I take no pleasure, none whatsoever, in the theory that Joan of Arc died having denied her voices. It is a depressing end, more depressing than the burning.
Still, there are things that point away from it. The testimonies of Manchon and Ladvenu are often cited by people who believe Joan kept her faith in the Voices to the end; Francis Lowell, who wrote the wonderful biography I keep linking to and referencing, claims she had regained, or possibly never lost, her faith in the Voices because she called on St. Michael while in the flames.
Not to be rude to Mr. Lowell, but this strikes me as a particularly pathetic defense. One does not need to believe they are being spoken to by Voices to pray to Saints. It is a defense that could only have been penned by a non-Catholic; I can imagine myself doing much the same as Joan did.
But there are real points against this. Ladvenu is her Confessor, and he claims twenty years later Joan did not deny her Voices; it’s possible she revealed as much to him in her final days.
We also have this classic quote from Joan:
“Ah, Rouen, I greatly fear that you will have to suffer for my death.”
This was said on the day of her execution, and in it we see some of Joan’s old confidence. It relates to the case like this:
Clearly, Joan believes she is innocent, and more than that, is convinced she will be vindicated after her death. Surely such an attitude doesn’t fit with the revelation that Joan admitted her Voices could not be trusted. Right?
The main stumbling blocks here are twofold:
- Accounts that say Joan did NOT deny her Voices only appear 20 years after the fact
- The last word we get from Joan herself on the Voices is her saying she will no longer trust them
These are big issues. Manchon may not have known about the denial (though I’m skeptical of this) but Ladvenu certainly did; indeed, he played a very big part in inducing it.
And yet this is the best evidence we have that Joan did NOT deny her voices: Ladvenu definitely knows all of the facts, was there for her final days, and still says Joan did not deny her Voices; and Joan is definitely convinced of her innocence even in the very hour of death.
It is certainly plausible Joan said something to Ladvenu that convinced him she still held faith in the Voices; but of course it is equally plausible Ladvenu saw the writing on the wall regarding the results of the trial and left of the bit that made him look the worst.
Her bravery at the end is undeniable, of course: She dies looking at a Cross, calling on the name of Jesus and the Saints. I have seen some sources scoff at the account of the executioner who claims he fears greatly that he will be damned, because he has burnt a Saint; however this is brought up in multiple places, and it seems quite probable that it happened.
So what were Joan’s last thoughts on the Voices?
I’m a broken record here, but the answer is “We aren’t sure, but probably she denied them.” C’est la vie.