There are a few revisionists who have tried to claim that Joan was a 'Protestant' (until it's explained that there weren't any Protestants in the early 15th century, at which point the claim is shifted to 'proto-Protestant').mn1
Having been raised Protestant myself and therefore initially puzzled by Joan's theology, which is considerably different from anything taught by Protestantism, I would find this 'theory' particularly amusing were it not for the fact that it attempts to elaborate upon the claims used against Joan by the men who cruelly put her to death. This makes the theory not merely ridiculous, but also unconscionable. But let's examine some of the claims made to back up this notion, beginning with general issues followed by a refutation of specific allegations that have been made by one particular revisionist.
There are two primary misconceptions at the heart of the theory: 1) The stereotype which says that medieval theologians considered the clergy to be God-like figures with infallible powers to condemn souls via excommunication, and who therefore had to be obeyed even above the Almighty Himself : therefore, so the reasoning goes, Joan's statement that she would obey the Church "so long as Our Lord is served first"1 is alleged to be a heretical attempt on her part to "merely" serve God rather than submitting firstly to the clergy. 2) A second misconception holds that Joan never submitted to the Pope and "Church Militant" to any degree at all, or that her submission was disingenuous. Both are wrong.
1) Concerning the first issue: To see
what medieval theologians actually said on this topic, we can
look to the writings of the
premier medieval theologian himself, St. Thomas Aquinas, who was
so revered by the clergy of Joan's era as to be referred to
simply as "Sanctus Doctor" ("the Holy Teacher"). In a
supreme irony, Aquinas' views are far more 'extreme' on this point
than anything which Joan said at her trial: in his famous work
"Scriptum super Sententiis" he bluntly states "it is better to die
excommunicated" by the clergy rather than to submit to something
which is contrary to God's law.2
In other words: "So long as Our
Lord is served first." Much of what Joan says, in fact, is
straight out of the writings of Aquinas, St. Hildegard, and other
medieval theologians and visionaries, meaning that those who
wish to claim that Joan was a "Protestant" would need to make
the same claim for Aquinas and company - and the numerous Popes who
promoted their doctrines. Medieval doctrine held that one needed
to obey the accepted body of Divine law, not every single ruling or
opinion that was handed down by individual tribunals or clergymen:
after all, some of these rulings and opinions were
themselves considered heretical by the medieval Church - including
the ruling against Joan, which was opposed from the beginning by
clergy such as the Archbishop of Embrun and soundly denounced by
the Inquisition itself after the English were driven out of
Rouen [the legitimacy of the trial will be dealt with farther below].
2) Concerning Papal submission, there are two main points
that need to be covered:
- He puts forth one of his claims using a particularly reprehensible argument: after having first made vicious attacks upon Joan's intelligence in one of his email conversations with the present author, in which he tried to represent Joan as mentally "confused", he then offers up, out of the opposite side of his mouth, a disingenuous excuse for one of Cauchon's dirty tricks by piously declaring that an "intelligent girl" like Joan would have understood the technical theological terms that Cauchon was using to try to muddle the issue of "submission to the Church"; therefore Joan allegedly would have no right to complain (in this guy's world, Joan's intelligence is conceded only when it can be used as the basis for an argument against her). Joan herself said that she didn't understand these terms, as quoted by eyewitnesses,7 and the issue on this particular point is not one of intelligence but rather experience. For some reason our revisionist is apparently under the impression that a farmer's daughter like Joan would be experienced in the usage of theological language, in which case our revisionist is the one who is confused. In any event, Joan's replies to questions on this issue truly show her intelligence and good sense, as well as her orthodoxy: she replied in essence that the distinctions they were trying to make between the Ecclesia Militans and Ecclesia Triumphans are irrelevant, since the two halves of the Church are one and united under God's authority.8 One can refer to Aquinas' doctrines on this matter for proof that her view is in harmony with medieval Catholic theology. Likewise for our revisionist's comments on Joan's statement: "In case the Church should prescribe the contrary, I should not refer to any one in the world, but to God alone", which is cited as proof of her alleged Protestant tendencies. Again, the doctrines of Aquinas cited near the top of this page refute such an interpretation - Joan's comment is practically straight out of "Scriptum super Sententiis". But our revisionist ignores this, or is unaware of it, and therefore continues with a series of mocking statements claiming that Joan is "contradicting" her previous resolutions to submit to the "Church", etc, etc. One can detect the distinct echo of Pierre Cauchon's spirit in such tactics.
- He then forges on by claiming that Joan was being disingenuous
when she said she would
submit to the Pope if her judges allowed her to be brought to him, based on the
view that this was merely a stalling tactic on her part and Cauchon was therefore
right to deny her request. What Cauchon's apologists
never seem to consider are the following obvious points:
Joan's full quotes on this issue, which reveal her actual motives,
were related by eyewitnesses such as the assessors Richard Grouchet
and Friar Isambart de la Pierre: they explained that she had
said she wanted to be taken to the Pope so that 1) her true
words (as opposed to the distortions that her accusers were
writing down) could be given directly to an authority, and 2)
so that she could be tried by
a non-partisan, neutral party rather than by the Anglo-Burgundians.
Even English documents prove that the trial was, in
fact, run by themselves and their partisans rather than by a non-partisan tribunal of
the Inquisition [click here
to see this evidence] - in profound violation of Inquisitorial
guidelines which forbade partisan judges from overseeing such a
trial. It's not coincidence that the
Inquisitor who approved the trial, Jean Graverent, was an English
appointee and firmly in their camp; his deputy who was dispatched
to take part in the trial,
Vice-Inquisitor Jean LeMaitre, had to be threatened by the English
(according to the eyewitnesses) in order to "encourage" him to
take part. Inquisitor-General Bréhal would later denounce the proceedings
when the case was examined on appeal, declaring that Cauchon and
his supporters were guilty of, quote: "manifest malice against the
Roman Catholic Church, and indeed heresy" ("malicia
manifesta contra Ecclesiam Romanam, aut etiam ab heresi").9
This latter issue bears further examination, since our revisionist
likes to claim that the entire clergy allegedly opposed her,
therefore it wouldn't make any difference who oversaw her trial.
On the contrary, clerical opposition to her virtually
disappears outside of the Anglo-Burgundian group and their
contacts. It has sometimes been alleged that Johannes Nider
counts as a neutral party, but Nider himself
states that his informant on the matter was a man known to
have been one of Joan's bitterest detractors among the pro-English
clergymn2 - none other than the same Nicholas Lami
(cited above in connection with his comments about the Pope) who
was initially present at her trial before going off to Basel. Working from such a biased
source and being in such close contact with pro-English partisans,
Nider can hardly be invoked as a neutral or balanced observer,
and his opposition to her stems from the erroneous information
given by Lami: virtually every point is proved false by the other
So let us take a look at the rest of the clergy: despite claims that she was allegedly opposed even by pro-Armagnac clergy and nonaligned foreigners, on the contrary the great Sorbonne cleric Jean Gerson supported her, as did the Poitiers clerics, the nun Christine de Pisan, etc. So did Jacques Gelu (the Archbishop of Embrun); similarly for the Roman clergyman who wrote a supportive document in 1429,11 whose fellow Italians were proclaiming her "another Saint Catherine come down to earth"; similarly for the churchman sent to her by the Duke of Brittany (a frequent English ally, no less), etc. There are records of public masses being held for her as far away as the Alps after her capture, as a show of continued support by the clergy and their flock. The list can go on. Among this group, the only glimmer of opposition cited by revisionists comes from a badly garbled, partial summary of a letter, attributed to Regnault de Chartres, that was entered into a later document. Chartres, who had previously given her his approval at Poitiers, now suddenly accuses her of pride for wearing expensive clothing (undoubtedly written while Chartres himself was attired in his own richly endowed archiepiscopal vestments), and claims that she was stubbornly acting according to her own will (as visionaries usually tend to do, much to the disgruntlement of a certain type of clergyman). Since Chartres was a member of La Tremoille's faction, which had recently tried to assassinate another popular Royal commander, Lord Richemont, it seems clear that this is just more of the same shenanigans routinely engaged in by that group; and if this letter is the only, relatively mild, criticism emanating from clergy outside of the Anglo-Burgundian circle and their associates, then this exception merely proves the rule. The majority of the clergy seem to have supported Joan, meaning that her circumstances would have been very different if the matter had been left to valid Church policy without English involvement: to repeat, the Inquisitorial authorities who called for her trial were cronies of the English.
- As a final comment on this fellow's claims: it is alleged that Joan never invoked the saints and therefore was supposedly "Protestant" on that account.mn3 Joan's surviving letters contradict this, as she makes frequent mention of "Saint Mary"; even the Condemnation transcript and other Anglo-Burgundian sources11 mention her veneration of the saints and the Virgin Mary (e.g., "I refer myself to God... to the Blessed Mary, and to all the blessed saints of Paradise");12 and likewise for many similar statements throughout the transcript (mostly mentioning Saints Catherine, Margaret, and Michael, but also the Virgin Mary and saints in general). In a crowning irony, her accusers took her to task for venerating the saints and tried to claim that she was guilty of "idolatry" for doing so.13 It is this argument which smacks of Protestantism, and it was made by Cauchon, not Joan.
The only "evidence" our revisionist offers to the contrary are the claims made in a dubious and profoundly dishonest book by Karen Sullivan; click here to read a refutation of this book's arguments and its methods.
The chief fallacy of such revisionist theories generally boils down to one essential problem: people who haven't bothered to research medieval theology, or to look at what the clergy as a whole said about Joan, simply assume that Cauchon's arguments at the trial were consistent with medieval theology and his views consistent with those of the clergy in general, therefore (so it is assumed) his views on all these subjects can be used as a guide to what the Church as a whole believed on such matters, therefore this proves that his arguments were valid -- a hopelessly circular line of reasoning. Once one looks at sources besides those written by Cauchon and his cronies, it quickly becomes clear that his arguments were most definitely not consistent with standard medieval theological works, nor were his procedures consistent with standard Inquisitorial rules, nor were his views on Joan consistent with the view taken by most of his fellow clergy outside of the Anglo-Burgundian circle. Those who choose to take his side and repeat his claims despite the above facts are not only falsifying history, but are abetting the campaign that he waged to tarnish the reputation of his victim.
I will conclude with two quotes that are central to the theological points concerning this issue. Just as Aquinas, considered the greatest of all Catholic theologians, could state "quia potius debet excommunicatus mori..." ("for it is better to die excommunicated..."),14 so Joan, considered by some to be the greatest of all Catholic saints, could state: "Nostre Sire premier servi" ("[So long as] Our Lord is served first").15 If the latter [Joan] is "Protestant", then so is the former [Aquinas] and all of the Popes who have supported his teachings - a position that no reasonable person could take.
Copyright © 2002, Allen Williamson. All rights reserved.