HER DEATH AT THE STAKE ANDHER 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." Jer. xxvi 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—cc 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 St. 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 St. 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 St. Catherine and St. 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 St. 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.
0 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! 0 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! 0 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
0 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.