Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Maid of France
Being The Story Of The Life And Death of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc)
CHAPTER 24

THE ABJURATION

AMONG the scribes and Doctors of the English party who had been consulted, the Canons of Rouen were backward, and reluctant to condemn the Maid. On April 13, when they met, the majority of their body were absent. It was decided to summon them again on the following day ; absentees were to be deprived of their rations for a week. This threat brought them to heel and they voted that the Articles should be explained to Jeanne in French, that she should be tenderly admonished to submit, and that the documents should be offered to the judgment of the University of Paris. But Jeanne was now dangerously ill ; prison, bonds, the company of brutal soldiers, and the anxiety and weariness of her conflict with the priestly bullies and cajolers had broken down even her strength. Her spirit was unbroken.

On April 18, Cauchon went to her cell with some of his detested company, to try the effects of " a tender exhortation." Cauchon told her how kind and good they were, visiting her in her affliction. Perhaps as an ignorant and illiterate girl, she did not understand the depths of her errors. Here were gentle clerks who would in- struct her out of their science. They only desired the health of her body (for which they had been so singularly careful) and of her soul. They would be patient ; the bosom of the Church was ever open to the returning wanderer. Her languor, her apprehen- sions, are visible in her replies through the canine Latin of these learned men. She thanked them courteously for their solicitude about her health : she always rendered courtesy for courtesy. " I think I am in great danger of death, owing to my sickness ; and if God be pleased to work His will on me, I implore you that I may confess myself, and receive the Holy Sacrament, and be buried in holy ground." In no ground would they bury her body : but Cauchon's tomb and recumbent effigy were magnificent.

We can see Jeanne's white face, her large eyes, and hear the piteous accent of her sweet low voice that in battle rang like a clarion call. Once more only, in her final victory over self and fear was that voice to be raised as of old.

"If you would have the sacrament you must submit to Holy Church."

She answered wearily, "Je ne vous en scauroye maintenant autre chose dire!"

"The more you fear for your life, the more you should consent to amend it and submit."

"If my body dies in prison I expect from you burial in holy ground ; if you do not give it, I await upon my Lord."

They continued to trouble her, " Come what may, I will do or say no other thing; I have answered to everything in my trial." They then admonished her tenderly, and preached at her unctuously. If she would not submit she must "be treated as a Saracen."

"I am a good Christian, and am baptized, and as such I will die."

Five Doctors in turn exhorted her.

They offered her a fine procession ; she said she was content that the Church and good Catholics should pray for her. Then they left her to the society of the men of John Gray and William Talbot, who might drink, dice, and jest beside the bed where her weak limbs lay in anguish. She could not die ; " so strongly was the spirit thirled in the body."

Messengers were sent to the University of Paris with the XII Articles, a great festival for the learned professors. On May 2, Cauchon arranged a public admonition, in a chamber of the great hall of the Castle. With him were sixty of his shaven sort, includ- ing Courcelles and the kind Dominican, Isambart de la Pierre. Cauchon made a speech." Read your book," said the Maid with scorn, "and I will answer you. I appeal to God, my Creator, whom I love with all my heart."

"The book" was read, the old story, she was accused of great palpable lies about the Angel who brought the crown to her King, and of all her other sins. She answered that she referred to her former replies. "If I see the fire before me I will say what I say now, and no other thing."

"If the General Council and the Holy Father were here, would you submit to them ? "

"You will get no more from me."

"Will you submit to the Pope?"

"Take me to the Pope and I will answer him."

She had appealed to the Pope.

She would not refer to the nobles of her party, who, she had said, saw the Angel and the Crown. She would only do so if she might first send a letter. She had to explain her allegory to them, of course ; and in the same way she would not refer to the clergy at Poitiers, " Do you think to take me so?" she asked. In every question she saw a trap, and she had every reason to distrust the recreant clerks of her party. Threatened with fire, eternal and temporal, she said that if they burned her, ill would befall them, body and soul. Her courage was such that she did not veil her contempt for them--" Read your book ! " She answered threat with threat, and, learning all this, the Canons of Rouen condemned her in a document of May 4. On May 9 she was brought into a chamber where lay their instruments of torture, the two tormentors standing by, ready to go to work ; Erard, Loiselleur, and sympathetic Massieu were present. They showed her the instruments, racks and screws, and the executioners, then bade her amend her replies.

"Truly," she said, "if you tore me limb from limb, till my soul is forced from my body, I will say no other thing than I have said. And if I do, I will always declare that you dragged it from me by force." Such a declaration, made within a fortnight, would have invalidated confessions uttered under torture, at least by the law of Protestant Scotland. This was also the rule of the Inquisi- tion in Spain, and knowing victims would confess at the first touch of the rack, and then recant.

On the day before (May 3), Jeanne had been comforted by St Gabriel ; her Voices said that he was St. Gabriel. She had asked her Voices if she ought to submit to the Church? They had answered that, " if she desired the aid of God, she must wait upon Him in all that she did." Now her conscience could not sanction her submission, though by this time she was nearly outworn. She had asked, " Shall I be burned ? " and the Voices had replied, " You must wait upon our Lord, and He will be your aid."

She was asked if she would refer the story of the Crown and Angel to the Archbishop of Reims. " Bring him here, and let me hear him speak ; he will not dare to deny what I have told you."

The judges then " seeing the manner of her replies, and her obdurate mind, and fearing that the agony of torture would not do her any good, postponed the torture, till they had further counsel."

There was a limit even to their hardness of heart. This one thing only, torture, was spared to the Maid. On May 12 they debated on the torture, judiciously leaving the Maid to expect it day by day. Their opinions were taken by Cauchon. Roussel thought that the use of torture might impair the stately beauty of the trial, as hitherto conducted. Erard thought that they had evidence enough, without torture. Morelli was in favour of torture, so was Thomas de Courcelles, so was Loiselleur, adding that torment would be good for the health of her soul. These three were outvoted, eleven votes were in favour of mercy.

Morelli, Loiselleur, de Courcelles, these are the names of blackest infamy.

She lay in irons for another week, and then came the jubilant replies of the Professors and Doctors and Masters of the University of Paris. The Maid's crimes had been " elegantly " related to them by Beaupere and Midi. The whole University agreed in opinion about the XII Articles. It was plain to scientific minds that Jeanne's St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret were, in fact, Belial, Satan, and Behemoth (a lubber fiend of old mythology. Two centuries later Behemoth wrote through the automatic hand of Sceur Jeanne des Anges, superior of the bewitched nuns of Loudun). Jeanne was a crafty traitor, cruel, and athirst for human blood ; a cowardly suicide in intention ; a pernicious liar, a schismatic and idolator, a heretic. Such was their science. Un- like Moses, she showed no sign, did not change a stick into a serpent. Unlike John the Baptist (who also showed no sign), she did not quote a text of the Bible in favour of her mission. She could not read, or she might have quoted plenty,--and that would have been another proof of her depravity.

Most of the learned, though proud of the opinion of the University, still thought that Jeanne should have one more tender admonition. Nothing could save her ; even if she were acquitted, the English had announced their intention to take her back : the chances are that they would have drowned her.

On May 23, Pierre Maurice exhorted her, after the compliments of Paris University had been explained to her. The Maid replied to Maurice's sermon that her answer was her old answer. " If I saw the fire lit, if I were in the flames, I would say no other thing." The scribe wrote on the margin of his paper, Johannes responsio superba ("Jeanne's haughty answer").

They had no more to ask ; they left her to the cheerful badinage of the varlets of William Talbot and John Gray. Who knows what passed in the mind of the Maid when her English soldiers slept ? Till now, and even on the following day for a while, she had interpreted the words of her Voices into promises of victorious deliverance. She knew not how, but surely all French hearts in Rouen would turn to her, and, even when she was going to the stake, would gather and sweep away the English guards. Or a trumpet, at the last moment, would ring out, and the gates of the town would be burned and broken, and she would hear the cries of St. Denys and St. Andrew, and the standards of Dunois and La Hire, of Kennedy and Chambers, of d'Alencon and Poton de Saintrailles, de Rais, and Florent d'llliers ; and the penoncels, white, with golden lilies, would float above the levelled spears ; and d'Aulon would press to the front in a charge of the chivalry of France. She would be released with great victory : her Saints had promised, and they had never failed her.

But now, had knights and Saints alike played her false ? Out- worn as she was, did she remember that she was a daughter of the Church : that these priests said that they spoke for the Church j the University of Paris spoke for the Church ; could they all be in the wrong ?

Pierre Maurice, at that last exhortation, had really spoken kindly and in simple words ; it is quite possible that he had meant to be kind. He had approached her on the military side, and in the name of honour. "What would you think of a knight in your King's land who refused to obey your King and his officers ? Yet you, a daughter of the Church, disobey the officers of Christ, the bishops of the Church. Be not ashamed of obedience, have no false shame, you will have high honour, which you think that you will lose, if you act as I ask you to do. The honour of God" (words of certain appeal to her), " and your own life in this world, and your salvation in the next, are to be preferred before all things."

Honour was of all things dearest to the Maid ; she was giving Her life for the honour of her King; was she impairing the honour of God? She had seemed unmoved when Maurice spoke these words and others such as these, which were far more likely to affect her than bullying and reviling discourses. Perhaps she pondered his exhortation, and her own weakness and want of human and religious comfort, in the night before she was to be led to the market-place of St. Ouen, to the crowd, and the stake, the clergy, the nobles, the men-at-arms, the preachers, the people, waiting to see her abjure her Saints or burn. It was usual to preach at the convicted witah before burning her; John Knox did so at St. Andrews.

Beaupere gave evidence that, before Jeanne was placed in the tumbril which drew her to the place of doom, he went alone into her cell, and advised her to submit " She said that she would do so." This is improbable, but Beaupere so understood her reply.

She was taken to the square, where was a great scaffolding crowded with prelates and nobles, and another scaffold for the preacher, Erard, and for Jeanne and the priests. Erard was the revered friend of Machet, the confessor of her King. Erard denounced her King, and she answered, as has been said, that "her King was the noblest of all Christians " : he, the caitiff whom she had crowned, and who had abandoned her.

Jeanne replied to the preacher's words boldly, as in that hour her Voices bade her do, " I have told your Doctors that all my deeds and words should be sent to Rome to our Holy Father, the Pope, to whom, and to God first, I appeal. . . . As for my deeds, I burden no man with them, neither my King nor any other. If any fault there be, it is my own and no other's."

There never was such loyalty, never a word escaped her which could be turned to the reproach of those who had employed her and deserted her. They told her that the Pope was too far away, and that the Ordinaries were the judges. But Cauchon was in no sense her Ordinary.

Then, to follow the official account, given in the Proces, she was thrice admonished ; and next the reading of her sentence was begun, " when she said that she would hold all that the judges and the Church decreed, and would be obedient and at their will. She would not uphold her visions and revelations, since the churchmen said that they were not to be upheld and believed. Next she made her abjuration, according to the form of the document then read to her in French words, which she also pronounced, and she signed the paper with her own hand, in this form," namely Jehanne, followed by a cross. This is the official record. There follows the Abjuration, a document of some five hundred words in some forty-six lines of small close print.

In this formula she is made to express penitence for mendaciously forging the revelations of her Saints, for making superstitious divinations, for blaspheming God and the Saints, for indecently wearing man's dress, contrary to the honour of her sex, for despising God and His sacraments, for adoring and invoking evil spirits, for being seditious. She makes a long apology, and an oath of obedience to St. Peter, the Pope--and Cauchon ; and she swears that she will never return to her errors.

Did Jeanne, consciously and wittingly, repeat this tremendous catalogue of crimes whereof she was innocent? Did she sign it, her hand being led at the pen by one of the clerks, as it was led when her signature was added to letters dictated by her in her victorious days ? Did she swear to the contents of the docu- ment with her hand on the Gospels, a part of the ceremony of abjuration ? No witness deposes to the last fact.

In truth we shall never know exactly what occurred. The official record of the abjuration proceeds smoothly; but, in fact, there was interruption, confusion, tumult, and hence the evidence taken in 1450-1456 is perplexing, though there is the substantial agreement of five witnesses to the effect that Jeanne signed a very brief document. Certainly Jeanne interrupted by some words the reading of the sentence. A witness says that " she cried with a loud voice that she submitted to the judgment of the Church, and that she prayed St. Michael to advise and counsel her."

According to the evidence given abundantly in 1450-1456, there was a break in the proceedings after her interruption ; there was a show of popular irritation lest she should escape; and angry words passed on the platform of the English nobles and French clerks. According to Massieu, the interruption of the reading of the sentence gave rise to a great tumult among the bystanders, and many stones were thrown, by whom he did not know ; at whom he does not say. According to Marguerie and others, the tumult was not confined to the populace or soldiers. On the platform of the nobles and prelates a chaplain of Cardinal Beaufort told Cauchon that he favoured Jeanne. "You lie," said Cauchon, with apostolic mildness. Beaufort bade his chaplain be silent. Lemaire, who was present, reported hearsay evidence to the effect that several of the nobles were ill-content, and that Maurice, Loiselleur, and others were in danger of their lives. Maurice feared that he might be beaten. Later some bystanders said that the abjuration was a mockery. Fave "had heard it said" that certain Englishmen drew their swords on the bishop and the clerics ; but that was after the abjuration, when the assemblyhad broken up.

On the whole, the evidence proves that, when Jeanne inter- rupted the reading of the sentence, there was a kind of riot, and the stones thrown, whoever threw them, were probably aimed at Maurice, Erard, possibly Massieu, perhaps at Loiselleur, who were trying to persuade her to sign a form of abjuration, which was just what the English did not want her to do. Her instant death was their desire. It is impossible to ascertain, from the evidence given in 1 450-1456, what this form of ab- juration really was. Massieu, who actually held in his hand and read to Jeanne the document, says that " at the end of the sermon" Erard read to Jeanne the list of the sins which she must abjure. Jeanne said that she did not understand, and Erard bade Massieu advise her. He told her that she would be burned if she refused to accept the Articles, and advised her to appeal to the Universal Church as to whether she should obey or not. She did appeal, loudly, but Erard said, "You must abjure at once, or be burned." Before she left the place she abjured, and made a cross on the paper of Articles. The paper which she signed contained about eight lines and no more. It was not the abjuration given in the official record ; Massieu read the paper and knows perfectly that it was not the official formula. Courcelles, who remembered little, recollected that Venderes made a copy of the Articles, beginning like that given in the official record, but he knew no more. De Desert said that Jeanne smiled while she pronounced some of the words ;--there was other evidence to this effect ; and her mirth irritated an English doctor, who quarrelled with Cauchon, and was answered, "You lie!"

De la Chambre deponed that Erard promised release from prison, whereon she pronounced after him the words contained in six or seven lines on a piece of folded paper. The witness stood near at hand, and could see the lines. Now the abjuration in the official record fills forty-six lines of small close print. Migiet said that the words which Jeanne repeated were of about the length of Our Lord's Prayer, whereas there are about five hundred words in the official version. Manchon said that Loiselleur promised her much good, and that she would be placed in ecclesiastical hands, if she would wear female dress ; and that she smiled as she said the words prescribed. Taquel was hard by when Massieu read the document to the Maid ; it was in large letters, and occupied about six lines.

From the harmony of these testimonies, given on oath, mainly by priests, in an age when men feared to be damned eternally if they perjured themselves, it seems a fair inference that Jeanne did not repeat the long count of crimes and promises of amendment which the official document reports. We have the choice of two alternatives ; the five witnesses told the truth ; and Cauchon, with the makers of the official report, greatly expanded and affixed Jeanne's signature to the little document really read to her; or she repeated and signed the prolix document, and the five witnesses harmoniously perjured themselves. That they perjured themselves harmoniously seems more improbable than the other alternative. The question is regarded as important, for, it is argued, if Jeanne pronounced the words of the long form of abjuration, she perjured herself, and cannot be regarded as a person of " heroic " and saintly virtue. Considering her circum- stances, her long sufferings, the mental confusion caused by the tumult ; the promises of escape from the infamous company of base English grooms ; and the terror of the fire, I cannot regard her,--even if she recited and set her mark to the long abjura- tion,--as less " heroic " than St. Peter was when he thrice denied his Lord. It is cruel, it is inhuman, to blame the girl for not soaring above the apostolic heroism of the fiery Galilean ; for being, at one brief moment, less noble than herself. But, as a matter of fact, it is as nearly as possible certain that, though she repeated some form of words, and signed something, she neither repeated nor signed the long and drastic document given in the official record. It is clear that the assessors of Cauchon did not believe that she thus abjured. This is plain, for, on May 29, at a final meeting of the assessors, Venderes gave the first vote : she should be condemned as a heretic and handed over to secular justice. But thirty-nine of forty-two assessors followed the Abbe" de Fecamp, who said that she was relapsed. "Yet it is well that the document lately read,"--that is the long official schedule of abjuration, just read to the assessors,--"be again read, before her, and be explained to her, the word of God being expounded to her. When these things have been done, we judges have to declare her heretic, and leave her to secular justice. ..."

All this means that the vast majority of the assessors, for the sake of their own consciences, wished to be assured that she had verily set her hand to the long confession of crimes in the official form of abjuration.

Migiet, Prior of Longueville-Giffard, said, at the Trial of Rehabilitation, as we have seen, that Jeanne signed a paper no longer than the Lord's Prayer. On May 29 he expressed himself thus : " if, in her sober senses " {passione remota), " she confessed the things contained in the official document, I agree with the vote of the Abbot of Fecamp."

Migiet knew that she had not confessed the things in the official document but the things contained in a very brief form of words, no longer than a pater noster. But Cauchon ignored the thirty-nine votes ; the long formula was never read to Jeanne, who, of course, would have protested that she never saw it before. Thus Courcelles was able to swear that in the trial of Jeanne he " had never condemned Jeanne unconditionally." Thirty-nine out of forty-two assessors never did condemn her unconditionally. Only two assessors did unconditionally condemn her, but Cauchon and the Vice-Inquisitor, the only actual judges^ did so condemn her.

But Jeanne herself, unless we totally reject another part of the official record, recognised and averred that whatever she spoke and signed was sinful on her part.

Historians who accept the fact that the Maid compromised her honour, on the strength of the Maid's own words, presently to be quoted, are accused (by Canon Dunand, for example) of accepting " the English legend " and denouncing the Maid as "a perjured apostate."

The "legend " is not English, of course, but French ; the records which contain the " legend " were made in France, by Frenchmen. All that the English then cared for was the instant burning of Jeanne as a sorceress ; the details, the examinations, the science and learning, the records, they left to their willing and eager French subjects. Learning, history, exact records, were then less than nothing to the English. They wished to be freed from the girl who had baffled and beaten them, who had demoralised their men and sapped their empire. Cauchon managed the business zealously ; he made the history, or made the legend. The English desire was, not that Jeanne should abjure, but that she should, to save time, refuse to abjure, and be burned at once. They did not want "the English legend" of her abjuration, they clamoured for her instant death. Legend or history, the whole narrative is entirely French. The affair once over, the English did not care a straw for history. They had no contemporary writer of chronicles. Their " legend " in later times was derived from Polydore Virgil and French historians.

Meanwhile we quote the Maid's own verdict on herself, given on May 28, 1429. "God told me, through St. Catherine and St Margaret, of the great pity of that treason (trayson) to which I, consented, when I made that abjuration and revocation to save my life, and that I was damning " (or condemning) " myself to save my life. ... If I were to say that God did not send me I would condemn myself, for true it is that God sent me. My Voices have told me, since, that I greatly sinned in that deed, in confessing that I had done ill. What I said, I said in fear of fire." She then revoked what she had said in fear of fire, as she had promised to revoke whatever she might say under torture. She even now maintained the truth of her parable of the Crown and Angel. She never betrayed the King's secret.

Unless any one chooses to maintain that this is a forged or falsified record, in which case there is no use in criticism, the Maid declares herself to have abjured her mission, and been guilty of trayson to save her life. Her repentance was speedy and complete. She was the very soul of honour, and I, for one, will not dishonour her by contradicting her words--granting that they are her words. She said, indeed, that at St. Ouen " she had not denied, or had not intended to deny, her apparitions, namely that they were St. Catherine and St. Margaret."

This appears to mean no more than that she did not remember having any clear sense that her words explicitly denied the identity of her Saints. " I was not intending to revoke anything unless it was because it so pleased our Lord." These words read like statements of dim recollections of a troubled mind. M. Quicherat points out that, " as if to leave no doubt of lucidity of her consciousness at the moment of her abjuration, she added that her Voices had warned her beforehand of the sin into which she would fall."

Her recorded words on May 28 are, " Dit que, avant de jeudi, ses Voix lui avoient dit ce qu'elle feroit, et qu'elle fist ce jour." "She says that, before May 24, her Voices had told her what she would do (or should do?) on that day, and what on that day she did." But the confession proceeds, " She says further that her Voices told her on the scaffold to answer that preacher boldly ; and she called him a false preacher, and he had said several things which she had not done." She had answered him boldly when he insulted her King, she had obeyed her Voices Did her words on May 28 mean that her Voices, like the voice of our Lord to St. Peter, had prophesied her abjuration ? If so, what becomes of the Freedom of the Will, concerning which the Maid was accused of holding erroneous doctrines ?

We shall never know the meaning of the strange smile which played on her lips as she spoke whatever words of abjuration she did speak. Several witnesses noticed it : one says that she made her mark as a round cipher, O, in sign of mockery, on a paper handed to her by Laurence Calot, secretary of Henry VI ; and that he took her hand with the pen in it, and made her trace some other sign. But this is the witness, de Macy, who spoke of Erard by the name of Midi, and his evidence is untrustworthy. Whatever Jeanne really said, whatever she really signed, in that awful moment, she later condemned her own acts, repented, and on earth as in heaven, must have deserved nothing worse than love and pity and forgiveness.

"My Saints, my Saints, why have ye forsaken me!" she may have cried in her heart ; and for that moment she denied, if not her Saints, at least her mission. For that moment she was untrue to herself, she a lonely girl of nineteen, who through a year of imprisonment, and eight months of intolerable bondage, outrage, persecution, had never wavered. The miracle is that she wavered ; but she was very young, all uncomforted, without a friend, oppressed, and broken, and confused by threats and clamour and cajolements. The first of the Apostles thrice denied his Lord, and that with no stake and fire before his eyes, as one of the Doctors said in the Trial of Rehabilitation. It was only her Master that, after a life divinely supported, could say, Eloil Eloil lama sabacJithani 1 ? and yet, though "forsaken," could go on to drink of that cup, obedient to that Will of His Father.

Martyrs there have been many, but few have had to face the trial of the Maid, to feel herself deserted by the visible Powers who had been her friends so long, and who, as she believed, had promised her release with great victory. This trial was her Gethsemane.

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