Thursday, May 30, 2019

Heroine of God and France: Jehanne La Pucelle

Today is the 588th anniversary of the execution of one of the most famous military commanders in human history. It marks the end of a dramatic (true and well-documented) story of inspiration, miraculous victories, restoration of a legitimate national leader, treachery, betrayal, power politics, and an unforgettable trial.

This military figure claimed to be inspired by God.

If the story of this person doesn't strike you as extraordinary, even unique, perhaps we should also note that she was a nineteen-year-old peasant girl.

She was no religious terrorist, though her enemies condemned her as such and worse. Rather, she was a defender of the poor and the oppressed, rallying her country's people against a brutal occupation that weighed heavy upon them.

She called herself Jehanne La Pucelle, "Joan the Maid," but is more generally known today (according to her father's surname) as Jeanne D'Arc, "Joan of Arc."

Saint Joan of Arc.

Of course, there was plenty of blame to go around on all sides for the long string of conflicts (a hundred years worth of conflicts) between England and France and their allies during the 14th and 15th centuries. Joan was not canonized until the 20th century, and in so doing the Catholic Church didn't intend to proclaim as doctrine that "God was on the side of the French." 

Indeed, the Church doesn't even define the nature or experiential modality of the "heavenly voices" that Joan credited for her inspiration (other than ruling out any demonic origin, contrary to the trumped up charges of the Pro-English ecclesiastical court that condemned her in 1431).

Joan is a saint because of her courage, her purity, her love for Jesus and the Church, her adherence to the will of God, her trust in God, her love for God. This wonderful witness - in the face of human expectations, human conventions, human threats, and ultimately a fiery death - was inserted into a moment in history in which English soldiers, mercenaries, and bandits were dominating and riding roughshod over northern France with impunity. 

The English occupied French territory, plundered French homes, lived off of French land, and impoverished French villages and peasants. That's how things had stood at least for a decade or more when Joan appeared on the scene in 1429. The rightful French king Charles VII was in internal exile in the south. Orleans was under siege.

Self-defense remains a human right. Defending the oppressed can be a work of charity and mercy. Sometimes it is a demand of justice. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

It was to the Lord, first and above all, that Joan gave her heart and dedicated her life.

I note below a few quotations from the trial records or other written sources. In the end, Joan captures our imaginations not just as a French patriot or a "maker of history" but precisely for her luminous simplicity and transcendence, her holiness, her singular love for God.
"I place trust in God, my creator, in all things; I love Him with all my heart" (during campaign, 1429-1430).
"Everything I have said or done is in the hands of God. I commit myself to Him! I certify to you that I would do or say nothing against the Christian faith" (during trial, 1431).
"I beg all of you standing here to forgive me the harm that I may have done you. Please pray for me" (immediately prior to her execution, May 30, 1431).
"Hold the crucifix up before my eyes so I may see it until I die" (bound to the stake, before the fire was lit, May 30, 1431).
"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!..." (final cries during burning, May 30, 1431).
When it was finally over, an English solder reportedly said, "God forgive us. We have burned a saint!"