THE MISSION OF JOAN
Section 1.—General View
THE appalling condition of France in the days of Joan of Arc is a matter of history; there was question of the existence of the nation. It had been chief amongst the Christian countries from the time of Charlemagne. Historically, through these ages, it had been the defender of the Church, and the heart of Christendom; and was so considered by European, and even by infidel, public opinion. There was question of preserving this France of Charlemagne and the Crusaders.
The assertions and life of Joan of Arc, show that she was far more than a patriot; or, if we wish, that she was a patriot of the truest and highest kind, who sought, not only the liberation of her native land from oppression, but, much more, its spiritual good, its moral and religious reformation. She was sent, she said, for the suffering and the poor, because of "the pity, which was in France." She came to remove the cause of this by restoring the rightful king and driving out the invader. But she aimed at far more. Her reformation of a profligate
and cruel army, her infusing of the spirit of faith and religious practice amongst the people, her re-uniting of selfish and dissident leaders for the common good—all this was much nobler and far more difficult than the expulsion of the English. Her desire to unite England and France, her inspiring of all Christendom in a time of dire public need, the conviction of the Christian nations as to what her vocation really was, her own attestation, with the support it had in her actual achievements, proved that Christendom, after France, would have followed her, to do, as she said, a fairer deed than ever had been seen in European history. Here we have the need and the possibility, the power and the assurance, of success. Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, came together against her, and made her great mission fail.
Section 2.—The Supernatural in the Mission of Joan
To treat Joan's life as Renan does the Gospels is a violation of fact. To declare her life and work a natural phenomenon produced by the circumstances of the time is a direct contradiction of her own testimony and of the innumerable witnesses of her phenomenal deeds. We have unquestioned chronicles, judicial registers, letters, official documents civil and ecclesiastical, slow deliberate judgments of the chief minds of her age and country, the testimony of acquaintances of her younger and of her maturer years,
the word of friend and foe, to discredit the light fancy of men, who, without hesitation or embarrassment, explain away everything.. Her stainless and most cautious sanctity of life, the prophecies so frequent on her lips, the superhuman work which she performed, all lead up to the culminating point of her mission, the proclamation upon which she insisted, that there was no cure for war-born France save in the union of her people under the sovereignty of the Christ "who loved the Franks."
Joan's professed mission was to have Charles VII rule his kingdom under the Christian law; or, in other words, she proclaimed "her Lord" the true king of her country; His social and political sovereignty was the ideal she proposed and toward which she strove. And what she proclaimed and desired for France, she would propose to all the Christian nations, then beginning to feel its need in face of national and religious dissentions, and of purely human or pagan "reasons of state," instead of reasons of Christianity.
This is, of course, the Christian ideal and program, the reason of the Incarnation. Joan only insisted on it; and she insists on nothing more constantly and emphatically. It is "her Lord" who sends her. She is entirely sure of His presence and of His assistance. She acts and commands in His Name. To Him she attributes her victories and all her gifts and graces.
His kingly name and title are ever on her lips as in her heart. To the hard old soldier, Baudricourt, she says at her first visit "The kingdom does not belong to the Dauphin; it belongs to my Lord. However, my Lord wishes that the Dauphin be made king, and hold his kingdom in trust. He will be made king in spite of all his enemies; and it is I who will conduct him to receive his anointing." The Dauphin will be
crowned, but by the aid and disposition of Heaven, and at the appointed time. The kingdom is given him to defend. In less than fifteen months the impossible thing was done. The king was crowned, and the tide of utter defeat turned to glorious victory.
Again, to the noble and gallant Jean de Metz she said, "Neither king, nor duke, nor the daughter of the king of Scotland (promised then to the French king's son), can recover the kingdom; in me alone will France be saved. So my Lord wills, although it is not a deed to be hoped for from one of my condition; and I would far prefer to remain spinning beside my mother. He (her Lord) wishes it, and I must do it." Arriving at Chinon she immediately announced all this to the king. The noble-hearted Duke d'Alencon was present at the long interview, with the unworthy La Tremoille. Joan requested the king to offer up his kingdom to the true Sovereign, the King of kings; and promised that His Divine Majesty would do for Charles VII the great things which He had done
for his predecessors. She asked, moreover, "many other things," which d' Alencon had forgotten. It was, finally, in obedience to this heavenly command of vassalage, that Charles consented to be led to his coronation, before the eyes of astonished France and of the world, by the hand of a peasant girl, one of the most lowly of his subjects. All this was meant by Joan when she said her banner was dearer to her than her sword. With the banner she led the soldiers to victory. When it touches the fortress wall she said, the English will be quickly vanquished. Her banner represented her heavenly mission and the sovereignty of Christ, whose name it bore. Hence she held it displayed, majestically and symbolically at the coronation. What could prove her words better than that she, a child, should lead the hitherto humiliated and powerless king through the midst of a hostile land to be crowned at Reims?
The reforms demanded by Joan at the court of Charles VII are mentioned, in part at least, by the chroniclers—a general amnesty for all the dissentient French partisans; the administration of kindly justice to the poor and to the rich; reparation for past crimes; the practice of religion, beginning with the king and court (these noble personages Joan made go to Confession and exhorted to Holy Communion) ; the reformation of the soldiery and of communal administration; finally, obedience to the commands which Joan would receive from
"her Lord." Such was the program of the Maid--the Gospel applied to the government and the morals of the people of lianas. How the Maid greatens in this vision of her! And how different she is from the peasant girl of free thought, who dreamed dreams and was stimulated to military surprise by the sight of a village raid perpetrated by some robber captain! She bore no hatred to the English; but requested them to depart without bloodshed; and over their dead and dying she wept with all the tender pity of a woman. It is a profanation to reduce Joan to the stature of a mere patriot. Such was not the view of Christendom, astounded at her exploits and virtues. Warriors thronged to her banner, even from beyond the limits of France, foreshadowing a crusade. What would have been her fame if she had been allowed to take Paris? What enthusiasm and confidence she would have aroused if she had expelled the English completely and rapidly, as she proposed to do? Such victorious exploits would have given the noble-hearted Joan an opportunity of leading a united Christendom in a campaign far greater than that of the Loire.
Section 3.—Her Prophecies
The author who believes little in the existence or possibility of prophecy or miracle, and the outright unbeliever, will always try to explain in a natural manner the manifested foreknowledge and the apparently superhuman deeds of
Joan of Arc. Such explaining away often becomes trivial, and often entirely rediculous.
Before referring to the prophecies of the Maid, it is well to premise that prophecy is not necessary a permanent gift, and that by its nature it is limited. In it is embraced the knowledge of secrets. Its purpose – and nothing is more evident in the history of religion – is to manifest Divine Providence, to prepare the minds of men for coming events, to turn aside evils, to conciliate public esteem, to show Divine approval and mission – all things of supreme consequence, if not of absolute necessity, when there is question of an envoy of God, with great and supernatural things to be accomplished. Provided the person favored with prophecy is also distinguished by heroicity of virtue, that is, practices the Christian virtues habitually in a heroic manner, or with heroic perfection, this gift is a great indication of sanctity, and is one of the chief grounds of canonization.
Minimizing in the matter of prophecy is unjust to Joan of Arc. As a matter of clear fact, she had the gift of prophecy in a rare degree; the gift was astonishing, every frequent, and indubitable. To accept this statement it is necessary only to read her life frankly and attentively. In fact beyond the frontiers of France, she was probably considered a prophetess even more than a warrior. At Domremy, before beginning her career, and at Vaucouleurs when
imploring the aid of Baudricourt, she prophesied in the most definite manner, that, before one year had elapsed, she would cause the king to be crowned; that she would do so in spite of his enemies – and they were many and irresistibly powerful – that at mid-Lent Divine assistance (through her) would come. On February 12th she announced the defeat of Rouvray at the moment it occurred one hundred leagues away. This it was that finally decided Baudricourt to help her. The guides and guard feared to undertake the dangerous journey from Vaucouleurs to Chinon. Joan foretold they would meet no serious obstacle – a thing, which seemed miraculous enough. At Chinon she recognized the king whom she had never seen, even though he had disguised himself amidst the courtiers - however the light critics seek to deny the fact. She made known to Charles her knowledge of his supreme secret never revealed to any one, and uttered only to Heaven in a mental prayer. Other prophecies on that same occasion are recorded. To revictual (to re-supply with food VF) Orleans in siege seemed a sheer impossibility. We shall do it at our ease, said Joan, without one Englishman coming out of his entrenchments (fortifications VF). The indication and description of her sword; the prompt deliverance of Orleans, with a hundred accompanying prophecies, of the crossing of the river, the foretelling of her wound, of the safety of her herald, the death of Glasdale, of the total fight of the English before five days, of the taking
of the Tourelles after one assault and her return by the bridge; her knowledge, too, of the secret council of the captains, and the losses at Fort St. Loup – such and so constant was the prophesying of Joan. At Jargeau, foretelling the victory she inspired the assault against the advice of the captains; and although hurled from the scaling ladder by a large stone, she immediately spring up and took the town by storm. During the investment of Jargeau she saved the life of d’Alencon by warning him to remove from where he was standing; directly afterwards, another, taking his place, was slain. She had foretold also, to the tearful wife of this young nobleman that she would bring him back safe and sound. She foretold in a picturesque manner, but exactly, the extraordinary victory of Patay, urging her soldiers to press on boldly. The prediction of the coronation at Reims was one of the most extraordinary of all. On her way thither, she told the military council, which was about to turn back from Troyes, that, if the matter were left to her, the city would surrender in two or three days, as happened. The people of Reims, she said, would come forth spontaneously to meet the king. In the most desperate and hopeless moments she predicted the capture of St. Pierre-le-Moustier. She foreknew the frustration of her mission, but assured that it would be accomplished after her death. Paris fell in 1436; the Duke of Orleans was released in 1440;
Normandy and Guienne returned to their allegiance in 1450.
The prophecies of Joan were not always fulfilled, because they were frustrated by disloyalty or opposition. Her program was not followed; her own efforts were hindered; and hence it would have been a miracle if the deeds which she alone could do had been done without her. If such a thing indeed happened, her mission and her genius would have been of little avail. Historically speaking, when Joan was unhindered, all went well; when betrayed or set aside, things usually failed. And nothing could have been better or more admirable than this choice of a peasant girl to create and lead the armies of France, to the humiliation of a criminal and traitorous nobility.
Section 4.--Joan's Pre-eminent Sanctity
One of the great promoters of the beatification of Joan and of the revival of popular enthusiasm in her fame, Cardinal Pie, Bishop of Poitiers, called her "the largest and completes, type of religion"—in the sense, namely, not only of personal Christian perfection, but, moreover, of confirmation of Christian morality and dogma by her life, and of the manifestation of Divine intervention in her great career. This is the important view of Joan; not the minutiae, sometimes despicable, of some biographers. Not the inspiring story of her brilliant campaigns; not the touching drama of her martyrdom;
but the far higher and more important aspect of her life and mission—the re-establishment of the Christian constitution of states, justice, charity, piety, Christian law, and Christian ideals, such is the complete view of Joan, as of all saints, as of "her Lord" Himself.
In the brief span of her mortal course what contrasts of life, duty and occupation! From the pious solitude of her native village, from the utter simplicity and snowy innocence of her child life, she passed to court and camp, and there became the central figure. But she is ever the same- "simple as any peasant girl save in things of war."She who loved her little companions, Mengette and Hauviette, at Domremy; who plied busily the distaff and needle, and led the placid animals to the village pasture, now speaks to king and nobles with an ease, confidence, and grace equal to their own. She loves the conversation of men of war. She mounts the war-horse and wields the lance in a manner, which fascinates the proud old soldiers. She sways the royal council, prophesies victory, marshals the lawless but now reformed veterans, inspires them with a sense of all-conquering courage, and in bold attack and hard siege leads them to irresistible victory. And in all this strangest transformation; her prayers and tears are as assiduous as in her native fields assiduous as in her native fields or village church; her angelic modesty more noticeable, noticed, and revered; her absolute detachment from any personal interest, unparalleled.
What Christian virtue could have burned more brightly than it did in the heart Joan, her sublime faith, her nearness to Heaven, her warm charity to all? Not an aspect of religion which was not seen in her—reverence for Divine worship and all things sacred, constant reception of the Sacraments, fear of offending God, or failing in creed or law. Her stainless modesty seems miraculous. It extinguishes the flame of desire in the hearts of her hard-fighting soldier-companions, as, fully armed, she sleeps beside them on the field. Yet no timid and cautious virgin ever took more precautions as to her female companions, when possible, and as to her place of rest. Her courtesy is as delicate and exquisite as that of a princess, and not unmingled with charming humor. Her fortitude is unequaled by the hardiest warrior of the royal army. Baudricourt will not abash her, nor the counsels of the captains dissuade, nor the- unparalleled dangers of journey, march, or desperate attack, ever make her feel a thrill of terror. She will weep over the dead, and for a moment when she is wounded; but this only shows she never lost the tenderness of the maiden. Her sobriety was so great that even at the close of the hard-fought day, she eats but a little bread steeped in wine. The people everywhere are intimately acquainted with all this; and so they venerate her as a saint, and kiss the stirrup of her saddle and the hem of her robe, and ask her to touch their
rosaries. But she laughingly returns them with the gay word, that it will do just as much good if they touch them themselves.
Section 5.—Joan's Military Genius
The transformation of Joan of Arc is unique. From a simple peasant maiden, she becomes, at the age of seventeen years, an accomplished captain of resistless leadership, a perfect horse woman, an intrepid soldier, a consummate general, inspiring the foe with terror. She performs magnificent exploits, with, as became a great commander, lightning rapidity. Armies flee, castles fall, cities open their gates. Perfidy alone—this was, she said, the only thing she feared—stays her victorious advance. She never mounted a horse until leaving Vaucouleurs to go to the king. A few days after, she so charmed d'Alencon in presence of the king by the skill with which she rode her horse and managed her lance, that he gave her a present of a warhorse. She now was much pleased with armor, and asked the king for good horses and arms.
D'Alencon, who was all nominal commander-in- chief of her army, said, "In all things, excepting war, she was simple as any young girl. But in war she was most expert, either in wielding the lance, or massing the army and preparing the battle. She made excellent use of artillery; and it was a subject of admiration for all to see her military skill and intuition. One would
have thought her a captain of twenty or thirty years' experience; and especially in the arrangement of the artillery, she was excellent on this point. "Her hostess at Bourges, Dame de Bouligny, said Joan seemed to know absolutely nothing beyond matters of war. Her simplicity and innocence were noticed by all, and very much increased the veneration she received. The Chevalier Thermes, who fought beside her, testified that in the leading of an army, in arranging the line of battle, in animating the combatants, there was no captain so skillful in the whole world even though he had passed his life in the art of war.
Her summons to surrender terrified the stubborn English veterans—the facts are undoubted. Recruiting became difficult, desertions frequent. In four months they lost the conquests of ten years. The Duke of Bedford sums up the cities —Reims, Troyes, Chalons, etc. Napoleon did nothing better in the same length of time, everything considered. The counsel of the chief s was often opposed to hers; but she swept them with her. In fact, she found it much harder to overcome the resistance of the leaders, lay and clerical, with whom she was allied, than to vanquish the English.
The opposition in the royal party to Joan is almost incredible. In her brief military career of about thirteen months, she was practically supreme in the leadership of the army for less than two months. During this short space,
Orleans was delivered in nine days, after a siege of at least six months; Patay was won, and the campaign of the Loire completed in six days. From June 29th, 1429, to May 23rd, 1430, she was only tolerated, and had never sufficient help. She accompanied the army to Reims although the surrender of Troyes is due to her. It is still more manifest that she was merely tolerated in the campaign of the Ile-de-France. The failure at Paris was the work of Charles VII and his council. On the Haute Loire, in a series of sieges, she was placed under others; but the credit of taking Saint-Pierre-le-Moustier falls to her. In her last campaign she had only a few hundred men, and even then she was opposed and hindered up to her capture at Compiegne. Yet all this time she was full of activity, intelligence, and energy. In the beginning she quickly overcame the intrigues of the court at Chinon. The army of "old brigands" (Armagnac), pillagers and dissolute, was changed in a few days. Captains, proud, skeptical, and debauched, followed the peasant child. Etienne de Vignoles—called, from his brusque character, La Hire, an old Burgundian word for the snarl of a dog—practiced and praised pillage. Gaucourt, a man of fifty-seven years, was a distinguished leader. Such, too, was de Gontant; such, Sainte-Severe. The people and common soldiers’ worshiped Joan, and the captains obeyed. Dunois, the true, noble, and gallant soldier, was, twenty-five
years after, still under the fascination of the warrior Maid. La Hire alone tried to release Joan at Rouen; but he was taken by the English, and soon escaped.
The military trials of Joan are thus summed up by General Canonge – bravery, example, humor and repartee, skill, foresight, grasp of the situation, activity and rapidity, astonishing endurance, extreme sobriety, horsemanship, used of arms, audacious and stubborn attack, ardor and prudence, humanity, knowledge of men and of the heart.