Was Joan of Arc a heretic?

The case of Joan of Arc’s heresy is controversial primarily because it includes both political and theological issues. In the present essay, I will argue that Joan of Arc was a heretic, but as long as her judges based their prosecution on their biases and need to find her guilt, they exaggerated her fault by referencing to her sorceries, divinations, and contacts with demons. In other words, the heresy of Joan of Arc could be probably proved even without the references to these supernatural matters; besides, it seems that the representation of Joan of Arc as a witch helped the judges to ensure the sentence and execution of the accused person. Joan of Arc was a heretic because she violated the Church rules when wearing men’s clothing, neglected the Church’s authority in the question of recognition of the voices of saints, and proclaimed and committed violence on behalf of God, unreasonably pretending to be God’s envoy.

1st time order 15% OFF

Through the materials of the trial of Joan of Arc, it is possible to divide the charges made by the prosecutor into three major groups: concerning Joan’s sorceries and divinations, her pretention to look and behave like a man, and Joan’s positioning as the envoy of God. The in-depth analysis of the accusations demonstrates that only the third charge is completely justified, while the second one can be justified only partly; as for the first one, it seems to be completely unjustified.

When Jean d’Estivet claims that Joan was raised in a pagan village where people believe in fairy ladies who dance around the sacred tree, he in fact provides no clear proof of Joan’s communication with demons. As Sullivan underlines, the charge is based on the Medieval logic, which allowed the prosecutor to present fairy ladies as demons, and then to persuade the public that Joan heard the voices of fairy ladies (demons), but believed tem to be the voices of saints. Besides, when Joan was asked concerning the mentioned sacred tree and her assumed participation in some pagan rites, “she said that sometimes she went for a walk with the other girls and made wreaths near the tree for the image of Blessed Mary of Domremy”. Gordon clearly explains that the charges related to sorcery were caused by “the fear of witches” that was very widespread in Joan of Arc’s time. As long as no evidence of Joan’s sorcery is provided through the interrogation, it seems that the reference to sorcery was used by Joan’s judges for increasing the public’s emotional involvement due to the perceived fear. Thus, the charge of Joan’s sorceries was not justified because it was based on no evidence.

Read also: “Research Paper”

The claim of Joan’s use of men’s clothes seems to be more difficult than the charge of Joan’s sorceries. On the one hand, Gordon claims that this charge was caused by the “anxieties about class and particularly gender mobility”. Thus, this charge could be interpreted through the prism of the Medieval society’s rigidity. Besides, as Gordon proceeds, Joan’s “relationship to her voices and her wearing of men’s clothes” were interpreted by the judges as the cases of idolatry. Such an interpretation shows that the case concerned not only the social structure but also the rules of the Church. According to the accusations of Jean d’Estivet, the wearing of men’s clothes by females was “forbidden by ecclesiastical ordinances under pain of excommunication”. It is clear that heresy in general is the conduct that violates the foundational rules of the Church. Thus, while the mentioned charge seems to be very tendentious from the today’s point of view, it seems to be clear that it is justified if the Church of the 15th century condemned the use of the men’s clothes by females.

The most important charge, which seems to be the firmest one, refers to the pretention of Joan to be the envoy of God. As Nash-Marshall underlines, the core of the charge is that “she had not consulted any member of the Church hierarchy on the matter of her voices”. As long as all her choices and actions Joan justified and explained by the reference to the voices’ authority, it is clear that in fact the understanding of their nature is the most important part of the case. In this context, the obvious evidence of Joan’s heresy arises: as she never consulted with any Church authority concerning her voices, it is clear that she considered herself being able to distinguish their nature. Besides, such a choice is an example of her personal pride because she rejected the Church’s authority in the sphere where the only authority belongs to that institution. It seems to be clear that Joan’s voices could be of any origin, and there is no way to prove their divine nature except the conclusion of the Church. Besides, the judges came to the conclusion that Joan communicated with demons or fabricated the voices’ commands by her own because “this woman did not have sufficient signs to believe and know” that the voices belong to God and saints. The interrogation persuasively demonstrates that the voices heard by Joan could be difficultly attributed to God and saints; for example, once Joan claimed that she knows one Burgundian from Domremy, and that “she would gladly have seen his head cut off, so long as it pleased God”. Furthermore, she claimed that once “the voice told her that she must raise the siege of the city of Orleans”. It is difficult to assume that God can be pleased by some cruelty or military opposition, and when Jean d’Estivet defines Joan as “inciting wars, cruelly thirsting for human blood and encouraging its shedding” on behalf of God, the accusation is completely justified.

Thus, through the analysis of the materials of the trial of Joan of Arc, it seems to be clear that Joan of Arc was a heretic. Even while some accusations were unjust and biased (such as those regarding her sorceries and divinations), most of the claims were correct and well-supported. Joan of Arc claimed that God wants her to lead the French army in the war between such Christian states as England and France, while it seems to be inconsistent with the Christian idea of God, and it clearly demonstrates that Joan expressed her own judgments on behalf of God. Joan did not try to obtain the official Church authorities’ explanation of the nature of her voices and thus became led by them, believing that she is able to distinguish God’s voice independently. It is also important that Joan violated some rules of the Catholic Church of that historical period: while the Catholics of the 15th century had to behave in accordance with their gender, Joan behaved like a man. For these reasons, it is clear that the sentence of Joan’s judges corresponded to the general worldview shared by the Catholic Church of that time. In other words, the guilt of Joan of Arc was successfully proven during the trial because her behavior and claims included many heretic elements.