14

THE MATTER OF THE TRIAL

 

IN a short introduction, after discussing man's natural tendency, and duty, to embrace truth and to hate falsehood, Brehal states his conviction, subject to the decision of the Holy See, that Joan's trial wrought vast harm to truth, both in the "justice" administered by the so-called judges, and in the doctrine expressed by those who assisted. He proposes to treat the subject under two main headings: the matter of the trial; and the manner of its procedure. The following resume, though greatly condensed from the nine long chapters of the first part, will give an ac-curate idea of their substance.

1. The Visions

Brehal's direct aim is not to establish the supernatural origin of Joan's visions, though his belief in the matter is evident, but rather to show the lack of foundation for the condemnation, which they incurred. He discusses in great detail, and with an abundance of quotations from Scripture and the Doctors of the Church, the time and place at which the apparitions began, their character, and their effect on Joan. Their entire lack of any reprehensible feature is his argument for their divine origin.

2. The Revelations

Following, as he constantly does, St. Thomas Aquinas, Brehal states that supposed private revelations must be tested by the character of their recipient (though God occasionally sends them to his enemies, as in the case of Belshazzar), his purpose, and the certitude which they engender in him. Joan faithfully obeyed the promptings to piety and virtue, which her revelations brought; her purpose was not vainglory but a noble one, namely, the welfare of France, and her certitude points to their divine origin.

3. Joan's Prophecies

True prophecy must be entirely fulfilled, God must instruct the prophet when its meaning is not obvious, it must contain nothing contrary to faith or morals, and the prophet must clearly recognize that his knowledge is divinely revealed. Now most of Joan's prophecies: that she would deliver Orleans, be wounded there, have the King crowned at Rheims, and, at an unknown time, be captured, besides many others, were all fulfilled.

There is a difficulty in regard to her prediction that she would deliver the Duke of Orleans from his captivity in England; but, as she explained, she meant that she would free him within three years, if she lived that long. Also, her voices told her that she would be freed from prison, and would have a great victory; but they after-ward told her not to be anxious at her martyrdom, since she would go to heaven, thus interpreting their own prophecy in a mystical sense. Besides, there is an imperfect sort of prophetic communication, which is not wholly understood, and the prophet (whose inspiration is transient) may also speak as a mere fallible human. So that even if Joan had made unverified predictions (which is not admitted) this would be no disproof of her occasional inspiration.

4. Joan's Homage to the Apparitions

Since Joan did not share the popular superstitions concerning the "fairy tree" and its adjacent fountain (in spite of what was said at the trial), though she did hear her voices there at least once, her homage and its manifestations were irreproachably in accord with Catholic doctrine and practice concerning the veneration of the saints. What she asked of these saints was altogether laudable. Such being her dispositions, her mistake would not have been dangerous even if the visions had been really evil spirits, whose aid she always abhorred. "It is a marvel," Brehal exclaims, "how she could be accused, on these grounds, of idolatry or of consorting with demons!"

5. Joan's Conduct Toward Her Parents

Filial piety (concerning which Brehal quotes from Cicero and Seneca!) cannot impose obligations contrary to God's will. Prudence prevented Joan from divulging her divine mission to her parents, who might have interfered. In all else she was obedient, and she even asked and obtained pardon for her one necessary disobedience.

6. Joan's Wearing of Male Clothing

Joan's motive in wearing male clothing in itself a morally indifferent thing was good, namely to safeguard her own chastity and that of others. Biblical and other legislation does not apply in this exceptional case. The judges' lied when they said she had rather not receive Communion than abandon her male attire, since she often asked for a long dress for this purpose. As for her standard, arms, and taking part in battles, those were the things, which aroused the judges' hatred, Brehal ironically remarks. Yet she reluctantly obeyed her voices in taking up arms, she bore her standard so as to avoid slaying anyone, which she never did, and she was always merciful to those captured. She was not sinning in her warlike actions, any more than were Deborah, Jael, and Judith.

7. Certain Statements of Joan's

She was certain with the certainty of faith that her visions and voices were from God; but this was because of their holy teachings and promptings, which was a fully sufficient motive.

She was sure of her salvation; but on condition that she kept her promise to God of preserving her virginity of body and soul.

She wished the head of a certain Burgundian cut off; but only if it pleased God. (The Burgundian, incidentally, had a fair trial on charges of murder, robbery, and treachery. His execution was legal.)

She was much harried for saying that she had seen an angel coming to the King; but this was a great mystery pertaining to the safety of the kingdom, about which she had a right to speak with prudence and in parables.

She was charged with saying that she had never committed a mortal sin; but this is false. When asked if she were in a state of grace, she replied, "very Catholically and humbly": "If I be not, God bring me to it; if I be, God keep me in it."

She declared that she had damned herself to save her life, by abjuring; but she may have meant that she had condemned herself to death. If she referred to a sin committed by abjuring through fear (which is never lawful in regard to revealed truth), it may, indeed, be impossible to excuse her completely, but one must bear in mind the terrible sufferings she had endured, the lying promises and other tricks used to make her abjure, and her fear of death. "Words uttered in such trepidation are not to be imputed."

8. Submission to the Church

The eighth chapter of Brehal's Recollectio is of prime importance for the subject of this book. It answers thoroughly and finally the question with which I started, namely, that of Joan's fidelity to the Church. It crowns the labors and anticipates the verdict of the papal commissioners who so admirably conducted the rehabilitation. In connection with the whole treatise, whereof it forms the most important section, it is really the first argument in the process which, resumed four centuries later, culminated in the canonization of the Maid.

Brehal begins his study of the "sly and lengthy hunting" by which Joan's enemies sought to ensnare her on the question of submission to the Church with a discussion of what the simple faithful are bound to believe.

Turning to Joan's case, he notes the difficulty, nay, ambiguity, of the question asked her; i.e., whether she would submit her words and deeds to the judgment of the Church. Her words chiefly concerned the apparitions, revelations, and prophecies, which have already been amply dealt with; her deeds had to do with civil polity, the raising up of the kingdom of France and the expulsion of its enemies. Neither words nor deeds of Joan involve the primary or secondary doctrines of the Faith, but are rather concerned with pious beliefs about which the faithful are free to differ. Therefore she could not err dangerously if she did not submit.

Moreover, she always maintained that her words and deeds came from divine revelation, and this brings liberty, according to the texts: "Where is the Spirit of God, there is liberty," and: "If ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law." A prelate, or any man whatever, who gives commands contrary to God's law or His secret inspirations, must not be obeyed. This is what Joan meant when she said she would submit to the Church and the Pope, "God served first." She could not, without the sin of infidelity, deny her revelations. When she said she would obey "unless something impossible were commanded," that "it was impossible for her to revoke what she had done on God's behalf," and that "what God ordered she would not fail to do for any living man, or for anything whatever," she was by no means at fault, but spoke most correctly (rectissime dixit). If she had denied the certainty she had from revelation, she would have been guilty of lying and perjury.

It may be noted that, in a similar argument, the memoir of William Bouille uses equally strong language. If Joan had denied her revelations, he says, "she would have sinned against her conscience, which was well informed by a good inspiration of this sort. This would be true even if there remained a doubt as to whether this inspiration was from a good or an evil spirit. Since this is entirely hidden and known to God alone, and consequently the Church does not judge in these matters, in which she may err, she reserves the judgment to God and leaves it to the individual conscience. Certainly, therefore, the said Maid did not err, if she submitted herself to God alone."

This passage of Bouille's was quoted by Joan's advocate, in vindication of her stand, and in reply to the objections of the promoter of the Faith (popularly known as "the Devil's Advocate"), in 1903, during the process of beatification.

Returning to the Recollectio, we find Brehal next pointing out that distinguished clerics had for three weeks examined Joan at Poitiers. In those matters in which they had found no evil, she could speak all the more licitly and firmly, nor did she have any duty of renouncing them at the behest of others, especially as the Church of Beauvais has no superiority to the Church of Poitiers.

The word Church has various meanings, which Joan could not be expected to distinguish, nor was she aided by the doctors' talk of the Church militant and the Church triumphant. The question of submission was put to her in a most difficult and threatening manner, absurd, impious, and inhuman, which ill accorded with the proper procedure of an ecclesiastical court. Here was a simple country girl, skilled only in tending flocks, in weaving, and in sewing, and thinking of the "church" primarily as the material building. She might well have been excused had she not answered properly, which, however, she did. Notably, she showed her proper concept of the Church's unity: "It seems to me that it is the same with the Church as with God, and that there should be no difficulty about that. Why do you make a difficulty about it?"

Joan declared her belief that the Church is kept from error by the Holy Ghost, and stated that she was a good Christian. Let churchmen examine her answers, she said, and if they found anything contrary to the faith, she would cast it out. To the objection that clerics at Paris and elsewhere had condemned many of her words and deeds, Brehal answers that the report made to them was truncated and corrupted, as he will show later; and, of course, by "clerics" Joan meant impartial ones, not partisans of the English. She asked that churchmen on the French side should also be present.

When questioned about rival claimants to the Papacy she replied correctly that she would obey the Pope who was at Rome, and asked repeatedly to be taken to him and to the General Council. From all of which it is evident that she submitted duly and sufficiently to the Church where it was her duty, and cleared herself from all note of error. Those who questioned her, however, obviously meant, not the Roman or Universal Church, but themselves, thereby showing contempt for the Pope and doing grave injury to the Holy See. "I do not see," Brehal concludes, "how that bishop and his abettors can be excused from manifest malice against the Roman Church, or even from heresy."

9. The Relapse

After saying that he will deal later with Joan's "abjuration," Brehal justifies on three grounds her resumption of male clothing. First, she had been told to wear this clothing by divine revelation, and rightly feared that her abandonment of it, without special instructions from her voices, might have been gravely sinful. Secondly, the need of protecting her chastity was increased by attacks that had been made on her. Thirdly, natural necessity forced her to leave her prison, and, according to some witnesses, only male clothing had been left with her.

In a passage vibrant with indignation Brehal next de-scribes the "unbridled madness" of English rejoicing at the discovery of Joan's relapse, and her modest reserve in the face of her persecutors' fury, which only emphasizes their malice. All this could not have happened without fraud, for how could she, being closely shackled, have sought clothing elsewhere?

As to her reaffirmation of her apparitions and revelations, she never intended to abjure them, not having understood the formula of abjuration. Violence was re-sorted to in bidding her abjure. Whatever she did was done through terror of being burned.

She is reported to have finally renounced her voices on the day of her death. Brehal makes the obvious objections to these reports (the posthumous Information, see Chapter 10); namely, the contradiction of them by later witnesses and their extrajudicial and unauthenticated character. In any case, he adds, it is not to be wondered at, if perhaps, after a long and cruel captivity, and terrified by threats, this tender girl wavered. Christ Himself complained that God had forsaken Him. Joan no doubt referred herself to God and the Church, but that she ever renounced her voices is not proved.

After a moving description of Joan's death, Brehal concludes that one deluded by evil spirits would scarcely have died thus piously.