LIFE LESSONS FROM
BLESSED JOAN OF ARC
HER CHILDHOOD AND CALL 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."--I Cos, i, 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 St. 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. St. Michael told her to be a good child and to say her prayers, and then he passed out of sight, assuring her that both St. Catherine and St. 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 St. 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:— 0 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.
SCHILLER, Maid of Orleans.