By Charles Matthews

Monday, May 3, 2010

3. "Saint Joan," by George Bernard Shaw, pp. 22-33

"Preface," by George Bernard Shaw, from "THE MAID IN LITERATURE" through "...but I will maintain my own ways before Him.'"
Shaw posits that Shakespeare wanted to make Joan "a beautiful and romantic figure" in Henry VI, Part I" but was told that the play couldn't be produced if he did so, "but he may have tried to redeem it from downright infamy by shedding a momentary glamor on the figure of The Maid."

Discusses Joans by Schiller, Voltaire, Anatole France, Andrew Lang and Mark Twain, whose "Joan, skirted to the ground, and with as many petticoats as Noah's wife in a toy ark, is an attempt to combine Bayard with Esther Summerson from Bleak House into an unimpeachable American school teacher in armor."

"To see her in her proper perspective you must understand Christendom and the Catholic Church, the Holy Roman Empire and the Feudal System, as they existed and were understood in the Middle Ages."

Joan "was tried, not as a traitress, but as a heretic, blasphemer, sorceress, and idolater. Her alleged offences were not political offences against England, nor against the Burgundian faction in France, but against God and against the common morality of Christendom." She
made it clear that her notion of a Catholic Church was one in which the Pope was Pope Joan. How could the Church tolerate that, when it had just destroyed Hus, and had watched the career of Wycliffe with a growing anger that would have brought him, too, to the stake, had he not died a natural death before the wrath fell on him in his grave?
"Many innovating saints, notably Francis and Clare, have been in conflict with the Church during their lives, and have thus raised the question whether they were heretics or saints. Francis might have gone to the stake had he lived longer."
Compared with our infallible democracies, our infallible medical councils, our infallible astronomers, our infallible judges, and our infallible parliaments, the Pope is on his knees in the dust confessing his ignorance before the Throne of God, asking only that as to certain historical matters on which he has clearly more sources of information open to him than anyone else, his decision shall be taken as final.
As for the cruelty of medieval tortures and burning, our prisons are also cruel. "We have not even the excuse of getting some fun out of our prisons as the Middle Ages did out of their stakes and wheels and gibbets."
When the Church Militant behaves as if it were already the Church Triumphant, it makes these appalling blunders about Joan and Bruno and Galileo and the rest which make it so difficult for a Freethinker to join it; and a Church which has no place for Freethinkers: nay, which does not inculcate and encourage freethinking with a complete belief that thought, when really free, must by its own law take the path that leads to The Church's bosom, not only has no future in modern culture, but obviously has no faith in the valid science of its own tenets, and is guilty of the heresy that theology and science are two different and opposite impulses, rivals for human allegiance.
Joan's "canonization was a magnificently Catholic gesture of a Protestant saint by the Church of Rome."

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