The Passion Of Joan

I am not afraid; I was born to do this.

~Joan of Arc

On February 21st in 1431, a young woman stood trial before a handpicked English court on charges of heresy. On this day, May 30th, she was led to the Place du Vieux-Marche and burned at the stake.

Few stories captivate the heart like that of Joan of Arc.  The incredulity of a young teenage maiden, leading the armies of France at the behest of God is epic by definition.  She has been portrayed in every art-form, but today we examine what is perhaps the ultimate example — a silent movie by Carl Theodore Dreyer.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

One thing that sets this film apart from its contemporaries is the visual power of its design. Filmed on simple but evocative sets and consisting of carefully composed images, it is masterful in its creation of mood. Never before had a film so effectively exploited the emotional power of the extreme close-up. Dreyer pushed the camera deep into the personal space of his actors as he drew a contrast between the persecuted young woman and her angry, mocking persecutors. Because Dreyer did not allow the actors to wear makeup, we see every pore and imperfection in each face as the camera draws close enough to reveal the interior struggles of the characters, penetrating to the very depths of their souls.

We perceive the intense physical, psychological, and spiritual pain etched into Joan’s face as actress Renee Falconetti delivers one of the greatest performances in the history of film. Her large, round, unblinking eyes fill with tears and her lips tremble. Though the only words are those flashed on the screen on the title cards, we clearly understand what she is experiencing: fear, shame, indignation, and finally resignation. Contemporary accounts tell us that when Falconetti wept for the camera the eyes of the entire crew were filled with tears. Interestingly, this unforgettable feat of acting was both her first and last appearance in a film. But it was a performance that exhibited the possibilities of what film acting could be.

So inspiring and potent is this film that it was banned in occupied Europe during World War II. Nazi authorities feared the impact that this story of French heroism might have in inspiring the populace. Even today, The Passion of Joan of Arc is unequalled as a tale of heroic faith in the face of overwhelming odds.

What are you willing to die for?


A90A4229-C43A-41FA-B383-4B94A8E49E93L E A R N  M O R E

Saint Joan of Arc

(1412–31), called ‘La Pucelle’, the ‘Maid of Orléans’. The setting of her life was the Hundred Years War and the civil war within France between the great houses of Orléans and Burgundy. The daughter of a peasant, she was born and brought up in Domrémy, Champagne. A pious child, she experienced in 1425 the first of her supernatural visitations, which she described as a voice accompanied by a blaze of light.

Gradually her ‘voices’ increased and she was able to identify St *Michael, St *Catherine, St *Margaret, and others, who revealed to Joan her mission to save France. She was unsuccessful in a first attempt in 1428 to persuade the French commander at Vaucouleurs of the genuineness of her visions; but after a second attempt in 1429 she was sent to the as yet uncon-secrated King (Charles VII), who was convinced when she apparently recognized him in disguise. Joan then gave the King a secret sign, which she never revealed. After close examination of her case by a body of Charles’s theologians at Poitiers, it was decided to allow her to lead an expedition to Orléans. Clad in a suit of white armour and bearing a banner with a symbol of the Trinity and the words ‘Jesus, Maria’, she inspired Charles’s troops and the city was relieved. After a short campaign in the Loire valley, she persuaded Charles VII to proceed to *Reims for his coronation, which took place on 17 July 1429, with Joan at his side. The relief of Orléans and the crowning of the Dauphin were notable victories for the Valois cause. After six months of military inactivity fresh campaigns took place in the spring of 1430 in which she was less successful. She was taken prisoner by Burgundian troops near Compiègne on 24 May 1430, sold to the English by the Duke of Burgundy on 21 Nov. 1430, and appeared before the court of the Bp. of Beauvais (Pierre Cauchon) at Rouen on 21 Feb. 1431 on charges of witchcraft and heresy. After further examination in her cell, a summary of her statements was compiled. The judges of the *inquisitorial court declared her visions ‘false and diabolical’ and the summary was also denounced by the University of *Paris. After some form of recantation on 23 May, she resumed male attire, which she had agreed to abandon, and on 29 May was condemned as a relapsed heretic and on 30 May burnt at Rouen. Her death did not bring about the end of the Hundred Years War, and her personal heroism, rather than her political and military achievement, has been a source of inspiration to later generations. A revision of her trial by an appellate court appointed by Pope *Callistus III in 1456 declared her to have been unjustly condemned. Canonized on 9 May 1920 by *Benedict XV as a holy maiden, she is the second patron of France. Feast day, 30 May.

Carl Theodore DreyeR

(3 February 1889 – 20 March 1968), commonly known as Carl Th. Dreyer, was a Danish film director. He is regarded by many critics and filmmakers as one of the greatest directors in cinema. His best known films include The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), and Gertrud (1964).

Dreyer was born illegitimate in Copenhagen, Denmark. His birth mother was an unmarried Scanian maid named Josefine Bernhardine Nilsson, and he was put up for adoption by his birth father, Jens Christian Torp, a married Danish farmer living in Sweden who was his mother’s employer. He spent the first two years of his life in orphanages until his adoption by a typographer named Carl Theodor Dreyer, and his wife, Inger Marie (née Olsen). He was named after his adoptive father, but in accordance with Danish practice, there is no “Senior” or “Junior” added to their names to distinguish them from each other.

His adoptive parents were emotionally distant and his childhood was largely unhappy. He later recalled that his parents “constantly let me know that I should be grateful for the food I was given and that I strictly had no claim on anything, since my mother got out of paying by lying down to die.” But he was a highly intelligent school student, who left home and formal education at the age of sixteen. He dissociated himself from his adoptive family, but their teachings were to influence the themes of many of his films.

Dreyer was ideologically conservative. According to David Bordwell, “As a youth he belonged to the Social Liberal party, a conservative group radical only in their opposition to military expenditures…’Even when I was with Ekstrabladet,’ Dreyer recalled, ‘I was conservative…I don’t believe in revolutions. They have, as a rule, the tedious quality of pulling development back. I believe more in evolution, in the small advances.'”

Dreyer died of pneumonia in Copenhagen at age 79. The documentary Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier contains reminiscences from those who knew him.

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Sources & Resources

Carl Th. Dreyer: My Metier. DVD. Directed by Torben Skjødt Jensen. New York: Criterion Collection, 2001.

Dreyer, Carl Theodore. Jesus: A Great Filmmaker’s Final Masterwork. New York: Dell, 1971.

Falconetti, Renee. The Passion of Joan of Arc. DVD. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. New York: Criterion Collection, 1999.

Garrett, Daniel. “The Evidence of Things Not Seen.” Cinetext. March 28, 2006.

Hamaker, Christian. “The Spiritual Cinema of Carl Theodor Dreyer.” Crosswalk. December 5, 2001.

J. Quicherat (ed.), Procès de condamnation et de réhabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc (Société de l’histoire de France; 5 vols., 1841–9); P. Champion (ed.), Procès de condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc (2 vols., 1920–1), with introd., Fr. tr., and notes; P. Tisset and Y. Lanhers (eds.), Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (Société de l’histoire de France; 3 vols., 1960–71); P. Duparc (ed.), Procès en nullité de la condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc (ibid. 5 vols., 1977–88). Eng. tr. of docs. of the trial by W. P. Barrett, The Trial of Joan of Arc (1931). P. Doncœur, SJ, and Y. Lanhers (eds.), Documents et recherches relatives à Jeanne la Pucelle (5 vols., 1952–61). Studies incl. those by A. Lang (London, 1908), G. Hanotaux (Paris, 1911), A. Fabre (ibid., 1912), V. Sackville-West (London, 1936), J. Calmette (Paris, 1946), R. Pernoud (ibid., 1954; Eng. tr., 1961), and other works of this author, [J.] E. [M.] Lucie-Smith (London, 1976), M. [S.] Warner (ibid., 1981), A. L. Barstow (Studies in Women and Religion, 17; Lewiston, NY, etc. [1986]), and R. Pernoud and M.-V. Clin (Paris, 1986; rev. Eng. tr., 2000).

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 883–884.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life