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CRITICS AND THE "RECOLLECTIO"

 

WORK more successful in fulfilling its purpose than Brehal's great study of Joan's trial can hardly be imagined. It has nevertheless been criticized by many historians of the Maid. Thus, Edmond Richer, in the seventeenth century, found it, along with the other memoirs, "insufficiently wrought and polished, and tumultuously written, even for a century when barbarism was triumphant." Fabre reproached it for dullness, for failure to give new facts about Joan, and for lack of enthusiasm. Quicherat excused himself for publishing only brief ex-tracts of this and of most of the other memoirs on the ground that "there is nothing historical about them."

These criticisms are either beside the point or untrue. Brehal was not Cicero, but he wrote clear and sometimes eloquent scholastic Latin, however much he may have failed to satisfy the exigencies of pseudo-classic elegance. It is unreasonable to ask that a painstaking analysis, theological and canonical, of the Rouen trial, should be other than technical in its language and austerely legal in its approach; that it should furnish new biographical facts, which had been abundantly supplied by the testimony; or that it should interrupt its argument to engage in eloquent panegyrics though, as a matter of fact, its author's warm admiration for the Maid is constantly evident. Finally, it is absurd to deny the historical importance of the Recollectio, if Joan's orthodoxy and the legality of the trial are, among other things, historical questions. For surely the best solution of these questions must come from theologians and canonists, and the more nearly contemporary such experts are, the better. After all, Brehal knew more about inquisitorial procedure in his own day than Quicherat or any nineteenth-century historian, not to mention Mr. Shaw; and if modern scholars are too incompetent, or too bored, to make a thorough study of the Recollectio, they must expect the charge of neglecting data absolutely essential for answering the aforesaid questions.

Were it possible to doubt the complete moral integrity of Brehal and his fellow commissioners, which Quicherat grants, the situation would, of course, be quite different. Insinuations of that sort, however, are entirely derived from the presuppositions I have mentioned; namely, that Joan was a heretic, that the trial was therefore essentially legal, and hence that the rehabilitation verdict must have been determined by political influences. Now there is no shred of evidence of such influences, at least after the investigation was taken over by the Holy See. Of course, the King wanted Joan vindicated, and he was paying the costs of the process. The commissioners were no doubt predisposed in her favor, but to imply that they there-fore dealt with the evidence in any other than a completely objective way is quite gratuitously unfair to them, and contradicts the whole tenor of the Recollectio. For had there been any need of soft-pedaling the question of Joan's orthodoxy because of anything that she had said, the Recollectio would have been a very different document. It could have condemned the Rouen trial on various conclusive grounds, and if necessary excused Joan be-cause of her lack of knowledge. The Recollectio, however, does far more than this. Brehal therein supports every work of Joan's, especially, as we shall see, in regard to the question of submission to the Church. Now can anyone imagine that a Grand Inquisitor, composing under direct papal authority the most important official opinion of his career, could afford to support statements even remotely savoring of heresy? If he had been so rash, would the judges have made the Recollectio the immediate basis of their verdict, or would the Pope have accepted this verdict? Finally, would the Holy See, at the canonization of Joan in 1920, have endorsed the rehabilitation, or in-deed have canonized Joan at all? The conclusion is unavoidable that if the Maid was a "Protestant," so was the Grand Inquisitor John Brehal, so were his fellow commissioners, so was Calixtus III, and so was Benedict XV which is surely too paradoxical a statement even for Mr. Shaw! Moreover, as Brehal's vindication of Joan must be accepted as in accordance with the strictest Catholic orthodoxy, so his criticisms of the trial have an equal claim to be considered valid in terms of the ecclesiastical law of the period. His reputation here also was at stake; he could not afford to make captious objections. It is perfectly safe, therefore, to conclude that the defects he alleges were really such.

The Recollectio shows, of course, what might he called the theological accents of its time, especially in the number, and sometimes the content, of its quotations from a long list of authors, sacred and classical. Yet, though some of its minor arguments would not be used by modern Catholic theologians, the work as a whole remains, and must always remain, the final word on the iniquity of Joan's trial and on her unwavering loyalty to the Church.

Finally, it should he remembered that, since the " Recollectio" depends on the official record of the Rouen trial far more than on the rehabilitation testimony, its conclusions are not essentially affected by criticism of the latter, even when justified.