PROVO — “Stripped of armor and banner, there are Joan of Arcs in every high school,” S. Michael Wilcox told a packed audience at Brigham Young University’s Campus Education Week on Tuesday.
Wilcox, an author and retired Church Educational System instructor who presented on Joan of Arc as part of a five-part series titled “The Five People I Wish to Meet in Heaven,” told the audience that "above all, we must remember that Joan of Arc was a teenage girl.”
In the year 1431, at age 19, Joan was executed for heresy. Wilcox described her walking from her prison cell, where for months she had faced abuse, and continuing through scaffolds of jeering men, barefoot, dressed in white, silent and looking down. After a lengthy sermon accusing her of heresy and condemning her to death, the stake to which Joan was chained was set afire.
“How these images have chastened me for my overindulgence or concern for petty things," Wilcox said. "It helps me to see the grand potential God has placed in the minds and hearts of children. We must never limit our God, we must never limit ourselves. Joan was, at heart, just like all of us."
As she burned, Joan called out over and over, “Jesus, blessed Jesus, Jesus,” according to Wilcox. Her plight began to move her enemies. By the time she finally slumped against the chains as her life ended, no one was jeering.
Amazed at her courage, the secretary to the King of England turned to the man next to him and said, “We are lost, for we have burned a good and a holy person. I would that my soul could be where that woman’s soul now is.”
What led a young peasant girl who humbly called herself “a maid” to that moment of courage? What led her to become what Wilcox calls an “example of the magnificence of humanity”?
In the year 1425, France was overwhelmed with the Hundred Years' War and the country was in chaos. Around this time, a rumor of a prophecy began to abound that France would be saved by a virgin woman.
Joan, a poor peasant girl from eastern France, believed she was called upon by God to save France from the English. At age 13, she started hearing voices that told her to be a good girl and taught her to pray. At age 17, the voices began to be more specific. They told her to go to Robert Baudricourt and request an escort to accompany her through enemy territory to visit Chinon, where Charles VII, the Dauphin of France, resided.
After some deliberation, her request was granted, and she found herself in the royal court. Charles agreed to meet with her, but decided to test her first. When Joan arrived, Charles was disguised among the nobles. He decided that if Joan could recognize him, it would be a sign she was truly sent from God.
As Joan, a peasant girl accustomed to cows and farming, walked into the court of ladies and lords, she scanned the faces and approached one man. Kneeling before him, she declared she would see him, Charles VII, crowned as the true king of France.
After a private conversation between Joan and Charles, Charles believed in her. She was taken to undergo church instruction, to test her faith and determine whether she was a virgin. She passed on all accounts, and when asked if she believed in God, her reply was, “Yes, better than you do.”
Dressed in white armor and riding a jet-black charger, Joan, at age 18, commanded the knights and nobility of France. According to Wilcox, Joan was the inspiration of the army.
It was on the verge of the Siege of Orleans that Joan gave her gentle nudge to a hesitant Duke D'Alencon. “Forward gentle Duke, to the assault. Do not doubt. The time is right when it pleases God, and one ought to act when God wishes. Act and God will act.”
City after city began falling to Joan of Arc and her army. When Joan and Charles VII finally made it to the city of Reims, Joan saw to her final goal of crowning Charles king of France.
According to Wilcox, Joan desired to retire from the army and go home, but it was not in the cards. Assigned to a small town near Paris, a skirmish in 1430 led to Joan’s capture by the Burgundians who held her for ransom. King Charles, however, chose not to ransom her, and Joan remained a prisoner. She was eventually given to the English, where she tried twice to escape. At her trial, she defended her escape attempts by saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”
In the time before her martyrdom, Joan was tried on every side. She was constantly asked trick questions such as, “Are you in the grace of God?” According to Wilcox, if Joan answered “yes,” she would have been accused of pride, whereas if she had answered “no,” her existence would have no meaning. Joan’s reply stumped the English, however, when she said, “If I am not in the grace of God, may God put me there. And if I am, may God keep me there, for I would be the most sorrowful woman in the world if I knew that I was not in the grace of God.”
Joan held true on every account; they could not trap her. In fact, the only thing they could eventually condemn her for was wearing men’s clothing, because of a scripture in Deuteronomy.
According to Wilcox it was a miracle in itself that Joan had endured for so long.
“Exhausted by prison, weak from chains, deprived of hope, cornered, badgered, hated the courageous girl's ordeal had come to an end," he said.