Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) is one of the most fascinating Catholic intellectuals of the twentieth century. A friend of G. K. Chesterton, he was an extraordinarily prolific journalist, polemicist, and writer.
One of Belloc’s most interesting writings is the historical essay Joan of Arc (1929). It is a short life of the Maid of Orleans, written with an elegant and refined prose, as if it were a medieval miniature. In Belloc’s portrait, which offers the reader the vibrant image of a holiness lived in the pain of everyday life, Joan is the heroine of Faith and freedom, a peasant woman who defied the mistrust of the great of France, and the nobility of England. Born into a very poor family, she dared to rouse the crown prince to the fulfilment of his duties towards God and the French people. Finally, tempting fate, she fought an impossible battle against the invader from across the Channel, facing an unjust accusation and a terrible death.
For Belloc, half English and half French, Joan is above all a sign of contradiction, scandal and madness. By subverting all worldly logic, with her affirmative response to the divine call – reminiscent of Mary’s – the girl aligned herself with those opposed to the prejudices of a world fallen into egoism. Humble, like someone who recognizes himself as a mere instrument, the Maid of Orleans turned into a glorious leader, armed not with a sword but with a piety that knows no fear. Her heroism is first of all derived from obedience, from trust in God, who wanted her to leave her village, armour-clad, leading men who had lost all hope.
It was therefore no coincidence that the fire of the stake miraculously spared the heart of this unfortunate girl, destined for the glory of holiness.
Friday’s English-language articles will resume in September. Happy holiday.