Updated: Mar 10, 2020
"Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years. She embodied the natural goodness and valour of the human race in unexampled perfection. Unconquerable courage, infinite compassion, the virtue of the simple, the wisdom of the just, shone forth in her. She glorifies as she freed the soil from which she sprang." - Sir Winston Churchill, "The Birth of Britain"
Many people, either through history class, reading history books, watching movies or scrolling online, have heard the name Joan of Arc. She is one of the most popular and prominent Catholic figures. Her and her life story have since become part of sculptures, literature and paintings. Indeed, there are many other Saints who one could admire for their virtue, but one cannot help but wonder, why has Joan, long before feminist narratives and perspectives, gained such a significance, admiration and veneration, from both Catholics and non-Catholics. In this article, I explore phenomena, archetypes, symbolism, meaning and inspiration behind Saint Joan of Ac.
She came from a peasant family who owned around 50 acres of land. Her father, Jacques d'Arc was a farmer. He was also a local post who collected taxes and organized the village's defense. It is a family's narrative that her father fell ill and died of grief after his daughter had died. Whether it is true or not, however, is a question, since Joan died in 1431, while her father's death was around 1440. Maybe his grief was so strong that it took almost a decade to build up before giving a final blow. Her mother, Isabelle Romée was a homemaker and gave her children a Catholic upbringing. After her husband's death, she moved to Orleans and recieved a pension there. Joan's mother is most known for her petition to the Pope, to reopen the case of Joan and the heresy accusations ascribed to her name. She also addressed the opening session of the trial at Notre Dame in Paris. Joan's ws proclaimed innocent on July 7th 1456. Her mother died shortly after. Besides Joan, 6he family had four other children: Jacquemin, Jean, Pierre and Catherine. Her brother Pierre served in the army with his sister. After Joan's heroic activities, they were granted a noble status by Charles VII.
Maid of Orleans Before going to Orleans, Joan said she heard voices, which she told were Saint Michael, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret. "The Voice told me, two or three times a week, that I, Joan, must go away and that I must go into France. My father knew nothing of my going. The Voice kept urging me to go into France; it said I could no longer remain where I was. The Voice told me that I should raise the siege laid to the city of Orleans. The Voice instructed me that I should make my way to Robert de Baudricourt in the fortress of Vaucauleurs, the Captain of that place, that he would give me men to go with me." She believed the voices to be her guides and that since they were voices of saints, they could not guide her to anything "unholy". She testified that she was 13 when she first heard the voices. She was just 16 when she asked her relative, Durand Lassois, to take her to the town that was near her own and allow her to petition the garrison commander, Robert de Baudricourt, to be taken to the court at Chinon. Baudricourt found her request laughable but she was not discouraged. She came back, with support of Robert's soldiers. She made a prediction about Battle of Rouvray days before messengers arrived to report it. It was seen as an evidence of her divine grace and inspiration. For safety reasons, she was escorted to Chinon wearing a man's uniform, which would later be part of the charges against her. In 1429, she met and impressed the uncrowned King Charles. He sent her as part of relief army, however, siege was lifted in a little longer than a week, leading to boosted morale of the French and coronation of Charles VII. In May 1430, she was captured by the Burgundian faction (the local political allegiance against the Crown), handed over to the English and put on trial by a pro-English bishop, Pierre Cauchon. She was burned at the stake on May 30th 1431. In 1456 she was pronounced innocent and declared a martyr by Pope Callixtus III. In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte declared her a symbol of France, in 1909 she was beatified and finally in 1920, canonized.
Symbol of Faith, Youth and Innocence
Why has the Churchill sadi the quote that this article began with? Was it because it was maybe a mysterious, "cool" or "edgy" thing to say? Whatever his intent, and whatever is one's personal opinion about him as a historical character, I could not help but recognize some wisdom or ability to see, at least for a moment, beyond the form and beyond the obvious . Why was, why is, she so great that "she finds no equal in thousand years?" In Joan, there was courage that was inspired by nothing else but dreams and youthful innocence. She was embodiment of zeal, inspiration, faith that defeats rational thought, objectivity, utilitarianism, and us, being surrounded by those thoughts, either in our environments or in our own minds, see something incredibly inspiring in that "theia mania". While, that which Joan has done, may not be as outrageous as behavior of some "Divine fools" , there is an element of that that stretches through the almost legendary narrative of her life, also depicted in film and art. Her "voices", her convinction, her ability to get her place in the army despite everything and everyone being against her, doubting her, gives a feeling, that maybe, dreams and faith may be so powerful to cross and move all the obstacles. Realists and pragmatists may argue and say that Joan was merely lucky. We may even say, that just blindly following one's dreams and inspiration, may not be the wisest choice from the pragmatist perspecive, and in many instances, those who say so, are undeniably right, but there is something that moves in many humans when they see dreams and faith make the world submit before their power. She did pay the highest price possible for doing what she had done, but I think that it just added power to her story and her as a character. The dramatic, unjust, painful death adds to the epic and heroic element of her story - even in fantasy and fairytales, heroes usually die in battles, violently, at the hands of a tyrant, but eventually, their death makes them only bigger, makes them a legend while the tyrants remain remembered as such. In the end, they "defeat" their persecutors. Besides being an archetypal representation of heroic faith and convinction, she also represents, as I mentioned above, the unique characteristics of youth and innocence. It is largely related got what I spoke of in the previous paragraph, since faith in dreams, imagination is closely related to innocence, childhood and youth. I once heard or read, I am not sure, somebody say: "Children do not care for mercy, they just care for justice". Adults, come around idea of mercy, because adults become aware of how flawed everyone, including themselves are, and that mercy, forgiveness is sometimes the only way that would prevent revenge, brutality and neverending cycle of violence. Children, in their innocence and purity, are not aware of that until certain age, so justice is the leader of their ethos. It is belief in justice, often without virtue signaling, which we often see in media nowadays. Children, when they speak of justice, do not care to appear morally superior, they do it because they are deeply convinced that is the right thing to do and it appears absurd to do anything else. In her belief in the impossible, in the wonder, as mentioned above, she also embodied something of the innocent, youthful spirit which we so often lose, and nostalgically admire in others.
"According to Thomas Aquinas, the contemplative life has pre-eminence over the active life - but the 'mixed' life, the synthesis of contemplation and action, is the highest. Thus the saintly warrior-king is, in theory, the greatest of all - not because the function of the warrior is greater than that of the monk, but because in him the monk has triumphed over the warrior, and reached such a degree of perfection that even the rigors of battle can no longer distract him."
- Charles Upton & Jennifer Upton "Shadow of the Rose: The Esoterism of the Romantic Tradition" The above quote is part of a longer chapter on the archetype of , "Warrior King", "Warrior Saint", "Warrior Monk" or the "Warrior Priest". The mentioned archetype, its the name says, is the one that embodies characteristics of the both. In courage and in rigor, the saint is like warrior, but in virtue, patience and compassion, the warrior is like saint. The quote, however, does say that "monk has trimumphed over the warrior". The reason for that is that, without virtue, compassion and self awareness, the warrior has potentiality to easily fall into realm of brutality - to become a tyrant, a mindless slaughterer, the one who harms the innocent civilians (as opposed to the one who protects them). "The virtue of the simple, the wisdom of the just" as the opening quote says, is embodied in the monk or saint that rules above the warrior. In that context, Joan embodies that archetype - she is brave, fearless, driven like a warrior, but she is also submissive to God, faithful, divinely inspired like a Saint. She was the one to defend her country and she did not go around villages, slaughtering and robbing. Whether one is religious or not, believes in Divine inspiration or not, the archetype appeals to the psyche of many of us.
The Prophetic Imagination "Therefore the power of prophecy implies not particularly perfect mind, but a particularly vivid imagination." - Baruch Spinoza, "Theologico-Political Treatise" For the book from which the above mentioned quote was taken, Spinoza received harsh criticism. However, I do not intend to discuss or explore possible flaws in his thought, but rather examine, how this applies to Saint Joan of Arc. Spinoza wanted to say that prophetic inspiration does not come from someone's high intellect or scholarly reading, but from the power of their imagination. In alchemy, imagination is considered the highest fire. Imagination, at the same time, in alchemical thought, is not seen as something merely personal, but transpersonal in origin. This means, that it does not negate the possibility of visions or to say that the people and symbols one sees in visions are product of mere imagination or schizophrenia, but that the ability to have those visions, is not dependant of one's intellect or scholarly thought, but the imaginative, intuitive power of their minds. While Joan of Arc was not a Prophet, and while modern psychiatry and psychology may describe her visions as schiophrenic, within the Platonic and metaphysical context, she embodies the Spinoza's idea of "Prophetic imagination".
Links: Joan of Arc: A History, Helen Castor Shadow of the Rose: The Esoterism of the Romantic Tradition, Charles Upton & Jennifer Upton Theologico-Political Treatise, Baruch Spinoza Maid of Heaven Website - Joan's Visions Become a Patron