Our last post for the Fate Apocrypha series is on the “Holy Maiden” Jeanne d’Arc. Her character may seem familiar to you in that, like Amakusa Shirou Tokisada, she also goes astray of the Christian faith. And while It may seem a bit confusing to say Shirou is wrong because he esteems the spiritual and despises the flesh while also saying that Jeanne is wrong because she esteems the flesh at the expense of the spiritual, there is a balance which both characters deny—a balance to which their Christian faith calls them.
As I mentioned in the preceding post, for Shirou, perfection is a state of being he wants to make a reality for himself and the rest of humanity. It is a state of existence within God’s will and favor which we are only hindered in reaching by the baser instincts of our physical selves. Jeanne spent so long climbing up the mountain of perfection that, when she reached the top and found it wasn’t a single mountain but an entire range, she despaired and now sits cross-legged at the top, fuming. For Jeanne, perfection is an unjust master who demands but never gives and to whom everyone must stoically oblige. It’s no wonder then that she would be at least a little bit attracted to Shirou’s wish for the removal of the physical body and its limitations: “It is hard not to fall for the allure of his wish; for the desire for salvation is never wrong”(2.13 “The Last Master”).
You see, Jeanne, like Shirou, knows Hebrews 9:27-28 is true but she wears it like a millstone necklace. It’s as though she was reading Romans 7:14-25 and stopped prematurely on verse 24 in despair. In life, so many people looked up to her for direction and godly, inspired leadership that she actually began to believe that she, a 17-year-old girl, was supposed to be God for an entire kingdom of people (similar, of course to Saber Artoria Pendragon’s dilemma outlined in Mordred’s backstory). You can see Jeanne struggling under the weight of such responsibilities in her destruction of Jack the Ripper’s Noble Phantasm and again when confronted by Atalanta for that action. She feels the responsibility to do these things because the circumstances and her drive for justice compel her, but they are hard decisions she would rather not have to make.
This attitude in Jeanne is what distinguishes her from Shirou. Shirou believes he was only prevented from being the divine savior of mankind because of mankind’s selfishness. Therefore, he believes that if he can remove selfishness from human nature, he can be the savior he wants to be. Jeanne believes she was prevented from being France’s savior because life is unjust. She believed she was called by God to do it, and yet her life ended in immolation, bound to a stake, abandoned by the country for which she had fought. This is why Jeanne so regularly seems conflicted during the Holy Grail War, because, though she feels the conviction to uphold goodness and justice, she has just as strong an urge to kick against the very idea of it since life has taught her that being “on God’s side” doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a life of personal success and bliss until you die in your sleep at a ripe old age.
Jeanne is so burned out and disillusioned by this whole heroism business that when she is made responsible for Sieg, who has essentially been granted a tabula rasa in more ways than just his unfortunately bland personality *eye roll*, she is attracted to the idea of him instantly. Sieg allows Jeanne an outlet of vicarious fulfillment. Life was unfair to her, but it doesn’t have to be unfair to him. This opportunity leads her to say things you wouldn’t expect from a woman who claims to serve God and uphold the rules of the Holy Grail War:
You should not seek justification for why you were given the chance to exist in this world. You stood up for your right to exist and survived. It is not by the will of heaven above, but by your own will. Right? Because, if not…that would be all too woeful. […] There is nothing sadder than having your life controlled by someone.
But, even as she says this to Sieg, her thoughts prove that she is thinking wishfully:
I lied to him. That boy must fight in this war. I do not know why, but he is destined for it. But, even if Fate were to wish for him to fall in battle, even if his death would bring about the path that I desire, I will not abide by that revelation. That boy has suffered more than enough loss as it is. To ask for his life on top of that is much too cruel. There is no need for him to be stained by blood. That fate should be left to a hero.
(1.5 “Voice from Above”)
So, when it comes to Sieg and the opportunity he provides, Jeanne is leaning fully into that side of her which wants to kick against the broken system of life and the Grail War. She has taken Sieg as her own, refusing fate and God, and she’s willing to use her justice-oriented side as her excuse.
So how does an accuser torment a saint like Jeanne, duplicitously bound by the law while insistent on her own way? He throws the book at her. He opens the law and points out all the ones she’s breaking. The accuser accuses. And that’s exactly what we see happen when Jeanne is made to confront Shirou, Shakespeare, and Gilles de Rais. From within his Noble Phantasm, Shakespeare shows Jeanne the scene of her death where, instead of being tied to the stake, she is watching from the crowd as Sieg is bound and burned. Though Jeanne objects to this injustice, Shakespeare explains that this is what she, as a Ruler, must want because it is required by fate that Sieg participate in the Holy Grail War: “my Noble Phantasm is based upon your own desires. In other words, the one who believes he should be up there is not me, but you!” (1.23 “Going Beyond”). Gilles not only pulls hard on the law, but also on her feelings of genuine love toward Sieg, until her mind is fit to tear along the lines of her own contradiction:
“You who received God’s revelation [,those of the Ruler class,] must treat all lives equally. But why then have you made an exception for him?”
“You’re wrong, that’s not…”
“That exception you’ve made is called love. It is the intense feeling you have toward this young man.”
“You’re wrong. I have neither the right nor the intent to love another person.”
“Then I must be wrong. You are Saint Jeanne, after all. You couldn’t harbor such feelings. There’s no way you could love a single person when what you are called to love is humanity as a whole! Besides, weren’t you the one who dragged him to his death? Didn’t you convince him to die here?”
“The boy did not have any freedom! The boy did not have any choice! You brought him here because you needed his power. Then why didn’t you stop him? If you really loved him, you might have even gone as far as cutting off his feet to keep him from such a fate as this.”
This nearly drives Jeanne mad as she feels responsible to be God for herself and others while knowing that it’s humanly impossible. And since she has sought her identity in this ability to be God for other people, her understanding of who she is crumbles when her inabillity is pointed out. But it is in that moment when Sieg, one of her perceived responsibilities, ends up modeling God for her instead. Because of the sacrifice made on his behalf by Siegfried, Sieg learns that self-sacrifice on behalf of others is not a waste but is our calling. Whether it be the giving of your life in an instant or the devotion of your strength on a daily basis to the people around you, death at the end of that life does not make it unfulfilled. So, while Jeanne is fretting over how and whether Sieg gets to lead a safe life, Sieg is trying to live a Christ-like life: “I have nothing to be robbed of if I choose to give it away” (2.15 “Differing Paths”).
Sieg’s realization is one to which Jeanne, through the gospel, should have already arrived. There’s no reason for Jeanne to be the savior of every situation she walks into because there has already been a sufficient savior who owns and is sovereign over all things. His self-sacrifice does not require your own in order to be wholly and supremely effective. It certainly calls for self-sacrifice on your part, but does not need it as though its own sacrifice would somehow be less without yours. That savior recognized that the system was broken and unjust, but, rather than kick against it or throw up his hands, he submitted himself to the injustice and overcame the brokenness of the system from within it. That doesn’t mean that things will never suck and that difficult decisions, trying situations, and sinful selfish people won’t be a part of your day to day, but it does mean that you can act with confidence knowing that the outcome of your decision to act faithfully is not your responsibility.
When Jeanne remembers this, or, perhaps, comes to understand it for the first time, her attitude changes and she rebukes Gille by speaking the truth about from whom salvation and righteousness come:
“If it is atonement that you seek, you will not find it in his salvation. Gille, you cannot atone for those victims. The same goes for me.”
“Then…I…I will never be forgiven….”
“Those you killed can no longer forgive you, but our Lord forgives everything.”
(1.24 “The Holy Grail War”)
She then turns this newfound boldness toward Shirou and his plans for humanity: “If you give immortality to people, there’s no place for human potential anymore. It makes living meaningless” (1.24 “The Holy Grail War”). Jeanne realizes that death is what gives the finite lives we have their potential for meaning. She realizes that suffering, conflict, and death allow a person to be heroic, rather than getting in the way of it. She learns that life is meant to be spent.
But the best example of Jeanne’s change of heart comes in the prayer she offers moments before she confronts Shirou:
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament declares the work of his hands. Day to day pours forth speech and night after night declares knowledge.” “My heart became hot within me. As I mused the fire burned.” Here I’ll meet my end. Such is my ephemeral life. With what I’m leaving behind, please protect his steps. O Lord, I entrust this body to you.
(1.24 “The Holy Grail War”)
The first verse referenced in her prayer comes from Psalm 19 which, in the selection she uses, seems somewhat unrelated. However, in its entirety, it is a Psalm which extols the goodness of God’s law. This shows that Jeanne has returned to an understanding and love of God’s law in light of the reminder that she does not have to be her own savior, nor anyone else’s because of the sufficient work of Christ. The second verse she uses comes from Psalm 39, a lament and repentance for having stayed silent and neutral regarding the law of God when in the presence of the wicked. This is Jeanne repenting for the thoughts which led her to not only resemble Shirou in her desires and speech, but also consider joining him. But most importantly, Jeanne concludes her short prayer by offering her whole being to God, surrendering to Him the one thing she was most reluctant to give up.
As it approaches the end off the series, Fate Apocrypha entertains the question of what it means to be a saint and to be holy. Sieg came to understand it through Siegfried’s sacrifice. Jeanne is called “The Holy Maiden” so many times because of her actions that she actually starts to believe that it IS her actions which determine her holiness or her sainthood, that they’re titles she can lose willfully or through negligence. Living like that, never knowing from one moment to the next whether you’ve done something to lose your identity, it’s little wonder that Jeanne threw up her hands and gave it up. But, as Jeanne finds out, holiness is not something you can earn for yourself or hope to maintain. Sainthood is not the title you receive upon achieving perfection. It’s a title signifying the perfection accomplished on your behalf so that you can live in freedom. And, like Jeanne, we can thank God for that. We can live in the relief that brings.
featured art by QMO | reprinted w/permission