30 May: St. Joan of Arc

Today, in the 2005 Martyrologium Romanum we find interesting saints, including St. Petronilla and St. Ferdinand III, King of Castille.  We also find Otto Neururer, a priest who died in Buchenwald and Luke Kirby, a priest who died on the Tyburn Tree along with William Filby, Lawrence John son and Thomas Cottam during the reign of Elizabeth I.  There are also William Scott, Richard Newport in the reign of James I.   Matthis Kalemba was killed by Muslims in Uganda.  In ancient times St. Gabinus died a martyr in Sardinia.  St. Dymphna died in Brabant.

But one of the most interesting memorials, to me at least, is that of St. Joan of Arc.

I have long thought that St. Joan of Arc is a fine saint to inspire young people, including boys because of her martial spirit.

In January 2011, Pope Benedict spoke of St. Joan in a General Audience.

Here is the VIS account of the audience.  My emphases and comments.


St. Joan of ArcVATICAN CITY, 26 JAN 2011 (VIS) – During this morning’s general audience, celebrated in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of 3,000 people, Holy Father dedicated his catechesis to St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431), whom he described as “one of the ‘strong women’ who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly brought the splendid light of the Gospel into the complex events of history”. [I wonder if many Catholics today haven’t been cowed by the relentless secularism and relativism and even open anti-Catholic bigotry we find in the public square.  We need a revitalization of our Catholic identity.]

The life of Joan of Arc, who was born into a prosperous peasant family, took place in the context of the conflict between France and England known as the Hundred Years War. At the age of thirteen, “through the ‘voice’ of St. Michael the Archangel, Joan felt herself called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and to act personally to free her people”.

She made a vow of virginity and redoubled her prayers, participating in sacramental life with renewed energy. “This young French peasant girl’s compassion and commitment in the face of her people’s suffering were made even more intense through her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of her sanctity was this bond between mystical experience and political mission”. said Benedict XVI.

Joan’s activities began in early 1429 when, overcoming all obstacles, she managed to meet with the French Dauphin, the future King Charles VII. He had her examined by theologians of the University of Poitiers who “delivered a positive judgment, they discovered nothing bad in her, and found her to be a good Christian”.

On 22 March of that year Joan dictated a letter to the King of England and his men, who were laying siege to the city of Orleans. “Hers was a proposal of authentic and just peace between two Christian peoples, in the light of the names of Jesus and Mary”, said the Holy Father. But the offer was rejected and Joan had to fight for the liberation of the city. Another culminating moment of her endeavours came on 17 July 1429 when King Charles was crowned in Reims.

Joan’s passion began on 23 May 1430 when she fell into the hands of her enemies at Compiegne and was taken to the city of Rouen. There a long and dramatic trial was held which concluded with her being condemned to death on 30 May 1431.

The trial was presided by two ecclesiastical judges, Bishop Pierre Cauchon [Somehow appropriate.] and the inquisitor Jean le Maistre, but in fact it was conducted by a group of theologians from the University of Paris. These “French ecclesiastics, having made political choices opposed to those of Joan, were predisposed to hold negative views of her person and mission. The trial was a dark page in the history of sanctity, but also a shining page in the mystery of the Church which is, … ‘at the same time holy and always in need of being purified’“.

“Unlike the saintly theologians who illuminated the University of Paris, such as St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Duns Scotus, … the judges were theologians who lacked the charity and humility to see the work of God in this young girl. Jesus’ words come to mind, according to which the mysteries of God are revealed to those who have the hearts of children, but hidden from the wise and intelligent. Thus Joan’s judges were radically incapable of understanding her, of seeing the beauty of her soul“, the Pope said.

Joan died at the stake on 30 May 1431, holding a crucifix in her hands and invoking the name of Jesus. Twenty-five years later a trial of nullification, instituted by Pope Callixtus III, “concluded with a solemn sentence nullifying the condemnation and … highlighting Joan of Arc’s innocence and perfect faithfulness to the Church. Much later, in 1920, she was canonised by Pope Benedict XV“.

The Name of Jesus invoked by this saint in the last instants of her earthly life was as the continual breath of her soul, … the centre of her entire life”, the Holy Father explained. “This saint understood that Love embraces all things of God and man, of heaven and earth, of the Church and the world. … Liberating her people was an act of human justice, which Joan performed in charity, for love of Jesus, hers is a beautiful example of sanctity for lay people involved in political life, especially in the most difficult situations”.  [In his first Message for the World Day for Peace, Pope Benedict spoke of the need of military intervention at times in order to establish the foundation upon which peace can be fostered.]

“Joan saw in Jesus all the reality of the Church, the ‘Church triumphant’ in heaven and the ‘Church militant’ on earth. In her own words, ‘Our Lord and the Church are one’. This affirmation … takes on a truly heroic aspect in the context of the trial, in the face of her judges, men of the Church who persecuted and condemned her”.

“With her shining witness St. Joan of Arc invites us to the highest degree of Christian life, making prayer the motif of our days, having complete trust in achieving the will of God whatever it may be, living in charity without favouritisms or limitations, and finding in the Love of Jesus, as she did, a profound love for His Church”.

Furthermore, if you have never read Mark Twain’s superb novel about St. Joan do try to get it soon? He thought it was his best work.

It is on Kindle, too, for $0.95!

Also, some years ago, I spent an evening watching some of a Joan of Arc movie marathon. I wrote about it here.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mamajen says:

    Wow, I never knew that Mark Twain wrote about Joan of Arc, never mind that he thought it was his best. Very cool! Will definitely be putting that one on my list.

  2. msc says:

    As I’ve said before in this venue, I have a bit of difficulty with the idea that God chose sides during the Hundred Years’ War, which is what Joan’s visions amount to. By the standards of the time, Henry VI’s claim to the “French” throne was a good one, and England was a good Catholic country. There were a lot of other times when France’s existence was threatened and God did not send anyone similar to Joan. No such figure was sent by God to fight the Germans in WWI or II, so why did he intervene in the Hundred Years’ War in favour of one particular claimant to the French throne, when France as an entity was not threatened (under Henry VI, France would have remained France)? I can’t but feel that Joan’s visions were hallucinations and not real.

    I want it to be clear I have no doubt that her trial was politically motivated and that it was not fair and impartial. This also does not also mean that she was wrongly canonized 1920 (as opposed to the informal belief in her sainthood that was widespread before then), although that was the culmination of a heavily politicized series of events that started in the middle of the nineteenth century. Clearly people believed that she was a martyr and saint, and clearly miracles happened. I am only doubting her visions.

    I am now going to put on my helmet and hide under my desk as the barrage starts.

  3. msc says:

    Oh yes, my mother was named after Joan. I am not hostile to her per se.

  4. pledbet424 says:

    I’ve heard that Mark Twain despised “organized religion”, but he loved St. Joan of Arc. He considered her the purist of saints. His book is excellent.

  5. aegsemje says:

    Her story is one of the things that drew me to the Catholic Church when I was a teen.

  6. tcreek says:

    “Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years.” — Winston Churchill

    “She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history.” … “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” … “Love, Mercy, Charity, Fortitude, War, Peace, Poetry, Music–these may be symbolized as any shall prefer: by figures of either sex and of any age; but a slender girl in her first young bloom, with the martyr’s crown upon her head, and in her hand the sword that severed her country’s bonds–shall not this, and no other, stand for PATRIOTISM through all the ages until time shall end.”— Mark Twain

    “Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. … It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost.” — G. K. Chesterton

  7. Lori Pieper says:

    Well, msc, keep in mind that after 1533 or so, English France would have meant Protestant France. It may be that God desired to keep the eldest daughter of the Church Catholic for some time longer. The reason for that lies in eternity, and we might not learn it till the Last Judgment.
    I’m sure the whole content of what God desired to come about because of Joan’s actions didn’t make it into her visions. But I find it hard to believe God allow so virtuous a person to have completely false versions she would not be able to recognize as false. I think that Joan’s visions gave her God’s will for her, even if they didn’t give her the whole reason for France’s liberation at that time.

  8. Kathleen10 says:

    It’s reasonable to question. I don’t understand all the history and wonder about it myself. What makes all the difference for me is the impossibility of all that she did. Only divine inspiration (and help) could explain it. St. Joan of Arc, pray for us!

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    “There were a lot of other times when France’s existence was threatened and God did not send anyone similar to Joan. No such figure was sent by God to fight the Germans in WWI or II,”


    What about Charles Martel? In 732 A. D., the Battle of Tours prevented Europe from becoming Moslem and founded the Carolingian dynasty (short as it was) that would lead to a re-flowering of scholarship and, ultimately, to both feudalism and the university system.

    On a more mystical note, what about the Martyrs of Compiegne, who, some think, by their sacrifice, broke the back of the French Revolution?

    Come to think of it, what was the United States in both WWI and WWII, if not saviors to the French? No, I think God has raised up some pretty impressive defenders of the French throughout history.

    As for St. Joan, it is often asserted that had she not lived, France would have gone the way of England under Henry VIII, but I would not push that theory too far, because, in truth, if St. Joan had not lived, neither might there have been a Henry VIII a few generations, later. It is hard to make contrafactual statements about history that are anything but stabs in the dark.

    I, once, gave a talk to a Secular Carmelite community about the Martyrs of Compiegne (if you don’t know about them, they serve as the heroes of Poulenc’s last Opera, the famous, Dialogue of the Carmelites). Both St. Joan and the Martyrs were personal heroes of St. Therese of Liseaux. When she was in the convent, the sisters performed a play with St. Therese in the lead as St. Joan. This is one of the most famous photographs of St. Therese.

    Compiegne. It has become the place of saint-making. William Bush wrote the landmark study of the Martyrs – To Quell the Terror, which I highly recommend.

    I have too much to say about St. Joan and it is 3:45 am (couldn’t sleep). Just two quick observations:

    1. The best current scholarship, in my opinion, is by Regine Pernoud. There are three book I recommend:
    a. Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses
    b. The Retrial of Joan of Arc
    c. Joan of Arc: Her Story

    One version of the trial transcripts can be found at Fordham University:


    Finally, the Twain history is rousing, personal, and a fine introduction for young people. He based a bit of Joan’s character on his own daughter, if memory serves. It is not a good source for historical studies, being vastly superseded by modern scholarship.

    The Chicken

  10. She’s one of my patron saints (my middle name) – thank you for remembering her, Fr Z.

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    msc did not put it as i would have, but i am largely in agreement with the line that holds St. Joan of Arc to be thoroughly wrongly understood in the Catholic scheme of things. She was not sent to be a role model for France, feminism, martial courage, mystics, or fashion designers. Her huge importance is entirely other, but, I have not time to make the case now.

  12. Imrahil says:

    Dear msc,

    forgive me because I already spoke against you on this, but, well, you are free to doubt St. Joan’s visions of course, their not matter of obligation to believe. As for me, I do believe her visions, which after all is what we usually do with visions of canonized saints.

    You’re right, though, that there’s no viable explanation of them if God did not chose sides during the Hundred Years War – against England, and for France.

    Note that miracles do not necessarily happen in the situation where they seem to fit best. Still, if you pardon my musing, everyone knew at the time that Charles de Gaulle was fighting for the good: no need of a miracle there. Precisely that the English king, according to the standard of the time, was held to have a good claim might be a reason why this claim might be all the more needy of a miracle if the claim was still wrong in the end. And of course there is no “standard of the time” for a claim. Either have it or have it not; and according to the Constitution of the time, the true heirs of the Capets were the Valois and noone else.

    In addition, if God really did choose sides, we must take into account His foreknowledge. From the standard of the time, England was perhaps the most Catholic country in the world while in France was somewhat struggling with what would later be known as Gallicanism. Still that would, eventually, be settled (with centuries of aftershocks), while the great Anglican schism would start in England. What if the English king had had the force of France to back himself up, what if he had lead France into schism too, reduce Catholicism to a national religion of the Habsburg empire* and reduced that same empire on the battlefield? In the meantime, the Turk was stirring in the East.

    [*Portugal was for a time Habsburgian too. Poland was ripe for the Reformation for a time and was to some degree laboriously regained by the Jesuits.]

    As it happened, centuries of Frenchmen were kept in the holy mother Church, Catholic Christendom always remained at least bipolar in the political world (with all that problem which it brought, but at least it was not a national religion), and continued to remain in power, and the Turk was eventually eased practically out of Europe.

  13. TomG says:

    Hope to see Dr. Peters make that case soon.

  14. tcreek says:

    We have extensive information about Saint Joan of Arc because the transcript of her trial has survived. Fordham University has it here – http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/joanofarc-trial.asp

    There is much of interest about Joan, the church and the bishops for those who wade through the 400 pages. The many books about Saint Joan are largely based on these transcripts.

    Here is a smidgen of the transcript from page 15 to 19.
    “Henry, by the grace of God king of France and England, to all those who shall see these present letters, greeting. It is well known how for some time a woman calling herself Jeanne the Maid, putting off the habit and dress of the female sex (which is contrary to divine law, abominable to God, condemned and prohibited by every law), has dressed and armed herself in the state and habit of man, has wrought and occasioned cruel murders, and it is said, to seduce and deceive the simple people, has given them to understand that she was sent from God and that she had knowledge of His divine secrets, with many other dangerous dogmatizations most prejudicial and scandalous to our holy faith. Whilst pursuing these abuses and exercising hostilities against us and our people, she was captured in arms before Compiègne by certain of our loyal subjects and has subsequently been led prisoner towards us. And because she has been reputed, charged and defamed by many people on the subject of superstitions, false dogmas and other crimes of divine treason, we have been most urgently required by our well beloved and loyal counselor the bishop of Beauvais, the ecclesiastical and ordinary judge of the said Jeanne, who was taken and apprehended …

    Therefore we command our said men and officers who guard this woman to surrender and deliver her to the said reverend father in God without contradiction or refusal, as often as he shall require, and we further command all our men of law, officers and subjects, English or French, not to occasion any hindrance or difficulty in fact or otherwise to the reverend father or any who are or shall be appointed to assist, participate in or hear the said trial, …
    On behalf of the reverend father in God and lord, Pierre, by divine mercy bishop of Beauvais, we have been informed that it is his lawful duty according to his authority as ordinary judge and otherwise, to institute an inquiry against a woman commonly called Jeanne the Maid, who abandoning all modesty, has lived a disorderly and shameful life to the scorn of the estate proper to womankind: and moreover, as is commonly known, she has sown and disseminated many opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and tending to the denigration of certain articles of the orthodox belief, wherein she appears evil-thinking, suspect, and defamed. …

    Hence we warn all our subjects, of either sex, living in the town of Rouen and in our diocese, of whatever condition, and hereby enjoin them in virtue of holy obedience, to comply with, obey and lend aid and favor to the said reverend father in all that concerns this suit, and its consequences, by supplying testimony and advice and by other means. … December 28th, in the year of Our Lord 1430.

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