Joan Of Arc & Self Defense

July 9, 2016

By Kathleen Troost-Cramer, Ph.D.

The following is an adaptation of an article titled “The Point of the Lance,” originally published on This version has been edited by the original author.

I'm a firearms owner. I'm also a person of faith. A Christian, to be exact - to be more precise, a Roman Catholic.

I take my faith seriously. Do I always"make it"? Of course not. I'm fallible just like anyone else - infact, that's what my faith is based on, and counts on: Human beings mess up. Frequently. But I strive to have integrity, to conform my life and my actionsto my deeply-held beliefs.

I bought my first firearm years ago while living in California. I had a very, very frightening encounter with about five or six young men who approached me as I was standing at the front door of a friend's apartment building in North Hollywood, waiting for her to buzz me in.Thank God, I wasn't harmed. But I sure was spooked. When reporting the incident to the local police, the officer with whom I was speaking told me, in no uncertain terms, to buy a gun. Living alone in L.A., he said, I'd be a fool not to.

So I went to a great gun shop and purchased a little 5-shot S&W revolver. Since then, I've acquired a semi-auto 9mm, and I even took the plunge and bought an AR-15.

I love shooting. I'm good at it. It's a totally"zen" activity - one that requires absolute awareness at every instant, for the sake of safety as well as accuracy on the target. When I'm stressed, I go to the range, and I come out being able to breathe and think alot better. Best of all, after shooting for a few months now, I have confidence that if, God forbid, my home should ever be invaded, I would be able to defend my family and my own life for their sake.

As a Catholic, I try to keep up with the news inthe Church. I find myself a bit disturbed by what I'm seeing lately.

I tend to get into Facebook arguments. Something I have to work on, I know. Anyway, one of my most recent debates was about gun control, gun ownership, and legitimate self-defense. I made the"mistake" of stating on a Catholic FB post that there was a long tradition in Church doctrine about defending life by the use of justifiable, proportional force. Someone unknown to me commented back that a.) I couldn't really be Catholic; and b.) I've obviously never read the Gospels. This gave me a good laugh for the rest of the day, as my Ph.D. is in Biblical Studies.

But this whole exchange got me thinking: Thereare so many Christians - especially Catholics - out there who think it's wrong to own a firearm. So many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have this idea that firearms ownership violates our Lord's command to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39) when His followers are "attacked". Simply owning a firearm, many Christians believe, contributes to violence.

Yet when Jesus said to "turn the other cheek," He was not talking about defending ourselves from threats to our lives. A slap on the cheek 2,000 years ago was an insult, not an assault. Jesus was telling His followers to let insults slide. Absolute pacifism based on these words of our Lord is a misinterpretation. Jesus also says that we are to"love our neighbors as ourselves" (Matt. 19:19; Luke 10:27, quoting Leviticus 19:18). We are therefore commanded to love ourselves - and that means preserving our lives, since our lives are God's creation.

I'm seeing so many Christians - especially Catholics - currently reject the use of arms for personal and national defense. In fact, Christianity is not a pacifist faith. I'd like to share with you the ancient Christian tradition of legitimate self-defense, exemplified especially in a saint near and dear to my own heart - St. Joan of Arc.

Christianity has a tradition of just warfare. Our predecessors in the faith, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, have written extensively on this subject: when is war permissible – indeed, when is it obligatory? I'm going to talk about the just war tradition here; but since attacks against individuals, such as home invasions, are really wars-in-miniature, these principles will apply as well to personal as to national defense.

St. Thomas Aquinas

In St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica II.2.i Q40, the great theologian examines the concept and principles of just warfare. He writes:

In order for a war to be just,three things are necessary. First, the authorityof the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior...

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (QQ. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): "A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly."

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom.):"True religion looks upon as peaceful those warsthat are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with theo bject of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good."[1]

One of the most fascinating things about these statements is that St. Thomas (in agreement with his predecessor, St. Augustine) states that war can be advanced for the sake of peace. In fact, Aquinas (mis-)quotes Augustine that there is such a thing as a “peaceful war:” a war in which the goal is to establish and maintain peace and to redress injustices.

St. Thomas also advocates individual self-defense, under the guidance of what he called the principle of "double effect." This is where an action may have two results: one intended, the other unintended. In the case of, for example, a mother shooting an intruder in order to preserve her children and herself for their sake, the double effect is as follows: 1.) The intended result is defending the family.2.) The unintended result is the death of the intruder. The intruder's death was not intended - the mother didn't say "I'M GOING TO MAKE THIS GUY DEAD!!" Her only intention was to defend her family, and the intruder's death was a secondary, and unintended, outcome of that action. (Summa Theologica, Q. 64, Art. VII. Available at

St. Joan

I wonder if my patroness, St. Joan of Arc, had ever heard St. Thomas’s words – she certainly could not have read them, being illiterate her entire life with the exception of learning how to write her own name for the purpose of signing dictated letters when she embarked on her military career. When challenged that a true Christian would not desire war but strive to create peace, and that therefore the guidance that she claimed came directly from God to engage the English oppressors in battle could not be of divine origin, she replied, with the great intelligence that has not lost its power to astonish: “Peace cannot be had but at the point of the lance.”[2]

Saint Joan had seen genuine horrors in her brief life before taking up her banner and sword to drive invading English forces fromFrench soil and begin the end of the Hundred Years’ War. In 1428, in Joan’s native village of Domrémy in the eastern province of Lorraine, marauding Burgundian troops – English sympathizers – had devastated the surrounding fields and villages. Joan’s family, with their neighbors, abandoned their homes for the relative safety of the nearby fortification at Neufchâtel; on their return home, Joan surely would have been shocked, saddened, and righteously infuriated at the devastation wrought on the livelihood of her family and neighbors. We can only imagine the devastation she must have felt when her eyes lighted on her beloved village church, the church where she had been baptized, now charred black bythe enemy’s spiteful torching.[3] So it comes as no surprise that Joan herself would understand that this war, which had begun decades before her birth and showed no signs of ending as both French and English conducted a war of kidnap-ransom techniques and political badminton matches, could only be stopped by a strong, decisive campaign against English strongholds along the Loire river valley.

During her trial for heresy, Joan came under scrutiny for her methods, one of them being the strategy of direct assault shehad advocated. This strategy, of its nature, resulted in massive loss of life – but it was equally massive in its success. Joan advanced to victory upon victory as she and her troops traveled along the Loire knocking down one English fortification after another. Joan took plenty of combat injuries herself in the process, as she was the kind of leader who never asked her comrades to do anything she was not herself willing to do and was in the front lines of every battle – with the exception of her final combat, Compiègne, where she remained with her force’s rear guard in a self-sacrificial decision that would bring about her capture.

Joan sensed that war could bring about peace, even without the benefit of an education that would have exposed her to thewritings of theological colossi Augustine and Aquinas. So the question I’ve been asking myself lately, as ISIS rips through not only the Middle East but the restof the world as well, by spreading its ideology through social media: Why isn’t anyone talking about St. Joan?

So many Catholics – too many – are advocatingpacifism as a response tothe atrocities of jihadist groups and the "lonewolves" who take their inspiration from, and swear allegiance to, these groups. Relying on a (mis)interpretation of Matthew 5:39 (cf.Lk.6:29), where Jesus says “Offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (NABRE), Catholics currently advise fasting, political negotiation, and prayer for ISIS members’ conversion of heart as the only acceptable course of action to stop these minions of Satan from sawing people’s heads off and selling toddlers into slavery. Don’t get me wrong – prayer and fasting are absolutely necessary to confront this and all other evils; but ISIS, Boko Haram, and other militant Islamist groups have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want to negotiate. They don’t want conversion of heart. And so where does that leave us?

Ours is not a faith of (or in) absolute pacifism. We should keep in mind that Joan of Arc, along with others who have participated in battles throughout the ages, was recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint.[4] She received direct orders from the King of Heaven to take up arms and lead an army into battle. These revelations are acknowledged as genuine bythe Church. So why is this warrior a saint, and why did God send her these directions, if there are not times when our Lord approves – even commands – the conduct of military action?

Mother Church

One of the things that brought me back to the Catholic Church after a long absence was the Catholic tradition of intellectual pursuit. I'm going to refer now to some passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§2308-2310). Here, I believe, are logical principles that one needn't be aCatholic to agree with:

“All citizens and all governments are obliged o work for the avoidance of war. (2266) However, ‘as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.’ The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: (2243,1897)

—the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

—all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

—there must be serious prospects of success;

—the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Public authorities, in this case, have theright and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. (2239,1909)

Those who are sworn toserve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.”[5]

What do we do when marauding groups (and individuals) that are not defined as legitimate nations decide to start their own war? What do we do when Aquinas’s “tribunal of superiors” is unwilling to provide “redress of wrongs” for the sake of its own political face-saving? The United States president and his administration are convinced that the greatest danger facing our nation is a lack of tolerance.[6] So must we stick to the letter of traditional “just-war theory”, or must we adapt that theory to face the evils of a new world?

Surely, the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, Boko Haram, and others - including individual sympathizers - fit the bill for just warfareto a proverbial T:

the issue of just cause is beyond question;
the goal and motivation of military force taken against ISIS et. al. would be the redress of grave wrongs against humanity and the restoration of peace and security, as well as the freeing of slaves;
combatants would have right intention in advancing good and avoiding evil;
given Islamist militants’ unwillingness to negotiate, it may be accurately stated that diplomatic peace efforts have already been shown to be ineffective, leaving armed confrontation the only truly effective recourse remaining;
it is highly doubtful that any damage inflicted in armed combat against ISIS could possibly bring about greater evils than the evil to be eliminated;
In taking it upon themselves, out of necessity due to the absence of a strong central government authority, to organize military units for their own legitimate self-defense and the defense of their loved ones and fellow countrymen, the counter-ISIS military units that have formed in Iraq and Syria (such as the Nineveh Plain Protection Units), have shown prudential judgment.
Now that we have "lone wolves" popping up in various cities on both coasts, placing our lives and homes in direct jeopardy, we can, I think, appropriately apply the terms of just warfare in the Christian tradition, including the words of St. Thomas on personal self-defense, to our current situation and say that Christians of all stripes are justified in arming themselves for the preservation of their lives and the lives of their families.
In St. Joan’s medieval French, the “point” would refer only to the lance’s tip, the part of the weapon that actually thrusts the enemy through. In English, we have the advantage of turning this into a pun. The “point” refers also to the “idea” or “purpose”: the “point,” the purpose, of the lance is to defend the defenseless, to free the oppressed and enslaved, to ensure the rule of law, to secure a lasting peace and security, to establish a stable society in which justice is allowed to exist. That’s the whole “point” of warfare – the absolutely sole reason why any group or nation should ever take the dreadful step of engaging in force of arms, whether or not an unjust aggressor possesses the trappings of a legitimate government. St. Joan of Arc, who wept over the dead on the field of battle – even the dead among her bitter enemies – knew this better than anyone.
Should individual citizens ensure that we are armed against terrorist attacks against our homes and families? Given the nature of the enemy, we’d be fools not to. This is a new kind of war. Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando all prove that we can never know the mind of the person working next tous, whom we’ve known for years, whom we’d never suspect of being a jihadist, for whom we’ve given a baby shower. We have absolutely no way of knowing what is in people’s heads anymore. The enemy disguises himself – or herself – so successfully that we no longer have any way of knowing who the enemy is, and he will be on our doorstep before we know what’s happening.

So maybe what the Church needs at this moment in its history is a little more St. Joan.


[1]New Advent, 1/14/15).

[2]Quoted in Etienne Robo, “The Holiness of Saint Joan ofArc.” London:Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 1/14/15).

[3] “SaintJoan of Arc – Virgin – 1412-1431. EWTN, 3/25/15).

[4] As were St. George, St. Mercurius, St. Demetrius, and others.

[5] 1/14/15).

[6][accessed 12/10/15];[accessed 12/10/15].

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