“In this great darkness make our faith
A light to be our constant guide
That we may choose the narrow way
And not the way of wounded pride.”
(From the Magnificat hymn of September 3rd)
Jesus said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (cf. Mt 7:24)
There is no shortage of books on Joan of Arc attempting to explain her thunderously supernatural, enigmatic life. We read political and religious commentaries that try to unravel the core of her substance. We know how she altered the course of Western civilization. We know the lingering affects and how this instills great devotion to her in many of our hearts. Yet, we might explore one more perspective still. Joan is like a gem, perhaps like an emerald, where light reflects differently through it depending on one’s point of view. Joan reflects an array of startling colors across streams of heavenly light depending on where we stand when we look at her.
The perspective we might consider is that of how her philosophy impacted her view of the world and how it was, at its core, the real reason she ran into trouble with the political and religious leaders of her time. Philosophy is where our natural reason interfaces with supernatural grace. Natural philosophy cannot save us any more than can natural reasoning or purely human acts of the will. However, grace works through our natural senses in order to transform our souls in grace. The human person is both body and soul. We are blessed supernaturally by reading scripture because of our natural capability to read. “Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ. ” (Romans 10:17) says St. Paul. Our natural senses are the gateway to our soul. Our natural philosophical orientation is one such gateway and one of the most important. A poor or inadequate philosophy impedes grace in the same way that dyslexia impedes comprehension in reading. Without proper philosophy, we struggle to understand the fullness of God’s Word in our life just as a dyslexic struggles to understand scripture.
So, we must consider Joan’s philosophical orientation and how that ran obtusely and afoul with her contemporaries. It could be the key reason, even more so than her politics or confessed religion, that she died at the civil English stake before a crowd of ecclesial onlookers.
Joan of Arc was a Platonic Ultra-Realist in an Aristotelian world. More specifically, she was a Christian Neoplatonist in an Aristotelian world. This is one reason why she as a devout Catholic ran into trouble with a Catholic jury and so aggravated a Catholic England. Being Catholic was not the issue. However, being a Platonist was.
Joan saw the Kingdom of France as a perfect Form, or universal, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, nothing could be “true” on earth unless it conformed to Truth in Heaven. England, in her view, was wrong to be in France not simply because of political considerations or whose side one supported in a royal dynastic dispute. England did not belong in France because this was not the Form of True France in Heaven. Therefore, an “English France” on earth could not stand. Such a France would be false and opposed to True France.
“When the king saw her, he asked Joan her name and she answered: “Gentle dauphin, I am Joan the Maid, and the King of Heaven commands that through me you be anointed and crowned in the city of Reims as a lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is king of France.”
(Pernoud, Joan of Arc – Her Story)
“In the language of images Jeanne has thus (with her banner) depicted the Church in heaven as pure adoration of God, the Church on earth as the reception of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and sinful humanity, gathered in this Church around the cross along with the priests and soldiers, redeemed and repentant. Yet it is the same Church that is on earth and in heaven.”
– (The Spiritual Way of St. Jeanne d’Arc by George Tavard)
We see clearly in the examples above Joan’s divinely oriented ultra-realism. True France was a heavenly Form of which the earthly kingdom was a seed. Not to be obedient to True France was not to be obedient to Jesus Christ. Joan is a masterpiece of proper philosophy that opens the earthly floodgate to heaven’s supernatural grace. She worked miracles. Grace abounded in her, seemingly without impediment. Her philosophical orientation, we might contemplate, was her secret. Her will was perfectly aligned to that of Jesus Christ as a result of her point of view, which is to say, her natural philosophy. Jesus, therefore, united Himself with her soul in splendor.
Question: What sort of help say you that this voice has brought you for the salvation of your soul?
Joan: It has taught me to conduct myself well, to go habitually to church…
Question: Have you some other sign that these voices are good spirits?
Joan: Saint Michael assured me of it before the voices came.
Question: How did you know it was Saint Michael?
Joan: I knew it by his speech and by the language of the Angels, and I believe firmly that they were Angels.
Question: How did you know that they were Angels?
Joan: I believed it quite quickly, and I had the will to believe it…
(Pernoud, Joan of Arc – By herself and her witnesses)
Joan of Arc is a model for us. By God’s design in the heavenly aristocracy of grace, she guides us with the abundance of her own spiritual gifts to a new world view. Joan shows us how to understand God’s point of view. She guides us by pointing out the correct first philosophy and the optimal philosophical orientation to respond most fully to Christ’s grace. With that, Joan of Arc stands at our side as the morning light of grace rises to shine brightly over the meadows, creeks, rivers, lakes, and majestic mountains of the Kingdom in our hearts.
Sadly, this was not the case for most of Christendom at the time. While Catholic France, as Joan pointed out indirectly to the dauphin Charles, truly owned the ultra-realism of the day, much of Catholic Christendom had been seduced by the glittering, flashing lights of Aristotelianism. The Renaissance was on its way, and while Plato would ultimately see the light of day again as the Renaissance moved forward, Aristotle’s “we are called to question all things first through human reason” aura still ruled the day.
As opposed to Augustine or Anselm’s “we believe that we might understand,” to which Joan would have agreed wholeheartedly, the crowds wanted their “freedom” to “understand before they believe.” All matters, even those theological and pronounced by the Church, were up for grabs. The masses wanted Adam’s false “freedom” from obedience in order to question (Aristotle’s way) as opposed to God’s true freedom in faith through obedience to the objectively true heavenly Forms as revealed to us through scripture and the sacred traditions of the Church (Plato’s way). Here is where the real tragedy of Joan of Arc played out. Joan, a model of obedience to Truth, was faced with those who were not and who did not “choose the narrow way” but went “the way of wounded pride.”
This also explains what is otherwise inexplicable to the Aristotelian mind; that is, why did she follow her “Voices” to death at the stake when she seemingly had nothing to gain? There is no apparently sufficient syllogism from which to deduce a “reasonable” answer. The Aristotelian mind is arrested in wonder. Conversely, however, the Platonic mind, while still pained by the tragedy of her end, is not baffled at all. As Joan was consumed by fire, an English soldier saw a white dove ascend from the flames and fly toward free France. The Aristotelian mind, relying on syllogistic deduction based on natural reasoning, figures this a hallucination. Those with the Platonic mind smile, knowing that this is a sign that Joan truly succeeded in her divine mission and will be with us in True France for all eternity. It all has to do with one’s perspective when observing the saintly jewel we call Joan of Arc.
Let us learn from God’s Joan of Arc whom Heaven loves so much. It is time that we follow Joan of Arc through the meadows, across the creeks, over the rivers, around the pristine lakes, and upward towards the majestic mountains. Joan of Arc will give you the heavenly assistance you need to let God explain His point of view.