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I’m puzzled by St Joan of Arc

Yet there is no doubt that this extraordinary woman, who heard “voices”, was sane

By on Monday, 9 January 2012

Joan of Arc, as portrayed by Milla Jovovich in the 1999 film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, as portrayed by Milla Jovovich in the 1999 film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

I am always perplexed by St Joan of Arc, whose feast day was on January 6, the date she is thought to have been born in Domremy, Lorraine, in 1412. This has nothing to do with her holiness, her extraordinary gifts or her sanity; it is to do with the mission that she was seemingly entrusted with: why did God, through the agency of Saints Michael, Margaret and Catherine – Joan’s “Voices” – give Joan the odd task of fighting the English, raising the siege of Orleans and thus enabling the weak and cowardly king, Charles VII to be crowned King of France at Rheims in July 1429?

Of course, the saints are God’s instruments and are given special tasks in this life to further the kingdom of heaven. That much is obvious. They start new religious orders, reform old ones, care for the poor and the sick, found schools, hospitals and a host of other holy endeavours; some of them even have visions. But to be commanded to directly engage in the dirty business of politics in order to help the perfidious French overthrow the equally perfidious English – I don’t get it. Could someone enlighten me?

This conundrum aside, St Joan is a fascinating and compelling phenomenon. OK, she chose to wear trousers (and I have made a decision not to, as in an earlier blog on this subject); but this was to protect her modesty during her campaigns, when she lived entirely among common soldiers, a species not known for fine manners. And as all those who knew her attest, although her mission was indeed guided by her Voices, she herself had great natural gifts of courage, endurance, seriousness of purpose and military strategy; she was no passive tool in their hands.

She was also immensely sane. I say this because I once knew a psychiatrist whose private hobby was giving lectures on St Joan as an interesting psychiatric example of schizophrenia; naturally her “voices” had to be an aspect of mental illness, he explained. Yet in her demeanour, her behaviour and her language Joan impressed everyone, friends and enemies, as undoubtedly clear-headed and in control of herself.

She has also been exploited by certain Catholic feminists of the St Joan Alliance, who place her as the emblem of their own campaign to join the priesthood. Joan, as a steadfast and loyal Catholic (although aware of the scandal of corrupt churchmen) would have been horrified by such an association.

The best book on St Joan in my view is Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc; all the more surprising as he was not a Catholic and had no particular Catholic sympathies; “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” he once remarked. But her extraordinary story caught his creative imagination and he immersed himself in 12 years of research to produce his book – a fictionalised biography recounted by Joan’s page and secretary. Twain declared that, “Taking into account her origin, youth, sex, illiteracy, early environment… she is by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.”

Leaving aside the special case of Our Lady, I second that – even though I am still puzzled by Joan’s role in the divine economy.


  • Nicolas Bellord

    You might like to worry about St Bernard having a hand in driving the Moors out of Portugal and I think St Columba was not above bashing a few people on the head.  More recently JPII got rid of communism.  St Joan of Arc justified her stance by just pointing out that France was for the French and not the English.

  • W Oddie

    The point is that this wasn’t about the French driving out the English: the “English” involved were actually French-speaking Normans:  this wasn’t a war between the English and French, but a French civil war.

  • Nathanpearson

    The Normans weren’t French any more than they were English, they were Norse Viking conquerors (hence Norman: Norse-man) and had little in common with the French, save the Romance language they adopted. This was not a French civil war.

  • kentgeordie

    And was Agincourt also a battle in this French civil war? Try telling that to Sir Larry.

  • Part-time_pilgrim

    Does this mean that the First World War was a German Civil War?

  • Tiddles The Cat

    How about reading ‘Joan of Arc A Military Leader’ by Kelly Devries, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Loyola College in Maryland?

    History has documented women and young girls who fought in battles – noteable examples include: Boudicca, Mulan.

    I think what irritated the English was that they were dealing with a young woman.

    To illustrate their attitude, I quote from the Boudicca song in Horrible Histories: ‘It’s bad enough being beaten – but beaten by a girl?!’

  • Anonymous

    Is she any more of a problem than other canonised people who are remembered as national  heroes, patriots or rebels ?

  • Tyrone Beiron

    Principalities, Dominions, Thrones… we sometimes forget that all these heavenly powers are subject to God’s plan (Ephesians 3:10-11), and in a purely (entertaining) speculative way, it seems that certain patron saints – in this case, St Michael the archangel (of France) – was permitted by God to inspire Joan in a certain way (grace). We seldom involve patron saints and guardian angels these days because it seem “superstitious”, but apparently this has strong scriptural basis, and popular in the pseudoepigraha eg. Enoch.

  • Bobette
  • David Armitage

    Have a look at the old testament.  Genocide and ethnic cleansing, to ensure the chosen people get their promised land.So slaughtering a few hundred Englishmen shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Poor Joan having to submit to humilitation at the hands of accredited hags to prove she was “pucelle”. The fact that the church made a habit of making bonfires out of people out of step with dogma didn’t make her fate less appalling; she was subsequently cleared of all charges and rehabilitated, which puts her in good company. Don’t worry to much about her place in the divine economy, Francis. After being pardoned in 1456 the poor girl had to wait until 1909 to be beatified

  • David Armitage

    It was a family quarrel between our  royal family and their’s; they were very civil to each other, leaving their subjects to shed their blood.

  • sachin

    Saint Joan Of Arc UNDOUBTEDLY The Greatest Christian Martyr And Saint Of Christanity