The Dove and Rose - Chapter 7
“I had the will to believe it”
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Question: What sort of help say you that this voice has brought you for the salvation of your soul?
Joan: It has taught me to conduct myself well, to go habitually to church…
Question: Have you some other sign that these voices are good spirits?
Joan: Saint Michael assured me of it before the voices came.
Question: How did you know it was Saint Michael?
Joan: I knew it by his speech and by the language of the Angels, and I believe firmly that they were Angels.
Question: How did you know that they were Angels?
Joan: I believed it quite quickly, and I had the will to believe it…
Few, if any, historical accounts are as fascinating to read as those of Joan of Arc. Through her own words at her trial and by the testimony of those who knew her, we have the rarest opportunity to listen to a militant, medieval mystic explain in great detail how she came to believe what she believed and how she came to accomplish what she accomplished. Her epic life is astonishingly encapsulated in a mere nineteen years, yet, grasping the meaning of it all takes one a lifetime of contemplation in scripture, history, theology, and philosophy. That she is interpreted in so many lights and loved by those of so many different walks of life and various beliefs is a great testimony to her life. I compare her to a rare jewel, which shines in a splendid array of colors when exposed to the light.
However, when exposed to the light of the Church, this jewel explodes like a new star coming to life in a distant galaxy, or, rather, we might say more appropriately, like that of a supernova in its last gasp. It is this exposure of Joan of Arc to the light of the Church and through her "will to believe" that I wish to discuss in this essay. Only through the light shining forth from the Church one sees her authentic glory. In Joan of Arc is the glory of true self-sacrificing Catholic religious belief over the curse of skeptical materialism or the amorphous, narcissistic self-love of the "spiritual but not religious" wayfarer.
It was G.K. Chesterton who saw that the bane of the skeptical secularist was his removal of romance from the study of history. The core principle in this painful process is that the combined limit of materialism and modernism is the only reasonable starting point for discerning true history. If emotional, romantic, chivalric, or, heaven forbid, religious and spiritual factors are involved, they must be subjugated to the modern, material mind; or eliminated altogether. Nothing can be more significant or occupy more space than the skeptical modern mind can hold.
One may quickly identify the modern-day skeptic. The skeptic not only does not believe anything speedily or even at all, but the skeptic also has no will to believe anything in the first place. The skeptic glories in skepticism and the intellectual gyrations it involves. Skepticism is safe and easy, for it requires no action. After all, how can one know? A firm commitment to an end could be drastically fatal, for there are always good intellectual counterarguments for not committing to that end. Let us think this over.
Yet, moving on, the modern skeptic will be easily identified with statements such as, "In medieval times, people believed that they could have discussions with saints or angels. Joan of Arc can only be understood within the context of these ancient medieval beliefs." We can know immediately from these remarks that our skeptical storyteller wishes to subjugate medieval thought to modern "rational" (read materialistic) thought.
There is a significant downside to this. Medieval thought was romantic and grand, while modern thought is depressing. Medieval thought opened one's mind and heart to the reality of the great Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Christ and the Church He founded, which Church universally ruled both the spiritual and temporal realms of the times. Modern thought is small, material, deterministic, divided into the smallest atomic particle, and simply skeptical.
Medievalism thought that the worst possible crime a person could commit was against God, such as heresy or blasphemy. The modern mind believes the worst possible crime is a crime against man being his own god, in which case God Himself can be tried for heresy if He dares to attempt to regulate man. It is often said that one may tell the goodness of a tree by its fruit. Joan of Arc's medieval voices from the saints in heaven (that people in medieval times believed in) told her to be good and to attend Church regularly. The voices of the modern mind tell us to be vulgar, to blaspheme God, to believe in no religion, and to kill our children if we do not want them. You tell me. Which tree shall we choose?
Against this backdrop, we have a most remarkable comment from Joan of Arc during her trial. It is a comment that consistently nagged my mind for a while, for every time I read it and attempted to pass over it, I would be drawn back to a marvelous mystery. This mystery would inevitably render me helpless but to sit back and contemplate the magnificent vistas, meadows, rivers, and creeks along the pathway of the Dogmatic Creed of Roman Catholicism by which Joan leads me.
This comment is her last above: "I had the will to believe it." Just as we might immediately recognize with a mere phrase the cold, unromantic mind of the modern skeptic, here we might conversely recognize with a mere term the fiery, romantic mind of a true believer. We also acknowledge the true believer by the one noticeable factor unknown to the skeptic: the believer's courageous action. A true believer is free; she is free to act. If she is guided by the Good, the fruit of her efforts might even be to improve the world in defense of the medieval concept of man answering to God instead of the modern idea of man demanding that God respond to him. As a side note, medieval belief was far superior and more potent than current belief, which is a modern unwillingness to believe. "I had the will to believe it."