Soldier Saints: Joan of Arc
Resurrection is counting down to Veteran's Day by featuring Soldier Saints. Logan Isaac created this countdown as a way for churches to support and welcome veterans. The excerpt below is reposted by permission from Logan's book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va.
Today's featured Soldier Saint is Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc was born into simplicity and poverty. For her entire life, she could neither read nor write. She was very young when she began hearing and seeing angels, including Michael the archangel, telling her that God would use her to restore her own King Charles VII to the French throne, despite her motherland being oppressively ruled by the English.
With no combat experience, she went to her deposed king and prophesied that she would free the besieged city of Orleans, which would lead to Charles’s coronation as king. Intrigued but cautious, Charles had her examined thoroughly by priests and theologians to determine her theological reliability and her sincerity, much like conscientious objectors in today’s military are examined.
After intense scrutiny, she passed with flying colors. Only seventeen years old at the time, she was found to be exceedingly humble, honest, and devoted to the simple life of a holy person. Though others would contrive majestic and prosaic names for her, she refused to call herself anything but “Joan the Maid.” With her assistance, Orleans was indeed recaptured from its siege by the English, and Charles was crowned soon thereafter. In all, she spent about one year in the companies of France and her armies.
After her participation in the recapture of Orleans, however, Joan grew listless and perhaps a bit overconfident. She wrote letters to heretics making threats of “taking away either [their] heresy or [their] lives.”1 She engaged in earthly battles left unmentioned by her celestial friends Michael and Saints Margaret and Catherine.
At the battle that would prove to be her last, she took the place of honor in the struggling rear guard so that she would be the last standing on the field of battle. Captured by Burgundians, she was quickly sold to her enemies for ransom; her own poor family could not purchase her and her king had had a cowardly change of heart. Joan would remain a prisoner of war for about a year, the same time she spent in the French army.
The English, whom she had shamed terribly by defeating them at Orleans, were bound and determined to convict Joan of heterodoxy, even though she had passed the rigorous examination by French ecclesiastical authorities. The English-aligned bishop Pierre Cauchon (whose name in French means “swine”) was assigned to oversee the trial.
When she appealed to the shared authority of the pope, Cauchon refused to allow messengers to be sent or even to admit non-English religious authorities to the court. The technical charge dealt with a biblical clothing law, which Joan violated by having dressed as a man from the time she joined the French army in order to avoid being molested or raped while on campaign. Several theologians testified in her defense that her dress actually maintained her chastity, but it was a kangaroo court that finally concluded with the illiterate defendant signing an admission to heresy-a capital offense.
Just two years after coming onto the European scene in a major way, Joan was killed. Her final word, according to numerous eyewitnesses, was “Jesus:’ She was exonerated in 1456 and called a martyr, while Cauchon was ironically condemned as a heretic for pursuing a political vendetta and being responsible for the death of an innocent young woman.
Even though Joan is seen as a military hero and saint, she also points to nonviolence and peace. There is growing evidence to suggest that Joan never actually wielded the sword. In fact, based on testimony from the original trial, it is clear that Joan “preferred the standard to the sword.” In other words, she was a guidon bearer who happened to be a courageous and skilled martial tactician with a strong sense of national identity, pride, and piety.
At the least, humble Joan the Maid reminds us that it is not solely for their national identity or pride that saints are remembered but for their extreme piety, no matter the specific mission to which they are called. Politics are also subordinate to justice and mercy; God uses the meek to overthrow the strong, not the other way around.
God of justice and peace, we give thanks for the blessed martyr Joan, with whom we may receive the eyes to see visions and the ears to hear the voices of the saints before us. Grant us the grace to honor our rulers, yet temper the grace with the wisdom to rebuke them when we must. Keep us from the dangers of restlessness, of overstepping our bounds, and of missing the mustard seed of grace. When we fail, keep us from pride and restore to us a contrite heart as you did for the courageous Joan; may her witness remind us that though our enemies may discredit us, we take heart in knowing that our vindication is through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
1. Joan of Arc; Her Story, by Regine Pernoud (Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 258.