While Jeanne sleeps her last night of sorrow in the chateau de Bouvreuil and her enemies exult in the nearness of their full revenge, let us briefly survey the astounding fact of her condemnation which impends for the morrow.
Perhaps I am the first to point out one remarkable truth in regard to Jeanne d'Arc. It is this: since that fearful day in Rouen when she was led to her martyrdom by fire, she has been the glory of the faith and the shame of the church. That is why she was obliged to wait five centuries for the formal warrant of saint-ship. That is why the Devil's Advocate so long prevailed to deny her on earth the crown she wears in heaven. In these matters, truly, the church never hurries; she moves with a deliberation consistent with her dignity, with her province that extends in sacecula saculorum. But on the extended roll of the canonized you will find no saint who was made to stand at the door so long as Jeanne d'Arc. (In point of fact, the proceedings were started about the middle of the last century. Jeanne was not so much as thought of in this regard during four centuries.)
The church finally yielded, and there is no more gracious act in her immemorial history, none that
has conduced more to her venerable prestige. At the same time it must be allowed that the church needed Jeanne more than Jeanne needed the church. Happy be the reconciliation!
To resume: Jeanne d'Arc was done to death by the priests and theologians of the day, urged on by the civil and military power in the hands of her French and English enemies. I am aware that her death is not chargeable, in a direct sense, to the church universal, but rather to the branches at Paris and Rouen. Still the church is one, holy, apostolic: she could not wholly evade responsibility for those who acted in her name.
Jeanne appealed three times to the Pope, but the petition was ignored by her judges (some of whom afterward obtained signal preferment in the church), and it is commonly supposed never to have reached him. Nevertheless, it is incredible that Rome should have known nothing, heard nothing of the most remarkable event in Christendom, involving so many prelates and the Inquisition itself. She was, indeed, with good reason, very attentive to what was going on in France, where two Catholic peoples were struggling for the supremacy. Nothing of moment could occur there without attracting her notice, and Jeanne's trial lasted nearly three months. Also, her fame had spread throughout Europe long before the trial; the maiden victor of Orleans and Patay was not apt to be neglected by the common tongue. Even in Germany she was hailed as a saint and a sibyl (by the way, it was in Germany and from the pen of
Schiller that Jeanne was to begin her glorious course in literature). We have heretofore noted that an eminent French priest, Jean Lohier, repudiating Cauchon's proces in advance of the actual proceeding, felt obliged to seek safety by a flight to Rome, where he was soon made president of the Rota, one of the most important offices about the Pope. Here was a first-hand witness, if anybody were interested or concerned in the trial at Rouen. But the Pope, Martin V, died on the very eve of the trial—the same who had leaned toward the English, and who had shown a special regard for Cauchon (the latter having aided his candidacy for St. Peter's chair). He was succeeded at a troubled juncture by Eugene IV, who found himself blocked in Rome by the Colonnas, heirs of his predecessor—the kingdom of this world was again the object of fierce contest and disputation. The Pope had now something more important to think of than the fate of one poor girl in France.
This may explain the failure of Rome to take up Jeanne's appeal or in any way to notice the extraordinary cause. That the Pope was wholly uninformed about it we cannot believe, but it is credible that her appeal was never placed before him officially. Nevertheless, the church would have to bear the odium of her condemnation during centuries thereafter. For the two or three hundred priests and theologians who judged the Maid, as well as the godly men of the Inquisition and the University of Paris who damned her as a child of the devil, were in loyal communion with the church, and were in fact part of its machinery.
Still, it is certain that the church, in its plenary representative character, or the central authority at Rome, was free of Jeanne's blood. But the whole system, arrogating divine powers and claiming the right to draw supernatural warrants, was involved in the trial and murder of the Maid; has been judged by the measure with which it meted to her; and is now of a truth rejected by the more enlightened part of mankind. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of liberty!
A certain set of apologists try to cast all the blame of Jeanne's persecution and death upon the English. To be sure, the English had the best right to hate her and to seek her destruction, for had she not beaten them in several battles, lowered their prestige, and threatened to drive them out of the fair land of France which they had come to regard as their own? But let us be fair: her own countrymen shared to the full in the guilt and the shame of her death—nothing can clear them of that! Indeed, their reproach is the greater, since she was their compatriot, and they sold her for a piece of money! I see no ground for a choice between Philip of Burgundy and Bedford, the English duke; between Winchester and Regnault de Chartres; between Cauchon and Warwick; between La Tremoille and the noble Suffolk who offered to stab her in prison. They are all of an evil, parity and must stand or fall together.
Besides, we are not to forget that both French and English were in that day of the same religious faith. Not a single heretic took part in the proceedings
against Jeanne, from the holy clerics of the Inquisition and the University of Paris to Bishop Cauchon, that zealous prototype of Fouquier-Tinville, who sought her blood openly and thirsted for it with an eager relish that shocked even his fellow-judges; down to the rude soldiers who kept guard within her cell night and day, and probably caused her as much anguish at times as the threat of the fire. They were all believers in the one true faith, and the stain of her innocent blood is upon every one of them. Make no mistake about that!
Indeed, we cannot go astray as to the facts, and these cannot be twisted to the purposes of the special pleader: for the whole plan of the murder of Jeanne d'Arc; the carefully marked steps by which it was unrelentingly carried out; the heroic but ineffectual struggles of the victim; the unspeakable devices resorted to in order to circumvent and destroy her; the pitiless, unhalting purpose of her prosecutors, marked as with cinnabar—are all laid bare to us by the sworn testimony of eye-witnesses, with a fullness of detail and a veracity of statement which leave hardly a question to be asked or a doubt to be solved. It is all there—the conspiracy of power, learning, and holiness (God save the mark!) against one brave, helpless, innocent girl; ignorant, too, save for her divine illumination. We see the suavely ferocious Cauchon pressing her with both his holy hands toward the scaffold. We see that formidable array of priests setting the utmost skill of their wits, the deepest resources of their cunning, against a simple country
girl who could neither read nor write a name now among the most illustrious and venerated on the earth; trying by every wile of casuistry to wrest or surprise from her an admission that should send her to the flames.
Let us be just: they were not all equally guilty, not all equally intent on the slaughter of the spotless lamb before them. Not one was so bad as Cauchon, and to be strictly fair to that consecrated beast, not one was under the same pressure of ambition, which dictated his fearful primacy. A few of those priests, too few in that great number, had kind hearts and would gladly have sent the child home to her mother. Besides, they were captives themselves, bound hand and foot with the fetters of superstition and devil-born lunacy, misnamed religious fervor; daunted by monstrous ignorance and mythic fears of hell and darkness; chrisomed and holy-watered into a pretense of light and knowledge—aye, they were cowering slaves, branded and obedient to the lash, and she standing free and enfranchised in her chains!
There are many points of likeness between the trial of Jesus Christ and that of Jeanne d'Arc. They were both sold for a price of silver—alas! a vastly greater price was paid for the Maid. Both were martyrs of liberty, Jeanne in a special sense that has greatly made for her renown. Both suffered through a combination of forces political and priestly. Christ had Caiaphas; Jeanne had Cauchon, something the worst of it. The chief accusers, the leading prosecutors
of each were priests, and as the Jews cried out at the trial of Jesus, "His blood be upon us and upon our children!"—so might the priests have cried out at the condemnation of Jeanne, "Her blood be upon us and upon the church!"
But let us admit that even in such a case neither side would have the right to invoke a penalty upon the innocent.
And now to conclude with a point of unlikeness, not less suggestive. Among the judges of Jeanne d'Arc, —priests as they were, or deemed themselves to be, of the Christ of love and mercy—there was none so merciful as Pontius Pilate, whose memory is not held in much honor by the Christian world; not one had the courage or the humanity to wash his hands, publicly, of the intended murder. Some desired it out of their blind ignorance and cruel fanaticism; many, no doubt, regretted it as a severe but salutary act of faith; all consented to it. The responsibility is thus landed squarely where it belongs, on the official religion, which was then in league with the secular power.
By their fruits ye shall know them! But in condemning Jeanne d'Arc to a cruel and ignominious death the priests little suspected that they were making her one of the great figures of history. Mgr. Touchet, the excellent Bishop of Orleans, affirms that Jeanne is very near to Jesus, in the heaven where she has obtained her reward. In truth, her story parallels His in the obscurity of her birth and early life, and in the supreme points of the mission, the
betrayal, and the sacrifice. Also, she resembles the Divine Martyr in her eternal destiny; like Him, she has been as a sword flung into the world. She is still under trial, in spite of the tardy canonization: alone among the victims 2 of mediaeval darkness, cruelty and intolerance, she has been able to compel from a distance of five centuries this measure of justice and vindication. (The number of persons, mostly women, put to death for the impossible crime of witchcraft or sorcery in Christian Europe during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, remains incalculable. In Jeanne's time one or two women were burned for proclaiming their belief in her.)
But it is not enough!—still her quarrel proceeds, the greater mission on which she has entered; her white flag flutters in the van of the eternal conflict. And not yet has she lost her old wondrous power to summon the brave and the chivalrous to her defense. Strip every vestige of the supernatural from her legends and still she remains a marvel and an enigma to all time, as she is the choicest glory of the fair land of France, which she redeemed at the price of her blood. (Voltaire could not degrade it, even with his unequaled powers of mockery and satire. Anatole France fared no whit better in his suavely perfidious attempt to belittle and de-crown her.)