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A Contemplation on Jeanne d’Arc

Winston Churchill said it well in his History of the English-Speaking People.

“Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years.” 

He concluded that her story would be beyond belief if it were not in fact true.

Joan of Arc’s extraordinary character and career are profoundly inspiring.  Her admirable qualities include unparalleled moral authority and charisma, unmatched personal and political audacity, astonishing self-confidence and determination, great physical stamina and endurance and surprising practical and political savoir-faire.

These qualities were activated or transformed into action by her profound Christian faith, expressed through the “Voices” of Saints Catherine, Margaret and Michael.

Jeanne d’Arc, Saint Croix Cathedral, Orleans, October 25, 2012, Photo by Arch Ritter

Saint-Croix Cathedral, Orleans

What is also immensely impressive in her life is her incomparable intelligence.  She had no formal education and was illiterate – though she later learned to sign her name. Despite this, at age 17, she quickly became a persuasive confidant of the Dauphin Charles, a military leader accepted by the “captains” of the French Army and revered by the soldiery, an adept military strategist, a tough negotiator and a skillful legal defender of herself against insurmountable odds in her “Trial of Condemnation”. She obviously had an ability to learn rapidly, and the self-confidence to act decisively on the basis of her own analyses – and the advice of her “Voices.”

Throughout her whirlwind career after leaving Domremy, she lived a life of high virtue and serious religious and spiritual practice. Indeed, it is hard to find any significant fault or flaw in her character and her life.

Joan developed her talents as needed in a matter of weeks if not days – talents that took others lifetimes to acquire.  Once again, Mark Twain expressed this eloquently, concluding that her ability to learn so quickly was “incomprehensible.”

We can understand how she could be born with military genius, with leonine courage, with incomparable fortitude, with a mind which was in several particulars a prodigy — a mind which included among its specialties the lawyer’s gift of detecting traps laid by the adversary in cunning and treacherous arrangements of seemingly innocent words, the orator’s gift of eloquence, the advocate’s gift of presenting a case in clear and compact form, the judge’s gift of sorting and weighing evidence, and finally, something recognizable as more than a mere trace of the statesman’s gift of understanding a political situation and how to make profitable use of such opportunities as it offers.

We can comprehend how she could be born with these great qualities, but we cannot comprehend how they became immediately usable and effective without the developing forces of a sympathetic atmosphere and the training which comes of teaching, study, practice — years of practice, — and the crowning and perfecting help of a thousand mistakes.                                                        

Again in the words of Mark Twain:

She is the Wonder of the Ages. And when we consider her origin, her early circumstances, her sex, and that she did all the things upon which her renown rests while she was still a young girl, we recognize that while our race continues she will be also the Riddle of the Ages.                         Saint Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain

Joan at the Battle of Orleans

Jeanne d’Arc, Paris

Joan of Arc, Central Park, New York, Photo by Seble Solomon and Alex Ritter

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