A Look at “The Passion of Joan of Arc” Part 6/8

A.M.D.G.
J.M.J.
A.T.C.

Laudetur Iesus Christus!

Vigil of Pentecost

Veni Sancte Spiritu!

Okay, okay, I have been slacking quite severely of late. This week was not a good week on many levels. Imma spare you all the details. I actually prefer not to re-tell them. Those who know, know and we’re gonna leave it at that. Of course, in other ways, this week was wonderful but it’s just a shame that just when one thinks things are getting better, the Evil One comes and pours a vat of hydrochloric acid all over things and corrodes all the joy outta them. But such is his twisted and perverted nature as the Prince of Darkness. Kinda par for the course with him.

On the bright side, I was reassured that I am not, in fact, an automaton, though there are times when I think that I am.

This post has actually taken me a while to write. I looked at my calendar and realized, “Holy Mudda Church, I haven’t posted in a week! Joan of Arc’s feast is in a few days! BAH!” That, and I got distracted by the pile of freshly folded laundry I did today (I kinda miss my habit/jumper). All that and the fact that I still had to change my Infant of Prague’s vestments to red for Pentecost. He looks so cute! And regal. One day, Imma make him a set of gold and rose vestments, then my set will be complete!

Oh, and I have a confession to make. I woke up about four times this morning before actually getting out of bed. The first time at my usual six o’clock to my Mozart ringtone. Stared at my phone, grunted, and fell back to sleep. Five minutes later, repeat. Do that two more times every five minutes. I really really really wanted to go to Mass but my body just could not get out of bed. Two factors, Friday was hella hot and for a person like me whose body has never processed heat and humidity well (nor does my head full of very fine hair), it was a draining day. That and another variable but I’ll spare you that detail too. My body-soul composite got outta bed about 9:30-ish. My soul said, “Great, you missed Mass, you heathen.” My soma told my soul, “Then why didn’t you impel me out of bed!?!” Yes, they do that. My angel just rolls his eyes. He does that a lot.

That and … *gasp* … I didn’t pray Lauds or Office of Readings. FOR SHAME, MS. ALLIE! I KNOW!!! So I made sure I prayed I Vespers and Compline tonight. I want to get back in the habit of praying Lauds, Vespers, and Compline mostly in Latin like I did in college. I would listen to the Vatican radio podcast of the Divine Office (the link is in one of the lists in the sidebar). Lauds was always either before I left my room for campus or (if for some odd reason I was running late as in I would be showing up for class five minutes early instead of ten … I was an overachiever) as I was making my way to campus. Vespers and Compline were always right before I went to bed. If I was at my computer, I would look up the Latin text with English juxtaposition and pray from that with the podcast. I have the last half of Compline memorized because it never changes save for the “alleluias” during Eastertide. Now I have the added bonus of being able to wear my little piece of controversy on my head: my cream mantilla of traddy goodness.

All right. Down to bid-ness. We’re up to the part of the libretto with the header “Abjuration.”

We start this part hearing the prayer that was commissioned by King Charles VII that pleads for Joan’s freedom from imprisonment in 1431. We heard the very beginning of it at the end of the last part. The text goes (and is sung):

Hear, Almighty God, the prayers of Your people …
of the girl acting according to the
works which You had spoken of to her.

Joan has been brought out to the site of what (SPOILER ALERT) her place of execution and the crowd gathers to see what will happen. As she sits in her spot, one of the judges, stands at a lectern and begins to speak. He says,

Let us try one last time to save this lost soul.

Of course, this is because they think she is a raving heretic who is under the control of the Evil One. Ha! As this scene continues, we hear sung:

Those who do not remain in me
will be discarded like branches:
they will wither.
So they will be gathered up,
thrown on the fire,
and burnt.
(John 15:6, recited to Joan of Arc by Father Erard during her trial, at the confrontation in front of Saint Ouen)

This has a double meaning. First, it refers to the fact that if Joan does not “straighten up and fly right,” her soul will be lost to eternal fire for her sins and for the scandal she has caused. Secondly, it also alludes to the kind of death she would suffer “thrown on the fire, and burnt” … clearly pointing to the stake.

As the judge (who seems to have the zeal of a Dominican) speaks, we see Joan’s facial expression: her eyes wide and her mouth agape and at other times almost showing a kind of interior fatigue when her eyes get heavy and her mouth droops.

After saying that he is speaking to her, he says that her king (Charles VII) is a heretic.

She looks at him blankly and responds that,

My King is the most noble Christian of them all.

Which also points to the fact that at one point France was seen as the Eldest Daughter of the Church because of her steadfast support and defense of the Church (look at all the French saints there are and you’ll see why). Of course, that was before secularism began to dig its claws into society and culture starting with the French Revolution and its doffing of France’s Catholic heritage and replacing it with a state religion (studying that in Catholic Political Thought in college was quite interesting). In the new religion of France, the “Goddess Reason” replaced Our Lady at Notre Dame de Paris and the clerics and religious were hunted, imprisoned, and executed for their alleged allegiance to the Ancien Régime.

The chorus then sings:

Lord, that which I do, I do only to find you.
(Blessed Angela of Foligno)

This signifies that Joan did all that she did and said all that she said because she believed in her very soul that all that was revealed to her by her visions and voices came ultimately from God. She followed her visions and voices because she believed that they were leading her to do the will of God even in the face of great adversity and when it would seem to be much easier at times to just give up and move on with her life as it once was. She earnestly believed that in following through with her mission of saving France from the English and Burgundians (English-loving French), she was doing the will of God and it would ultimately lead her to greater union with Him.

The judge says that her “arrogance is insane.” Ha. Talk about projection. Could they not even compute the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this girl might just be doing precisely what the Lord has asked of her? Of course, they have been corrupted by many things: unhealthy hubris (pride), ambition for worldly gain, and un-Christian disdain for those who seem to be below them on many levels (how dare a shepherd GIRL of 19 (maybe) claim that all the “trouble” she has caused is the will of God?!?!).

After a shot of some judges talking amongst themselves, the camera goes to the gravedigger who is hard at work preparing for the burial of yet another victim of the stake. The camera switches between shots of Joan and the grave being dug. At one point, the man unearths a skull and casts it onto the pile of disturbed earth.

As this scene progresses, we hear simultaneously:

Renounce your purpose.
(From “The Passion of Saint Perpetua,” a history of an early Christian martyr)

and

… a woman–a simple shepherdess–
More valiant even than Rome’s worthiest!
(From the Ditie by Christine de Pizan)

and

Destroy us not all together.
(Saint Perpetua)

Then we have a close-up of the skull that was unearthed as maggots crawl out from the eye sockets (delightful!) This could also be symbolic of her own mortality and fear of death weighing down upon her. Though she knows her voices and visions came from God, she remains a human being and prone to fear. As we continue to see those wonderful things come out, we hear:

Fire and heat, praise the Lord!
(Daniel 3:66)

Not an allusion to Joan’s manner of death at all. That even in her eventual death, she gave glory to God by staying faithful to Him and what He had revealed to her.

The zealous judge then shouts that “France has never seen such a monster …”

Renounce your purpose.

We hear that again. We hear that a few times during this scene.

She then tries to defend herself by saying that she has “never wronged anyone,” which is true.

A scribe/assistant is then handed the paper on which is written the abjuration that they are hoping she will sign now that she has seen what will happen to her if she does not recant her crimes. We also see a shot of Jean Massieu (Antonin Artaud) and a couple others who seem to be trying to support her by telling her to just sign the abjuration and save herself.

The zealous judge then vehemently reminds her that if she does not sign the abjuration, she will be “burned alive” and that “the stake awaits her.” No pressure. Of course, that’s going to scare her as is apparent in her change of facial expression.

As the judge tells her all of this, a male soloist sings:

… No force is there so strong–
Try as they might to resist the attack
of the Maid–it dies in vain before long.

One hears of Esther, Judith, and Deborah,
Who were ladies of great courage and worth; […]

Through them God performed miracles on Earth,
But He fulfilled even more through the Maid.
(Ditie, Christine de Pizan)

One of the other judges then tell her that she does not have “the right to die” and her King “still needs her.” This is of course done in order to perhaps coax her into signing the abjuration because she may think that there is still more to be done and now is not her time to die. Of course, even if she were to be burned now, they would not believe that she would go to Heaven. Nor would they probably honor her wish to be buried in consecrated ground, hence the skull that was unearthed. It was probably the skull of another person executed. They commonly buried people near their point of execution. Joan’s remains would not be given the same type of treatment for various reasons.

But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves now.

The three plead with her to sign and save her life. The judge who just got finished threatening her with death by burning shows his compassionate side (you decide whether is authentic … ha) by telling her that they all have “great sympathy” for her. He then encourages her to sign the abjuration.

After some shots of the crowd gathered (their expressions are not ones of a crowd thirsty for a good execution; they are almost fearful that she will die now) and of the executioners looking bored with the lack of action taking place, we see that they have brought Joan to a desk to sign the abjuration.

As this is happening, we hear:

The same hour you will be thrown into a furnace
of burning fire. And Who is the God Who will
snatch you from my hand?
Fire and heat, praise the Lord!
(Daniel 3:15 and 3:66)

Clearly, these are allusions to the manner of death she will eventually suffer. But is also a display that while the judges may think that God is on their side and that Joan is isolating herself from Him and His Church, it is really Joan who will come out triumphant because she has remained faithful even when her life was to be taken from her.

The quill is placed in her hand and she begins to try to sign it. Kinda hard for a girl who knows how to write. I think they did it for two reasons: One, to show the witnesses that her hand was not forced to sign the abjuration. And two, to demonstrate to all present that she was nothing but an illiterate girl through whom God would not possibly deign to speak or work. One of the judges, helps her write her name seeing that she has the intent to sign it if she only knew how.

As she is being helped sign her abjuration, we have very brief shots of the place of execution. It’s almost symbolic of death flashing before her eyes as she signs the document and eventual goes away.

After the judge finishes helping her sign the paper, she puts a cross after her name. It is said that she did this to show that it was really her signing the paper. I read somewhere that she did this on any official documents to help others determine which were genuinely from her and which were forgeries.

Then the chorus sings:

Lord, that which I do, I do only to find you.
May I find you after I have completed it!
(Blessed Angela of Foligno)

This points to the fact that at this point, she has perhaps come to believe that now is not her time to go and that God still has more in store for her to do in order to accomplish His will. She knows that once she has done this, she will be reunited with Him.

The head judge then stands and reads her sentence having “recognized [her] errors, [she] will not be excommunicated.” This obviously gives her a sense of relief since she has never wanted to separate herself from God and His Church. But then he continues that she has “greatly sinned” and that they “condemn [her] to perpetual imprisonment to eat the bread of sorrow and drink the water of anguish.” Talk about symbolic language.

After her sentence has been read to her, she seems to have the appearance of relief and almost happiness. A smile shows across her face for a brief moment. The first smile in a very long time.

Another judge says,

A good day’s work:
you have saved your life and your soul.

The other judges seem pleased with what has happened: Joan has abjured all that she has claimed, she will serve a life sentence for her heresy, and she has saved her life from the stake and her soul from Hell. The commanding soldier does not seem so pleased as is apparent in his reaction. When the judge brings her abjuration to him, he says,

She has only made fools of you!

He then waves his hand and knocks the paper out of his hand dismissively. Clearly, he wanted her burned at the stake. He has only made this clear in how he has treated her, how he has spoken of her, and how he does not want her to die naturally.

The crowd is pleased that Joan has abjured and has thus saved her life from the stake. Now, mind you, Rouen (where all of this is taking place) is a French city in English hands. The townsfolk are French but they are under the control of the English. Of course they are going to love Joan! She is the Maid of Lorraine who has been foretold to be the one who will save France from her enemies! To them, Joan is their liberator. She will be the one who, by the grace and providence of God, will free them from the oppression of the English occupiers. If Joan were to die at the stake, so too would their hopes of freedom go up in the smoke and flames of the execution pyre.

The crowd’s love for Joan is only made all the more apparent when one man cries, “Long live Joan!” and is immediately taken by some soldiers. We then see reflected in some water what happens to the man. I am not sure what happens exactly but he seems pretty stiff as he is thrown into the water like a bale of sticks.

We are then taken to the jail again where Joan’s hair is being cut. She is now a prisoner for the rest of her life. She does have a rather nice-shaped head. Not many can pull off the closely-shorn or shaven look.

As Joan’s hair is being cut, we see what is going on in the town. It seems to be a festival of sorts will all kinds of acts being performed. And we all know it’s not a real festival until someone swallows a sword. We see that. And I think there was also a dog act … probably for the kids. And a lot of contortionists. It’s almost painful to watch some of them.

After Joan’s hair has been cut, she sits, cries, and watches as her hair is swept away. Also swept into the pile is the crown she had made from the straw of her bed. As it is carried away to be thrown out with the hair, the expression on Joan’s face changes. She tells the man to go and find the judges and that she has taken back what she said because she lied. The man looks at her with shock and disbelief, frozen in his place (perhaps he realized that if he were to do so, it would mean her death). Joan goads him out of his shock and tells him to go and to hurry.

Realizing that she has basically just tied herself to the stake, she begins to cry again now that the reality of her impending death has hit her.

The man goes to the head judge and tell him what Joan said. The commanding officer is standing ever so conveniently behind him, eagerly taking in all that is being said.

The judge then goes to Joan’s cell and visits her. He probably asks her if she is sure that she takes it all back and if she is aware of what she is doing.

And the part ends.

Six down. Two to go. I probably won’t post on Sunday since it’s Pentecost and you all should be celebrating the Church’s birthday! I will post part seven on Monday and then the final part on her feast day 30 May which is Tuesday. I am sorry that this have been so haphazardly posted with long intervals but schedules can be kinda crazy during the month of May.

Well, I am off to bed. Have a blessed Pentecost Sunday! Happy birthday, Holy Mother Church!
-Allie

About Ms. Allie

I am a Catholic young woman who works as a Theology teacher at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of the Detroit. In Spring of 2015, I graduated with an MA in Theology with a concentration in Systematic Theology. My MA thesis was titled: "Mary as Woman of the Eucharist in the Theology of Pope Saint John Paul II." I also hold a BA in Theology (with a dabbling in Philosophy) and is a member of Theta Alpha Kappa (θΑΚ), the National Theology/Religious Studies Honor Society. Prayers are appreciated.
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