Friday, September 12, 2014

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) : God's Heroic Prophetess by Chris White

A romantic depiction of Joan

 This story happens in the context of the Hundred Years War which was in essence an ongoing conflict between England and France that lasted more than 100 years.   England had owned part of Northern France for centuries and wanted to stay and expand their rule.  The Kings of France wanted them out but were not strong enough to dislodge them.  Eventually France did prevail but it took a heavy toll on the nation in terms of destruction of life and property.  However, given the historic English penchant for hanging on the every inch of property they can, even if it serves no real purpose, the French probably should consider themselves lucky it wasn’t a 400 year war!   As this touches Joan of Arc, the battles that she participates in are essentially wars of liberation from an outside oppressor.  This is why she is highly regarded as a French heroine.  As the story unfolds you will see the English regarded her as something quite different.

Joan of Arc was born in January of 1412 in a sleepy little village called Domremy la Pucelle.  It was a typical village in eastern France.  People made their living from the land and were very religious.  Joan’s father was a successful farmer and believed to have been one of the town fathers.  Her mother was known as God fearing and quite affectionate to her children teaching them most of their religious beliefs.  Joan shepherded her father’s sheep and learned to spin wool and lived like most young girls did in the late Middle Ages.  She was well-liked in her town, active in Church and participated in charitable activities.
Joan's birthplace

Joan had grown up with the war between the French and English and according to historian Will Durant, would have believed like most folk in their area that the English really were devils who were able to hide their tails under their coats.  There was also a prophecy floating around the countryside at the time that someday God would send a young virgin who would deliver France from this long siege of Satan.  It is very possible that Joan heard this prophecy as a young girl.

In 1424, When Joan is about 13 she has her first experience.  She sees a bright light over her head and hears a voice speak to her telling her to be an obedient child and to go often to Church.  To be honest, I don’t know how much more obedient a child could be since she had by this time a reputation of being very pious and stopping to kneel and pray every time the bells at the town Church were rang.

Joan received visions several times

Over the next couple of years, Joan claims further visitations by Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret of Antioch.  There are some interesting connections here:  Margaret was a virgin who was martyred because of false accusations made against her, Catherine was a virtuous woman who came to faith in Christ because of visions she saw, and Michael the Archangel led the battle against the forces of Lucifer when he rebelled against God.   It seems hardly coincidental that all three of these persons were represented by statuary in Joan’s church and that they reflect in their life story aspects of what played out in her own life.  According to Joan’s testimony at her later trial she saw a full image of Michael and only the faces of Catherine and Margaret.  They spoke perfect French to her and were beautiful in appearance but also smelled beautiful.  Originally these voices only spoke to her about her piety and maintaining her virginity but eventually they spoke to her about her mission to save France.

By the summer of 1428, Joan is now around 18 years old.  She was described as a handsome and healthy girl with dark hair and smiling face with a quiet if not silent disposition.  By this point in the story, France is in deep trouble.  Paris is controlled by the English, and the key city of Orleans is under siege.  If this city falls, it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the country does.
Joan hears from Michael the Archangel

It is at this time that the voices become quite insistent with her.  Michael himself tells her to go to the aid of the King.  At another time she is told to take the King to Rheims, which was the spiritual capital of the country at the time, and have him properly crowned and anointed by the clergy so that the French would unite behind him and fight for freedom.  Joan is given a specific plan by her divine voices.  She is to present herself to the King’s commander and he will bring her to the King.  She is immediately dismissed by him as a girl who needs to go home and get a good spanking by her father.  But she persists by staying in town and when the French are defeated in another battle, she finally gets a hearing and is sent with a military escort to the King.  This is where she dons the male military attire and cuts her hair short (believed to be the origins of the popular french "bob" hairdo by some).  This is most likely for her protection but possibly a response to her voices to prepare to be a warrior.

After traveling for 11 days through enemy territory, in March of 1429 she is able to speak with the Dauphin or the Kings heir-apparent Charles VII.    Wanting to check her out, the Dauphin disguised himself as a servant but when she came into the room she immediately identified him and shared her message with him.  Many in the King’s court thought she was mentally disturbed and Charles was not thoroughly sold either.  He sends Joan to be further examined by the clergy regarding her authenticity.  But after several weeks they send her back to the King with their blessing and he decides to make use of her.

Joan meets Charles VII the Dauphine

Over the next year and a half, Joan leads and rallies the French in a series of battles which successfully push back the English.  Her banners of white with the fleur- de- lis, the name of God and Mary, her sword, and her conviction that she is on God’s mission for the King, strengthens the troops and encourages them to great risk and great achievement.  She eventually leads the King to his coronation and seemingly her mission is complete.

King Charles VII, however, convinces her to continue with the army and she does even though she no longer hears any of the voices and has great misgivings about it.  She is shot with an arrow in one skirmish and eventually in another taken captive by French forces loyal to the English crown.  The English are so angry with her that they purchase her for the sum of $80,000 in today’s money so they can try her as a witch.

Joan was a symbol more than a warrior
At the start of the next year Joan endures a 4 month trial where she is charged with heresy and witchcraft by the English Clergy.  She is interrogated about her visions and in the end they were found to be “false and diabolical”.  They threatened her with burning at the stake unless she made a full retraction.  Under great pressure Joan eventually signed a statement retracting her visions and promising allegiance back to the Church.  Unfortunately,  there were those who wanted her dead no matter what. 

Part of her agreement was to stop wearing her military clothing and wear only women’s clothing in prison.  Within a few days she was wearing the men’s clothing again as many believe to protect her chastity.  This was taken by several bishops that she was a relapsed heretic and this time she would be burned at the stake.  She was quite frightened by this but was strengthened in the moment and even forgave her accusers and executors.  Many left the scene realizing they had probably killed a saint and were going to be damned for it.
Burned alive like a witch

Several years after Joan’s death, the English were completely driven from France and King Charles ordered a new trial for Joan of Arc.  An official trial of the Church was held and her surviving mother and brothers attended seeking to have their family name and sister restored to the Church.  A six year investigation followed and eventually Joan of Arc was declared innocent of heresy and wrongly executed therefore she was a martyr.  In the 19th century the Pope put her name up for beatification and in the 20th Century, Joan of Arc was officially canonized.

So, there it is—the  story of one of the greatest heroines of the Church and of Western Civilization.  She was faithful to God and if anything her main mistake was taking things too far.  But we are left with a question: did she really receive her orders from heaven as she claimed?  There seems to be three basic trains of thought on this: 

1.  Joan had a psychological disorder—in 2002 a court in Maryland held a mock retrial for Joan of Arc with defense and prosecution lawyers and found her innocent by reason of suffering from a delusional disorder that caused her to hear audible voices in her head.  She could not be held criminally responsible was the conclusion because her actions were consistent with her delusions.  What is striking to me about this is that I have spoken on several occasions with delusional people and what they believe is generally not true and in fact is sometimes way out there.  What Joan of Arc heard and acted upon came to pass.  It did hold true.

 2.  Joan had some connection to the Devil ---She had been accused in her trial by the English of practicing divination and that the visions and information she received was the result of  conjuring demonic spirits.  However, the testimony of her life for piety and devotion to the Lord Jesus that was given at her retrial would hardly suggest someone involved with the Kingdom of darkness.  It is also strikes me that the realm of the demonic does not have future knowledge.  They certainly have a thorough understanding of human nature but no understanding of the end of a matter before it begins.  Only God holds the species of knowledge that Joan was operating within

 3.  Joan was appointed by God and exercised an authentic form of prophecy—Jean Brehal who acted as the Inquisitor General for the Church retrial of Joan points out that the type of messages Joan received are consistent with  Christian doctrine.  Scripturally speaking, messages from God can be impressed upon the  mind.  A person has a strong sense of God’s will and God speaking into their lives.  Sometimes messages can come symbolically in a state of meditative prayer  or in a dream.  There were plenty of these cases in the Bible.  A third way is when God chooses to reveal messages in a tangible outward form.  This was true of  Daniel and of John the Apostle.   This final way seems to be the mode in which Joan of Arc received her revelation.  She was hesitant to act upon them and was not self-promoting as is the hallmark of false prophets, and the methods she used promoted godly actions.  Finally, what was spoken by her as revelation from God did come to pass which is the acid-test of a true prophecy (see Deuteronomy 18:22).
Joan at her heresy trial

So what do I think about Joan?  There is a built-in skepticism in all modern people, even people of faith such as myself.  Our society’s pre-commitment to reason is in the air we breathe making the story of Joan of Arc seem odd and probably not true.  My guess is most Christians probably wouldn’t expect something like what happened to Joan to happen to them today.  But if there is a God (which I believe to be true) what would preclude Him from speaking into a national emergency in the lives of a specific people and place?  And why wouldn’t the same God who sent his own Son 1400 years before Joan’s time into the humblest of circumstances, speak to those in power in a later time through a humble young woman of simple faith?  The story of Joan of Arc is inconsistent with philosophical naturalism, but very consistent with a Biblical worldview.  God raises up specific persons to speak for him in specific situations and specific places.  This is the spirit of prophecy.  In our own nation, threatened by enemies from without and moral rot from within, would that God raise another Joan of Arc in our midst.
A "useful" story for other causes too!

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