6 janvier 1412 – 6 janvier 2012
A special guest-series by Côme de Prévigny
Joan of Arc (III) : A Saint under excommunication
The river Seine runs through Rouen, site of Joan's execution. Following the Saint's burning at the stake, by order of the ecclesiastical court headed by the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, Cardinal Henry Beaufort ordered that her bones and ashes be thrown into the river, never to be found. Joan of Arc was born exactly 600 years ago today, on January 6, 1412. (Image: mdxdt - CC.)
Left alone, Joan felt herself wavering. In the cemetery of Saint-Ouen, near Rouen Cathedral, before people and court, she signed in her last days an act of abjuration that had been presented to her and that she had not read, by placing under pressure a cross which represented, according to different interpretations, either acceptance or invalidation. On the following day, however, she retracted, and trusted in the need to conform to her voices. Even the greatest saints can feel tempted to be discouraged. It is nonetheless in their ability to rise up in such a situation that we recognize their spiritual strength and the heroic character of their virtues. Was not the Savior himself tempted in the Garden of Olives, before letting out a cry of sufferance, "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?"
But the supreme sacrifice was at hand. Joan was condemned to death. The sentence of excommunication is read to her, with the solemn form that the representatives of the Church conferred upon it. She climbs up the steps of the platform where was located the fire that was to consume her, officially condemned by the Holy Inquisition whose guardians indicated to her in the verdict, with the hypocrisy that was to be expected, that they sincerely thought that she, Joan, should have "preferred to remain faithfully and constantly in the communion, as well as in the unity of the Catholic Church and of the Roman Pontiff."  On her was placed a headgear on which the points of condemnation, that her detractors repeated unceasingly, were written: "heretic, schismatic, relapser". What pain is more vicious for the true servants of the Church than that of feeling isolated at the end of their lives, rejected by their authorities at the same time in which places of honor are often granted to those who mistreat the essential truths of the Faith? Jesus Christ, abandoned by his disciples, had not himself been condemned to be crucified, at the same time in which Barabbas, the worst of criminals, was liberated?
Joan climbs up towards martyrdom. Her skin would crimson, her hair would burn, her limbs would be carbonized by the flames, and already some of her accusers, such as Loyseleur, approached hastily the cart taking her to the place of her torment to ask her to grant them her pardon. Faced with such holiness, her distraught executioner ran off and fell on his knees before a Friar Preacher: "I strongly fear I will be damned because I have burned a saint," a final confession that recalls the biblical words prefiguring the attitude of those who crucified Our Lord: "They shall look upon him, whom they have pierced".
A quarter-century after her death, the cause of the heroine of Orleans was revisited and the Church rehabilitated her officially. Until then, the number of those who believed that it was forbidden to judge the verdicts of the representatives of the ecclesiastical Institution was large. Pius XII celebrated this dignified end of a French heroine who was to one day obtain on earth, as she had in heaven, the crown of saints: "In the silence, the words of a martyr faithful to her vocation resonate, filled with faith in the Church, to which she appealed by invoking the sweetest name of Jesus, her only consolation. Through the flames that rise up, she stares at the Cross, certain that she will one day obtain justice." 
Is not Saint Augustine referring to the beautiful characters forged in Joan's image in these lines? "Often, too, Divine Providence permits even good men to be driven from the congregation of Christ by the turbulent seditions of carnal men. When, for the sake of the peace of the Church, they patiently endure that insult or injury, and attempt no novelties in the way of heresy and schism, they will teach men how God is to be served with a true disposition and with great and sincere charity. The intention of such men is to return when the tumult has subsided. But, if that is not permitted because the storm continues or because a fiercer one might be stirred up by their return, they hold fast to their purpose to look to the good even of those responsible for the tumults and commotions that drove them out: and, without forming secret congregations, they defend to the death and confirm by their testimony the faith which they know is preached in the Catholic Church. The One who sees their secret combats crowns their victory in secret. This situation seems rare in the Church, but it is not without precedent, it presents itself more often than it can be believed. So Divine Providence uses all kinds of men as examples for the sanctification of souls and for the edification of the people of God." 
[Part I: A Saint in armor]
[Part II: A Saint in isolation]
 Transcript of the trial of Joan of Arc, 56th session, May 30, 1431.
 Transcript of the trial of Joan of Arc, ibidem.
 Pius XII, Radio message to France, June 25, 1956.
 Saint Augustine, On True Religion, VI, 11.