ST. JOAN OF ARC
Section 1—Recent Studies
The Beatification of Joan of Arc by Pope Pius X five hundred years after her birth has increased or emphasized the fame, which was its cause. Never was a beatification more ardently desired, it has been said; nor more enthusiastically welcomed. The extraordinary popularity of the Maid, strangely deepening and expanding in our day, has stimulated the study of the sources of her history, and inspired the writing of new biographies. They have been produced by believers of various creeds, and by unbelievers in any creed. We do not, of course, refer to lives, which dishonor the fair fame and the extraordinary career of the heroine---compositions so base and baseless, that they cannot arrest attention.
M. Quicherat's publication, fifty years ago, of the twofold Process, the documents, namely, regarding the condemnation and the rehabilitation, or justification of Joan, placed in the
hands of the student the official reports, which, curiously enough, are the chief sources of her history—curiously; for the condemnation, which occupies the larger place, was grossly unjust and murderously hostile; yet Providence would have it so, that the victim's answers were written, generally speaking, with substantial correctness.
Since Quicherat's time many new documents have been discovered, new light has been thrown on the actors in the drama, the fifteenth century has been more profoundly studied, many fancies and fallacies have been dissipated. With regard to these last, it has been proved, for instance, that the so-called double retraction of Joan before her execution cannot be sustained, that she never gave any ground whatsoever for supposing that her mission ended with the crowning of the king at Reims; that this "gentle Dauphin" was in reality a man of blameless life, as Joan clearly thought and said he was, until after she had been withdrawn.
In 1840 the Society of the History of France, entrusted to one of its members, M. Jules Quicherat, the publication of the two Processes. He was a scholar of reputation, the director of the Ecole des Chartes; that is to say, a specialist in paleography, or the deciphering of ancient manuscripts. The publication was continued from 1840 to 1849. The first three volumes were devoted to the Processes—the Condemnation and the Rehabilitation; and in the remaining two
volumes M. Quicherat published all other documents known to him and considered by him the sources of the Maid's history. M. Quicherat came of a family of extreme revolutionary traditions and sentiments. He himself, though an upright and loyal man, and a sincere admirer of Joan of Arc, did not, however, share her faith; nor, it appears, any definite Christian faith at all. This mental condition influenced, unfortunately, his publication of the documentary evidence, and his own writings, retarding the heroine. He recommended the omission of several memoirs, and actually omitted them; because he considered them, as he said, theological or canonical. As a matter of fact, they were of great value, written by men of weight, learning and station. They not only furnish new matter, but they, perhaps chiefly, do justice to Joan's mission; and if their value be ignored, or underrated, her history becomes a misrepresentation. The authors of the memoirs, men of highest position in Church and State at the time, examined in the most serious manner the mission of Joan. Such were the great prelate Pierre de Versailles, the saintly Cardinal Elie de Bourdeilles, Archbishop Gelu, the intimate friend of Charles VII, the distinguished Dominican Brehal, who were the soul of the Process of Rehabilitation. Of the writings of these men Quicherat gives a few inadequate passages, and occasional insufficient notes, notes, not always laudatory. Nor is
the work actually done by M. Quicherat always exact, especially in his publication of the Process of Rehabilitation, which, naturally, is more worthy of respect than the work of the murderous Sanhedrin of Rouen. Quicherat wished to abridge the manuscripts of the second trial or Rehabilitation, but, unfortunately, follows his prejudice in the selection; and omits the more important manuscripts for those of far less value. In fact, Quicherat was the first to attempt to reinstate—to some extent--the unworthy Bishop of Cauchon, leaving the impression that he followed methodically the procedure of the Inquisition; while M. Quicherat depreciates the Process of Rehabilitation. But it is especially in his later work, Apercus Nouveau, that he disfigures the heroine whom he seems to admire. His omissions, his prejudices, his interposition of his own false theories and interpretations do wrong to the noble cause, which he treated. His work is incomplete on many grounds; he should have selected his materials better, and have published them without prejudice. Nor was his judgment infallible with regard to the manuscripts in his hands. For instance, he rejected as not being of original authority the Chronique de la Pucelle, justly valued by his colleague Vallet, and shown by him to have been written by a secretary of Charles VII, Cousinot de Montreuil. Various other documents have since come to light. M. Quicherat himself published the charming composition
of the Registrar of La Rochelle. Later came the delightful pages of the Vatican manuscript by Delisle, the Belgian Chronicles, the Chronicle of the Cordeliers, the correspondence of Guistiniani in Morosini—all these were unknown when Quicherat edited his collection. There are many contemporary letters regarding Joan, written by the highest persons at the court of Charles VII; and of these not a few are in course of publication. There have been found various documents of local and general historical value, such as unedited lives of Joan, and an unpublished history of the University of Paris. Much work of investigation and publication remains to be done by scholars with intimate knowledge, historical, political, and religious, of the fifteenth century, who will edit the manuscripts with discretion, and with serious and adequate notes.
The most distinguished and conscientious work hitherto done is, unquestionably, that of Pere Ayroles, S.J; who, coming fifty years after Quicherat, has spent more than twenty years of life in investigating the true sources of the life of Joan —for him a work of love. The praise of the Bishop of Orleans is not excessive when he calls P. Ayroles "the man best informed regarding Joan of Arc." His work has been declared by eminent French scholars to be, what it truly is, "an imperishable monument," of scrupulous authenticity. His fine volumes contain far more matter, and are far more serviceable,
than those of M. Quicherat. P. Ayroles' work is indispensable indeed. He shows, in particular, the nefarious part of the University of Paris, not only in the condemnation of Joan, but in the affairs of the Church at the time—its traitorous, destructive plots for fifty years before and twenty years after the execution of the Maid. No institution ever injured the Church more than did the decadent University of Paris. From its blows the Church has not yet recovered, and probably never will recover. Yet it was the University, which declared itself the Church in the condemnation of the heroine; and it was its officials and doctors, including Cauchon, who compassed her murder, without needing any instigation of Beaufort, Bedford, or Warwick.
In the interminable sessions of condemnation (the first trial), Joan revealed her whole soul and life. At the Rehabilitation, one hundred and twenty witnesses declared under oath, free of the terrors of Rouen, what they themselves had seen and heard. Thus the miraculous life is most luminous, authentic, and incontestable. In the words of Cardinal Pie, we have not only historical but juridical certitude as to the details. Her mission startled Christendom; and so we have a mass of contemporary writings—chronicles, histories, letters, poetry, municipal registers, etc., in France, Italy, Germany, Scotland. All these have been studied by Father Ayroles; and much of the matter has been reproduced.
He has discovered much of first class value, as the Letters of Justiniani in Morosini, and the correspondence of Archbishop Gelu. He has translated the memoirs of the Rehabilitation; collected and arranged many documents neglected or misplaced in injudicious collections; thrown a flood of light on the authors and actors in the scene; and justly estimated the value of printed books. His purpose has been fully achieved—to dissipate the fallacies and fancies of those who have misrepresented the Maid and her mission. He has made fully understood the examination and proofs of her mission before the officials of Charles VII; and shows Joan in her true surroundings, amidst the hostility of a court bishop or two, of faithless politicians, and of military captains. And, finally, he has proved the falsity of the Acts added by the unjust judge Cauchon to the pretended abjuration of Joan in the cemetery of Rouen. Not in vain does he name the first large volume of the five- Jeanne before the Church of her Time; for there he manifests her surrounded by the enthusiastic loyalty of the real Church of France. He reveals her, too, in the wider import of her frustrated mission, which was far other than the mere expulsion of the English soldiers and king from the soil of France. The scrupulous exactitude the indefatigable research of Pere Ayreks, have won him the title given in the Acts of the Process of Beatification—"the historian par excellence of Joan of Arc."
Section, 2.--Joan, Her Own Historian
Jean Hordal, professor of law at the University of Pont-a-Mousson, in his Latin history of his glorious relative Joan, cites, in 1612, the names, and gives extracts from the works, of some one hundred and fifty authors who had written of the warrior Maid. These were historians, theologians, lawyers, poets, physicians. Among them are illustrious names, eminent in knowledge. But Joan was her own best historian. Without a friend, without counsel or aid of any kind save from heaven, the frank and simple-hearted peasant maiden reveals her whole life and soul before the unjust judges, who eagerly sought in the most obscure events and details of her short life the proofs of evil, in order to condemn her to death by fire. This is unique in human history. Nothing could be more luminous. And by a strange and benignant disposition of Providence, the scribe who wrote the questions and answers was honest; and, except perhaps in a few important instances, substantially correct.
From the beginning, Joan was a sign to be contradicted. The plotting courtiers were never quite in favor of her; the captains chafed under her leadership and success. The "gentle Dauphin," whose cause she so chivalrously sustained, did not venture, or did not see his way, to adopt her bold program. The chronicles of her career were written by friends and foes.
The latter did not, and logically could not, accept her mission as supernatural; yet they portray substantially the great warrior figure, and admit her triumphs and popular fame. So, in a later time, in the really extraordinary revival of the memory and honor of Joan; in the great chorus of praise of Catholic, Protestant, and unbeliever; in the multitudinous biographies issuing from the press All are in fairly unanimous accord in exalting the virtues and exploits of La Pucelle.
Section 3.—The Church and Joan
It may be well, before approaching the actual career of Joan, to indicate some of the unjustifiable theories, or statements, made in her regard. One of these regards her relation with the Church in which she so fondly believed, and which she so devotedly obeyed. The light slur has frequently been uttered that the Church burned Joan. Again, that she was an illustrious example of free thought; of the right, as it is called, of the individual conscience to follow its own way, independently of an authoritative creed proclaimed from without. Such careless or prejudicial declarations are unjust to religion and injurious to the heroine of France. To the Catholic Church Joan's allegiance never wavered. She began her mission with its solemn approval in the assembly at Poitiers. Throughout her whole career, nothing was more touching than the practice of her faith. To the
Church and its Head she constantly professed entire submission. Even in the dark day of her condemnation and death, she pitifully implored that the Sacraments should be given her. And she died with the prayerful confidence of her childhood, appealing to the Pope from Caiaphas-like Cauchon. Pseudo-theologians, "who impudently called themselves the Church;" a band of traitorous partisans; foes of their king, their country, and the Church—such were the members of the Sanhedrin of Rouen. The University of Paris did not represent the Church of France, although it certainly influenced its destinies. The University and its party were notorious for their efforts to destroy the Divine organization and prerogatives of the Church; they were the authors and defenders of schism; the creatures of antipopes, the fathers of Gallicanism. Rome denounced unhesitatingly he condemnation of Joan as soon as it could; that is, as soon as Charles VII began to move in the matter. And without this Roman Rehabilitation, the Maid would have remained a heroine of legend. Nothing was more imperatively demanded than this second sentence, which corrected the evidence and falsifications of Rouen; and, from the irrefragable testimony of those who had known Joan in childhood, in camp, and in her trial, presented her to the world forever in a light too resplendent to be obscured.