Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness

Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness

by Eric Metaxas

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Overview

In this highly anticipated follow-up to the enormously successful Seven Men, New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas gives us seven captivating portraits of some of history’s greatest women, each of whom changed the course of history by following God’s call upon their livesnow in paperback.

Each of the world-changing figures who stride across these pages—Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Sister Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa—is an exemplary model of true womanhood. Teenaged Joan of Arc followed God’s call and liberated her country, dying a heroic martyr’s death. Susanna Wesley had nineteen children and gave the world its most significant evangelist and its greatest hymn writer, her sons John and Charles. Corrie ten Boom, arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, survived the horrors of a concentration camp to astonish the world by forgiving her tormentors. And Rosa Parks’s deep sense of justice and unshakable dignity and faith helped launch the twentieth-century’s greatest social movement.

Writing in his trademark conversational and engaging style, Eric Metaxas reveals how the extraordinary women profiled here achieved their greatness, inspiring readers to lives guided by a call beyond themselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718021832
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 529,227
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Eric Metaxas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, If You Can Keep It, Miracles, Seven Women, Seven Men, andAmazing Grace. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, and Metaxas has appeared as a cultural commentator on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. He is the host of The Eric Metaxas Radio Show, a daily nationally syndicated show aired in 120 U.S. cities and on TBN. Metaxas is also the founder of Socrates in the City, the acclaimed series of conversations on “life, God, and other small topics,” featuring Malcolm Gladwell, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Baroness Caroline Cox, and Dick Cavett, among many others. He is a senior fellow and lecturer at large at the King’s College in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

Seven Women

And the Secret of Their Greatness


By ERIC METAXAS

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2015 Eric Metaxas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-2186-3



CHAPTER 1

Joan of Arc

1412–1431


Even to those who know it well, the story of the woman called Joan of Arc is an enigma. I knew little about her until I saw the landmark silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc some years ago. But after seeing the film and reading more about her, I quickly understood that her character and her exploits were so extraordinary as to be almost beyond belief. They are certainly without equal. But what are we to make of this woman? Those who would make her out to be an early feminist, or a religious fanatic, or a lunatic subject to strange delusions may be forgiven their confusion, because — although she was none of those things — her life stands well apart from all others. She was so pure and so brave and so singular in her faith and obedience to God that, perhaps like Francis of Assisi or even like Jesus himself, she challenges many of our deepest assumptions about what a life can be.

To get a sense of who Joan of Arc was, imagine a teenage farm girl entering the halls of the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and forcefully demanding to see the secretary of defense, saying that God had given her a plan to end all terrorism aimed at the United States and her allies, and all she required was an army of soldiers with weapons. Most people would sensibly assume such a young woman was mentally ill or perhaps simply extremely naive. The last thing we would imagine is that she was actually sent by God, and that everything she said was true and would come to pass precisely as she said it would. But this was approximately the scenario that faced French military and political figures in 1429, when a humble, uneducated seventeen-year-old girl from a small village appeared before them.

In order to appreciate what this girl was proposing, we have to understand the situation in France at that time. The war that came to be known as the Hundred Years War had been raging on and off since 1337. The English, having taken over vast tracts of France by 1429, were winning, and they now hoped to literally crown their efforts by putting an English king on the French throne. At the time, this practically seemed a fait accompli. But Joan innocently and forcefully explained to French officials that she had been sent by God to drive the English out of the great city of Orléans. What's more, she claimed that she would ensure that the proper Frenchman — Charles VII — was crowned king of France! Taking her seriously was out of the question; and yet somehow, in the end, the befuddled and desperate leaders of France did just that. They had run out of sensible options and knew they had nothing to lose. But far less bizarre than their taking her seriously is the fact that she would actually succeed in everything she said she would do. It is preposterous to consider, and yet history records that it happened.

* * *

Jeanne d'Arc — or Joan of Arc, as she is called in English — was called Jeanette by her parents. She was born in 1412 into a peasant family in Domrémy, a village in northeastern France. With her parents and four siblings, she lived in a simple stone house next to the village church.

Like most peasant girls of that time, when she was old enough Joan helped her father, Jacques, in the fields. She also took care of the family's animals, weeded the vegetable garden, and helped her mother in the house. She is said to have especially enjoyed weaving and spinning. Joan was never taught to read or write, but she had a passionate interest in the church and in God. At an early age, she prayed frequently and fervently. Long after her death her childhood companions remembered how they had teased their friend for her piety.

Life was precarious for the citizens of France. The Hundred Years War had been the agonizing backdrop of their lives for as long as anyone could remember. The English firmly believed that France should be part of England, and because of much intermarrying between the royal families of England and France, the line of succession was unclear.

The confusion started around 1392, when the French began hearing rumors that the man they considered the rightful king of France, Charles VI, was suffering bouts of madness. His uncle, Philip the Good (so-called), seized the reins of the kingdom. He and Charles's unpleasant wife, Queen Isabeau, were attempting to end the war in a way that was handsomely profitable to themselves and to England, but decidedly detrimental to France.

Philip was also the powerful Duke of Burgundy, whose lands — constituting a considerable portion of France — were under English control. He wanted France to give in to English demands in order to stop the endless fighting. Queen Isabeau went along with this plan and wheedled her mentally compromised husband into signing the Treaty of Troyes. This treaty gave Charles VI the right to rule France during his lifetime, but upon his death, Henry V of England would rule both countries. To make the provisions of the treaty more palatable, Henry V married Princess Catherine, the daughter of Charles VI and Queen Isabeau, so any children they had would be half-French.

It all might have worked, but for one person: Princess Catherine's younger brother, the crown prince Charles — or the Dauphin, as the French called him — who was intent on remaining in the line of succession. In 1422, to complicate things further, King Charles VI died. But the Duke of Burgundy and Queen Isabeau's plans to have England's Henry V succeed him were no longer possible because Henry himself had died two months earlier. Who then would become the next king of France? That was the question that burned in the hearts of every Frenchman — and that burned in the heart of the inhabitants of Joan's village, Domrémy.

There were two principal contenders: the Dauphin (Charles VII) and Henry VI, the infant son of Henry V and Catherine. The English and their allies, the Burgundians, who controlled northern France, predictably supported Henry VI, while those in southern France supported the Dauphin. So the war raged on, and now the French were fighting not only the English but each other as well.

Most of the Hundred Years War had been fought on French soil, and the French had not won any significant victories in decades. By 1429, when Joan was seventeen, the English had managed to conquer a good deal of France's northern territory, and sections of southwestern France were under the control of the Anglo-allied Burgundians. The French populace had suffered greatly during the bubonic plague pandemic (the Black Death) that first spread from China to Europe in the 1340s. French merchants were cut off from foreign markets, and the French economy was in shambles.

Joan and her fellow Domrémy villagers strongly supported the Dauphin and considered the English a foul enemy, in part because it was not unusual for English soldiers to march into French villages, killing civilians, burning homes, and stealing crops and cattle. But what could they do to ensure that the Dauphin would become king? It was not something that anyone would have thought probable. But around the time Joan was twelve, something began happening that would catapult her into the center of these events and make her the principal player in leading France to victory and making the Dauphin her rightful king: she began hearing voices and seeing visions. Joan said that messengers from heaven were visiting her in her father's garden. She believed them to be the archangel Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. At first they didn't say anything about France or her role in saving France from the English; they just encouraged Joan in her already deep faith.

Joan looked forward to and loved her interactions with these heavenly visitors, but over time their words to her became quite specific and serious. They informed her that she had a great mission to perform. She was to rescue France from the English and take the Dauphin to the city of Reims to be crowned. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, Joan was amazed at what these heavenly visitors told her. Who was she to lead an army? She hardly knew how to mount a horse, much less how to lead soldiers into battle. But as she was a girl of deep faith, she did not doubt that these messengers were indeed from heaven and must be taken seriously.

Joan was not the only person in the family to be troubled by things difficult to understand. One night her father dreamed that his pretty, adolescent daughter would run away with soldiers. Misunderstanding its meaning, he dramatically instructed his sons to drown their sister if she ever did such a thing. He also preemptively began to plan for Joan's marriage to a local swain. Unbeknownst to her father, however, Joan had made a private vow to God never to marry. So when the time came, she refused to go through with the ceremony, despite the fact that her so-called fiancé went to court over the broken arrangement.

When Joan was about sixteen, her "voices," as she called them, told her that her time had come at last. They gave her specific instructions to travel to the town of Vaucouleurs. Once there, she was to ask Governor Robert de Baudricourt to provide her with an armed escort to the castle of Chinon, where the Dauphin and his court lived. Knowing how her parents would react, Joan told them she wished to visit her married cousin, Jeanne Laxart, who lived a short distance from Vaucouleurs. They allowed their daughter to go.

She did visit her cousin but then talked her cousin's husband, Durand, into taking her to see Baudricourt. The governor patiently listened to Joan describe how God had instructed her to lead an army in driving the English out of France and then to oversee the crowning of the Dauphin as king of France. But what was the esteemed and dignified governor to make of this simple girl's outrageous story? He did what anyone else likely would have done: he told Durand to send her home immediately but not before boxing her ears for all the trouble she was causing.

The frustrated Joan returned home, but no sooner had she arrived than the horrors of the war finally came to her own doorstep. Burgundian soldiers swept into Domrémy and cruelly laid waste to the entire village by fire. She and her fellow villagers fled to a nearby fortified town. Then, a few months later came worse news: the English had surrounded the great French city of Orléans and were laying siege to it. Joan's voices gave her an urgent new message: God intended for her to rescue Orléans.

Joan, now seventeen, returned to Vaucouleurs and spent the next six weeks attempting to see the governor again. While waiting, she spoke openly to all who would listen about her God-given mission. The Vaucouleurs townspeople remembered a famous prophecy that France would one day be lost by a woman and then restored by a maiden — a virgin. They came to assume that the woman who would lose France was the despicable Queen Isabeau and that the maiden who would restore their country might well be Joan. As for the governor, he was less encouraging and again dismissed her and her preposterous ideas.

But Joan did not take his rebuffs to heart. "I must be at the King's side," she insisted. "There will be no help if not from me. Although I would rather have remained spinning at my mother's side ... yet must I go and must I do this thing, for my Lord wills that I do so."

There's little doubt that Joan really did wish to remain at home with her family, doing the things she had grown up doing. But she knew that God himself was calling her to the task at hand. She would not disobey, and she would not relent until she had done what God called her to do.

Baudricourt agreed to see the persistent farm girl again, but this time, Joan told him something remarkable, something she had no way of knowing. In Mark Twain's fictional account of Joan's life, which he researched and wrote for twenty years, the outspoken religious skeptic presented this account of Joan's meeting with Baudricourt:

"In God's name, Robert de Baudricourt, you are too slow about sending me, and have caused damage thereby, for this day the Dauphin's cause has lost a battle near Orléans, and will suffer yet greater injury if you do not send me to him soon."

The governor was perplexed by this speech, and said:

"To-day, child, to-day? How can you know what has happened in that region to-day? It would take eight or ten days for the word to come."

"My voices have brought the word to me, and it is true. A battle was lost to-day, and you are in fault to delay me so."

The governor walked the floor a while, talking within himself, but letting a great oath fall outside now and then; and finally he said:

"Harkye! go in peace, and wait. If it shall turn out as you say, I will give you the letter and send you to the King, and not otherwise."

Joan said with fervor: "Now God be thanked, these waiting days are almost done."


Word arrived that the French had indeed lost the battle. The governor was flabbergasted and finally convinced.

Orléans, located along the Loire River, was the final obstacle to an assault on the rest of France and therefore of tremendous strategic importance. Given the unlikelihood that Orléans could long endure a lengthy siege, rescue of the city was essential if France were ever to rule itself again. But to see the Dauphin, Joan would have to travel to Chinon, where the royal court had relocated from Bourges.

Joan began working out practical details of her 350-mile journey. It was for her own safety when traveling across enemy territory that she decided to cut her hair short and dress as a man. The citizens of Vaucouleurs clearly saw the sense in this and provided her with masculine clothing — a tunic, hose, boots, and spurs. They also provided her with a horse, and Baudricourt himself gave Joan her first sword.

On a cold February night, Joan — who now simply called herself "La Pucelle," which translates to "the Maid," or "the Maiden," meaning a young woman or a virgin — swung herself atop her horse and began the long journey to Chinon, accompanied by six male escorts. They had agreed to travel by night and sleep by day in order to avoid enemy soldiers, whom they might otherwise encounter, as they rode through hostile Burgundian lands.

Eleven days later Joan and her escorts stopped in Fierbois, a three-hour ride from Chinon. There Joan dictated a letter to the Dauphin, asking to meet with him. The Dauphin agreed, and soon the little band clattered onto the cobblestoned streets of Chinon. Joan was met by many curious stares, for stories of the virgin who claimed she would save France had preceded her.

Like Robert de Baudricourt, the Dauphin had prepared a test for Joan. She had hinted in a letter that, although she had never met him, she would be able to identify the Dauphin. So Louis de Bourbon, Count of Vendôme, led Joan through a stone passage opening into the castle's grand hall, where she found herself in the company of hundreds of gorgeously dressed and bejeweled guests. After looking around for a moment, Joan walked straight toward the Dauphin and knelt before him. "God give you life, gentle king," she said.

"I am not the king," the Dauphin replied. "There is the king!" he said, pointing to another man.

Joan responded, "In God's name, Sir, you are the King, and no other! Give me the troops wherewith to succour Orléans and to guard you to Rheims to be anointed and crowned. For it is the will of God."

Still not quite convinced, the Dauphin took Joan aside to speak privately. In an effort to prove she had been sent by God, she told him about something he had done in private: he had prayed that God would reveal to him whether or not he was actually the son of Charles VI. His mother, hardly a virtuous woman, had claimed he was not. If he were not the son of the late king, the Dauphin prayed that God would take away his desire to rule.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Seven Women by ERIC METAXAS. Copyright © 2015 Eric Metaxas. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xiii

1 Joan of Arc 1

2 Susanna Wesley 31

3 Hannah More 59

4 Saint Maria of Paris 85

5 Corrie ten Boom 111

6 Rosa Parks 139

7 Mother Teresa 165

Acknowledgments 191

Notes 193

Index 207

About the Author 215

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