Thesis Challenge: Father Ladvenu

Father Ladvenu, a Priest sympathetic to Joan, provides arguably the greatest challenge to my thesis that Joan died denying her voices, and I apparently missed him completely. Like Manchon, Fr. Ladvenu claims Joan held fast that her voices came from God until she died; but there are several things about Ladvenu’s testimony that make it distinct from Manchon.

First and most importantly is this:

On the day of her death I was with her until her last breath.

So Ladvenu is much closer to Joan than Manchon. He is also, of course, her Confessor, and has a unique insight into Joan’s soul that is impossible for Manchon to share.

He has this to say:

When I was with her, and exhorting her on her salvation, the Bishop of Beauvais and some of the Canons of Rouen came over to see her; and, when Jeanne perceived the Bishop, she told him that he was the cause of her death; that he had promised to place her in the hands of the Church, and had relinquished her to her mortal enemies.

Up to the end of her life she maintained and asserted that her Voices came from God, and that what she had done had been by God’s command.

There are a couple of very interesting aspects to this little quote. Joan famously says to Cauchon that “I die through you” when he sees her, which seems to be what Ladvenu is referring to. What is often left out of adaptations, however, is that this was not the end of the exchange. Cauchon takes this moment as his opportunity to get Joan to deny her voices. He manages to at minimum get Joan to admit she was deceived by them; according to the Lowell biography she at least stopped short of claiming they were demonically inspired, but it was a moment of major victory for Cauchon nonetheless. This is the reason he allows Joan to receive Confession and Eucharist – it is tantamount to her admitting that she is submitting to the Church’s (meaning him and his men’s) judgment on the voices.

But there is more to take away from Ladvenu’s testimony at the original condemnation trial:

Replied: Pierre Maurice, Nicolas Loyseleur, and I exhorted her to save her soul, and asked her if it were true that she had these Voices and apparitions? She replied that it was indeed true, and she continued so to tell us up to the end, but without stating decidedly, at least, so far as I understood, under what form the apparitions came to her. All I remember is that she said they came to her in great multitude and in the smallest size [in magna multitudine et quantitate minima]. Besides, I did at this time hear Jeanne say and confess that, inasmuch as the Clergy held and believed that if they were spirits who came to her they proceeded from evil spirits, she also held and believed as did the Clergy, and would no longer put faith in these spirits. And as it appeared to me, Jeanne was then of a sound mind.

Something is very weird here. This is the same person saying on one hand that Joan held “to the end” – and he was there at the end – that the voices came from God, and on the other hand he claims that Joan said she would “no longer put faith in these spirits”. Which is true? Is there a contradiction?

One way to explain it is that, like is possible with Manchon, at the nullification trial Ladvenu is simply leaving things out that make Joan look bad. This is not implausible.

The most I can say about Fr. Ladvenu in particular is that as Joan’s Confessor and, at the end, her constant companion, his words regarding her attitude towards the Voices do carry particular weight – and it is possible Joan revealed something to him in Confession, or in private conversation, that convinced him that Joan did not repudiate her voices. As is, it’s definitely the best evidence we have for that particular position, and I was mistaken for not including it.

With that said, if you want my personal opinion – unsubstantiated though it is – 20 years on when all favor was towards Joan of Arc, in her nullification trial, I think Fr. Ladvenu simply left out the bits that made Joan look bad. Look, it’s not as if it would have changed the outcome of the retrial. It just…makes Joan look a little better.

And perhaps more importantly, it makes HIM look a little better. Now that it looks as if Joan is going to be declared innocent, manipulating Joan in a moment of terrible emotional weakness, having just learned she would be burnt at the stake and excommunicated, into denying Voices sent by God is perhaps not how you want people to remember you.

Or maybe Ladvenu knows something we don’t, and can’t reveal it, due to his role as a Confessor. That also isn’t implausible! I leave the question open to your consideration.

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