May 2020 Print

Saint Joan of Arc

By Charles Péguy

She was of the people and Christian, a Saint. She was most certainly, in a sense, a woman at arms. One might almost say, a warrior. She was unquestionably a very great military leader. She was a flower of the Christian race and of the French race, a flower of Christendom, a flower of all heroic virtues.

Possessing the Virtues

Whatever may be the powers of the living springs, whatever may be the devices and the perpetual emission and effusion, whatever may be the inexhaustible innovations of grace, at the same time there indubitably exists a certain technique, a certain blessed hierarchic arrangement, as it were professional, a framework and a skeleton almost of the trade, a certain blessed professional hierarchy of heroic virtue and saintliness. There are degrees which are the very degrees of the Throne. To the first degree, Joan of Arc possessed in their fullness the virtues of war, which are not small. I mean to say by that, very expressly and very properly, that she entered into the game of war and into the risk of war fully, without any restriction, without any intervention, without any interposition on the part of divine protection. She obeyed, she accomplished a divine mission proper in a human world without having felt a corresponding divine protection proper. She had received the commandment, she had received the vocation, she had received the mission. She obeyed, she carried out the commandment, she responded to the vocation, she accomplished her mission. She passed to the achievement, to the accomplishment of her mission in the midst of a hard (and tender) humanity, in a world, in a Christendom hard and tender, herself being gentle and firm, strong, gentle, sometimes apparently hard. Apparently harsh.

During her whole mission, which extended into her captivity, she received constant assistance of counsel from her “voices” and an abundance of graces of which we can have no idea. The day of her death she received a grace which perhaps was never given similarly and to such an extent to any other saint, so that the day of her death already was no longer for her the last day of life on earth but literally, really, already the first day of her eternal life. But after all, with this mission, with this vocation, with all these graces, with all these gifts, with this constant presence of counsel, she never received either the grace, or the gift, or the counsel, or any privilege of being invulnerable. She waged war, exposed to all the accidents of war. She, like everybody else, waged a war like everybody else. Less fortunate than many saints, less fortunate than many prophets even, and many rulers of the people of Israel, she did not find fighting beside her the angels who assisted her with their counsels, or the saints. Never have the words of Jesus—“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”— never have they been so fully accomplished in a saint, and here we meet again with this vocation, this unique election, this unique imitation by which one can say that of all the saints, she it was to whom certainly it was given that her life and her Passion and her death should most closely imitate the life and the Passion and the death of Jesus.

Twelve legions of angels. She did not ask for them any more than He did. She never asked for them. This counsel, which she had, which was like the consequence, like the natural sequence of the commandment, of the vocation, like the natural sequence, supernatural and natural, coming from the same voices, borne by the same agency, this counsel which she had and had still, almost familiarly, so to speak, for her use as daily prayer, this habitual counsel like morning and evening prayer, she asked for often and asked for it again. Supernatural, direct, physical help in war, assistance in war, supernatural troops of war which she did not have, she never asked for.

The Palms of Martyrdom

It would seem that never had the King of Heaven wished so expressly as in the person of this great saint that one of His daughters should win of herself the palms of martyrdom.

She knew it. Not only was she not protected, she was not ensured against sickness and against wounds and against military defeat, but also she knew that she was not ensured against sickness and against wounds and against military defeat.

She accomplished a divine task through merely human means. She carried out a divine commandment through strictly human means. She responded to a divine vocation through exclusively human means, by a work, by a military war, by operations, by efforts strictly human. This is what gives her a place apart, a most eminent place in the hierarchy of sanctities. Let us also note, let us note further that the substance in which this sanctity had to be exerted was the most extraordinary, the farthest removed from the habitual order, one might almost say the most foreign to habitual substances of sanctity. And even that one most contrary and hostile to the habitual substances of sanctity. Among all saints she it was who was truly sent on a mission extraordinary. By these two commandments she has a unique place in the hierarchy of sanctities, she is holy and blessed among all saints while at the same time through the first commandment she is a woman among all the saints.

If, on the other hand, one wishes to consider her, no longer in her order of sanctity, but in her order of humanity, who does not immediately perceive that in this order she is a unique woman? A unique being. For if one wishes, she is of the race of saints, and if one wishes, she is of the race of heroes. Coming from God and returning to God and constantly receiving assistance of counsel from her voices, in all her being she is a saint. She is of the race of saints. But in this hard humanity of the fifteenth century, and of all the centuries, accomplishing by purely human means such an array of purely human exploits in a purely human war, in all of this purely human action, through all her externally directed action, through her whole engagement of body and soul in military action, in an entire action of war, by her entire condition, by her entire active being she is a hero, she is of the race of heroes.

Now, not only are the race of heroes and the race of saints not identical, but they are two scarcely or ill-connected races. One might almost say that they do not care for each other, that they do not like to keep company together, that they are embarrassed to be in one another’s company. There is something inexpressibly profound and which should be fathomed, through which the race of heroes and the race of saints stand in some inexpressibly deep contradiction. There are perhaps no two races of men that are so profoundly foreign one to the other, so far removed one from the other, so antithetical one to the other as are the race of heroes and the race of saints. Doubtless one would discover that this profound contradiction merely manifests, but under a form, perhaps under its sharpest form, under its eminent form, that eternal contradiction of the temporal and the eternal.

Now Joan of Arc, precisely because she exerted her saintliness in purely human trials, by purely human means, precisely because she had remained entirely vulnerable in battle, vulnerable to sickness, vulnerable to wounds, vulnerable to capture, vulnerable to death, vulnerable to defeat and to all defeat, fully exposed like an ancient hero to all warlike adventure, precisely for this reason she is of the race of heroes as she is of the race of saints. And as in the race of saints she is not only a saint among all saints and a woman among all saints, so in a parallel manner, so in the race of heroes, she is a hero among all heroes and a woman. She is not less eminent in the heroic hierarchy than in the sacred hierarchy. And thus, she is at a point of intersection unique in the history of humanity. Two races meet in her that meet nowhere else. By a unique intersection of these two races, by an election, by a vocation unique in the history of the world she is at once saintly among all heroes, heroic among all the saints.

A Concluding Word

I do not believe that I have ever spoken of the Catholic world. I have often spoken of the Church, of communion. I do not feel truly myself, I do not really touch the bottom of my thought save when I write of Christendom. Only then I fully see what I say.

Joan of Arc