Rorate Caeli

Joan of Arc :
I - A Saint in armor

6 janvier 1412 – 6 janvier 2012
A special guest-series by Côme de Prévigny

Joan of Arc (I) : A Saint in armor
What mysterious force could transform an ignorant shepherdess from the outskirts of a nation in agony into a warlord behind whom the despaired regained courage, after whom saints rebuilt a nation that deserved the title of "Eldest Daughter of the Church"? Saint Pius X declares it: "Called by the Lord to defend her fatherland, [Joan] responds to her vocation with an enterprise that the entire world - and herself, in the first place - considered impossible; but that which is impossible to men is always possible with the help of God."[1]

France in the early 15th century was bruised, dismembered, weakened by a century of war. Her titular sovereign [2] was nothing more than a misfortunate sire, envied by his vassals, who had been divested, by his mother, of the northern half of the country, sold to its English neighbors. It seemed to be the end of la belle France of Saint Louis when, on February 25, 1429, Joan presented herself before the dauphin Charles and affirmed to him that she had received the mission to deliver Orleans and to have him crowned at Rheims. She had miraculously overcome all obstacles: the concern of her mortified parents, the intense reticence of the sire of Vaucouleurs, the nocturnal crossings of enemy territory, the mockeries of the Crown's liegemen. Most jeered at the seventeen-year-old whose experience was limited to the guarding of sheep and who declared herself to be the bearer of a message of God revealed by Saint Michael and Saints Catherine and Margaret in person in person! "Chosen by God - Pius XII says-, the unwavering conscience of her mission, an ardent yearning for holiness, fed by the wish of best fulfilling her august vocation, will lead her to overcome obstacles, ignore dangers, confront the powerful of the earth, meddle in the international problems of the age, and even to transform herself in an ironclad captain, formidable, ready to storm." [3]

Her divine determination, examined by the tribunals of the Church, at last vanquished the king's hesitations, and the little shepherdess from Domrémy achieved victory after victory. The miserable French army turns into the bright elite corps that follow the heroine in her epic journey from Orleans to Rheims, through Jargeau, Patay, and Beaugency. Going to daily Mass, praying every day, going to confession and receing Communon very frequently, this friend of God and of the saints encoouraged her soldiers to the regular reception of the Sacraments, expelled from the army, wih great firmness, the women of ill-repute, and cared for the soul of each of her ennemies, by having them assisted by a priest. The warriors, used to a life of binging rather than to one of religion, and to fowl language more than to Communion, fell one after the other before the heavenly charm. "All marveled that, in military matters, she acted with as much wisdom and foresight as a captain who had fought for twenty or thirty years." (John II of Alençon). "Neither the others nor myself had bad thoughts when we were near her. In my opinion, there was something divine in that" (John of Orleans).

With the distrust of the king's counselors being overcome with time, the "Maid of Orleans" was made a prisoner near Compiègne by the Burgundians who decided to sell her to the English. The long calvary of Joan would then begin, condemned by a sham ecclesiastical procedure that rendered her to the civil power to be delivered, without verdict, to the flames. On May 30, 1431, she was burned alive in Rouen, but the geopolitical balance had been permanently reversed. The lady whose very presence at the head of the armies terrified the enemies, who believed her to have come from hell, had given hope back to the French, who reconquered all their territory in a few years. Less than one century later, the leavening of errors accumulated for years would plunge England in the darkness of Protestant error. What would have happened to France and to the Church of Rome if a Protestant power had remained in place surrounding the very heart of Catholic Europe? By the divine mission entrusted to Joan of Arc, God had providentially protected the Eldest Daughter of the Church.

Beatified in 1909 by Saint Pius X, the liberator of Orleans and of France was canonized by Benedict XV in 1920. The nineteen years she had spent here on earth make her an example of trust in Providence and of determination in acting in obedience to God: "The warmen will make battle, she said, but God will deliver victory."

[Part II: A Saint in isolation]
[Part III: A Saint under excommunication]

[1] Saint Pius X, Address of December 13, 1908.
[2] Charles VII, king of France 1403-1461.
[3] Pius XII, Radio message to France, June 25, 1956.