Posted by Webster
While preparing for tonight’s meeting of the YIM Catholic Book Club, I was struck by G. K. Chesterton’s appreciation for Joan of Arc in Orthodoxy, chapter 3. That Chesterton, whom I am growing to admire, could have written this about Joan, whom I have long revered, is all the proof I need that the Catholic Church is on to something.
Though I have to admit it gives me pause—in a week when I’ve extolled pacifist Dorothy Day—that Joan was every bit the Catholic Dorothy was—and a warrior to boot.
Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them.
I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typcial aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow.
Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.
It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost.