I stayed up late the other night watching The Messenger, one of the many versions of the Jeanne D’Arc story.
Dustin Hoffman played her Conscience, and the dialouge between his character and Milla Jovovich’s Joan was a revealing, naked account of what Catholics and Christians would certainly interpret as the sin of doubt, and dwindling faith, and what I would call critical thinking.
Joan was trying to justify the events that had led to her circumstances, second-guessing her defense to the tribunal’s interrogation. Of course she had done the right things, of course she was on the correct path, she had seen the signs, and obeyed the divine directives.
“The signs? What signs?” presses her Conscience. “The wind; the clouds, the bells!” says Joan. You can see doubt darken her expression as she realizes how nebulous these phenomena are as signs.
“…the sword! The sword in the field–surely that’s a sign!” She’s found her irrefutible sign from God…she thinks.
“A sword in a field a sign from God?” her Conscience disparages. “It’s a sword in a field.” Hoffman goes on, postulating some of the different ways the sword could have wound up in that field. “For every action there is a cause; nothing exists in a vacuum.” Of course, this would be terribly sophisticated reasoning for a 15th century illiterate peasant girl. But at least in this film, she couldn’t refute the logic; her bubble was burst.
And the whole Joan of Arc story is about bursting bubbles. The English needed to find her guilty of heresy to restore morale and faith to its Catholic soldiers. If God is on France’s side, how can we, the English faithful, believe that he hears our righteous prayers? This conundrum might cause one to question how many side God can take, and if he would choose one faithful adversary over another, what then is the point of belief? And if one cannot make sense of religion as a team sport, then maybe the rest fails in reason also. Here is the slippery slope of doubt that the Church and England wished to avoid with Joan’s trial and execution.
If you find a sword in a field, it’s just a sword in a field.