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FUMARE

Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

St. Joan of Arc, pray for us!

Sadly, I realized at the eleventh hour (quite literally) that today is the feast day of St. Joan of Arc. It is fitting that the United States annually commemorates its fallen soldiers so near the feast of the Maid of Orleans. St. Joan of Arc was a living paradox: a humble peasant girl whom God raised up to do the most manly task of leading an army. As if this were an insufficient accomplishment, St. Joan won the crown of martyrdom with the fortitude of a soldier and the simplicity of the peasant girl she was.

In a book that I number among the best I have ever read, Mark Twain recounts her trial:

Doubt was cast upon the authenticity of her mission because of the ignorance and simplicity of the messenger chosen. Joan smiled at that. She could have reminded these people that Our Lord, who is no respecter of persons, had chosen the lowly for his high purposes even oftener than he had chosen bishops and cardinals; but she phrased her rebuke in simpler terms:

"It is the perogative of our Lord to choose His instruments where He will."

* * *

She was charged with having dared, against the precepts of God and His saints, to assume empire over men and make herself Commander-in-Chief. That touched the soldier in her. She had a deep reverence for priests, but the soldier in her had but small reverence for a priest's opinions about war; so, in her answer to this charge she did not condescend to go into any explanations or excuses, but delivered herself with bland indifference and military brevity.

"If I was Commander-in-Chief, it was to thrash the English!"

Death was staring her in the face here, all the time, but no matter: she dearly loved to make these English-hearted Frenchmen squirm, and whenever they gave her an opening she was prompt to jab her sting into it. She got great refreshment out of these little episodes. Her days were a desert; these were the oases in it.

* * *

"Will you say that you have no judge upon earth? Is not our Holy Father the Pope your judge?"

"I will say nothing to you about it. I have a good Master who is our Lord and to Him I will submit all."

Then came these terrible words:

"If you do not submit to the Church you will be pronounced a heretic by these judges here present and burned at the stake!"

Ah, that would have smitten you or me dead with fright, but it only roused the lion heart of Joan of Arc, and in her answer rang that martial note which had used to stir her soldiers like a bugle-call--

"I will not say otherwise than I have said already; and if I saw the fire before me I would say it again!"

It was uplifting to hear her battle-voice once more and see the battle-light burn in her eye. Many there were stirred; every man that was a man was stirred, whether friend or foe; and Manchon risked his life again, good soul, for he wrote in the margin of the record in good plain letters these brave words: "Superba responsio!" and there they have remained these sixty years, and there you may read them to this day.

"Superba responsio!" Yes, it was just that. For this "superb answer" came from the lips of a girl of nineteen with death and hell staring her in the face.


It took Twain twelve years to research and write his book. It is widely reported that he considered it his greatest work. Amazingly, the book published almost ten years before Pope St. Pius X beatified St. Joan and some twenty-five years before Pope Benedict XV canonized her.

May the virtues of St. Joan of Arc be ours in the battles of this life, and may she continually intercede for our soldiers before the throne of God.

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