Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Jeanne d’Arc

As the Fortnight for Freedom, continues, let’s keep with our examination of worthy women, many of whom were hassled, persecuted, or even martyred by their own Church. The legend of the 15th century peasant girl, Jeanne, is well-known to practically every western Christian. For today’s installment, I’d like to recount the details of her betrayal, and note that just twenty-five years after she died, the pope declared her a martyr.

Here is where Catholics failed to follow the proper procedures following her capture as a prisoner of war:

  • French royalty declined to pay a ransom, as was customary for the family of a prisoner.
  • Instead, the English bought her from the Duke of Burgundy.
  • Bishop Pierre Cauchon did not have the proper jurisdiction to conduct an ecclesiastical prosecution.
  • No evidence could be found, let alone collected for a heresy trial. Nonetheless, the proceedings advanced.
  • No legal adviser was provided for the defendant, and Jeanne’s request for these was ignored.
  • Jeanne infuriated those attempting to entrap her, unable to penetrate her intelligence. Portions of the transcripts were altered.
  • Jeanne was held in a secular prison, instead of being confined to an ecclesiastical location under the guard of cloistered nuns.
  • The English made threats, subtle and some not so subtle (death threats) to compel clergy, and even the inquisitor, Jean LeMaitre to satisfy their wishes for a conviction.
  • The articles of accusation do not match up with even the changed recordings of the proceedings.
  • Jeanne’s proper appeals to a Church council (what we now know as Florence had begun in Basel, Switzerland) and to the pope were ignored.
  • Heresy was only a capital crime if it were a repeated offense.

This is perhaps the most notable time when a prelate used ecclesiastical authority to further a political or personal vendetta against a lay person. It was certainly not the first or the last. A generation later, after the end of the Hundred Years’ War, Pope Callixtus III authorized a “re-trial” at the request of Jeanne’s family and some members of the hierarchy.

Needless to say, Jeanne was vindicated for future veneration as a saint. Bishop Cauchon himself was cited as a possible heretic for his role in using ecclesiastical procedures to further a political situation.

And what was the heresy thing, anyway? Jeanne dressed in men’s clothing. Some Catholics today retain that fixation on confusing clothing with the matter of God’s grace.

It seems little different today, except that the Church lacks the arm of physical enforcement of its wishes. Otherwise, bishops are still influenced by political agendas inside and outside of the Church, rules are ignored when inconvenient, evidence is hard to come by, and the written record is not always aligned with what actually happened or was said.

Have human beings changed much in six centuries? Perhaps you can find an optimist to suggest that we’re a kinder gentler species. But perhaps more conservative Catholics would contend that the hope to make progress, as a culture, from barbarism and sin is useless. In which case, draw what conclusions you will from present-day persecutions within the Body. Sainte Jeanne, pray for us.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Jeanne d’Arc

  1. Anne says:

    Thanks for this series Todd, loving it.

  2. Jen says:

    Some of the women in my family were named after her. Maybe I should take another look at her.

  3. claire46 says:

    If you can find the book, read the transcript of her trial. A fabulous piece. Then watch Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (a silent movie, 1929, made from the transcripts).
    I do believe Joan would be burnt today once again at the stake. Or the equivalent

  4. crystal says:

    James Martin SJ wrote about her and a painting of her in his book, My Life With The Sainrs – I have an excerpt of that here if anyone’s interested … http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/2008/05/fool-for-christ.html

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