Ann Astell

title.none: Fraioli, Joan of Arc (Ann Astell)

identifier.other: baj9928.0011.005 00.11.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ann Astell, Purdue University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Fraioli, Deborah. Joan of Arc: The Early Debate. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. ix, 235. 75.00. ISBN: 0-851-15572-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.11.05

Fraioli, Deborah. Joan of Arc: The Early Debate. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2000. Pp. ix, 235. 75.00. ISBN: 0-851-15572-3.

Reviewed by:

Ann Astell
Purdue University

Most discussions of the different fifteenth-century judgments passed on Joan of Arc have focussed on two proceedings: the trial of condemnation in Rouen in 1431 and the subsequent trial of rehabilitation, which concluded in Paris in 1456. Scholars have tended to focus on the politics motivating the English and their Burgundian allies, on the one hand, to condemn Joan as a heretic, and those leading the French, on the other hand, to honor her as a saint. Deborah Fraioli's wonderful book directs our attention instead to the division of opinion about Joan of Arc in the early period prior to her capture by the Burgundians at Compie`gne in May, 1430. Fraioli makes it clear that even in Joan's own camp there were those who doubted her claim to prophetic authority as one sent by God.

Fraioli situates the debate at Chinon and Poitiers about whether or not to give credence to Joan within the larger theological context of the discernment of spirits (discretio spirituum). She urges us to take Joan of Arc seriously as an object of religious inquiry and to view her case within the framework of the theological concerns that occupied the clerics assembled at the councils of Constance (1415) and Basel (1434). Fraioli makes a strong case for a prudent and protracted examination of Joan at Poitiers by respected clerics and establishes significant links between the questions that were raised about Joan at her first appearance before the Dauphin and the charges that were later levied against her by her enemies.

Fraioli argues that the canonization process of Saint Bridget of Sweden and the late-medieval rise in mysticism had made the topic of discretio spirituum an important one for fourteenth- and fifteenth-century theologians, who were called upon to define criteria by which true and false revelations could be distinguished. Two treatises by Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, stand out as foundational to this science: De distinctione verarum visionum a falsis (1402) and De probatione spirituum (1415). Although these treatises predate the controversy about Joan of Arc by more than a decade, they provide a context, Fraioli convincingly maintains, for understanding The Poitiers Conclusions (1429) and the other works associated with the initial ecclesiastical probe into Joan's credibility as a prophet. Regrettably, Fraioli does not spend time describing the foundational texts on discernment; instead, she presupposes that theological background and refers to it only in passing, to buttress her study of the texts dealing specifically with the question of Joan of Arc.

Fraioli's careful identification, dating, and attribution of the key texts involved in the early debate allow her to trace their intertextual relationship. As a result, the allusions in later works to earlier ones become apparent and doubly meaningful. The clustering of intertextual references makes it possible, moreover, for Fraioli to distinguish two different phases in the early debate: the first giving rise to such writings as De quandam puella, The Poitiers Conclusions, Virgo puellares, Joan's "Lettre aux Anglais," the Dissertatio of Jacques Gelu, and the Ditie' de Jeanne d'Arc by Christine de Pisan; the second producing De mirabili victoria, the reply of a Parisian cleric, and Martin le Franc's Le champion des dames.

Among these texts, Fraioli argues, De quandam puella is the earliest and the most likely to have been authored by Jean Gerson himself. Fraioli interprets the treatise as a handbook for Joan's judges at Poitiers, which marshalls for them in a balanced, systematic way the scriptural passages pertinent to each side of the issue, that is to say, those which could be used to argue for or against Joan's acceptance as a prophet sent by God. In The Poitiers Conclusions and in Joan's "Lettre aux Anglais" Fraioli finds evidence suggesting the serious nature of the ecclesiastical investigation that preceded and made possible Joan's march to Orle'ans. The Dissertatio of Jacques Gelu, which was written after Joan's victory at Orle'ans and before Charles' coronation at Reims, declares the faith of one French archbishop who had previously been inclined to doubt Joan's prophetic claims. It builds upon The Poitiers Conclusions to provide a theological rationale for God's election of Joan to help the French. The Dissertatio, in turn, stands as one of several sources for Christine de Pisan's presentation in the Ditie' of Joan's action as prophetic and providentially ordained. Mathieu Thomassin's Registre delphinal (1456) confirms the intertextual connections between Christine's 1429 poem about Joan and the pro-Joan writings of the early debate.

Fraioli's careful treatment of intertextual relations sets this whole body of texts apart from a second collection of later writings, which centers on the widely disseminated De mirabili victoria. Like Dorothy Wayman before her, Fraioli argues against Gerson's authorship of this pro-Joan document and emphasizes instead the features of De mirabili victoria that are atypical of the earlier works. Its defense of Joan's male clothes, Fraioli maintains, inspired the anti-Joan reply of a Parisian cleric and anticipated the charges of heresy, idolatry, and immorality later raised against Joan at Rouen. Fraioli sees a strong connection between the points argued in De mirabili victoria and those found in Martin le Franc's 1442 Le champion des dames.

On the triple basis of her close reading of these little-known texts, her study of their dissemination, and her admirable attentiveness to ecclesiastical context, Fraioli reaches a strong conclusion: We no longer need to hesitate in identifying the Maid's approbation as religious. It was not military, not secular, and, above all, not haphazard (p. 193). Fraioli enables us to recover to a large extent the biblical and theological narratives to which Joan's story was assimilated by her contemporaries, and which enables them to recognize and receive her as a prophet sent by God.

I would quibble with Fraioli's too sharp distinction between a Joan sent by God and a Joan directed by God's saints, since Joan herself refused to see them as separate. Fraioli (like Karen Sullivan) is certainly right, however, to insist that Joan's testimony at Rouen about the saints increased her vulnerability before her judges. Perhaps Joan's case not only signals the conciliar concerns of Constance and Basel about discretio spirituum, but also anticipates those of the Council of Trent about saintly and clerical mediation.

In the appendix Fraioli provides useful, complete English translations of several of the texts she discusses. Throughout the book, she makes it a practice to introduce and describe the works she discusses, which are not generally familiar except to Jehannine specialists. She offers succinct summaries of her conclusions. As a result, she is able to instruct the general reader, even as she forcefully challenges a series of expert scholarly opinions. I learned a great deal from this elegantly written, well argued, and thought-provoking book. Fraioli's The Early Debate brings the historical Joan of Arc before us in a new context that commands respect and challenges our own ability to practice discernment.