Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich

Overview
Julian of Norwich is regarded as one of the most important English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 mystic
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

s. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized
Canonization
Canonization is the act by which a Christian church declares a deceased person to be a saint, upon which declaration the person is included in the canon, or list, of recognized saints. Originally, individuals were recognized as saints without any formal process...

, or officially beatified
Beatification
Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name . Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process...

, by the Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings, including the exact date of her death. It has been determined that she was born in 1342 in Norwich
Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

, Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

, England, and she was last known to be alive in 1416 when she was 73 years old.
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Quotations

This is a Revelation of Love that Jesus Christ, our endless bliss, made in Sixteen Shewings, or Revelations particular. Of the which the First is of His precious crowning with thorns; and therewith was comprehended and specified the Trinity, with the Incarnation, and unity betwixt God and man’s soul; with many fair shewings of endless wisdom and teachings of love: in which all the Shewings that follow be grounded and oned.

First lines

Our Lord God, Allmighty Wisdom, All-Love, right as verily as He hath made everything that is, all-so verily He doeth and worketh all-thing that is done.

We are kept all as securely in Love in woe as in weal, by the Goodness of God.

Our Lord Jesus sheweth in love His blissful heart even cloven in two, rejoicing.

Our Lord is the Ground of our Prayer. Herein were seen two properties: the one is rightful prayer, the other is steadfast trust; which He willeth should both be alike large; and thus our prayer pleaseth Him and He of His Goodness fulfilleth it.

We shall suddenly be taken from all our pain and from all our woe, and of His Goodness we shall come up above, where we shall have our Lord Jesus for our meed and be fulfilled with joy and bliss in Heaven.

These Revelations were shewed to a simple creature unlettered, the year of our Lord 1373, the Thirteenth day of May. Which creature afore desired three gifts of God. The First was mind of His Passion; the Second was bodily sickness in youth, at thirty years of age; the Third was to have of God’s gift three wounds.

Encyclopedia
Julian of Norwich is regarded as one of the most important English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 mystic
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

s. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized
Canonization
Canonization is the act by which a Christian church declares a deceased person to be a saint, upon which declaration the person is included in the canon, or list, of recognized saints. Originally, individuals were recognized as saints without any formal process...

, or officially beatified
Beatification
Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name . Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process...

, by the Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings, including the exact date of her death. It has been determined that she was born in 1342 in Norwich
Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

, Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

, England, and she was last known to be alive in 1416 when she was 73 years old. Her birth name is uncertain; the name "Julian" comes from the Church of St Julian in Norwich
Norwich
Norwich is a city in England. It is the regional administrative centre and county town of Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of the most important places in the kingdom...

, where she was an anchoress
Anchorite
Anchorite denotes someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and—circumstances permitting—Eucharist-focused life...

. In the 11th century, the city in East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

 was the largest in England after London. There is also scholarly debate as to whether Julian was a nun in a nearby convent, or even a laywoman

At the age of 30, suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions of Jesus Christ. They ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373. She was at home during her near death experience, and gives no mention of her personal life up until that point, so some scholars have suggested that Julian was unmarried or possibly a widow who lost her husband and children in the plague epidemics of the time. Julian wrote down a narration of the visions immediately following them, which is known as The Short Text. Twenty to thirty years later she wrote a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions, known as The Long Text. These visions are the source of her major work, called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love
Revelations of Divine Love
The Revelations of Divine Love is a book of Christian mystical devotions written by Julian of Norwich. It is believed to be the first published book in the English language to be written by a woman. At the age of thirty, 13 May 1373, Julian was struck with a serious illness...

(ca. 1393). This is believed to be the first book written in the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 by a woman. Julian became well known throughout England as a spiritual authority: the English mystic (and author of the first known autobiography written in England) Margery Kempe
Margery Kempe
Margery Kempe is known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language. This book chronicles, to some extent, her extensive pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia, as well as her mystical conversations with God...

, mentions going to Norwich to speak with her.

History of Revelations


Revelations is such a celebrated work in Catholicism
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 and Anglicanism
Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

 because of the clarity and depth of Julian's visions of God.

The Short Text of the Revelation of Love was finished by 1413, as noted in its introduction. The Amherst Manuscript of the fifteenth century, now in the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

, named Julian and referred to her as still alive. She is not named in the Tudor Westminster Manuscript. She is named in the colophon
Colophon (publishing)
In publishing, a colophon is either:* A brief description of publication or production notes relevant to the edition, in modern books usually located at the reverse of the title page, but can also sometimes be located at the end of the book, or...

 to the Elizabethan Brigittine Long Text manuscript produced in exile in the Antwerp region, now known as the Paris Manuscript. In the seventeenth century, some manuscripts which were written out and preserved in the Cambrai
Cambrai
Cambrai is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included...

 and Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 houses of the English Benedictine
Benedictine
Benedictine refers to the spirituality and consecrated life in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century for the cenobitic communities he founded in central Italy. The most notable of these is Monte Cassino, the first monastery founded by Benedict...

 nuns in exile cite her. Three of these contain her Long Text in full or in part; the two complete texts being in the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 Sloane Collection. It is believed these nuns had a preserved manuscripts of Revelations' Long Text.

The first printed version of the Revelations was available to the public in 1670, and was edited by the Benedictine
Benedictine
Benedictine refers to the spirituality and consecrated life in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, written by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century for the cenobitic communities he founded in central Italy. The most notable of these is Monte Cassino, the first monastery founded by Benedict...

 Serenus Cressy. It did not become well-known until the twentieth century. Cressy's edition was reprinted in 1843, 1864, and again in 1902. However, it was Grace Warrack's 1901 version of the book with its "sympathetic informed introduction" which introduced most early twentieth-century readers to Julian. After this, Julian's name spread rapidly as she became a topic in many lectures and writings. In 1979 an annotated edition of Julian's work was published, and after this her book was widely sold and discussed, at a time of renewed spiritual searching by many. Julian is now recognized as one of England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

's most important mystics
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

.

Theology


Although Julian lived in a time of turmoil, her theology was optimistic, speaking of God's love in terms of joy and compassion
Compassion
Compassion is a virtue — one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism — foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.There is an aspect of...

 as opposed to law and duty. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 inflicted, as was the common understanding. She believed that God loved and wanted to save everyone. Popular theology, magnified by current events including the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 and a series of peasant revolts, asserted that God was punishing the wicked. In response, Julian suggested a more merciful theology, which some say leaned towards universal salvation
Universal reconciliation
In Christian theology, universal reconciliation is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God.Universal salvation may be related to the perception of a problem of Hell, standing opposed to ideas...

. She believed that behind the reality of hell
Hell
In many religious traditions, a hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations...

 is a greater mystery of God's love. In modern times, she has been classified as a proto-universalist, although she did not claim more than hope that all might be saved.

Although Julian's views were not typical, local authorities did not challenge either her theology or her authority because of her status as an anchoress. The lack of references to her work during her own time may indicate that religious authorities did not count her worthy of refuting, since she did not have much power as a woman. Her
theology was unique in three aspects: her view of sin, her belief that God is all love and no wrath, and her view of Christ as mother. According to Julian, God is both our mother and our father. This idea was also developed by Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century. Feminist theology
Feminist theology
Feminist theology is a movement found in several religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and New Thought, to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective...

 in the 20th and 21st centuries has developed along similar lines. The harmony Julian suggests between the motherly and fatherly qualities of Christ has greatly influenced feminist theology.

Julian believed that sin was necessary in life because it brings one to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in one's life. Julian taught that humans sin because they are ignorant or naive, not because they are evil, which was the reason commonly given by the church for sin during the Middle Ages. Julian believed that in order to learn, we must fail. Also, in order to fail, we must sin. The pain caused by sin is an earthly reminder of the pain of the passion of Christ. Therefore, as people suffer as Christ did, they will become closer to Him by their experiences.

Similarly, Julian saw no wrath in God. She believed wrath existed only in humans but that God forgives us for this. She writes, “For I saw no wrath except on man's side, and He forgives that in us, for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love”. Julian believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God's granting forgiveness for sins because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong. Julian preached that sin should be seen as a part of the learning process of life, not malice that needed forgiveness. Julian writes that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when humans' souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer hinder one's life.

Lastly, Julian's theology was controversial in regard to her belief in God as mother. Some scholars believe this is a metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

, rather than a literal belief or dogma
Dogma
Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers...

. In her fourteenth revelation, Julian writes of the Trinity
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

 in domestic terms, comparing Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving, and merciful. (See Jesus as Mother by Carolyn Walker Bynum) Julian's revelation revealed that God is our mother as much as He is our father. On the other hand, F. Beer asserts that Julian believed that the maternal aspect of Christ was literal, not metaphoric; Christ is not like a mother, He is literally the mother. Julian believed that the mother's role was the truest of all jobs on earth. She emphasized this by explaining how the bond between mother and child is the only earthly relationship that comes close to the relationship one can have with Jesus. She also connects God with motherhood in terms of (1) "the foundation of our nature's creation, (2) "the taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins" and (3) "the motherhood at work", and writes metaphorically of Jesus in connection with conception, nursing, labor, and upbringing. However, she sees him as our brother as well.

The Norwich Benedictine and Cardinal
Cardinal (Catholicism)
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official, usually an ordained bishop, and ecclesiastical prince of the Catholic Church. They are collectively known as the College of Cardinals, which as a body elects a new pope. The duties of the cardinals include attending the meetings of the College and...

 of England Adam Easton
Adam Easton
Adam Easton was an English Cardinal, born at Easton in Norfolk.He joined the Benedictines at Norwich moving on to the Benedictine Gloucester College, Oxford where he became one of the most outstanding students of his generation, being especially proficient in Hebrew...

 O.S.B. may have been Julian of Norwich's spiritual director and editor of her Long Text Showing of Love. Birgitta of Sweden's spiritual director, Alfonso Pecha, the Bishop Hermit of Jaen, edited her Revelationes. Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Siena
Saint Catherine of Siena, T.O.S.D, was a tertiary of the Dominican Order, and a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She also worked to bring the papacy of Gregory XI back to Rome from its displacement in France, and to establish peace among the Italian city-states. She was proclaimed a Doctor...

's confessor and executor was William Flete
William Flete
William Flete was a 14th century Augustinian hermit friar, a contemporary and great friend of St. Catherine of Siena.-Biography:The exact place and date of his birth are unknown and those of his death are disputed...

, the Cambridge-educated Augustinian Hermit of Lecceto. Easton's Defense of St Birgitta echoes Alfonso of Jaen's Epistola Solitarii, and William Flete's Remedies against Temptations, all of which are referred to in Julian's text.

The saying, "…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well", which Julian claimed to be said to her by God Himself, reflects her theology. It is one of the most famous lines in Catholic theological writing, and one of the best-known phrases of the literature of her era.

The 20th-century poet T.S. Eliot incorporated this phrase, as well as Julian's "the ground of our beseeching" from the 14th Revelation, in his "Little Gidding
Little Gidding (poem)
"Little Gidding" is the fourth and final poem of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, a series of poems that discuss time, perspective, humanity, and salvation. It was first published in September 1942 after being delayed for over a year because of the air-raids on Great Britain during World War II and...

", the fourth of his Four Quartets poems:

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate

We have taken from the defeated

What they had to leave us—a symbol:

A symbol perfected in death.

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

By the purification of the motive

In the ground of our beseeching.

Julian is honored with a feast day on May 13 in the Roman Catholic tradition and on May 8 in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions.

Works

  • Showing of Love, ed. Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P., and Julia Bolton Holloway. Florence: SISMEL, 2001.
  • Showing of Love, Trans. Julia Bolton Holloway. Collegeville: Liturgical Press; London; Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003.
  • The Writings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. Brepols, 2006.
  • Revelations of Divine Love
    Revelations of Divine Love
    The Revelations of Divine Love is a book of Christian mystical devotions written by Julian of Norwich. It is believed to be the first published book in the English language to be written by a woman. At the age of thirty, 13 May 1373, Julian was struck with a serious illness...


See also


  • Sydney Carter
    Sydney Carter
    Sydney Bertram Carter was an English poet, songwriter, folk musician, born in Camden Town, London. He is best known for the song "Lord of the Dance" , set to the tune of the American Shaker song "Simple Gifts", and the song "The Crow on the Cradle", adapted from an old folk song...

    , author of a 1981 song about Julian
  • Visions of Jesus and Mary
    Visions of Jesus and Mary
    Since the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary until today, a number of people have claimed to have had visions of Christ and personal conversations with him. Some people make similar claims regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary. Discussions about the authenticity of these visions have often invited...


Further reading

  • Love's Trinity: A Companion to Julian of Norwich. Long text translated by John-Julian, OJN, with a commentary by Frederick S. Roden, AOJN. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009
  • McAvoy, L. H., ed., A Companion to Julian of Norwich, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2008.
  • Petroff, E. Body and soul : essays on medieval women and mysticism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994; ISBN 0-19-508454-3 ISBN 0-19-508455-1 (pbk.)
  • Watt, D., Medieval Women's Writing. Cambridge, Polity, 2007
  • Witalisz, Wladislaw. "Authority and the Female Voice in Middle English Mystical Writings: Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe." In: Homo Narrans: Texts and Essays in Honor of Jerome Klinkowitz. Ed. Zygmunt Mazur and Richard Utz (Cracow: Jagiellonian University Press, 2004), pgs. 207–18
  • Dutton, Elisabeth. A Revelation of Love (Introduced, Edited & Modernized). Rowman & Littlefield, 2008

Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography

External links