us set about building up a character prepared to undertake any work for God. Do not shrink from the effort, do not say, ” I am unfitted for it, unequal to it,” but look up at the village maiden, and find in her fulfilled the word: ” The weak things of this world hash God chosen to confound the strong.” If we, like her, will but follow the voice of conscience, we too shall fulfil the call of God.
“With cheerful steps the paths of duty run. God nothing does, nor suffers to be done,
But thou thyself wouldst do it, couldst thou see The end of all events as well as He.”
God’s Will is the end of life, not alone for Joan of Arc, but also for you and for me. When He calls we, may not tarry, we must go: nay, not if we had even a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers calling us back, could we ever stay. For God’s Will is a sovereign command.
The Maid’s Message To The Duke Of Bedford
Say to the Princes who have sent you forth: O King of England, and ye haughty Dukes, Bedford and Gloster, Regents of his realm, Give reckoning unto the King of Heaven For all the guiltless blood that ye have shed, Give back to us the keys of all the towns Which ye have wrung from us’ gainst right divine. The Maiden comes, sent forth by Heaven’s King, To proffer to you peace or deadly war.
Choose which you will; but this I tell you plain, Fair France hath never been decreed to you By Mary’s Son Divine ; for Charles the Seventh, My liege and Dauphin, chosen of the Lord, Shall enter Paris as its rightful King, Accompanied by all his noble peers.
Now go, Sir Herald, get you quickly gone, For ere you may attain the hostile camp, And bring your tidings, is the Maiden there, To plant on Orleans her conquering flag.
Chapter 2 – Her Relief of Orleans and Crowning of the King
“She kept him safe from his enemies, and she defended him from seducers. . . . She forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners; she went down with him into the pit ; and in bands she left him not, till she brought him the sceptre of the kingdom, and power against those that oppressed him.” — Wisdom 10:12-14
After two days in the saddle, and two nights lying in her armor on the ground, the warrior maid saw rising, on the northern side of the river, the fortress city of Orleans in the last extremity of distress. There it stood girt about by an army that had raised up around it a line of fortifications, mounted for the first time in the history of warfare with cannon. As the Maid gazed upon the heart-rending spectacle, recalling to mind all the anguish which such a siege as that had meant to her countrymen, girl-like she wept. The fate of her country depended, as she so fully realized, on Orleans. It was April, and the city had now held out valiantly against Bedford for more than six months. Unless she could raise the siege at once, and so relieve the worn-out garrison, she felt sure that the worst would happen. The city must be starved into capitulating. The Battle of Herrings was fresh in her memory, nor could she free her mind of the tantalizing boast of Suffolk and his troops, that two hundred Englishmen were ready to fight and defeat eight hundred of her own countrymen.
So dispirited had the besieged under Dunois become that terms of surrender had been actually drawn up and offered to the Burgundians. But Bedford, sportsmanlike, intervened, declaring it was not likely that after he had beaten the covers others were to have the birds. If the city was to be handed over at all, it must be given up to none but the English. Such was his contention, but to those conditions the royalist city could not agree, and so the English, exasperated, tightened their forces about her, Gladsdale swearing that before many days he would take the place and put to the sword every man, woman, and child in it.
This, then, was the position of affairs when Joan of Arc appeared upon the scene, and met Dunois, who had come forth from the citadel to greet her What next happened was the unexpected. Dunois made a feint attack on Saint Loup with the object of drawing attention from the Maid, who meanwhile with two hundred men passed within a stone’s throw of the fortifications, unhurt, nay unattacked, into the city. How this ever came about passes comprehension. Were the besiegers awed by the apparition of a girl leading an army, or were they paralyzed by the sight of the white Maid on her black charger? I do not pretend to know. This only is certain, that whereas Joan might so easily have been kept out of Orleans by the English, she actually crossed their lines and entered the city with a handful of men triumphant.
All this took place on April the 29th.From henceforth Joan of Arc was to be known as the Maid of Orleans. We may well imagine with what mad enthusiasm the beleaguered city received her, their savior-guest. It was with no little difficulty that she managed to make her way on horseback through the throng pressing her on every side, to the great cathedral, where she rendered public thanks to the real Savior of the city, Christ Jesus.
The next few days were spent in examining the fortifications, testing the lines of defense, reconnoitering the ground, in grasping the general state of affairs, and in inspecting the troops. With so keen a soldier’s eye did the Maid survey and realize the situation, that skilled tacticians like -Dunois, La Hire, D’Alencon and others marveled not a little to find themselves wholly outwitted by a village girl, who did not know how to write her own name. With such courage and confidence, too, did her presence inspire the rank and file of the army that, to borrow Dunois’ words, “five hundred Frenchmen were now ready to face the whole strength of the English.”
On May the 4th she astonished not only her friends, but her foes also. On that Wednesday it was that she vaulted suddenly into the saddle, rode round the ramparts, halting at the Burgundy gate ; and then for three hours in the very thick of the fight, holding her banner aloft, fearlessly she sat her charger beside Fort Saint Loup, cheering her archers and directing their attack till the killed and wounded lying thick around her told of the heavy loss that had been inflicted on the English, while for the first time, after months of sullen silence, wild shouts within the city proclaimed a glorious victory for the French.
This was Jeanne’s first experience of the havoc and the horrors of real warfare. The sickening sights she saw pained her to the heart, and as she dismounted to thank the God of battles for the victory, she forgot not to offer a fervent prayer for the souls of the faithful warriors, who had been sent to their account. She herself had drawn no weapon, had shed no blood, nay, rather she had done what lay in her power to check bloodshed and slaughter. With her own hands she tended the wounded, taking care that they received surgical aid, and the rites of the Church. Nor did she ever forget to urge, with all the vehemence of her soul, her combatants to prepare for battle as for death, by prayer and the sacraments. On these spiritual weapons of warfare she relied for victory far more than on the crossbow and the sword. She forgot nothing, she neglected nothing.
We may well understand how irresistible, under a warrior-maid like Jeanne, became the fighting stuff of France. Her presence, while vitalizing her own troops, paralyzed the forces against her.
Call to mind what happened on the 7th of May. Her prediction that the siege would be raised was verified. On that day, for ten hours, a most determined attack was made on the Tourelles, the great bastille occupying the center of the famous bridge, which, with its twenty-two arches, spanned the Loire. Jeanne herself led the troops, supported by Dunois and De Gaucourt. Again and again were the French driven back, and again and again did she urge them to press forward and capture the place. Seeing her opportunity she herself, quickly seizing hold of a scaling-ladder, was about to plant it against the fortress wall to scale it, when a bowman’s shaft pierced her right shoulder. For a moment she staggered and then fell helpless to the ground. At once the rumor began to spread that the Maid was bleeding to death. The French, losing sight of their heroine, began at once to lose heart, while the English, on the contrary, believing ” the Demon Witch ” was really slain, were beside themselves with the hope of immediate victory. Before an hour had passed, to the unutterable surprise of all, having with her own hand withdrawn from her bleeding shoulder the barbed arrow, the Maid reappeared, crying out to her followers, ” When my banner touches the wall the place is yours! ” No sooner had she spoken than she bounded forward through the thick of the fight, and lifting her sacred flag high upon the walls once more she cried aloud, “The victory is ours ! ” It was so, the iron gates were stormed and were being battered in; the keep was filling with men, and presently the great tower itself began to totter, and finally fell into the river, crushing and drowning the forces under Talbot which were not already slain or taken prisoners. Escape was impossible; the fort with the great bridge was in flames.
With the capture and fall of the Tourelles, Orleans was delivered. France was saved. The Maid had actually accomplished the first part of the work that had been set her. She, a village maiden, who had had no experience of war or even of soldiering, achieved what had baffled and baulked the best trained generals in the Dauphin’s army. She did, as a young untutored girl, what even to-day is an insoluble puzzle to the military tactician. Jeanne d’Arc fought and gained under the walls of Orleans what has been described as one of the decisive battles of the world. What a commentary on the words: ” The weak things of this world hash God chosen that He may confound the strong!”
When the morning of the 8th of May dawned, some watchmen on the towers of the city noticed there was no stir in the English camp. It was empty. The siege of Orleans was raised. The Maid’s prophecy was verified.
The troops under Suffolk and Talbot, feeling it was waste of time fighting against men led by a mad girl who was an arch-fiend, could not be induced to stay and face the enemy. Before the sun was up the English had struck camp; they were gone, they were out of sight.
Dunois, elated by success, was for pursuing them, but the Maid, on the contrary, said: ” If they attack us, let us fight valiantly; but if they fly, let them. Seek not their blood. This is Sunday, a day of rest; let us spend it thanking God for the victory.”
It was so spent. An altar was erected on the ground where the English camp had stood. There in the midst of the triumphant army and the exultant citizens, beside themselves with joyous gratitude for that most wondrous and glorious termination to a seven months’ siege, the Great Sacrifice was offered, while the God of Armies was praised and thanked for the victory.
Mass being ended, and the Te Deum sung, the Maid, instead of taking a well-earned rest, pushed forward without delay, going by Blois to Tours, whither the Dauphin had come from Chinon to meet her. That interview went to show that the listless Charles was yet capable of being occasionally stirred by fine emotions. He met the Maid bareheaded, and expressed his wish that her family should henceforth quarter the lilies of France on their arms. But the king’s nature seemed incapable of sustained endeavor, so that the Maid found it a far easier task to storm an English camp than to rouse the sluggard scion of France and his court. Every argument she could think of Jeanne used in order to try and spur on the Dauphin, and to prevail upon him to accompany her to Reims, there to be anointed king with the holy chrism of Clovis. “Noble Dauphin,” she pleaded piteously, ” hold not such long and so many councils “; but her eloquence was wasted on the indolent princeling, a mere tool in the hands of men like the intriguing La Tremoille, and satisfied with “fullness of bread and idleness.”
Taking refuge in the contemptible excuse that he could not think of proceeding to Reims till the valley of the Loire was cleared of the enemy, and the towns en route had offered him their loyal submission, the spiritless and craven prince declined the Maid’s offer. He would not go. Jeanne, realizing there was nothing for it but to take matters into her own hands, gathered about her a strong force, and made up her mind to compel the Dauphin to a sense of his duty; she would shame him into going forward to Reims for his coronation. Questioned as to the possibility of her success in clearing a way for her indolent sovereign through the valley so completely in the hands of the enemy, she replied: ” What ! Do you think that if I were not sure of victory I should be here? I tell you I would far rather be in my father’s meadows tending sheep than facing these ceaseless hardships and perils.”
Her march from Tours to Reims was not merely successful, but it may be described as a continued progress from triumph to triumph, from victory to victory. At Jargeau, Suffolk, that fine, strong, and stubborn English soldier, was forced to yield and surrender himself prisoner. Other towns fell in quick succession, and at Patay the unflinching Talbot was also captured. In on single week, between the storming of Jargeau on June the 11th and the victory of Patsy on the 18th of the same month, an open road was cleared for the Dauphin to Reims. The campaign had all been planned, and it was all carried out by the unlettered village girl, whom Guy de Laval has described for us as ” a thing divine to look on as well as to hear.” Who will deny that her mission was from God?
Referring to this peasant girl’s generalship, “everybody,” remarked D’Alencon, “was amazed to see that in all things appertaining to warfare the Maid acted with as much knowledge and capacity as if she had been twenty or thirty years trained in the art of war, while in all other things she was as simple as any other young girl.” D’Armagnac went even further in his eulogy of the soldier-maiden. “In the manner of the conduct and the ordering of troops,” he writes, “and in that of placing them in battle array, and of animating them, Jeanne showed as much capacity as the most accomplished captain in the art of war.”
Let the incredulous offer what explanation they will of the Maid’s marvelous, matchless skill as tactician and leader of men, there is, after all, one explanation, and one only, of her military genius, and it is this—that having called her to fight for the deliverance of her fatherland, God Himself dowered her with the genius and the skill and the endurance to accomplish it. She was, let us ever bear in mind, ” La Pucelle de Dieu.” Nor did she ever forget to Whom she belonged, or to Whom she owed her victories. She was a “witness faithful and true.”
Unable to discover any further excuse for holding back, Charles felt compelled to start for Reims. He set out on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, 1429. This march, too, was a triumphal progress. Troyes capitulated without a blow being struck, and Reims opened its gates to welcome its legitimate king, though it had been set down as uncompromisingly in favor of the English. On the 16th of July Charles the Dauphin made his royal entry into the city brave with bunting and garlands, the bells pealing, the trumpets braying, the cannons roaring, while the massed throngs, beside themselves with joy, shout their acclamations of welcome, delight, and homage.
The following day was Sunday, July the 17th. It was the day for which the Maid had lived, had fought, had bled, had prayed. The supreme moment of her life’s mission seemed to her to have at last arrived. Look up, and in imagination picture before your eyes, if you can, Jeanne d’Arc, La Vierge Lorraine, La Gloire de la France!
See her in the garb of battle, with sacred emblem in hand, standing beside the king, who, kneeling in the sanctuary of the cathedral, is surrounded by bishops and abbots, clergy and serving-men, while the pride and glory of his kingdom, the peers of the realm, fill the nave of the great basilica with a blaze of gold and a tangle of color lit up by the gleam of a thousand tapers.
Presently the stirring, martial music is hushed, and in the impressive silence that follows, while the crown of France is being held above his brow, is heard the king’s voice. He is pledging himself to be true to his coronation oath, and to defend his subjects from all wrong. The oath being taken, and the king being crowned, Jeanne the Maid, weeping with emotion, sinks to her knees before him, offers him her homage, and then pleads fervently, now that1her work is done, now that the siege of Orleans has been raised and her liege lord has been crowned, she may be released from further service and may have leave to return home again to pass the rest of her days working for her thrifty parents, whose simple surroundings were far more to her liking than the entourage of a court.
What a beautiful revelation of a beautiful character is here! Had the Maid been what her enemies have so vainly attempted to make out she was—an adventuress, a sorceress, one to be “burned as a heretic or drowned as a witch” should we find her on her knees beseeching the king to be allowed to return as a poor girl to her monotonous housework and spinning-wheel in an obscure village? No, on the contrary, we should find her improving the occasion, crowning her day of success by seeking the hand of some prince of royal blood, with whom to dispute place and, fame in mansions majestic surrounded by society.
But the white Maid’s ambitions could be satisfied by no great temporal honors, by no mere royal gifts or human privilege. Hers was a high, vaulting ambition, leaping beyond the very gates of heaven itself; the prize for which she yearned was in the power of no earthly potentate to bestow. With streaming eyes and outstretched arms her pleadings were for a smile of approval from her King Eternal, from Jesus Christ, in Whose Name and by Whose help she had done the thing she had. Having done it, she asked no thanks, she sought no reward, she became altogether what, off duty, she always was—Jeanne, the peasant child of Domremy; Jeanne, the little client of Mary, God’s Mother.
Wonderful was her call to arms, wonderful her gaining over of Baudricourt, wonderful her audience with the Dauphin, more wonderful her relief of Orleans, yet more wonderful still her crowing of the king; but what is most wonderfully wonderful, as well as most beautifully beautiful at all, is the ever-present revelation to us throughout all these achievements of her childlike character – sweet and fair and pure as the bloom of spring. Never on God’s earth has history pointed out to us sublime, so enchanting, so fascinating a personality.
Do not seek to discover the secret of that fascination as you follow her from victory to victory, seated warrior-like upon her sable charger; do not hope to understand it as you accompany her in spirit through the various stages of her matchless campaign. Nor will you came to know anything of the depths of that brave and beautiful soul till you begin to catch a glimpse of her, if I may so express it, off her guard, when alone in communion with God. When not leading her troops, when off duty, when free, whither fly Jeanne’s thoughts? Before whom does her soul expand? To whom has she recourse? At whose feet is she pleading with tears upon her cheeks? At the feet of her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that during the whole of that extraordinary campaign, from the gates of Orleans to the sanctuary at Reims, when Joan of Arc was not in the saddle she was on her knees. Prayer was the breath of her life, the soul of her soul. She lived in the presence of God, she basked in the sunshine of His smile, she borrowed all her strength, as she received all her genius, from Him. As a child apart from Him and His Will, it is impossible to form a picture of her.
The secret of her success, as of her sanctity, was her childlike clinging to God. In Him she lived, she moved, she had her being. It was this intimate union with God that helped her to despise all flattery of courtiers and to forget even her own self; or if ever she was thrown across the thought of self at all, she thought of herself only as Jeanne, ” the handmaiden of the Lord.”
In her thirteenth year, as you may recollect, she vowed her virginity to God. In simple words she has told us so. During all her subsequent life so watchful was she over this ” pearl beyond all price ” that, except on occasions when women were with her, she would not even unbuckle her armor while sleeping at night. We are told by members of her entourage that the mere sight of her inspired a sense of purity, that in her presence all that was unclean seemed to shrink into the background, not daring to reveal itself in presence of the Maid.
Another token of the Maid’s sanctity, as well as of her love of purity, was her self-denying life. Take the matter of meat and drink. While her chivalrous friends, feeling nothing was good enough for La Pucelle, would offer her viands rare and costly, she would smile, saying such dainties were not for her. She preferred a simpler diet. A few slices of bread dipped in a cup of wine and water were often support enough for her during a long fighting day. Never could she be persuaded to indulge her appetite.
These may seem small matters, but they point like the weather-vane, they tell a truth. To live in the presence of God, to keep constant guard over virtue, to breathe the atmosphere of prayer, never to indulge the appetites, and always to exercise self-control, are unmistakable marks of ” a life hid with Christ in God.” They mean complete self-conquest; Jeanne’s conquest of self was her most glorious victory of all.
We must not lay aside the picture of the fighting Maid upon which we have been so keenly looking, without drawing from it a lesson, which it ought to teach every one of us. To me, it seems that what we have to learn from her life at Domremy, before Orleans, and in Reims is this, not to be elated by success or depressed by failure. This may seem an easy lesson enough. But is it so? Are not many of us as much spoiled by success as others among us are hardened by failure? What the Maid teaches us is this, bravely and whole-heartedly and perseveringly to pursue our interior life, our close union ” hid with Christ in God ” under all circumstances, no matter whether those circumstances be flattering and seemingly helpful, or trying and apparently hurtful.
Let us realize with the Maid that we come from God, that we belong to God, and that we have each one of us a mission to carry out for God, and then all will be well with us, whether life shall run over rough ways or over smooth. Like the Maid, be persuaded that although clouds may lower and storms – threaten—nay, thunders roar — yet if only you belong to God, and like her lie placidly in the hollow of His hand, He will close it over you in protection, shielding you in the day of distress even as He guarded the heroine Jeanne. On the other hand, when prosperity like the sun shines over you in noonday glory, and the buoyancy of victory so bears you up, that your feet seem scarcely to touch the earth across which they bound with delight, remember then, as did this warrior-maiden, that without God you are just nothing at all ; that were He for a moment to relax His hold over you, you would at once relapse into that nothing out of which His love drew you; and formed and fashioned you. With Him what is there we may not achieve? Apart from Him what can we avail? “Without Me you can do nothing.”
“Servants must not forget their place.” We are God’s servants, no matter what our position on the social ladder. Let us keep our place as servants of God. We cannot improve on that. It was because Jeanne d’Arc never lost sight of her true position before God, because always and everywhere she was His handmaiden, and a ready instrument in His hands for the doing of His Holy Will, that He was able to make use of her for great ends, sending her unspoiled by success or failure on her great mission to the Dauphin of France. Who will deny that the mission with which she was charged was carried out fully and adequately?
May we not apply the words of my text to her and what she did for the Dauphin of France? “She kept him safe from his enemies, and she defended him from seducers. . . . She forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners: she went down with him into the pit, and in bands she left him not, till she brought him the scepter of the kingdom, and power against those that oppressed him.” Under God, Joan of Arc routed her foes, saved her fatherland, crowned her king, she herself remaining to the last what she was at the beginning, a maiden pure as she was brave, simple as she was great—La Vierge Lorraine, La Pucelle de Dieu.
The Crowning of the King
The morn was fair
When Reims re-echoed to the busy hum
Of multitudes, for high solemnity
Assembled. To the holy fabric moves
The long procession, through the streets bestrewn
With flowers and laurel boughs. The courtier throng
Were there, and they in Orleans, who endured The siege right bravely; Gaucourt, and
La Hire, The gallant Xaintrailles, Boussac, and Chabannes, La Fayette, name that freedom still shall love, Alencon, and the bravest of the brave,
The Bastard Orleans, now in hope elate,
Soon to release from hard captivity
His dear beloved brother; gallant men,
And worthy of eternal memory,
For they, in the most perilous times of France, Despaired not of their country.
By the King The delegated damsel passed along,
Clad in her battered arms. She bore on high Her hallowed banner to the sacred pile,
And fixed it on the altar, whilst her hand
Poured on the monarch’s head the mystic oil,
Wafted of yore by milk-white dove from Heaven
(So legend says) to Clovis when he stood
At Reims for baptism. . . .
The missioned Maid
Then placed on Charles’s brow the crown of France,
And back retiring, gazed upon the King
One moment, quickly scanning all the past,
Till in a tumult of wild wonderment
She wept aloud. The assembled multitude
In awful stillness witnessed ; then at once,
As with a tempest-rushing noise of winds
Lifted their mingled clamors.
- from Southey’s
Chapter 3 – Her Capture and Iniquitous Condemnation
“In Thy sight are all they that afflict me: my heart hash expected reproach and misery. And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none.” — Psalm 118:21-22
Judged by man’s day, Joan of Arc’s climax of success was reached when she stood in the sanctuary of the cathedral at Reims, and saw the crown of France settle on the brow of Charles, the Dauphin. That was the supreme moment, for which she had lived, had fought, and had bled. In the coronation service she witnessed the fulfillment of her ambition, the realization of her mission. Her work seemed done.
With what heartfelt gratitude would she now have lifted her voice and sung her Nunc dimittis! With what an elastic step and light heart would she have made her way back to the village, where, in exchange for the din- of battle and the glare of palaces, she would have found that peace and seclusion, and that rest of home-life for which her whole soul yearned!
To the blessed Maid there was something distasteful, nay, altogether discordant, in the environment of court life, and a fit of home-sickness seems at this juncture to have seized her, so that she could not refrain from exclaiming to her friends: ” Would that it were pleasing to God, my Creator, that I might now leave this scene and this life, and return to my father and mother, whom for the rest of my life I should like to serve, tending their sheep and doing their bidding. How enchanted would they be to have me home again.”
As a matter of fact, Jeanne’s mission was by no means as yet fulfilled. She was not to return to the village that had given her birth, and where she still hoped one day to lay her bones. No, God had other designs upon His chosen child. Her dear father, indeed, she was to send home, the bearer to his village of a deed of exemption from taxation granted at her request by the king, but she herself was never again to pace beside the meandering stream babbling past her cottage door, was never again to watch the sun setting in glory behind the village green, nor was she ever again to hear the vesper chimes from the tower of that church, which to her was the dearest spot on all God’s earth.
The closing scene of Jeanne’s life was to be not Domremy on the Meuse, but Rouen on the Seine.
Truth to tell, this child of grace, this follower of Christ, was to triumph like her Master on the Cross. Her note of victory was to be struck not in the sanctuary of Reims, but on the Calvary of Rouen; the Maid was to die not amid a blaze of glory, but through flames of fire.
And now let us follow her career subsequent to the coronation, and let us note how at every stage of it the holy child is made to drink deeper and deeper of the chalice of bitterness, the nectar of sainted souls. “Can you drink the chalice?” Seems to be the one question that is being put her at every turn of her journey from the city of the coronation and the triumph, to the city of her condemnation and death. Never was there such a terribly striking contrast in any other famous life. As you read of disappointment followed by disaster, and disaster by what, but for the grace of God, must have been despair, the heart almost bleeds in its agonizing sympathy with the blameless girl whose one crime it was, that she had dared to do the work set her by God, and would not acknowledge that to be wrong which she knew to be right. Hers was a character altogether uncompromising when principle was in question.
Let us look a little more closely into those tiresome, tedious months made up of jealousies, intrigues, and iniquitous schemes to baffle and defeat her designs for the complete conquest of France. No doubt a succession of easily won victories marked the progress of the Dauphin’s troops from Reims to Saint Denis. Yes, all that is true, but true no less is it that much most precious time was wasted in receiving keys, and acknowledging acts of homage and submission, with other tokens of loyalty from the cities through which the king passed on his way North.
Meanwhile Bedford was losing no time. He was stealing a march upon Charles. Literally he was racing the king to Paris, and on August the 10th he dispatched a letter to his Majesty denying his right to the throne of France, and declaring that the Maid who had rendered such miraculous service to her country was nothing better than “an abandoned and ill-famed woman in man’s clothes, and leading a corrupt life.” The miserable, pleasure-loving king, instead of being stung to action by the plentiful insults of the English duke, and resolving to prove his royal rights at the point of the sword, seems to have been half ashamed of the glorious victories achieved under her flag by the Maid. He made Bedford no answer; he did nothing. Seeing the plight to which they were being brought by the king’s unmanly irresolution, Jeanne determined to take matters into her own hands, and to push forward in conjunction with D’Alencon to the French capital. “Fair duke,” she said, as she turned to him for aid, “cause your captains and men to arm, for I wish to see Paris nearer than yet I have seen it.” Well did the Maid appreciate the situation? She fully understood Bedford’s influence in Paris, and how the university and the leading aristocracy of the city would most likely stand by him, and unite to overthrow the Dauphin’s forces. But she relied on the people whose sympathies were French, and who, unless they became cowed by the menaces of the English regent, would, she felt sure, be glad to welcome their only legitimate sovereign. Anyhow, Jeanne was persuaded that, no matter what might be the risk, Paris must be stormed, and a desperate attempt made to capture it. Till Paris was taken France was not won. Once the capital was wrested from the enemy the country would be sure to rally to Charles’s oriflamme. The Duke D’Alencon, recognizing the force of her arguments, lent all his influence to strengthen an expedition with Paris for its objective.
No time was lost, and on August the 26th Saint Denis was entered, and then D’Alencon tried to prevail on the king to come and join them in an attack upon the capital. “Sire, only show yourself before the walls of Paris,” wrote the duke, “and we will compel the gates of Paris to open to you.” Alas! The dilatory monarch, like so many others before and since his day, had no other answer to make to the urgent appeal but the fatal one, “I will come to-morrow.” That morrow of action never dawned. The king never went farther than Saint Denis, and it was not till September the 7th that he was dragged that far.
So enthusiastic was the Maid with the news of the king’s arrival that she did not hesitate to proclaim that whole forces of troops would unite in making a resolute attack on Paris; she would escort her king before nightfall of the following day into his own capital.
What the Maid had planned to achieve might have been accomplished, had the rank and file under Rais and De Gaucourt been inspired by a loyalty such as actuated her own great soul. But there was treachery in the camp, and the men, like some of their leaders, growing weary of military discipline and service, were relapsing into ways of self-indulgence and carousal.
The warrior-Maid was not slow to note the want of soldier-like bearing among the men, and the general tone of restlessness, and even of insubordination prevailing among them. However, she saw there was nothing to be gained by waiting; better to strike at once. Accordingly, true to her word, on the morrow, September the 8th, the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, the Maid sallied forth with all her forces, and led so determined an attack on the gate Saint Honore, that but for a chance shaft from an archer’s bow which laid her low, an entrance into the capital city might have been made. Those who lived to tell the story have left on record how the soldier-Maid, with the glow of victory on her brow, led the assault, leaping the first moat which was dry, and plunging through the next which held deep water. Nothing daunted, the fearless girl forged her way through drowning waters till, plunging onward and springing forward, she struggled, agile as an athlete, up the side of the last moat, where she stood her ground amid a rain of arrows, cheering her men to action, and urging them in the name of Saint Denis and the king to force the gate, to scale the wall, and take possession of the city. It was while standing beneath the walls of Paris, seeing her men mowed down like grass beside her, that the Maid felt an arrow spring into her flesh and pierce her through. Unable to stand erect, presently, faint with loss of blood and giddy with pain, she reeled and fell into the moat below, where she lay like one dead. But soon she recovered her self-consciousness, and remembering her mission, she dragged herself to the side of the steep parapet. Then from the moat there came forth the accents of her well-known pleading and cheering voice exhorting her men to be brave, to endure, to do their duty, and scale the walls and capture their capital before sundown. Wounded and helpless, there in the moat prone she lay, till at length her friends, unwilling to lose so valued a life, raised her up and bore her away before nightfall to La Chapelle, a village lying between Paris and Saint Denis.
As they were lifting her under darkness of evening, the brave girl’s only commentary on the situation was Quel dommage!”
Next morning the Maid arose betimes from her bed, undaunted and ready, in spite of weakness and pain, to sally forth and lead her troops once more to the walls of Paris. She felt convinced that, if only she could inspire those under her command with enthusiasm and confidence, the impregnable capital might yet be stormed and taken.
Imagine what must have been La Pucelle’s feelings of disappointment and dismay when news was brought her by De Gaucourt, that it was the king’s wish the siege of Paris should be abandoned, and the troops withdrawn at once. Scarcely could the warrior-girl bring herself to believe the king could have been so ill-advised, but when she was told it was by his orders that the bridge over the Seine had been broken down, she knew it was all only too true. She raised her eyes to heaven, she lifted her soul to God, but nothing did she say.
In her utter loneliness it was a comfort to Jeanne to wend her way to the cathedral, there to pour forth her soul in resignation to the ruling of Heaven. Before leaving the church she turned to Our Lady’s altar, where, unbuckling her armor, she laid it, together with a sword taken in the melee before Paris, at the feet of that blessed Mother who is known to all the world as the Help of Christians, the Comfort of the Afflicted.
I do not propose to follow out in detail the Maid’s sad life during the autumn and winter succeeding the failure before Paris. Those long, dreary, and monotonous months were helpful in purifying her great and generous soul, teaching her to realize more fully than before that the words “success” and “failure,” which to the world mean so much, before God mean so little.
For any one seeking spiritual perfection, often enough nothing succeeds like failure, and I feel pretty sure, as I read the story of La Pucelle’s matchless career, that nothing helped so much to chasten her generous spirit and ennoble her beautiful character as these disappointments, annoyances, and reverses, which taught her that she not only belonged to God inalienably, but depended upon Him entirely.
It cost the Maid no little courage to break away from D’Alencon, who had been so true and so loyal a friend to her. But there was no getting away from the king’s command, which was that she should go to the aid of La Tremoille’s cousin, D’Albret, who was engaged in an attack upon the English at Saint Pierre le Moustier. It fell to the Maid’s lot to conduct the operations.
As she sat her war-horse, exposed to the fire of the enemy, her devoted D’Aulon, fearing the worst, cried out to her,” Jeanne, leave the spot; you are a mark for the enemy, you are all alone.” “Alone I am not,” was the Maid’s ready reply;” I have fifty thousand by my side, and I will not move till the fortress is taken. Go, each one of you, and fetch faggots, hurdles, and anything you can find to bridge the moat and pass over.” Such enthusiasm did her presence and word inspire that the men, becoming reckless of danger, sprang forward, filled the moat, and took the fortress.
Scenes such as these led the people and more especially the enemy, to believe that no weapon could hurt her, and no missile could pierce her. They declared she lived a charmed life. But she smiled at their credulity, and would remind her associates that she had been already twice severely wounded. “My life,” she would protest, “is no more secure than of any other which is exposed to the fire of the enemy.”
The attack on La Charite, which followed that on Saint Pierre, was a dismal failure. Once more the troops were out of hand, and there was treachery in the camp. It is not altogether improbable that this arranged and contrived by La Tremoille himself, who could never rid himself of personal jealousy of the Maid. Anyhow, if he had not detained food, clothing, and munitions of war when they were most needed, the Maid might with far more probability have carried her point and captured the city.
It became daily clearer to La Pucelle that her enemies were of her own household, and that no matter what under ordinary circumstances might be the chances of warfare, there was little likelihood of victory when so-called friends were in league with the king’s bitterest enemy.
For a while she retired from active service, and gave herself to prayer, to good works, and to visiting the wounded and dying in the military hospitals. She became the idol of all, but more especially of the poor, who recognized in her sweet, unselfish character one who had what was far better than wealth to bestow upon them—sympathy and love. How quick are the poor to discern the true servant of God! How unfailing in their judgments as to who is their real friend! They believed that the Maid was all-powerful in heaven as on earth. Let me cite one instance: at Lagny, when an unbaptized babe lay dying in its mother’s arms, Jeanne was sent for. She came at once, and as she prayed over the ailing child, fading like a flower on its mother’s breast, the color was seen returning to the pale, dimpled cheeks, and soon the infant was noticed to stir with a new life.
Later on, at Rouen, the Maid’s adversaries tried to make this occurrence tell against her. They charged her with laying claim to supernatural powers of healing. But the Maid smiled at their trumped-up charge; saying: “I care not if people do say I raised the child to life. All I know myself is that I trusted in God’s goodness to save the child’s soul, and so I joined the other women in prayer that the babe might be baptized.”
It was subsequent to this event that Jeanne went to Selles, where the king held court. But she remained there only a short time. She made her headquarters at Bourges, lodging with the good Touroldes, and spending much of her time with the king’s young wife, Marie of Anjou, who was to her a dear and intimate friend.
With the return of spring came the Maid’s opportunity of signalizing herself once more in the service of king and country. The English and Burgundians were concentrating their forces round Compi6gne, and the warrior-girl, realizing what it all meant, and that no time must be lost if she was successfully to break through this iron ring and bring succor to her countrymen, made up her mind to enter the city forthwith, and thence to sally forth and scatter the forces encompassing it, and so save that loyalist stronghold from being seized by Anglo-Burgundians.
What a plucky, valiant little town it was, scorning all overtures from the enemy, and maintaining allegiance to the crown of France under the utmost difficulty! The Maid herself seems to have had some presentiment of what her devotion to Compi6gne was likely to cost her. For one morning, after receiving Communion in the church of Saint Jacques, she said to those who were following her from the church: “I bid you, dear friends, mark well that I have been sold and betrayed, and shall shortly be put to death. Pray, I beseech you, for me without ceasing, for my service to the king and to his kingdom is coming to an end.”
It would appear that before her arrival in the city, her Voices had warned her that before the feast of the Baptist’s Nativity she would be the captive of her enemies. Her one prayer was that if this were to be so, she might die by their hands at once without a long-drawn-out captivity. The only answer vouchsafed her to this request was that she must prepare herself to accept whatever God was pleased to send her.
It was the afternoon of May the 23rd when the Maid with five hundred men, foot and horse, rode forth from Compiegne, swept over the bridge, and captured the enemy’s outposts. It was sundown, and the besieging party were unbuckling their armor, preparing to take a well-earned night’s repose, when they saw, riding at the head of an advancing troop, the Maid accoutered in scarlet and gold, with banner held aloft. Quick as lightning the Burgundians, who were far the greater force, drew together and flung themselves with a their weight upon the aggressive foe. Seeing them-selves hopelessly overpowered, the king’s troops found it necessary to fall back, but in the meanwhile the English had arrived, and were intercepting the progress of the retiring party. Presently, when the Maid, realizing the gravity of the situation, turned her charger’s head towards the city gates, and was about to ride back across the bridge, and to pass under the portcullis for shelter within the city, she saw the drawbridge rise up on high, and the gates closed against her. Almost before she could realize the desperate character of the situation, she, with her devoted followers, was surrounded. In the struggle that followed she was dragged from her horse, bound as a captive, and led away by Wandonne, a retainer of the Burgundian duke. Without delay she was carried off to Beaulieu in Picardy, whence she was moved to Beaurevoir near Cambrai, and in the autumn of 1430 she was sold to Bedford.
At first it looked as if her trial would take place in Paris, but the duke, distrustful of its citizens, conveyed her to Rouen, where he knew he was more likely to achieve his ends in the way he wished. Here, at Rouen, La Pucelle was shut up in a dungeon like room in the tower, where for nearly three months, when her mock trials began, she was chained up in an iron cage, as though she were some wild thing too dangerous to be let loose behind iron bars. Even after her release from this most cruel confinement, the broken girl of eighteen summers was held in irons both day and night, till the morning of her martyrdom itself. It would be impossible to describe what this poor child suffered during those dreary months of misery, of insult, and of petty persecution, which lasted until February the list, 1431, the first day of her so-called trial.
To Jeanne herself it was a positive relief when the trial began. She felt that, unless it was to be an organized miscarriage of justice, the verdict could go one way only. Experience certainly had taught her how easily men might be bribed, might be duped, might be blinded. Prejudice, ignorance, and still more passion, were weapons which she had seen carve their way, triumphing over truth, but she could not bring herself to believe that statesmen, and still less churchmen, could trample on their honor, and wade through innocent blood merely to attain some end, which was the creation of a foul conspiracy against truth. The guileless girl felt sure that in an open court she could clear her name of any charge against it. How could she or any other noble soul have imagined it possible that, in a Christian age, in a Christian city, there could have been found a bench of such infamous churchmen as actually sat in judgment against her? Conceivably, there might be found on the bench of judges one or other perjured creature willing to sell himself for gold or position; but who, before it actually took place, could ever have dreamed it possible that, outside the court of Caiaphas, there was to be found on earth an entire bench of judges vying with one another in perverting justice, in wholesale perjury, and in unparalleled cruelty?
Of the conduct of Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, the presiding judge; of Jean Lemaitre, the vice-inquisitor; of Estivet, the promoter, nothing can be said too bad, or rather, nothing bad enough. These three names I mention beyond all others, because in the decree of Calixtus III, authorizing a fresh investigation of her case, these three infamous characters are mentioned as being the persons who most of all stand charged with the guilt of the murder of the Maid.
I will not harrow your feelings by placing before you the iniquitous cross-examination to which La Pucelle was subjected, and in which she proved herself to be more than a match for those who held her fate in the hollow of their hand. Here and now, I will remind you only of some of those articles which were drawn up by the bench of judges describing her as a devil-worshipper, a traitor, a coward on the point of despair, a suicide, an idolater, a blasphemer of God, a schismatic, and a apostate. Terrible to narrate, to all these trumped up charges against her even the university of Paris assented, gratuitously adding that in its judgement she was also a liar and an enchantress. No one can peruse the record of the trial without having it forced upon him that the whole bad business was not unlike the trial of her divine Master before her; a gross miscarriage of justice, conducted by a bunch of churchmen resolved to hand their victim over to the secular arm to be done to death. Nothing could possibly save even so pure, so brave, and so innocent a girl as Jeanne, in a trial presided over by men who were united determined to do all in their power to force her to misstate her case, who failing in this, made out she had said what she had not, and then went on to say she had not said what actually she had.
Failing to get her to sign her own death-warrant, they next tried to unnerve and intimidate her by displaying before her eyes instruments of torture in the hands of the torturer. But the girl, pure and brave and true, if for a moment the sight of fire and iron unnerved her, soon regained her self-possession, declaring to her iniquitous judges that they might tear her limb from limb, but never would they drag from her anything but the truth, that her mission was from God, and His divine Will her only rule of action. At length the long-drawn-out trial came to a close.
On Wednesday, May the 30th, 1431, the day before Corpus Christi, as the clock was striking seven in the morning, the prisoner was told of the verdict of the court. She rose up, dressed in white, and fortifying her soul with Holy Communion, she prayed for strength to endure the ordeal of fire that awaited her.
Mounting a cart she was driven slowly over the cobble-stones to the great marketplace, where ten thousand citizens had come forth to see her burned alive. Calmly she surveyed the scene, slowly she ascended the platform on which was the stake to which they fastened her chaste limbs. Presently the flames began to leap up from below and sway about her, and curl around her, piercing her flesh and devouring her noble form, till soon there was nothing left of her precious body but dust and ashes. We are told that while the fire was consuming her, above the hissing of the flames, and the cries of the women, and the screams of the crowd, there rose up, beyond the cloud of smoke which hung like a pall above the pyre, the music of a sweet and plaintive voice pleadingly exclaiming: “Jesu! Marie!”
So praying on the altar of sacrifice this pure, brave, and lovely soul was caught up into the Everlasting Arms to be clasped in the bosom of God, while her chaste body, which for a while had held the imperishable treasure, now reduced to ashes, was gathered up and tossed into the river, beyond the reach of a world that was not worthy of her.
Beautiful and inspiring is the thought of the Maid, sitting beside her spinning-wheel at Domremy, still more beautiful and inspiring is she as we follow her into the sanctuary of Reims, thanking God for -her victory; but most beautiful and most inspiring of all is this brave and lovely girl, as we look up at her, supreme in strength, sublime in faith, on her cross in the cleansing fires.
La Pucelle de Dieu reminds us that there is no Christian life that can shirk the Cross. We are warned that coming to the service of God we must prepare our souls for temptation; we are further told that in the measure in which we are acceptable and pleasing to God we must share His Cross, that blessed and happy is the servant of God who has found his cross, and is bearing it bravely, like Joan of Arc, after our divine Leader who died upon the Cross.
Suffering is the badge of all the followers of the Crucified. It is our indispensable training for the kingdom of glory. Is it not necessary that we should suffer like the Master and so enter into our glory? Would that we were apt scholars in this school of sanctity! Let us take courage from the example of our sainted heroine who bore her cross so bravely. No matter what may be the ordeal through which we shall be called to pass, it will be light and easy compared with the protracted tortures of the Maid’s last months of life; it will be tempered to our power of endurance.
Some cross there is awaiting each one of us, one cross for you and another for me. If we are to bear our trials with patience, endurance, with peaceful resignation, with gladness, rejoicing, like the Maid, to drink from the chalice of Christ’s passion, then like her we must prepare for it by close union with God, our Lord, by love of His holy will, by devotion to His sacred person.
O Christ, if there were no hereafter
It still were best to follow Thee:
Tears are a nobler gift than laughter—
Who bears Thy yoke alone is free.”
The Maid Appeals to the Duke of Burgundy
Look on this country, look on fertile France
And see the cities, and the towns defaced
By wasting ruin of the cruel foe I
As looks the mother on her lowly babe,
When death doth close his tender dying eyes,
See, see the pining malady of France;
Behold the wounds, the most unnatural wounds,
Which thou thyself hast given her woeful breast!
0, turn thy edged sword another way:
Strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help!
One drop of blood drawn from thy country’s bosom
Should grieve thee more than streams of foreign gore:
Return thee, therefore, with a flood of tears,
And wash away thy country’s stained spots.
- 1 King Henry VI, Act iii, sc.3
Chapter 4 – Her Death at the Stake, and Her Triumph
“Behold I am in your hands: do with me what is good and right in your eyes. But know ye, and understand, that if you put me to death, you will shed innocent blood against your own selves, and against this city, and the inhabitants thereof. For in truth the Lord sent me to you, to speak all these words in your hearing.” – Jeremiah 26:14-15
We are told that an English man-at-arms, when he left the market-place at Rouen, where Joan of Arc’s body was still burning, was heard to exclaim: “We have burnt a Saint; we are lost.”
Before a generation had passed away the truth of the latter part of that prophecy was fearfully fulfilled. Henry V had not been in his grave more than thirty years when all his own conquests, as well as the provinces inherited by him, were wrested from the hands of his son; so that instead of becoming the supreme ruler of the whole of France, Henry VI lost all, with the sole exception of what stood behind the walls of Calais. “We are lost!” exclaimed the English man-at-arms. What England lost, she never regained. On the contrary, she ended by losing even Calais—” the brightest jewel in the English crown.”
But the first part of the soldier’s statement, as well as the latter part of it, has been also fulfilled literally. Not only by the acclamation of the whole wide world, but by the voice of the Church, Joan of Arc has been raised to the altar, and proclaimed to be in literal truth “La Pucelle de Dieu,” the Blessed Maid of France.
Now that we have reviewed her life, following up the chief details in it from the homestead on the Meuse to the prison on the Seine, we are in a position to look back upon that matchless career as a whole. I do not think it would be waste of time—on the contrary, I think it would be using time most profitably—to stand before the picture of that life, dwelling on all the salient features of it, till we have reason to be satisfied that we begin really to understand, and in a measure to fathom that heroic character, which stands out before the world like some wondrous drama, the mere sight of it stirring all that is best in hearts made of penetrable stuff.
“Why is it,” some of you will ask me — why is it that there is not a general consensus among all writers about the character of the Maid of France?” You will say that there is no opening for more than one estimate of her character, and you will urge that as we are in possession of all the events which went to build it up, there can be no more excuse for making any mistake about it than there would be for arriving at a wrong appreciation of Giotto’s Tower, of Donatello’s Gates, or of Raphael’s Madonna di San Sisto.
There is only one explanation for the conflicting accounts about the Maid, and it is this: that instead of reading the story of her life as she and her friends have told it, men like MM. Anatole France, Jules Blois, and some others, quite ignoring her own straight and simple story, which does not suit their own theories of life, and preferring to emulate the so-called art of Renan and Sabatier, have given us interpretations of the Maid’s life as wholly unsupported by evidence, as are the lives of Christ and of Saint Francis written by those other two romancers.
If we take Joan’s own account of her mission, and supplement it with the voluminous evidence, substantiating all it has pleased her to tell us, we shall find no room for introducing into the story either the ” piously fraudulent priests” of Anatole France, or the “hypnotic automatism” of Jules Blois. On the contrary, we shall be forced to follow Pare Ayrolles, Mr. Andrew Lang, M. de Julleville, who with very many others, as presently we shall see, have told us not about a Maid of Orleans who might have existed, but about the real Joan of Arc who actually lived five hundred years ago, who appealed so strongly at her trial to the Pope for judgment, and who to-day has been proclaimed by Pius X among the ranks of the blessed.
Jeanne d’Arc became the Maid of God, and the savior of her country, because that was the vocation to which God called her, and unflinchingly she followed it. Like Benedict and Bruno, like Francis and Dominic, like Ignatius and other heroic men; like Cecilia, Agnes, Clare, Teresa, and other heroic women, Jeanne realized that she was deputed by God to do a work, to fulfil a mission. She discharged her work, she fulfilled her mission. She became a Saint, because she did and bore the Will of God. What, in the name of common sense, is the use of casting about for some wholly inadequate and utterly unsatisfactory interpretation of the problem of her life, when here we have at hand the master-key opening every secret of it?
We are all, each one of us, sent into this world to do something for God, which if left undone will remain undone always. It may be the mission of one to be the savior of his family, of another to be the savior of a friend, of an outcast, or of the widow or the orphan. Jeanne’s mission was to be the savior of her country. As in a day now long gone by God chose a shepherd lad to save His people, so, later on, it pleased Him to call upon a peasant girl to save her country. Where is the difficulty? There could have been only one, and that one was in Jeanne’s own hands. Being a self determining being, having the power ” to transgress or not to transgress, to do evil or not to do evil,” it was in her power to thwart the will of God. She might have been, had she so willed, not a wise, but a foolish virgin; she might have neglected to feed ” the lamp to her feet, and the light to her paths,” with the oil of prayer and good works. Had she so acted, we should never have heard of Joan the Maid. She would have been left, like so many other might-have- beens, out in the night. As a matter of historical fact, Jeanne heard the Voices calling her, Jeanne listened to the Voices calling her, Jeanne followed the Voices calling her. The Maid of Orleans became the blessed Maid of France, because she realized she had a mission, and left nothing undone where by she might fulfil it as thoroughly, as heroically, and as perfectly as lay in her power. Before she was out of her teens, while yet she was a girl, she had done for her Church and her country what will remain for all time service unmatched. We look back upon her to-day as the highest expression of true Catholicism and true patriotism. She is the very incarnation of the motto inscribed upon the banner of the Christian patriot, Pro Deo, Rege, et Patric; “For God, King, and Fatherland.”
Jeanne was the soul of loyalty to God — that is to say, her devotion to Him was whole-hearted; it could never have occurred to her to shrink from what she felt to be His wish. Her surrender of self to Him was unconditional; God might use her in any way pleasing in His sight. She realized, as already I have said, that she not only belonged to Him entirely, but that she depended on Him entirely; that she was as a thing held in the hollow of His hand, and accordingly at the intimation of His slightest wish she had no word to utter but the response of the Maid of Nazareth, “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” Her faith and trust in our Lord was so absolute that had He told her to go forth and save, not a country only, but a whole continent, she would have gone forth confident of victory, resolved that if whole armies were against her, if she were to walk in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, nay, if she were to be slain, yet still would she trust and not be confounded. Has she not left on record that while nothing but a call from God could have drawn her from her spinning-wheel and garden plot, yet when once she realized she had a call, not a hundred fathers or a hundred mothers, nay, not even the fact of her being a king’s daughter, would have held her back: “I should have gone.”
When one recognizes one’s true position as a creature of God, born to an eternal destiny, with our true Home beyond the star-land, the fret and fume for place and honor in this little dust-bin here below seems but a paltry business.
With her one prayer that she might reach in God’s good time her everlasting Home in God’s household, the blessed Maid teaches us what value to set upon the things of time and sense. True nobility of soul, with ambitions, which cannot be tethered, to anything out of heaven, lends a strangely wondrous grace even to a peasantry. Have we not all noticed the charm of manner, the refinement, and ease and grace that belong to the land-tillers, say in Normandy, in Ireland, and in other places where people have not been robbed or starved out of religion? But Joan herself is the best illustration of what I mean. In the measure in which she realized her mission she scorned all difficulties, and only smiled at the threats of torturers.
We are told by some writers that she was the victim of hallucination, the dupe of priests, the prey of hysteria. Never was there a peasant girl more sane, more normal, more healthy, in mind as well as in body. Not only was she not the puppet or tool of any living creature, but from the moment she first heard her Voices till she received her assurance on the scaffold that they had never deceived her, Jeanne gave her confidence to no man ; not even, let me repeat, to her confessor did she pour out the story of her secret interior life. She needed no other direction than that of her heaven-sent guides, and writers who tell their readers that the Maid was priest-ridden or what not, are writing into her life-story not truths, but lies.
How fascinating it is to follow this unlettered, inexperienced village girl, forcing, by the transparent truth and beauty of her character, Robert de Baudricourt to yield to her eloquent pleading; how fascinating to see her at her ease, as though to the manner born, in the king’s entourage at his dinner-table; how fascinating to watch her selecting, like a veteran commander, her army’s position, whilst she inspects its regiments and inspires it with her own lofty spirit of patriotism. Once more, how fascinating, nay, how convincing, is her splendid personality, her military genius, her stainless character, no matter whether it be on battle-field or in the palace, in hospital, in church, or even to prison that we follow her.
At the risk of tiring you, let me recall to your minds some instances in confirmation of her splendid prowess and fearlessness. Take, for example, her answer to Cauchon, warning her not to make any attempt to escape: “I do not—accept that warning,” was her reply;” so that if I do escape, let no one accuse me of having broken my word.” Again, when asked irrelevant or irreverent questions by her judges—as, for example, when asked whether it were right to have made an attack on Paris upon a saint’s day—how fine is her answer: “Pass on to something else.” Then remember her own warning to Cauchon, saying to him: ” You call yourself my judge: beware of what you do, for truly I am sent by God, and you are putting yourself in great danger.” Had this peasant girl been a professor of theology, she could scarcely have given a better answer than she did to the question, “Are you in a state of grace?” “If I am not, may God put me in it. If I am, may God keep me there. If I knew myself not to be in that happy state, I should be the most unhappy woman in the world. But if I were not in grace but in mortal sin, my Voices would not come to me.”
Once more, when asked how did the Voices speak, if they had no bodies, listen to her reply. “I leave that to God. Their voices are beautiful, soft, and kind. They speak in French.” When the judges asked her, “Was Saint Michael, when he appeared, clothed or naked listen to her as she turns and asks them, ” Think you that God has not wherewith to clothe him.” How splendidly, too, she replies to the query, “Do Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret hate the English?” “They love what God loves,” is her ready answer, I” and hate what God hates.” “Does God hate the English?” “Of the love or hatred which God bears the English I know nothing; but full well I know they shall be put out of France, except those who die there.”
Listen again to this. “Why was your standard, instead of those of the other leaders, carried to the coronation?” “Mine had shared in the toil, and it was just it should share in the glory.” Observe, too, Jeanne’s complaint to Cauchon. “Everything which is against me you have written down, but you write nothing which is in my favor.” What bravery is found in the following words to her infamous judges: “Were the fire before my eyes, I would say all I have already said to you, and I would say no more.” And lastly, how magnanimous is this: “If you were to order that all my limbs should be pulled asunder, and my soul driven from my body, I would tell you nothing more, or if I did, I should always say afterwards that you had compelled me to do so.”
Neither taunts nor threats had power to shake the fixed purpose of her life.” Were I to see the fires blazing, and the stake, and the executioner before me ; were I myself in the very flames, I would not speak differently. I would hold till death to all that I have said during this trial.”
Nor must we forget what she had to say before her actual burning about submitting herself to the Church. “As to submission to the Church,” she said, “it is a point upon which I have already spoken. Let everything I have said be sent to Rome and laid before the Sovereign Pontiff, to whom and to God, first of all, I appeal. But in regard to what I have said and done, it has all been by God’s command.”
And what she said in her trial she repeated at the stake. Until the last she declared that her Voices came from God and had not deceived her; that her revelations came to her from Him, and that whatever she had done, she had done by His command. Before bowing her head in death amid the leaping flames, with so clear a voice did she cry out the holy name of Jesus that the cry was distinctly heard at the farthest end of the great square.
What a pure, brave, true, and noble character is here! What a saintly personality! What an example of almost every virtue! Well may every Englishman, as he turns his eyes upon this great and goodly soul, calling upon God in the midst of the flames enveloping her, exclaim, “We have burnt a saint; we are lost.”
It would seem that there are few attributes which God values in His children more highly than bravery. It is the distinctive characteristic of all His heroes and heroines. In the lives of an Agnes, of a Pancras, of a Rose, and a Stanislaus, not to mention scores of others, bravery is the dominant note in the character. And it must be so, for as losing the sight of God means losing all sense of proportion, so living in His presence puts everything as well as everybody in their right place. It never for a moment occurred to the blessed Maid that she was a brave girl.
Had you asked her how she could have dared to be so fearless, she would have answered, How could I dare not to be truthful As a matter of fact, it is the votary of the world who has the monopoly of cowardice: too often the life of such an one is a lie, and it has to be bolstered up with a tissue of nothing better. It is this aching sense of shame which breaks down many a worldling, the consciousness that he is living a double life whilst posing in his home as an honorable man. If it is true that whatever one does for the glory of God lends glory to one’s own character, so in the measure in which a man robs God of His honor does he spoil and ruin his own natural gifts and talents.
I have pointed out Joan of Arc’s splendid bravery. Let me for a moment refer to her maiden purity. Some writers have tried to weave a love story into the life of our heroine; needless to say, they have done so at the expense of historic truth. The Maid had one absorbing love only, and that was the Will of God. She has told us so more than once, and her life, and still more her death, have proved the veracity of her word. She was scarcely in her teens when she made her vow of virginity to God, thereby consecrating to Him the priceless pearl of her being. What she gave up, she never asked back. Any one who will take the trouble to follow this wise virgin from the chapel at Domr6my to the scaffold at Rouen must be struck not only by her own personal purity, but by the note and tone of purity with which she inspired others. To my thinking, it was the lily-like sweetness and rare chastity of her life, which gave her that strangely wondrous power of drawing out what was best in those who formed her entourage. They themselves do not forget to tell us that in her fair presence all that was foul shrank out of sight.
Again, what a lesson does this untutored peasant girl teaches us about the value of modesty. We know that, except when she was alone with women, she would never unbuckle her armor, when taking a night’s rest after a hard spent day. No, not even when her trial seemed would she exchanged it for a woman’s dress, which she has told us she felt to be not so sure a safeguard for the treasure within her soul.
In a character so brave and pure, we are not surprised to find the chivalry and charity which stand out in such bold relief as dominate features in Joan of Arc’s personality. What volumes she might have uttered in wholesale condemnation, not merely of her professed foes, but also of her so-called friends ! But she does not even, woman-like, hint that were she disposed to do so she could and she might say so-and-so. No; hers is a golden silence, because a silence enforced by her sense of chivalry and charity. During the protracted and terrible trial to which she was subjected, she seems never to have forgotten what her Lord and Master in His four mock trials endured. From Him she learned not to cry vengeance, but to pray mercy upon her enemies.
In the absence of acute temptation it may seem easy enough to forgive one’s enemies, just as it would appear not to be difficult to bear pain when its presence is not actually being felt. But when the pressure of these things, with their stings and fires, are searching us through and through, the difficulty becomes something very real indeed, and it is only the character which has been trained in the school of Christ that will find itself to be equal to the occasion, and ready to unite itself with Him in His prayer upon the Cross: “Father, forgive them.”
The Maid’s treatment of her foes as well as of her friends implies heroic sanctity, and it shows how little education and cleverness and learning have to do with the development of a character truly great and truly good before God. Sanctity, like malignity, is the monopoly of no section of the community. We are what we are, because of our use or abuse of self-determining will.
What was the secret of Joan of Arc’s greatness and goodness? How did she come to be what we have seen her to have been, brave, and pure, and true? What made her a saint? She became a saint, not because she could not-help it, because it was in her, or because she had no temptation to become anything else. Depend upon it, Joan of Arc, like every other human being, felt a law in her members fighting against the law in her mind, and if, instead of yielding to the cry of her passions, she followed, on the contrary, the call of sanctifying grace, the reason of it, you, who are Catholics, know as well as I do. She was a good girl, because she said her prayers and went to the sacraments. Not that prayer and the sacraments so change our nature that it is impossible for us not to be good, but because prayer and the sacraments impart tone and vigor to our whole being, enlightening the mind, inflaming the heart, and inspiring the will, so that the whole personality is stirred to action, resolved, like the Apostle, to fight the good fight for God, till the battle is done and the crown of victory for ever won. When Joan of Arc was not in the saddle she was doing good. Whenever the opportunity offered she was pouring forth her soul in devotion before the Blessed Sacrament, or hearing Mass, or going to Communion. From these pious practices she drew strength and courage to keep her body with all its senses, and her soul with all its powers, in subjection to reason. She tamed and trained her passions, forcing them to become the servants, instead of the tyrants of her will. It was with a divine purpose that she contented herself with a meager diet, often going whole days with a few ounces of bread dipped in a little wine and water. She knew what moderns know not, what so-called intellectuals know not, but what we do know, or at least as Catholics ought to know, that if we are to become followers of Christ we must deny ourselves and take up the cross, carrying it after Him.
I have always been puzzled why my countrymen, who fought against the Maid, preferred to regard her as a heretic and a witch, instead of a heroine and a saint. Would it not have been far more creditable for us English to have been beaten by a maid sent against us by God, than by a witch who was a mere tool of the Evil One? It seemed never to have occurred to Bedford and his troops that the God of Armies might possibly have enlisted the services of “the weak to confound the strong,” of “the foolish to confound the wise,” and of the right to overwhelm the wrong. For if the Salic Law was the French law, then Henry had no right to fight Charles, he had no legitimate claim to the French crown. He was nothing short of an usurper exercising might over right.
For three centuries and more the name of Jeanne d’Arc was held by our countrymen of England in the most complete execration. But during the past and present century she has been more fully understood and therefore better appreciated. And now we may venture boldly to affirm that the Maid’s personality and character to-day have come to be generally understood and appreciated even more by the English than by the French. My countrymen have at last recognized, as no other nation has done so fully, the Maid’s gentleness, sweetness, and tenderness, her purity, bravery, and loyalty her absolute self-control, self-forgetfulness, and self-sacrificing spirit. It is not her astonishing achievements, or her military genius, or her mastery of detail, or her triumph over difficulties that make “La Bienheureuse” so precious in our sight, but it is her sublime and saintly character which renders her the precious legacy of history, and the inspiration of art. She is the flower of chivalry, the glory of the Church, the object-lesson for either sex of all nations and for all time. It is the proud boast of the Catholic Church that she revealed the beauty of this wondrous character in the clear light of truth to all Christendom in the lifetime of the Maid’s mother, and that she has raised Joan of Arc to her right position among the heroines of Christianity, by placing her for ever among the Blessed of God’s Church.
The gentlest of the gentle, the bravest of the brave, and the truest of the Jeanne d’Arc was a virgin among virgins, a confessor among confessors, a martyr among martyrs, to the bitter end loyal to her Voices, and amid flames of fire, the loveliest, loftiest, holiest “Pucelle de Dieu.”
I have read no greater or grander page in the past history of my country than that which to-day panegyrizes the Maid of France, offering her its act of reparation for the past, and proclaiming through its world-wide press its unstinted appreciation of her character — stainless, chivalrous, heroic. As I pass in review the various characters that have gone to make history, there is, perhaps, not one of them that stands out in bolder relief, in finer proportions, in nobler aspect, or with a loftier ideal, than the character of the village maiden, who was born at Domr6my on the vigil of the Epiphany of 1412.
The mind almost reels as it recalls the three tremendous events, which mark the chapters in her splendid, pathetic life. That a village maiden who could neither read nor write should have become the savior of her country, leading it in the supreme hour of its distress to victory, that she should have brought about the coronation of her king at Reims, that she should have triumphed; like her Master; in a death of ignominy and shame, are facts which seem inexplicable to those who fail to see that in the hands of God a little village maiden may achieve deeds of prowess and wonderment, far more easily than even a prince of royal blood trained to arms on victorious battle-fields.
I have finished my rough sketch of Joan of Arc. I have attempted to place before you the picture of a peasant girl who for all time, and for all peoples, must stand out as the rarest and fairest ideal of a true Christian Patriot.
To-day we cannot do better than study the portrait of the Maid, who by the contrast offered between her own life and ours brings home to us, as nothing else can, our own shortcomings both as patriots and as Christians. What the nations most of all need to-day is what as individuals most of us lack too plentifully, true religion and true patriotism. The world is trying to make politics a substitute for both. They can take the place of neither. Like the blessed Maid we must set life strongly rooted in religion, and we must make it clear to ourselves that we shall only put forth the blossoms of true patriotism, in the measure in which life has been watered and nourished with fervent prayer and other religious practices: in other words, if God is to use us and our Empire to make the world better, we ourselves must become men and women with strong religious convictions, borne forward on the wings of faith and enthusiasm. If we are to fight and beat down gross materialism and the self-indulgent tendencies of to-day, then the weapons of our warfare, I repeat it, must be prayer and penance. Without this self-discipline we shall be as soldiers without arms, while with the discipline of prayer and the practices of self-control, we shall become strong to subdue human passion, and the Evil One himself. We cannot too often remind ourselves that Saint Michael came all the way from heaven to warn the Maid again and again to say her prayers and to be a good girl.
As to whether we shall be called by God to be in any technical sense, like the Maid, saviors of our country, I know not, but I repeat that this I know, that each one of us has a call from God, direct and immediate, to build up, on the lines suggested by a study of blessed Joan’s life, a lofty and holy character. No one can plead that this is a task for which he is unfitted. The materials for character building lie at our very feet.
Let us then copy into our own lives her sweet and simple piety, her stainless purity, her dauntless energy, and her matchless bravery. Like hers, let our zeal never flag, our loyalty never change, our chivalry never falter.
O pure and noble heroine, may the thought of thy great and gracious character infuse into us thy spirit, stir us with thy zeal, and feed us with thy fire! O chivalrous Maid, may the contemplation of thy splendid personality strengthen us to hate what is wrong, to love what is right, and to fight for the best! O thrice-blessed patriot, may the study of thy sanctity inflame us with the desire to belong more wholly to God our Lord, that as instruments in His hands He may use us, even as He did thee, for the glory of His Name, the triumph of His Church, and the weal of our country!
Collect of the Mass of Blessed Joan of Arc
O God, who didst raise up the Blessed Maiden Joan to defend faith and fatherland, grant to us, we beseech Thee, by her intercession, that Thy Church, overcoming the snares of the enemy, may rejoice in a perpetual peace. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Chapter 5 – Her Rehabilitation and World-Wide Apotheosis
“I beseech those that shall read this book, that they be not shocked at these calamities, but they consider the things that happened, not a being for destruction, but for the correction of our nation…. For though He chastises His people with adversity, He forsaketh them not.” 2nd Maccabees 6
An article on Joan of Arc in one of the leading weeklies, commenting on her recent Beatification by the Church, denounces what the writer is pleased to call the inconsistency of the Church which, in bygone day, condemned the Maid as a heretic, and now proclaims her conduct to have been heroic.
The tribunal which sentenced her to death cannot by any effort of the imagination be regarded as valid Ecclesiastical Court. We English, to our discomfort and discredit, know only too well that the notorious Cauchon, who presided at the mock trial, did not represent the Church but the English, who tool under Bedford he was. Joan herself, realizing the irregularity of the situation, and what was likely to be the method of procedure in her trial, protested against it, repeating again and again the cry, “I appeal to the Pope.”
As a matter of historical fact the Church first vindicated the character of the matchless Maid not five centuries, but twenty-five years after her death at the stake. From Rome came the force that was to lift up for admiration the name, which had been defamed by a shameful miscarriage of justice. Pope Calixtus III listened to the petition of Jeanne’s family, beseeching him to restore her good name, which had been so unjustly slandered. On June 11th of the year 1455 a Papal Rescript, from which we give the following extract, was issued: “We grant a favorable hearing to the petition that has been made to us. There has lately been brought before us on part of Pierre and Jean de Lys, and also of Isabelle Romee, their mother, and some of their relatives, a petition stating that their sister, daughter, and relative, Jeanne d’Arc, deceased, was condemned as guilty of the crime of heresy and other crimes against the faith on the testimony of Jean Estivet, of the Episcopal Court of Beauvais; of Pierre, of happy memory, at the time Bishop of Beauvais; and of the late Jean Lemaitre, belonging to the Inquisition. The nullity of their proceedings and the innocence of Jeanne are clearly established, both by documents and the most incontestable proofs. Inc consequence of this, the brothers, mother, and relatives of Jeanne are free to cast off the brand of infamy with which this trial has falsely stamped them; and for this end they have humbly supplicated our permission and authorization to instituted a trial of rehabilitation.”
The ecclesiastical trial which was to vindicate Jeanne’s blameless, character was open on November 7th 1455, under the presidency of Jean Jouvenel, Archbishop of Reims. Needless to say, after a thorough sifting of the evidence, and the cross examination of a very cloud of witnesses, including all sorts and conditions of men and women who had known the Maid under variety of circumstances, and at different stages of her career, the Court proclaimed the Maid to be altogether innocent of the baseless charges which had been alleged against her, and in consequence of which she had been condemned to death. On July 7th, 1456, the sentence of rehabilitation was pronounced in the town where the heroine had been cruelly murdered – Rouen.
Since this date the name and fame of the Maid have passed through many conflicting stages. As the Times, in an admirable leader dealing with her Beatification, has reminded us: “There is scarcely any conceivable theory of her character and conduct which has not found favor with writers of repute at one time or another.”
Here we cannot pretend to summarize all that has been said for and against the Maid abroad as well as at home. But I feel that, in justice to my own countrymen, I must try and give an epitome at any rate of England’s estimate of the warrior peasant girl for whom untimely death my country was much to blame. And in the first place we many suspend our judgement instead of condemning Shakespeare for what is said about Joan of Arc in the first act of “Henry VI”. Most probably that play was non of his, and even if it were, we must remember that it does not create, but only perpetuates the type of character which was part of an unfortunate English tradition about Jeanne. The fifteenth century is strongly silent about both her name and her fame, while, as Father Thurston points out, of the various English chronicles during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries which refer to her, there is only one which says nothing to her discredit. John Rastell, the brother in law of Blessed Thomas More, while praising her successes had nothing to say against her conduct or character. He speaks of her as La Pucelle de Dieu, and acknowledges that she was “by the Englyshemen judged to dethe and brent.” During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English feelings grew more and more appreciative of the Maid. Some writers are of the opinion that this change of attitude in England towards Joan was in some measure due to John Wesley, whose impressions of her were not a little influenced by Scotch writers. The Scotch, almost without exception, were true to their tradition about Joan of Arc. What of course has helped more than anything else to create a true estimate of her character among our own countrymen had been the publication by Quicherat of the full body of evidence upon which the verdict of her condemnation turned. The rationalistic Hume in his “History of England” eulogizes her though eighteen pages, and speaks of the verdict against her as “an infamous sentence.” Then followed in 1796 Robert Southey’s epic poem, “Joan of Arc”; nor must one omit the name of Henry Hallam, who in his “View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages” (1818), speaks surprisingly well about “the country girl who overthrew the power of England.” Then there is Turner, who, in his “History of England,” speaks of the Maid as “patriotic and heroic.”
Nineteenth century writers go on increasing with the years in favor of blessed Jeanne. Even the encyclopedias in their successive editions keep growing in appreciation, as they develop true knowledge of her incomparable personality. In an article entitled “Joan of Arc,” in the ninth edition of the , we read the following climax termination the biography: “Indeed the greatness of her career did not consist in her military achievements, but in her pure, true, and ardent character, which made her a pathetic victim to the mean and groveling aims of those in whose cause she fought with such simple sincerity of faith.”
I wish time and space permitted me to refer to the many charming and excellent present-day English biographies of our heroine. Among the writers of them Mr. Andrew Long stand out in boldest prominence for his masterly treatment and exposition of her call, career, and character.
I cannot perhaps better conclude this testimony to Jeanne’s rightness and worth than by quoting from a modern writer the following passage summing up what she achieved as the Maid of France: -
“The work wrought by this girl” says the writer, “may fairly be regarded as ranking with any recorded in history, when one considers the condition under which it was undertaken, the obstacles in the way, and the means at her disposal. Caesar carried conquest far, but he did it with the trained and confident veterans of Rome, and was a trained soldier himself; Napoleon swept away the disciplined armies of Europe, but he also was a trained soldier, and he began his work with patriotic battalions inflamed and inspired by the miracle –working new breath of liberty breathed upon them by the Revolution – eager young apprentices to the trade of war, not old and broken down men-at-arms, survivors of an age long accumulation of monotonous defeats; but Joan of Arc, a mere child in years, unlettered, a poor village girl, undknow and without influence, found a great nation lying in chains, helpless and broken under an alien domination, its treasury bankrupt, its soldiers disheartened and dispersed, all spirit torpid, all courage dead in the hearts of the people through long years of foreign and domestic outrage and oppression, their King cowed, resigned to his fate, and preparing to fly the country; and she laid her hand upon this nation, this corpse, and it rose and followed her. She led it from victory to victory. She turned back the tide of the Hundred Year’s War. She fatally crippled the English power, and died with the earned title of Delivered of France, which she bears to this day.”
We open this chapter with the statement that the Catholic Church had never changed her attitude towards the Maid of France. Her pleading cry, “I appeal to the Pope,” was answered, as we have seen, by Calixtus III five and twenty years after what we may call her martyrdom. It was the privilege of this Pope to rehabilitate her stainless character, while in our own day, five hundred years later, Pius X has raised her to the altar, declaring Jeanne d’Arc to be for ever Blessed.
Referring to the solemn ceremony of her Beatification, formally pronounced in Saint Peter’s by His Holiness the Pope, surrounded by seventy French Archbishops and Bishops, and a vast concourse of sixty thousand worshippers, met before her illuminated picture, the Daily Telegraph in its leader on that occasion exclaims: “Shall we not agree, even from the modern point of view, that Jeanne d’Arc triumphs among the great souls, whose example remains for all humanity an inspiration never to be extinguished?”
I conclude this little volume tracing the call, career, and character of Joan of Arc, with the fervent hope that the perusal of her life’ story may stir in the hearts of many reader the fires of true religion and of true patriotism. No one familiar with the actual state of England will venture to deny that these are the fires which most of all require to be rekindled in our midst. Our people are beginning to forget the meaning of these old-world virtues. We are a nation at play, and as we are playing at other things, so too are we playing at religion and patriotism. (This could easily be said in our day and time and encompass our entire Western culture of 2008! VF) We need some strong personality, some noble character, to awaken in us enthusiasm both for creed and country.
To whom can we more appropriately point in this democratic age then to the peasant girl from Domremy, who though she could neither read nor write, became the savior of her country in the hour of its most dire distress? What she accomplished we too in our measure may achieve, if like her we are borne forward on the wings of religion and patriotism.
O matchless Maid! Vitalize us with thy spirit, and inspire us with they enthusiasm, that both in life and in death, with our forefathers, we may be true to our time-honored motto:
Pro Deo, Pege, et Patria
O Shepherdess, like David called
To lead war’s flocks in pastures red!
Meek peasant girl from field and stead
Whom court would not nor camp appalled!
What made thee thus do, dare endure?
The vision God gives to the Pure!
Savior of France, the Savior’s fate
Was thine – defeat, the stake, renown!
Now France’s golden lilies crown
They life of love inviolate –
Love that was gold fired tried – and thou
Wearest God’s aureole on thy brow!