Joan of Arc is a young woman’s hero and an older woman’s hope. She lived in a period of political
turmoil and church division. England wanted France; France suffered from feudal rivalries; the church
struggled with nationalism in its own ranks. Into the midst of such fury came a young woman who heard
God’s voice in her heart calling her to restore France to the French and save a people under siege
from the incessant English-French struggle that came to be known in its history as The Hundred Years’
In the end, captured and turned over to the English, she is burned at the stake by one church court,
despite the fact that she had been endorsed by another. It is a bitter story of betrayal, political
rivalries and idealism in conflict with politics. “I would rather die than revoke what God has made me
do,” she told her inquisitors at the trial that pronounced her heretic and ordered her burned at the
The relation of all that to sanctity in the twenty-first century seems at best obscure until little by little
the local history is peeled away and the light is focused on the very human and very universal situation
that underlies it. Joan is not remembered because she was a soldier in the service of a king. Joan is to
be revered because she is a model of conscience development, a monument to the feminine
relationship to God, and a breaker of the stereotypes that block the will of God for people.
Joan was tried on seventy-two charges. The most serious ones were that she dressed like a man, and
she refused to put the authority of the church before what her inner voices, her conscience,
The struggle of conscience over authority is a mighty one. All officialdom arrayed, however, cannot
sway the young Joan. There are some things in life that belong to God alone, Joan implies—human life,
human responsibility, and human will.
Suddenly, Joan of Arc appears in the plain light of our own lives. She is a woman with a conscience.
She is a woman with a mission. She is a woman who is bold enough to claim that she has access to God
and that God has outrageous plans for her. She is a woman who dares to confront the authorities of
the time with a greater question than they are able or willing to handle. She is a woman who threatens
the status quo. But her fortitude, her ability to perdure under stress, her commitment to do right in
the midst of horrendous wrong, mark her as a woman of grace. The church court managed to kill her,
yes, but they could not damp her spirit.
Joan of Arc is not simply the patron of France in times such as ours. Joan of Arc is patron of all those
who hear the voice of God calling them beyond present impossibilities to the fullness of conscience
—from A Passion for Life (Orbis) and Life Ablaze: A Woman’s Novena (Sheed & Ward) by Joan Chittister
A Voice of Conscience