Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Maid of Orleans

Now that school is out I'm reading a biography on Joan of Arc. My interest was piqued during the end of my psychology course, when my professor referenced her during his lecture on schizophrenia. Realizing that the extent of my knowledge of Joan of Arc came from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and an episode of Wishbone, I pulled her biography off the shelf and despite the bizarre cover art, I dove in.

Um, and so far I've learned a lot about the Hundred Years War. Not so much about Joan herself.

The question that's plaguing me at this point in her story is the relationship between religion and politics. Joan did what she did solely on mandate from God. The girl was sold out. But there's also no denying that what she did was political to the hilt: she picked the "God-ordained" ruler, picked a side, divided the French people, and navigated practically legislative channels. She made dramatic claims about God's will for the nation of France, and in the name of Christianity she helped shape the future of Europe. She wasn't out there feeding the poor or freeing the slaves or any other sort of social justice missions - she was in the business of government supremacy. I don't know what to think of that.

The other question that's bothering me is the nature of Joan's visions. Where did they come from? The clergy who questioned her at the time of her initial audience with Charles VI were unable to verify or condemn her call, but I think it's reasonably to believe her visions were real. Or at the very least, real to her. But were they from God? The voices were later identified by Joan and her questioners as St. Catherine and St. Margaret, also Michael the Archangel. I'm not excessively squeamish about Catholicism, but I can't help but wonder, if God wanted Joan to do something for Him, why communicate through "saints" than through Jesus? Or some other kind of vision? Or a still small voice?

Further, would God do something like that? He channels the princes' hearts like streams of water, but does He send peasant girls to slay a bunch of English troops in the name of Christianity and France? He controls the world, He rules the nations, but it seems strange to me that He would intervene so directly . . . though I guess I have no developed reason to think that's strange. But if Joan's visions weren't from God, where were they from? Satan? Herself?

And so there is also that question that my psychology professor proposed: what if Joan of Arc was schizophrenic? Or crazy in some other way. I don't lend much credence to this question, as my professor also taught that anyone who believes a talking snake led to the fall of the earth is also displaying psychiatric deviance, but it is somewhat of an interesting question. Joan's upbringing was deeply religious, and it could have served as a kind of catalyst for her already erratic behavior. I don't know. She had to have been just a little bit crazy to be as brave as she was.

Joan of Arc is just a bundle of controversy. The relationship between faith and politics, how God rules the world, perhaps even the question of whether women should lead. What freaks me out about Joan, though, is her conviction. She pursued her calling with persistence, unwavering dedication, even to her death. How much more does this mean to us with the words of life?

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I have often considered this topic. I don't have any answers. It fascinates me though.