I’ll admit to feeling more than slightly foolish writing this a couple of days after Jess’ wonderful Thanksgiving Day post, still I’ll likely make it through it.
Other than the wonderfully kind things she said about us all, one of her points stuck with me. speaking of America, she said
It’s so easy, looking and admiring that great nation, to forget how precarious were its origins, and now, with so much political correctness, almost to have to apologise for them.
She’s right, of course, we Americans, and the rest of Western civilization have very little to apologize for. Unless you consider multiples of the world population living longer and better than they ever have, something to apologize for. I don’t. And that’s why I agreed so heartily with Sam Leith in The Spectator when he said this.
It’s perhaps symptomatic of a culture where name-calling is policed with a vigour once reserved for incitement to violence that the reaction to an act of real violence is to think of how we might retaliate by hurting someone’s feelings.
Strikes me as silly, and not worthy of our heritage. A heritage Jessica has had something to say about as well, here.
Rouen was the place where Joan of Arc was burnt in 1431 and on the site of that act is one of the ugliest churches I have ever seen. But even it cannot eradicate the memory of the saint after whom it is named – even if one wonders whether its architect would not have been a better candidate for burning?
Joan of Arc is one of those rare female saints who did not just seem to hang around being ‘all pious and nice’ as one of my teachers put it. She inspired the French to rise against the English invaders and to drive them out of much of the land they had seized in the previous century. However, when she was handed over to the English, the Church swiftly found her an heretic, and there is no doubt that her visions disturbed many in the hierarchy. Her burning was a vile act, and not the last such; but it sealed her legend. As in so many cases persecution simply discredited the persecutors and helped the persecuted in the long run.
The tourist industry in Rouen makes much of Joan, and she has long been coopted to the cause of French nationalism. That is an easier way of conscripting her than to try to deal with her visions and her Christianity. I had a sense talking to some of the locals that they, like the church in her own time, found the former difficult to take. Yet, equally, so compelling was she, that at the age of 17 she was able to command French armies and persuade the French dauphin to follow her lead. Her faith gave her courage and that in turn, gave it to others.
In a sense that is what we should all aspire to – no not to lead armies (we can’t all be leaders) but rather to inspire others by our example. One of the many sadnesses of my own life as a Christian is that I am not sure anyone would even notice I was one, and my failure to inspire anyone else; but then I have always aspired to follow rather than to lead.
How remarkable Joan must have been, not least in that age, to have been able to inspire battle-hardened man to go to war at her behest. How much she gave up for her visions. For her there would be no man, no family, no wedding dress – and her ardour would meet its end in the flames. But all of that she gave up willingly for the vision that was within her.
Although coopted to modern and secular causes, Joan was, indeed, a saint of the traditional kind. She did that thing which moderns fail to understand – she sacrificed all this world finds worthy for the sake of a cause committed to her by God. Historians argue whether she actually ever fought, whether she was in some way mad, and over her real influence. That is their way – as it is to miss the real message she gives to all Christians. Have the courage to die for your beliefs.