Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Appendix B


The question most commonly asked about Joan of Arc, "Was she insane or inspired?" may seem to have received an insufficient answer in the text, and yet it is doubtful if any length of discussion will lead to an answer much more definite. The facts are few and, for the most part, undisputed; it is the inferences to be drawn from these facts which are in doubt. Joan had subjective sensations of sight and sound, perhaps of other senses, without external cause sufficient to produce like sensations in others. Precisely what these sensations were, we do not know. The sensations of sounds sometimes, at least, were those of particular words; the sensations of sight were less definite, but apparently they were sometimes visions of definite forms in human similitude. The sensations of sound were usually accompanied by a somewhat indefinite sensation of light. Apart from these abnormal sensations, Joan seems to have been a girl perfectly healthy and well developed, both physically and mentally. Except so far as these sensations prove the contrary, she was little subject to exaltation or nervous excitement.

From these facts, the philosophy or opinion of the Middle Ages with certainty and without difficulty drew the conclusion of inspiration or possession, either by good spirits or evil. MediŠval philosophy did not deny the possibility of hallucination caused by disease without spiritual intervention. This possibility was recognized in Joan's case. The choice between disease and spirit as the cause of a given sensation was made according as the person, apart from the abnormal sensation under consideration, appeared diseased or healthy. An abnormal sensation in an otherwise healthy person was unhesitatingly set down to spiritual intervention, and hence Joan's visions and voices were set to the account either of God or the Devil.

Modern opinion or philosophy treats sensations like those mentioned as invariably the result of a morbid condition of the brain or some other part of the human body. The fact that the person shows other morbid symptoms is hardly deemed to strengthen this supposition of disease, which is considered to be incontrovertible and to need no support. Such sensations are called hallucinations, and hallucinations are considered symptoms of diseased or morbid conditions quite as infallible as a scurfy skin or a hemorrhage. Precisely what the disease is may require further investigation, and may elude investigation when made, but some disease or morbid condition is assumed without further proof.

Which of these two theories is correct, the modern or the mediŠval, or how far either of them is correct, this is hardly the place to discuss. It is almost as difficult for an intelligent man at the end of the nineteenth century to disregard the opinion or philosophy which I have called modern, as it would have been for a man in the fifteenth century to deny the possibility of spiritual possession. A few observations upon the modern theory may, however, be ventured.

In the first place, no one can define precisely what morbid physical condition of the brain or other part of the body is the cause of sensations like those of Joan. It is at least possible that no expert now living, though he should have the most favorable opportunity to perform a post-mortem examination of Joan's body, would be able to discover any morbid physical condition whatever to which her abnormal sensations could reasonably be attributed. We attribute sensations like hers to morbid physical conditions by analogy and by a sort of intellectual necessity, rather than by reason of a course of unvarying experiments.

Again, modern theory and usage tend more and more to make the terms "morbid" and "abnormal" synonymous. So far has this tendency carried us that writers have maintained in all seriousness that genius of pretty much any sort is the result of morbid physical conditions, and is a species of insanity. If this be admitted, Joan was almost certainly insane, inasmuch as, by the terms of the supposition, insanity is contrasted not with health and sense, but with stupidity and inferiority.

A consideration much more important than either of those just touched upon remains. Even if it be true that Joan's visions and voices were caused by physical conditions abnormal and therefore morbid, the discussion is not concluded. Every sensation, according to the accepted philosophy, must have a physical cause of some sort, but this axiom or hypothesis, or whatever else we may choose to call it, does not prevent many persons who accept it from believing that something which they call God does nevertheless play an important part in the affairs of men. In this place, of course, it is impossible to discuss if the belief in God be true. Whether true or not, it unquestion- ably exists, and those who hold it may believe as reasonably that God may send visions by the physical means of what we call disease, as that He maintained the American Union by the physical means of shot and shell, or inspired a poet or a prophet by some physical means as yet undiscovered. The man who believes in God may, then, believe Joan to have been inspired, and, most probably, will believe it. The man who does not believe in God, by the terms of the supposition cannot believe her to have been inspired, in the ordinary meaning of the word.

What has been said concerning Joan's visions and voices applies substantially to her supposed gift of prophecy. She certainly foretold the deliverance of Orleans and the coronation at Rheims. There is no more doubt of the prophecy's authenticity than of its fulfillment, but any one may contend that good judgment or good luck, either or both, caused the fortunate prophecy, rather than Divine Providence. Moreover, it is practically certain that Joan believed that her voices promised her deliverance from prison, a real deliverance, and not the allegorical deliverance by death which some imaginative writers have construed as the fulfillment of the promise.

What I have called modern philosophy may admit the authenticity and fulfillment of all Joan's predictions, as it must admit the authenticity and fulfillment of some of them, without admitting her divine inspiration or that there is such a thing as divinity or inspiration in the universe. Those, on the other hand, who believe that Divine Providence exists will probably be inclined, though they may not be compelled, to find its workings in the life of Joan of Arc. Doubtless their theory of her inspiration will differ more or less from that in vogue in the f ifteenth century, but this difference will be the result of a different theory of inspiration in general, rather than of a different theory of Joan's particular case.

It seems to follow, then, that our opinion concerning Joan's insanity or inspiration is likely to depend not much upon our beliefs concerning Joan, but principally upon our beliefs concerning insanity and inspiration in general. As this work does not pretend to treat of pathology, metaphysics, or theology, the matter must be left here.


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