Benedict XVI - General Audiences
On St. Joan of Arc
"Joan's Judges...Did Not Know They Were Condemning a Saint"
H.H. Benedict XVI
January 26, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about Joan of Arc, a young saint from
the end of the Middle Ages, who died at age 19, in 1431. This French
saint, quoted many times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is
particularly close to St. Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and
Europe, of whom I spoke in a recent catechesis. In fact they are two
young women of the people, lay and consecrated in virginity, two
committed mystics, not in a cloister, but in the midst of the most
dramatic realities of the Church and of the world of their time. They
are, perhaps, the most characteristic examples from among those "strong
women" who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly took the great
light of the Gospel to the complex vicissitudes of history.
We could place her next to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close
to Jesus crucified, and Mary, his mother, while the apostles fled and
Peter himself denied him three times.
In her times, the Church lived the profound crisis of the great Western
schism, which lasted almost 40 years. When Catherine of Siena died, in
1380, there was a pope and an anti-pope. When Joan was born, in 1412,
there was a pope and two anti-popes. In addition to this laceration
within the Church, there were continuous fratricidal wars between the
Christian peoples of Europe, the most tragic of which was the
interminable 100 Years War between France and England.
Joan of Arc could not read or write, but she can be known in the depth
of her soul thanks to two sources of exceptional historical value: the
two trials she underwent. The first, the "Trial of Conviction," contains
the transcription of the long and numerous interrogations of Joan during
the last months of her life (February-May of 1431), and includes the
words of the saint herself. The second, the "Trial of Nullity of the
Sentence," or of "rehabilitation," contains the testimonies of close to
120 eye-witnesses from all the periods of her life (cf. Procès de
Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 3 vol. and Procès en Nullité de la
Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 5 vol., ed. Klincksieck, Paris l960-1989).
Joan was born in Domremy, a small village located on the border between
France and Lorraine. Her parents were well-off farmers, known by
everyone as very good Christians. From them she received a good
religious education, with notable influence from the spirituality of the
Name of Jesus, taught by St. Bernardine of Siena and spread in Europe by
the Franciscans. To the Name of Jesus is always joined the Name of Mary
and thus, in the framework of popular religiosity, Joan's spirituality
was profoundly Christocentric and Marian. From her childhood, she showed
great charity and compassion toward the poorest, the sick and all who
suffered in the tragic context of the war.
From her own words, we know that Joan's religious life matured
experientially beginning at the age of 13 (PCon, I, p. 47-48). Through
the "voice" of the Archangel St. Michael, Joan felt called by the Lord
to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself personally to
the liberation of her people. Her immediate response, her "yes," was the
vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to
prayer: daily attendance at Mass, frequent confession and Communion and
long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified or before the image
of the Virgin. The compassion and commitment of the young French peasant
girl in face of the suffering of her people became more intense because
of her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects
of the holiness of this young girl was precisely the connection between
mystical experience and political mission.
After the years of hidden life and interior maturation, the brief but
intense two-year period of her public life followed: a year of action
and a year of passion.
At the beginning of the year 1429, Joan began her work of liberation.
The numerous testimonies show us this young woman who was only 17 years
old as a very strong and determined person, capable of convincing unsure
and discouraged men. Overcoming all obstacles, she met with the dauphin
of France, the future King Charles VII, who in Poitiers subjected her to
an examination by some theologians of the university. Their judgment was
positive: They did not see anything evil in her, [finding] only a good
On March 22, 1429, Joan dictated an important letter to the king of
England and his men who were besieging the city of Orleans (Ibid., p.
221-222). Hers was a proposal of true peace in justice between the two
Christian peoples, in light of the names of Jesus and Mary, but this
proposal was rejected, and Joan had to commit herself in the fight for
the liberation of the city, which took place on May 8. The other
culminating moment of her political action was the coronation of King
Charles VII in Rheims, on July 17, 1429. For a whole year, Joan lived
with the soldiers, carrying out among them a real mission of
evangelization. Numerous are the testimonies about her goodness, her
courage and her extraordinary purity. She was called by everyone and she
herself described herself as "the maiden," namely, the virgin.
Joan's passion began on May 23, 1430, when she fell prisoner in the
hands of her enemies. On Dec. 23 she was taken to the city of Rouen.
Carried out there was the long and dramatic Trial of Conviction, which
began in February of 1431 and ended on May 30 with the stake. It was a
grand and solemn trial, presided over by two ecclesiastical judges,
Bishop Pierre Cauchon and the inquisitor Jean le Maistre, but in reality
led entirely by a large group of theologians of the famous University of
Paris, who took part in the trial as consultants. They were French
ecclesiastics who had political leanings opposed to Joan's, and who thus
had a priori a negative judgment on her person and her mission. This
trial is a moving page of the history of sanctity and also an
illuminating page on the mystery of the Church that, according to the
words of the Second Vatican Council, is "at the same time holy and
always in need of being purified" ("Lumen Gentium," 8). It was the
dramatic meeting between this saint and her judges, who were
ecclesiastics. Joan was accused and judged by them, to the point of
being condemned as a heretic and sent to the terrible death of the
stake. As opposed to the holy theologians who had illuminated the
University of Paris, such as St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas and
Blessed Duns Scotus, of whom I have spoken in other catecheses, these
judges were theologians lacking in charity and humility to see in this
young woman the action of God. Jesus' words come to mind according to
which the mysteries of God are revealed to those that have the heart of
little ones, while they remain hidden from the learned and wise who are
not humble (cf. Luke 10:21). Thus Joan's judges were radically incapable
of understanding her, of seeing the beauty of her soul: They did not
know they were condemning a saint.
Joan's appeal to the pope's intervention on May 24 was rejected by the
court. On the morning of May 30 she received holy Communion for the last
time in prison, and immediately after she was taken to her ordeal in the
square of the old market. She asked one of the priests to put in front
of the stake the cross of the procession. Thus she died looking at Jesus
crucified and pronouncing many times and in a loud voice the Name of
Jesus (PNul, I, p. 457; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 435).
Almost 25 years later, the Trial of Nullity, opened under the authority
of Pope Calixtus III, concluded with a solemn sentence that declared the
condemnation null and void (July 7, 1456; PNul, II, p. 604-610). This
long trial, which includes the statements of witnesses and judgments of
many theologians, all favorable to Joan, highlights her innocence and
her perfect fidelity to the Church. Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 by
Dear brothers and sisters, the Name of Jesus, invoked by our saint up to
the last moments of her earthly life, was like the breathing of her
soul, like the beating of her heart, the center of her whole life. The
"mystery of the charity of Joan of Arc," which so fascinated the poet
Charles Peguy, is this total love of Jesus, and of her neighbor in Jesus
and for Jesus. This saint understood that love embraces the whole
reality of God and of man, of heaven and of earth, of the Church and of
the world. Jesus was always in the first place during her whole life,
according to her beautiful affirmation: "Serve God first" (PCon, I, p.
288; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 223).
To love him means to always obey his will. She said with total
confidence and abandonment: "I entrust myself to my Creator God, I love
him with my whole heart" (Ibid., p. 337). With the vow of virginity,
Joan consecrated in an exclusive way her whole person to the one Love of
Jesus: It is "her promise made to our Lord to protect well her virginity
of body and soul" (Ibid., p. 149-150). Virginity of soul is the state of
grace, the supreme value, for her more precious than life: It was a gift
of God that she received and protected with humility and trust. One of
the best known texts of the first trial has to do with this: "Asked if
she knew that she was in God's grace, she replied: 'If I am not, may it
please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to put me there'"
(Ibid., p. 62; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2005).
Our saint lived prayer as a form of continuous dialogue with the Lord,
who also enlightened her answers to the judges, giving her peace and
security. She prayed with faith: "Sweetest God, in honor of your holy
Passion, I ask you, if you love me, to reveal to me how I must answer
these men of the Church" (Ibid., p. 252). Joan saw Jesus as the "King of
Heaven and Earth." Thus, on her standard, Joan had the image painted of
"Our Lord who sustains the world" (Ibid., p. 172), icon of her political
mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice, which
Joan carried out in charity, out of love for Jesus. Hers is a beautiful
example of holiness for the laity who work in political life, above all
in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every
choice, as another great saint would testify a century later, the
Englishman Thomas More. In Jesus, Joan also contemplated the reality of
the Church, the "triumphant Church" of Heaven, and the "militant Church"
of earth. According to her words, Our Lord and the Church are one
"whole" (Ibid., p. 166). This affirmation quoted in the Catechism of the
Catholic Church (No. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context
of the Trial of Conviction, in face of the judges, men of the Church,
who persecuted her and condemned her. In the love of Jesus, Joan found
the strength to love the Church to the end, including at the moment of
I am pleased to recall how St. Joan of Arc had a profound influence on a
young saint of the modern age: Thérèse of the Child Jesus. In a
completely different life, spent in the cloister, the Carmelite of
Lisieux felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and
taking part in the sufferings of Jesus for the salvation of the world.
The Church has joined them as patronesses of France, after the Virgin
Mary. St. Thérèse expressed her desire to die like Joan, pronouncing the
Name of Jesus (Manuscript B, 3r); she was animated by the same love for
Jesus and her neighbor, lived in consecrated virginity.
Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous testimony, St. Joan of Arc
invites us to a lofty level of Christian life: to make prayer the
guiding thread of our days; to have full confidence in fulfilling the
will of God, whatever it is; to live in charity without favoritisms,
without limits and having, as she had, in the love of Jesus, a profound
love for the Church. Thank you.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our catechesis today deals with Saint Joan of Arc, one of the
outstanding women of the later Middle Ages. Raised in a religious
family, Joan enjoyed mystical experiences from an early age. At a time
of crisis in the Church and of war in her native France, she felt God's
call to a life of prayer and virginity, and to personal engagement in
the liberation of her compatriots. At the age of seventeen, Joan began
her mission among the French military forces; she sought to negotiate a
just Christian peace between the English and the French, took an active
part in the siege of Orleans and witnessed the coronation of Charles VII
at Rheims. Captured by her enemies the next year, she was tried by an
ecclesiastical court and burnt at the stake as a heretic; she died
invoking the name of Jesus. Her unjust condemnation was overturned
twenty-five years later. At the heart of Saint Joan's spirituality was
an unfailing love for Christ and, in Christ, for the Church and for her
neighbor. May the prayers and example of Saint Joan of Arc inspire many
lay men and women to devote themselves to public life in the service of
God's Kingdom, and encourage all of us to live to the fullest our lofty
calling in Christ.
I am pleased to greet the student groups from Hong Kong and the United
States of America, as well as the group of Army Chaplains from Great
Britain. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at
today's Audience I cordially invoke God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he greeted the youth, sick and newlyweds present:]
And now a particular greeting to young people, the sick and newlyweds.
Today is the liturgical memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, disciples of
St. Paul. Dear young people, like these faithful servants of the Gospel,
I invite you to make your following of Jesus ever more strong and
convinced, to be true witnesses in this society. I invite you, dear
sick, following their example, to make your own the sentiments of
Christ, to find comfort in him, who continues his work of redemption in
the life of every person. And you, dear newlyweds, discover every day in
conjugal life the mystery of God who gives himself for the salvation of
all, so that your love is ever more true, lasting and solid toward
[Translation by ZENIT]
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