Joan of Arc, born Jan 1412, a saint for our time

Joan of Arc, born Jan 1412, a saint for our time
Chapel at which St Joan prayed, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
(A donor acquired and moved the chapel to Marquette University in 1965)
This month marks the six hundredth birthday of Joan of Arc (Jan 6 1412). The figure of Joan of Arc continues to attract our attention and to inspire men and women of many nationalities and walks of life. Friedrich Schiller, Bernard  Shaw and Mark Twain all wrote admiringly of her. 
I continue to find the reflections of Jacques most insightful about the significance of this great saint. In his book, On the Church of Christ, Maritain considers a number of lessons from history, concluding with the life of Joan of Arc. (See to the Jacques Maritain Center here) (Scroll down to section V, The Funeral Pile of Rouen, or “On, On, On, Daughter of God, On!”) Of course, that was the voice she heard — “On Daughter of God, we will help you.” And she discoursed with St Catherine of Alexandria, St Margaret and St Michael. The supernatural burst forth in great glory in her life, challenging all reductionistic accounts of the world, of human nature, of politics. As Maritain reminds us, “The three who composed her ‘counsel,’ — she saw them ‘really and
corporeally,’ they were like us physically in space. St. Michael
appeared for the great directives concerning her mission, the two
each day. She untiringly repeated ‘that her Voices came from
God, that she heard them every day, several times a day, that she saw
them with her eyes, heard them with her ears, “just as I see you,
judges, believe me if you will!”‘ She knelt down before St. Catherine
and St. Margaret, ‘kissed them and embraced them, — taking their knees
between her arms; she smelt their good odor; felt their figure, which
did not vanish at the touch.'” Smelt their good odor? This woman was insane, a tremendous liar, or . . .  a holy saint of God for whom and through whom the the glory of God shone forth. The apparitions of heaven are a gift from God to our dreary lives and an inspiration to “go on, on” despite our grubby compromises with the world. Well, yes, such apparitions must be tested and set before the authority of the Church — and Joan submitted, in truth and love.
Her life abounds with significance. Maritain considers her execution/martyrdom by officials of the Church to be a sign of the end of the medieval period and the beginning of a new era. Maritain says:

This blessed icon was that of an executed girl criminal, —
executed by priests of Christ: and the gift of Heaven brought also to
earth a sign of the divine severity toward the blunders and the
violences which so stained with blood medieval Christendom, —
especially toward that Inquisition of which the atrocious caricature
exhibited by the trial of Rouen was signed with the wrath of God.
Causae ad invicem sunt causae [Causes are the causes of one another (in different lines of
causality)]. The end of medieval Christendom
entailed the end of the medieval Inquisition; and the medieval
Inquisition was one of the irreparable historical mistakes by which
medieval Christendom was to perish. The adieu of the King of Heaven to medieval Christendom, — the
primordial aspect of the mission of Joan and of her passage upon earth,
— was at one and the same time an adieu of sublime gratitude and an
adieu of inevitable chastisement.

From time to time I teach a course on medieval philosophy. The beginning and end of this period are murky and disputable. Josef Pieper (Scholasticism) marks the beginning in the year 529, the year in which we find the closing of Plato’s Academy and the founding of Monte Casino and writing of Benedict’s Rule. Of the end of the middle ages, he is not quite sure. Philosophically, the age just fades away or ends in quibbling. Not with a bang but a whimper.  But Maritain may be right — the era does end with a bang, that is to say, the age ends in 1431 with the fiery death of Joan of Arc. Neither the fires of Savanna Rolla nor the fires of the countless reformers of the 16th century burn with as bright a purity as the funeral-pile of Rouen. (Here is a picture of the spot of execution)

Maritain thinks that life of St Joan signifies not only the end of the medieval era but the beginning of the modern age, and begins the long rise of a laity formed and inspired to fight for the kingdom of God in temporal affairs. Hers is a pivotal life in history. 

The key to her life is adherence to the truth of God. As Maritain explains — she was asked: “Joan, do you submit to the Church? It is with this question that the

judges of Rouen most harassed her.” Joan “does not fail to
add to her replies: I am ready to obey the Church, God first
, or if one does not command
me anything impossible.”
God first served. That means —  Witness to truth before all else. Coherence and consistency of life — or unity of faith and life. It also means — holiness before all else. Purity of life — or devotion in all walks of life. A remarkable thing emerges in her simple statement — “God first served.” It is the cry of all the saints. But to bring this into temporal affairs, to witness, “God first served,” in all venues and  paths of life — we may say that St Joan is a patron saint of Vatican II.  That is, Joan is the harbinger of unity of faith and life and the universal call to holiness; the sanctification of the everyday, at the crossroads of the world, by the laity. 

Their weapons will now be prayer and faithful witness to the truth of God (this is what stands out in Joan’s life after all). Thus Maritain leads us to the brilliant conclusion:
I think that Joan of Arc — who failed, but not forever, in the secret
mission of which it was a question above –is par excellence
the saint and the patron of the temporal mission of the Christian; in
other words the saint and the patron of the Christian laity: for this
temporal mission is the affair of laymen, to be conducted under their
initiative and at their risks and perils,  — on condition that in
their collaboration with men of every belief and of every nation for a
common temporal work they keep in their hearts a faith as pure, total,
and absolute as that of Joan. (This is required not only by loyalty
toward God, but also by the loyalty — and for the efficacy — of a
true friendship with non-Catholics and non-Christians). Let us note
that in the temporal work in question it is not a question of bringing
about the happiness of man upon the earth. In a civilization more and
more dehumanized by technocracy, it may be that this temporal work, of
the necessity of which we have finally become conscious today, occurs
quite precisely, in our historical age, to compensate the greater evils
and to avoid the greater destructions which threaten the world. I think also that Joan is par excellence the saint of the last combats
of the Church; and that it is by small flocks faithful to God first
served that these combats will be conducted; and that from the supreme
torments of the world, in the midst of which she herself will be
assailed on all sides, the Church will emerge radiant and martyrized.
It will be the hour of Joan.

 May the small flocks keep feeding on the truth of faith and sacrament. God first served. Easier said than done. Six hundred years after the birth of Joan, we still can hear those voices echoing down through the centuries, “Va, va, va, fille de Dieu, va”*

On, On, On, Daughter of God, On!

*”Fille De, va, va, va, je serai a ton aide, va.”


1 Comment
  1. Dear JPH,
    I am a witness to Saint Jehanne D'Arc's visions !
    Please be so good enough as to read my work on the following Links :

    Assuring you of my best attention, at all times,
    I am yours most sincerely,
    Russell Leslie Phillips, Diamond Services.
    E-Mail :

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