Friday, March 12, 2010

Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love

"All things shall be well
You shall see for yourself that
All manner of things shall be well.

"You will not be overcome.
God did not say you will not be troubled,
You will not be belaboured,
You will not be disquieted;
But God said, You will not be overcome.

"I looked at the hazel nut with the eye of my understanding and thought, what can this be? I was amazed that it could last for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding. It lasts and always will, because God loves it, and thus everything has being through the love of God.

--Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated and introduced by Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. and James Walsh, S.J. (Paulist Press, 1977) p 231

Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-c. 1413), the great English mystic who gave to the English language the word "Enjoy"

"Julian of Norwich (c. November 8, 1342 – c. 1416) is thought of as one of the greatest English mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized, or officially beatified, by the Catholic Church probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings, including the date of her death. She was last known to be alive in 1416 when she was 73 years old.[1] Her birth name is uncertain; the name "Julian" comes from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she was an anchoress (a type of hermit who lives in a cell attached to the church and engages in contemplative prayer). In the 11th century, the city in southeast England was the second largest after London.

"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 May 13, 1373. Julian wrote down a narration of the visions immediately following them, which is known as The Short Text. Twenty 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 (circa 1393). This is believed to be the first book written in the English language 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, mentions going to Norwich to speak with her."---Wikipedia

St. Julian's, home and church of Julian of Norwich
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: "The original form of her name appears to have been Julian. She was probably a Benedictine nun, living as a recluse in an anchorage of which traces still remain in the east part of the churchyard of St. Julian in Norwich, which belonged to Carrow Priory...Whatever be their precise date, these "Revelations", or "Shewings", are the most perfect fruit of later medieval mysticism in England. Juliana described herself as a "simple creature unlettered" when she received them; but, in the years that intervened between the vision and the composition of the book, she evidently acquired some knowledge of theological phraseology, and her work appears to show the influence of Walter Hilton, as well as neo-Platonic analogies, the latter probably derived from the anonymous author of the "Divine Cloud of Unknowing". There is one passage, concerning the place in Christ's side for all mankind that shall be saved, which argues an acquaintance with the letters of St. Catherine of Siena. The psychological insight with which she describes her condition, distinguishing the manner of her vision and recognizing when she has to deal with a mere delusion, is worthy of St. Teresa. When seemingly at the point of death, in the bodily sickness for which she had prayed in order to renew her spiritual life, she passes into a trance while contemplating the crucifix, and has the vision of Christ's suffering "in which all the shewings that follow be grounded and joined"

"Bliss of Love"

"The book is the record of twenty years' meditation upon that one experience; for, "when the shewing, which is given for a time, is passed and hid, then faith keepeth it by grace of the Holy Ghost unto our lives end". More than fifteen years later, she received "in ghostly understanding" the explanation, the key to all religious experience:

"What? wouldest thou wit [i.e., know] thy Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well: Love was His meaning. Who sheweth it thee? Love. Wherefore sheweth He it thee? For love. Hold thee therein, thou shalt know more in the same. But thou shalt never know therein other without end."

"With this illumination, the whole mystery of Redemption and the purpose of human life became clear to her, and even the possibility of sin and the existence of evil does not trouble her, but is made "a bliss by love". This is the great deed, transcending our reason, that the Blessed Trinity shall do at the last day: "Thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well."

"Like St. Catherine, Juliana has little of the dualism of body and soul that is frequent in the mystics. God is in our "sensuality" as well as in our "substance", and the body and the soul render mutual aid: "Either of them take help of other till we be brought up into stature, as kind worketh." Knowledge of God and knowledge of self are inseparable: we may never come to the knowing of one without the knowing of the other. "God is more nearer to us than our own soul", and "in falling and rising we are ever preciously kept in one love."

"She lays special stress upon the "homeliness" and "courtesy" of God's dealings with us, "for love maketh might and wisdom full meek to us." With this we must correspond by a happy confidence; "failing of comfort" is the "most mischief" into which the soul can fall. In the Blessed Virgin the Lord would have all mankind see how they are loved. Throughout her revelation Juliana submits herself to the authority of the Church: "I yield me to our mother Holy Church, as a simple child oweth."

Wikipedia again: "Although Julian lived in a time of turmoil, her theology was optimistic, speaking of God's love in terms of joy and compassion as opposed to law and duty. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God 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 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. She believed that behind the reality of hell 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".


Tim Perrine of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library writes, Written in the 14th century, Revelations of Divine Love is a powerful work of English mysticism. After falling deathly ill, St. Julian received sixteen different mystical revelations; in this splendid work, she describes and reflects upon those revelations. Having received these revelations at a time of great pain for herself, as she lay ill, she focuses on the mysteries of Christianity, in particular, the vast love of God and the existence of evil. She describes the "motherhood" of God, depicting how God suffers with his creation as it experiences great and multifaceted evil. Nevertheless, she also emphasizes the need to follow God in order to receive the beautiful vision of God in the afterlife. For her deep and penetrating descriptions of God and love, countless readers have found St. Julian's work uplifting, encouraging, and challenging. Revelations of Divine Love astounds readers, engulfing them in a powerful revelation of God's love.

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