1.15 JULIAN OF NORWICH
(ca. 1342-ca. 1416)
Julian of Norwich was an English mystic and anchoress who had a series of visions during a serious illness, which were recorded as the Revelations of Divine Love. Anchorites took a vow to withdraw from the world, usually by staying in a small room—or “cell”—that was attached to a church. Anchorites could be monks or nuns, or they could be laypeople who had decided to devote the rest of their lives to religious contemplation. Julian may have taken her name from St. Julian’s Church, in Norwich, to which her cell was attached. Despite the isolation, anchorites were expected to act as advisors to those seeking religious guidance, since their activities gave them a certain status.
Image 1.13 | Statue of Julian of Norwich
Artist | David Holgate
Source | Wikimedia Commons
License | Public Domain
Margery Kempe, who wrote a book on her own religious visions, records visiting Julian to ask her advice. Julian’s sixteen visions occurred when she was, by her own account, thirty-and-a-half years old, in May of 1373, during a near-death experience. The shorter version, or Short Text, was probably written soon afterwards, and the Long Text appears to have been written about twenty years later, after she had contemplated the visions in depth. The revelations focus not only on Christ’s suffering, which was a common approach in her time, but also on God’s love in an optimistic way. According to the visions, sin is “behovely”—inevitable, necessary, or appropriate—since it leads to self-knowledge, which in turn leads the sinner to God. Perhaps the most famous section of the Revelations is when God is revealed as the mother, as well as the father, of humanity, with an emphasis on the actions that a mother takes to influ- ence her child’s behavior. Julian’s text influenced later authors, such as T.S. Eliot, who quotes both the description of sin and her most famous lines in his poem “Little Gidding:” “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Eliot).
Eliot, T.S. “Little Gidding.” Four Quartets. New York, Harcourt, 1943.
1.15.2 Selections from Revelations of Divine Love
(also called A Revelation of Love—in Sixteen Showings)
Published in 1395
Chapter I “A Revelation of Love—in Sixteen Shewings”
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.
The Second is the changing of colour of His fair face in token of His dearworthy Passion.
The Third is that 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.
The Fourth is the scourging of His tender body, with plenteous shedding of His blood.
The Fifth is that the Fiend is overcome by the precious Passion of Christ.
The Sixth is the worshipful thanking by our Lord God in which He rewardeth His blessed servants in Heaven.
The Seventh is [our] often feeling of weal and woe; (the feeling of weal is gracious touching and lightening, with true assuredness of endless joy; the feeling of woe is temptation by heaviness and irksomeness of our fleshly living;) with ghostly understanding that we are kept all as securely in Love in woe as in weal, by the Goodness of God.
Image 1.14 | Julian of Norwich
Artist | Evelyn Simak
Source | Wikimedia Commons
License | CC BY-SA 2.0
The Eighth is of the last pains of Christ, and His cruel dying.
The Ninth is of the pleasing which is in the Blissful Trinity by the hard Passion of Christ and His rueful dying: in which joy and pleasing He willeth that we be solaced and mirthed 4 with Him, till when we come to the fulness in Heaven.
The Tenth is, our Lord Jesus sheweth in love His blissful heart even cloven in two, rejoicing.
The Eleventh is an high ghostly Shewing of His dearworthy Mother.
The Twelfth is that our Lord is most worthy Being.
The Thirteenth is that our Lord God willeth we have great regard to all the deeds that He hath done: in the great nobleness of the making of all things; and the excellency of man’s making, which is above all his works; and the precious Amends that He hath made for man’s sin, turning all our blame into endless worship. In which Shewing also our Lord saith: Behold and see! For by the same Might, Wisdom, and Goodness that I have done all this, by the same Might, Wisdom, and Goodness I shall make well all that is not well; and thou shalt see it. And in this He willeth that we keep us in the Faith and truth of Holy Church, not desiring to see into His secret things now, save as it belongeth to us in this life.
The Fourteenth is that 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.
The Fifteenth is that 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.
The Sixteenth is that the Blissful Trinity, our Maker, in Christ Jesus our Saviour, endlessly dwelleth in our soul, worshipfully ruling and protecting all things, us mightily and wisely saving and keeping, for love; and we shall not be overcome of our Enemy.
Chapter II “A simple creature unlettered.—Which creature afore desired three gifts of God”
These Revelations were shewed to a simple creature unlettered, the year of our Lord 1373, the Thirteenth day of May. Which creature [had] afore desired three gifts of God. The First was mind of His Passion; the Second was bodily sickness in youth, at thirty years 3 of age; the Third was to have of God’s gift three wounds. As to the First, methought I had some feeling in the Passion of Christ, but yet
I desired more by the grace of God. Methought I would have been that time with Mary Magdalene, and with other that were Christ’s lovers, and therefore I desired a bodily sight wherein I might have more knowledge of the bodily pains of our Saviour and of the compassion of our Lady and of all His true lovers that saw, that time, His pains. For I would be one of them and suffer with Him. Other sight nor shewing of God desired I never none, till the soul were disparted from the body. The cause of this petition was that after the shewing I should have the more true mind in the Passion of Christ.
The Second came to my mind with contrition; [I] freely desiring that sickness [to be] so hard as to death, that I might in that sickness receive all my rites of Holy Church, myself thinking that I should die, and that all creatures might suppose the same that saw me: for I would have no manner of comfort of earthly life. In this sickness I desired to have all manner of pains bodily and ghostly that I should have if I should die, (with all the dreads and tempests of the fiends) except the outpassing of the soul. And this I meant for [that] I would be purged, by the mercy of God, and afterward live more to the worship of God because of that sickness. And that for the more furthering in my death: for I desired to be soon with my God.
These two desires of the Passion and the sickness I desired with a condition, saying thus: Lord, Thou knowest what I would,—if it be Thy will that I have it—; and if it be not Thy will, good Lord, be not displeased: for I will nought but as Thou wilt.
For the Third [petition], by the grace of God and teaching of Holy Church I conceived a mighty desire to receive three wounds in my life: that is to say, the wound of very contrition, the wound of kind compassion,10 and the wound of steadfast longing toward God. And all this last petition I asked without any condition.
These two desires aforesaid passed from my mind, but the third dwelled with me continually.
Chapter III “I desired to suffer with Him”
And when I was thirty years old and a half, God sent me a bodily sickness, in which I lay three days and three nights; and on the fourth night I took all my rites of Holy Church, and weened not to have lived till day. And after this I languored forth two days and two nights, and on the third night I weened oftentimes to have passed; and so weened they that were with me.
And being in youth as yet, I thought it great sorrow to die;—but for nothing that was in earth that meliked to live for, nor for no pain that I had fear of: for I trusted in God of His mercy. But it was to have lived that I might have loved God better, and longer time, that I might have the more knowing and loving of God in bliss of Heaven. For methought all the time that I had lived here so little and so short in regard of that endless bliss,—I thought [it was as] nothing. Wherefore I thought: Good Lord, may my living no longer be to Thy worship! And I understood by my reason and by my feeling of my pains that I should die; and I assented fully with all the will of my heart to be at God’s will.
Thus I dured till day, and by then my body was dead from the middle downwards, as to my feeling. Then was I minded to be set upright, backward leaning, with help,—for to have more freedom of my heart to be at God’s will, and thinking on God while my life would last.
My Curate was sent for to be at my ending, and by that time when he came I had set my eyes, and might not speak. He set the Cross before my face and said: I have brought thee the Image of thy Master and Saviour: look thereupon and comfort thee therewith.
Methought I was well [as it was], for my eyes were set uprightward unto Heaven, where I trusted to come by the mercy of God; but nevertheless I assented to set my eyes on the face of the Crucifix, if I might; and so I did. For methought I might longer dure to look evenforth than right up.
After this my sight began to fail, and it was all dark about me in the chamber, as if it had been night, save in the Image of the Cross whereon I beheld a common light; and I wist not how. All that was away from the Cross was of horror to me, as if it had been greatly occupied by the fiends.
After this the upper part of my body began to die, so far forth that scarcely I had any feeling;—with shortness of breath. And then I weened in sooth to have passed.
And in this [moment] suddenly all my pain was taken from me, and I was as whole (and specially in the upper part of my body) as ever I was afore.
I marvelled at this sudden change; for methought it was a privy working of God, and not of nature. And yet by the feeling of this ease I trusted never the more to live; nor was the feeling of this ease any full ease unto me: for methought I had liefer have been delivered from this world.
Then came suddenly to my mind that I should desire the second wound of our Lord’s gracious gift: that my body might be fulfilled with mind and feeling of His blessed Passion. For I would that His pains were my pains, with compassion and afterward longing to God. But in this I desired never bodily sight nor shewing of God, but compassion such as a kind soul might have with our Lord Jesus, that for love would be a mortal man: and therefore I desired to suffer with Him.
1.15.3 Reading and Review Questions
Why does Julian ask God for “three wounds”? How are these requests fulfilled?
What ideas or images appear to surprise, disturb, or confuse Julian? How are those issues resolved?
Using examples from the text, what is Julian’s view of love in the visions? What kind of love is it? How does it compare to other types of love?
How does Julian explain her vision of God as mother, as well as father, son, and holy ghost? What specifically does it mean in the vision for God to be our mother, as well?
Which ideas would the original audience have thought were particularly important, and why do you think so? Which ideas are the most emotional, and why?