Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich was the most important English mystic of the 14th century. Her spirituality is strongly Trinitarian and basically Neoplatonic.In her Revelations of Divine Love Julian relates that in May 1373, when she was 30 years old, she suffered a serious illness. After she had been administered extreme unction, she received 16 revelations within the span of a few hours. When she wrote her Revelations, she was a recluse at Norwich, supported by the Benedictine convent of Carrow. Anchorite seclusion was a rather common form of life in 14th-century England among Christians with high spiritual aspirations. A woman of little formal education - she calls herself "unlettered" - Julian writes in a beautifully simple style and shows a solid grasp of traditional theology.Julian's revelations, a mixture of imaginary and intellectual visions, bear all the characteristics of true mysticism. According to her, her visions came in fulfillment of three petitions of her youth: to have in mind the Passion of Christ, to have a critical bodily sickness at 30 years of age, and to receive the wounds of "true contrition," "genuine compassion," and "sincere longing for God." The revelations consist mostly of visions of the crucified Christ occasioned by the sight of a crucifix which the priest had left at her bedside. But through the Passion, Julian is led to intellectual visions of the Trinity and of the universe as it exists in God. Thus she is confronted by the teachings of sin and damnation, which she finds hard to reconcile with God's grace in Christ. Nevertheless the accepts the traditional Church doctrine of the existence of an eternal rejection. Yet on the sinfulness of those who will be saved she hedges: "In every soul to be saved is a godly will that has never consented to sin, in the past or in the future. Just as there is an animal will in our lower nature that does not will what is good, so there is a godly will in our higher part, which by its basic goodness never wills what is evil, but only what is good." Obviously she finds herself unable to accept that divine goodness could ever allow the elect to be truly sinful. Her fundamental outlook is optimistic. The Lord tells her: "All shall be well," and "You will see for yourself that all manner of thing shall be well."Little is known of Julian's later years, not even the date of her death. She is last referred to as a living person in a will dated 1416. Apparently even during her life she enjoyed a certain renown, for people came from afar to see and consult her.Further ReadingThere are two versions of the Revelations, one much longer than the other. It is not known whether the short one is merely an excerpt from the older one or whether it is the first authentic report on which Julian elaborated in the longer version. A critical edition is being prepared by Sister Anna Maria Reynolds and James Walsh. Meanwhile, a modernized edition of the short version is A Shewing of God's Love (1958) by Anna Maria Reynolds. Several modern translations of the longer version, under the title Revelations of Divine Love, are by Roger Hudleston (1927), James Walsh (1961), Anchoret Juliana (1966), and Clifton Wolters (1966). Important studies of Julian are Paul Molinari, Julian of Norwich: The Teaching of a 14th Century English Mystic (1958), and James Walsh, ed., Pre-Reformation English Spirituality (1966).



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