22 MAY 1920, Page 7


IF a good woman who has done a great work for her country is a saint, Protestants may join with Roman Catholics in approving of the canonization of Joan of Are. The Pope, in the gorgeous ritual at St. Peter's on Sunday, simply confirmed the traditional belief in the virtue and sincerity of the Maid of Orleans. • It is the practice of the Roman Church to investigate with minute care the recorded words and deeds of any person whom it is proposed to enrol in the calendar of saints. But historical students of varying schools of thought had gone over the evidence long before the modern Papacy began to consider the matter, and they had almost all summed up in favour of the popular view. Now that the documents have all been printed and commented on, it is generally agreed by scholars that Joan of Arc was the innocent victim of the mediaeval priests and politicians who had her burnt at the stake- in Rouen on May 30th, 1431. She was condemned by the French Inquisition, at the instance of the University of Paris, and with the hearty approval of the English Regent, as a heretic and a witch. But Pope Callistus the Third did right in revoking the ecclesiastical sentence, a. quarter of a century later, and his successor has now made the fullest reparation for the injustice done, in the name of the Church, by Bishop Cauchon and his sinister colleagues. Their motives are clear enough. If they could blacken the character of Joan of Arc, they would deprive her patriotic cause of the religious sanction which it enjoyed in the hearts of pious Frenchmen. If they could show her to be an impostor and an adventuress, they might hope to convince the people that the French King owed his suc- cesses on the Loire and his coronation at Reims to the powers of darkness. In that superstitious age the revul- sion of feeling against the Maid might have brought the final collapse of the French monarchy and the triumph of Burgundy and England. Cauchon and his clique were playing for high stakes. Their failure was all the more significant and decisive. If the inquisitors at Rouen could not prove Joan to be other than she said she was—a simple peasant girl of good repute, whose sole wish was to free her country from the English—we may be sure that she spoke truly. Her countrymen thought so, for her death, instead of depressing them, inspired them with new vigour. Her enemies, too, were convinced that they had done wrong, as they could never afterwards make headway in the war. The popular instinct, then as now, canonized Joan.

If she is judged by her work, by the outcome of her actions, Joan of Arc stands apart from ordinary men and women. When, after incessant efforts, she persuaded a local magnate, living near her peasant home at Domremy in the Vosges, to take her to the court of the Dauphin at Chinon in February, 1429, the state of France, as measured by human standards, seemed to be hopeless. Au English lung, crowned in Paris, ruled the greater part of Northern and Western France. The Duke of Burgundy ruled North- Eastern France and Flanders. The heir to the old Valois monarchy, afterwards Charles the Seventh, was a feeble and dissolute youth who inspired contempt. His court was occupied less with the task of preserving the remnant of France south of the Loire than with the disputes of rival factions headed by Richemont and La Trentoille. When the English laid siege to Orleans, it looked as if no earthly power could prevent them from reducing the town by famine and then overrunning the Dauphin's last provinces. It is a historical fact that the advent of Joan of Arc transformed the situation. As soon as she had induced the Dauphin and his counsellors to let her lead a forlorn hope to Orleans, the Royalists took heart. Within three months from her setting out for the court she had relieved Orleans and compelled the English to retire. A month later the English were beaten at Patay and had to abandon the Loire. Before another month passed she had led the Dauphin to Reim and seen him crowned. The fifteenth century hailed these successive triumphs as miraculous, and we who have experienced the sudden reaction caused by the Allied victories which began on July 18th, 1918, after a series of reverses, and continued to the end, can understand why Joan of Arc, like Marshal Foch, was credited with wholly exceptional, not to say superhuman, powers. After the coronation Joan wished to return home. Her instinct was right, but she yielded against her better judgment to the King's entreaties. Her star paled. The worthless monarch, who was to all decent Frenchmen a symbol of French unity, betrayed his guardian angel. The troops sent with her to take Paris failed and she was wounded. In a skirmish outside Compiegne in May, 1430, she fell a captive to the Burgun- diens, perhaps through the treachery of a court faction.

Nevertheless she had given such an impetus to the national movement that not even the cowardice and bad faith of its nominal leader Charles could check it. Twenty-two years after Joan's death there was not an Englishman at liberty in France outside the walls of Calais, and the monarchy was more powerful than it had been for centuries. The Maid of France had done the work to which her " voices " called her in the oak wood of Domrerny. How shall we explain these " voices " ? Many wise men, and some who were not so wise, have discussed the question at length, and the rest of us, like Omar, have come out by the same door wherein we went. All we know is that the peasant girl, who could not read or write, firmly believed that from her fourteenth to her nineteenth year she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret urging her to go and free her country. She did not claim any supernatural power for hersa " The men-at-arms will do battle," she told the courtiers, " and God will give the victory." But she was possessed with the idea that she must go in person to the battlefield, carrying the banner which a Scottish exile had made for her. We are told that faith can move mountains. Joan's faith overcame the graver obstacles caused by the selfish and abandoned men at Chinon. Her " voices " may be described in medical terms as the fancies of a youthful and brooding mind, but the description does not explain. It is safer to accept the well authenticated fact -of Joan's belief in her " voices," and to regard them as inexplicable. After all, there is not much difference between Joan's confidence in her mission and the elder Pitt's superb belief in his own powers when he said to the Duke of Devonshire, in 1757, " I am sure I can save this country and nobody else can." Joan of Arc succeeded and Pitt succeeded. Who, then, can say that they were wrong in trusting to their " voices," or inward premonitions, or whatever else we may call their state of mind ? Joan of Arc suffered at the hands of the Burgundian clergy for her " voices." Had the " voices " told her to destroy the Dauphin, they would, to Cauchon, have been divine ; as the " voices " commanded the expulsion of the English, to the discomfiture of the Duke of Burgundy's plans for " self-determination," they were necessarily from the Evil One. Such was the reasoning of the bishop and the learned doctors from Paris who examined and cross-examined the unhappy girl for weeks on end. An impostor could not have withstood that merciless verbal torture, coupled with the sufferings of a brutal imprisonment in which Joan was denied any woman's aid. Whether she recanted momentarily is doubtful. She affixed her mark to some document, apparently without understanding its purport, but disavowed it when she was told that she had abjured her errors. The clerical lawyers had, it is said, substi- tuted another confession for the paper which she was asked to ratify. At any rate, Joan did not go so far as Cranmer, who formally renounced his Protestantism and then repented and faced a martyr's death. The Maid, in her mental agony, may have lost control of herself for a brief space, but she believed in her "voices" to the very end and declined to admit that any priest below the Pope himself could pronounce her to be in error. Her death completed her mission. The most cynical could not then question her faith. Whatever we may think of the voices," we may regard Joan of Arc's career as the triumph of personality, as a proof that nothing in the world counts for so much as a strong and honest character.