But the ecclesiastics who conducted her trial didn't know the half of her holy love, not even when she showed unmistakable intelligence in answering her interrogators. “[T]hese judges were theologians who lacked charity and the humility to see God’s action in this young woman,” says Pope Benedict XVI. “The words of Jesus, who said that God’s mysteries are revealed to those who have a child’s heart while they remain hidden to the learned and the wise who have no humility (cf. Lk 10:21), spring to mind.” These clerical politicians had political leanings against Joan and in favor of the English oppression of France, and no show of heartfelt love for the French, however intelligent, would move them. “Thus, Joan’s judges were radically incapable of understanding her or of perceiving the beauty of her soul. They did not know that they were condemning a Saint.” They were doubtless very smart men, adept in political intrigues and unimpressed with the passionate teenaged rabble rouser over whom they presided. They cared for their status and that of the local Church, they knew which way the wind blew, and they calculated Joan out of the equation of progress. In an expert show of heartless rationality, they did something profoundly stupid: they killed a saint.
Modern examples of this kind of heartlessness-turned-mindless are surprisingly similar. In the early progressive era, bighearted American Catholic bishops saw an opportunity in “the dawn of the welfare state.” With an increasingly powerful government ready and willing to intervene in society, the bishops thought to finally implement (from the top down) a social order that would be in tune with Catholic teachings about the dignity of the human person. But meanwhile, as Princeton’s Dr. Thomas C. Leonard tells us, the early 20th century secularist view of the poor and needy as “unfit” was “publicly opposed by very few.” In their eagerness to bring about a Catholic “social justice,” Catholic leaders failed to assess the political dangers of their secular climate.
In 1919, American bishops published The Bishops' Program for Social Reconstruction, in which they not only endorsed the high minimum wage, but also called for the state to “make comprehensive provision for insurance against illness, invalidity, unemployment, and old age.” The Bishops' Program therefore inadvertently bolstered not only the market legislation that had been designed to force most of the poor out of work, but also the welfare state that was meant to receive and stifle those “undesirables” out of existence. And so the cruel march of progress went on, kept in step by the deceivers and the deceived, the heartless thinkers and the thoughtless lovers of mankind. (Next week, my column will give a fuller account of this complex history, drawing heavily from the brilliant Rise and Fall of the American Family Wage by Allan Carlson.) While the original intention of American bishops may have been to make the government into a mouthpiece for true Christian justice in society, in fact they helped to build the brutally powerful secular government that knows just how to twist the language of Christian charity to anti-Christian use.