Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jeanne d'Arc outwits Bishop Pierre Cauchon

This is a post I sent to the e-mail forum of the International Joan of Arc Society today about one of the first days of Jeanne's trial, February 21, 1431.

Hi, everybody,

In Régine Pernoud's book Joan of Arc By Herself and Her Witnesses, Edward Hyams, tr. (New York: Stein and Day, 1966, 1969; pp. 180-181) we find this for February 21, 1431:

Cauchon: Recite Pater Noster and Ave Maria.

Joan: I will say them willingly provided you hear my confession.

Cauchon, as may be imagined, dodged this request for, had he granted it, as a priest it would have put him in a very awkward situation. If he heard Joan's confession he would, thereafter, be prevented on his soul and conscience from declaring her guilty; on the other hand to refuse to hear her confession was to avoid doing his sacerdotal duty. The minutes of the trial mention that the bishop was obliged to admonish her "several times" and that in the end he adopted a compromise solution.

Cauchon: Willingly will we order appointed for you one or two notable men who speak French to whom you can say Pater Noster.

Joan: I shall not say it to them if they will not hear me in confession.

They were forced to drop the point and move on to the next subject.

- - - - -

Now my take on this is as follows: Both Jeanne and Cauchon knew that the seal of confession is part of the nature of the sacrament of holy orders, and that a priest who reveals anything -- in any way at all -- of what was said in a confession is subject to excommunication. So if Cauchon heard Jeanne's confession he would have had to remove himself from the position of judge.

He was not willing to do this, because -- it must be remembered -- Cauchon was pro-English in sympathy, he believed that the Treaty of Troyes was a valid and legitimate treaty, and he believed (sincerely, I'm willing to grant) that like others of the English party, that Jeanne was a sorceress and a "limb of the Fiend."

So I think Jeanne was using her native wit and canniness to put Cauchon on the spot. The court meant to condemn and imprison or execute her, she knew it, and Cauchon knew she knew it.

Best to all,

PS -- for us pedants, here's the relevant extract from the Latin record (Procès de condamnation et de réhabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc dite La Pucelle, Tome I; Jules Quicherat. Paris: Jules Renard et Cie., M.DCCC.XLI -- Facsimile by Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York City, 1965; p. 47):

Item, requisita per nos quod diceret Pater Noster : respondit quod audiremus eam in confessione et ipsa nobis diceret libenter. Cumque iterum pluries super hoc requirertemus eam : respondit quod non diceret Pater noster, etc., nisi eam audiremus in confessione. Tunc autem diximus, quod libenter sibi traderemus unum aut duos notabiles viros de lingua gallicana, coram quibus ipsa diceret Pater noster, etc. Ad quod respondit ipsa Johanna quod non diceret eis, nisi eam audirent in confessione.

PPS -- for the superpedantic like me, here's the relevant extract from the original French minutes (La minute Française des interrogatoires de Jeanne la Pucelle, d'après le Réquisitoire de Jean d'Estivet et les manuscrits de d'Urfé et d'Orléans, par le P. Paul Doncoeur. Melun: Librairie d'Argences, MCM.LII, p. 89:

Requise qu'elle dist Pater Noster et Ave Maria,

Respond qu'elle la dira voluntiers, pourveu que monseigneur l'evesque de Beauvoys, qui estoit present, la vouldroit oyr de confession. Et, combien qu'elle fust plusieurs foys requise de dire Pater nostre et Ave Maria, elle respondit qu'elle ne le diroit point, se ledit evesque ne l'ouoyt de confession.

Et adoncq ledit evesque dist : Je vous ordonneray ung ou deux notables personnaiges de ceste compagnie ausquelz vous direz: Pater Noster et Ave Maria.

A quoy elle respondit : Je ne le diray point, se ilz ne me oyent de confession.

You may well ask: "So what?"

My answer is if you're studying history (of now or of 600 years ago), make sure you go back to the primary sources, and still remember that they have to be carefully interpreted. In other words, don't believe everything uncritically.

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