Julian of Norwich
|Julian of Norwich|
Julian of Norwich, as depicted in the church of Ss Andrew and Mary, Langham, Norfolk
|Julian of Norwich, Lady Julian of Norwich|
|Born||about 8 November 1342
|Honored in||Anglican Communion
|Major shrine||Church of St Julian, Norwich|
|Feast||8 May or 13 May|
|Major work(s)||Revelations of Divine Love|
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Julian of Norwich (ca. 8 November 1342 – ca. 1416) was an English anchoress who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized, or officially beatified, by the Roman Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life aside from her writings.
Very little is known about Julian's life. Her personal name is unknown and the name "Julian" simply derives from the fact that her anchoress's cell was built onto the wall of the church of St Julian in Norwich. Her writings indicate that she was probably born around 1342 and died around 1416. She may have been from a privileged family that lived in Norwich, or nearby. Norwich was at the time the second largest city in England. Plague epidemics were rampant during the 14th century and, according to some scholars, Julian may have become an anchoress whilst still unmarried or, having lost her family in the Plague, as a widow. Becoming an anchoress may have served as a way to quarantine her from the rest of the population. There is scholarly debate as to whether Julian was a nun in a nearby convent or even a laywoman.
When she was 30 and living at home, Julian suffered from a severe illness. Whilst apparently on her deathbed, she had a series of intense visions of Jesus Christ, which ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373. Julian wrote about her visions immediately after they had happened (although the text may not have been finished for some years), in a version of the Revelations of Divine Love now known as the Short Text; this narrative of 25 chapters is about 11,000 words long. It is believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.
Twenty to thirty years later, perhaps in the early 1390s, Julian began to write a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions, known as The Long Text, which consists of 86 chapters and about 63,500 words. This work seems to have gone through many revisions before it was finished, perhaps in the first or even second decade of the fifteenth century.
Julian became well known throughout England as a spiritual authority: the English mystic Margery Kempe, who was the author of the first known autobiography written in England, mentioned going to Norwich to speak with her in around 1414.
The Norwich Benedictine and Cardinal of England, Adam Easton, may have been Julian of Norwich's spiritual director and the 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's confessor and executor was William Flete, 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.
Revelations of Divine Love
The Short Text survives in only one manuscript, the mid-15th century Amherst Manuscript, which was copied from an original written in 1413 in Julian’s own lifetime. The Short Text does not appear to have been widely read, and it was not edited until 1911.
The Long Text appears to have been slightly better known, but still does not seem to have been widely circulated in late medieval England. The one surviving manuscript from this period is the mid- to late-fifteenth century Westminster Manuscript, which contains a portion of the Long Text (not naming Julian as its author), refashioned as a didactic treatise on contemplation. The surviving manuscripts of the whole Long Text fall into two groups, with slightly different readings. On the one hand, there exists the late sixteenth century Brigittine Long Text manuscript, produced in exile in the Antwerp region, and now known as the Paris Manuscript. The other set of readings may be found in two manuscripts, now in the British Library's Sloane Collection. It is believed these nuns had an original, perhaps a holograph, manuscript of the Long Text, written in Julian's Norwich dialect. which were written out and preserved in the Cambrai and Paris houses of the English Benedictine nuns in exile in the mid-seventeenth century.
The first printed version of the Revelations was edited by the Benedictine Serenus Cressy in 1670, and was reprinted in 1843, 1864 and again in 1902. Modern interest in the text increased with the 1877 publication of a new edition of the Long Text by Henry Collins. An important moment was the publication of Grace Warrack's 1901 version of the book, with its "sympathetic informed introduction" and modernised language, which introduced most early 20th century readers to Julian's writings. Following the publication of the Warrack edition, Julian's name spread rapidly and she became a topic in many lectures and writings. Many editions of the works have been published in the last forty years (see below for further details), with translations into French (five times), German (four times), Italian, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Catalan, Greek and Russian.
Revelations is a celebrated work in Catholicism and Anglicanism because of the clarity and depth of Julian's visions of God. Julian of Norwich is now recognized as one of England's most important mystics.
Julian of Norwich lived in a time of turmoil, but her theology was optimistic and spoke 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 everyone and wanted to save them all. Popular theology, magnified by current events that included the Black Death and a series of peasant revolts, asserted that God punished the wicked. 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, the authorities did not challenge her theology because of her status as an anchoress. A lack of references to her work during her own time may indicate that the religious authorities did not count her worthy of refuting, since she was a woman. Her theology was unique in three aspects: her view of sin; her belief that God is all-loving and without 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 13th century. Feminist theology 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 because it brings someone to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in their life. She taught that humans sin because they are ignorant or naive, and not because they are evil, the reason commonly given by the mediaeval church to explain sin. Julian believed that in order to learn we must fail, and in order to fail we must sin. She also believed that the pain caused by sin is an earthly reminder of the pain of the passion of Christ and that as people suffer as Christ did they will become closer to him by their experiences.
Julian saw no wrath in God. She believed wrath existed in humans, but that God forgives us for this. She wrote, “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. She preached that sin should be seen as a part of the learning process of life, not a malice that needed forgiveness. She wrote that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when human souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer hinder us.
Julian's belief in God as mother was controversial. Some scholars think this is a metaphor rather than a literal belief or dogma. In her fourteenth revelation, Julian writes of the Trinity in domestic terms, comparing Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving and merciful. Julian's revelation revealed that God is our mother as much as he is our father. F. Beer asserted that Julian believed that the maternal aspect of Christ was literal and 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 a person can have with Jesus. She also connected God with motherhood in terms of "the foundation of our nature's creation", "the taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins" and "the motherhood at work". She wrote metaphorically of Jesus in connection with conception, nursing, labor and upbringing, but saw him as our brother as well.
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 is one of the best-known phrases of the literature of her era.
Modern reputation and veneration
The 20th-century poet T.S. Eliot incorporated the saying that "…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well", as well as Julian's "the ground of our beseeching" from the 14th Revelation, into "Little Gidding", 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's feast day in the Roman Catholic tradition is on May 13. In the Anglican and Lutheran traditions, her feast day is on May 8.
- Ritchie, Ronald, Joy, Kate (2001). Available Means: An Anthology of Women's Rhetoric. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 25–28.
- Beer, F., Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, page 130. Boydell Press, 1992
- She was certainly still alive in 1413, since the introduction to the Short Text written in the Amherst Manuscript, which is preserved in the British Library, names Julian and refers to her as alive; Margery Kempe visited her around 1414, indicating she was still alive then.
- Bhattacharji, Santha. "Julian of Norwich (1342 - c. 1416)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online Ed. Oxford: OUP. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
- "Julian of Norwich". Encyclopædia Britannica Profiles. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 13 June 2006.
- Bernard McGinn, The Varieties of Vernacular Mysticism, (New York: Herder & Herder, 2012), p425.
- "Julian of Norwich". Showings (Paulist Press). 1978.
- Jantzen, G. Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian, pgs. 4-5. Paulist Press, 1988
- "The Book of Margery Kempe, Book I, Part I". The Book of Margery Kempe. TEAMS Middle English Texts. 1996. Retrieved 19 August 2007.
- Julia Bolton Holloway, Anchoress and Cardinal: Julian of Norwich and Adam Easton, O.S.B. Analecta Cartusiana, 2008
- The manuscript is now in the British Library.
- Bernard McGinn, The Varieties of Vernacular Mysticism, (New York: Herder & Herder, 2012), p426.
- Crampton. The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, pg. 17. Western Michigan University, 1993
- All the Long Text manuscripts have been edited diplomatically by Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P. and Julia Bolton Holloway in their 2001 edition (Florence: SISMEL Edizioni del Galluzzo).
- Crampton. The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, pg. 18. Western Michigan University, 1993
- "Julian of Norwich". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
- Pelphrey, B. Christ Our Mother: Julian of Norwich, pg. 14. Michael Glazier Inc., 1989
- John Hick, The Fifth Dimension: An Exploration of the Spiritual Realm, Oxford: One World, 2004.
- Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, pg. 143. Boydell Press, 1992
- Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, pg. 144. Boydell Press, 1992
- Revelations of Divine Love, p. 45. ed., D.S. Brewer, 1998
- Revelations of Divine Love, p. 50. D.S. Brewer, 1998
- Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, p. 152. Boydell Press, 1992
- Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, p. 155. Boydell Press, 1992
Many editions of the works have been published in the last half century. In part, this serves as evidence of the renewed interest in Julian’s thought and spirituality. Also, though, it demonstrates the continuing lack of scholarly consensus on the most important manuscripts for presenting the text:
- Wolters, Clifton, Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966) (the Long Text, based on the Sloane manuscripts)
- Glasscoe, Marion, Julian of Norwich: A Revelation of Her Life (Exeter, 1976) (the Long Text, based on the Sloane manuscript);
- Colledge, Edmund, and James Walsh, Julian of Norwich: Showings, Paulist Press, 1978. (a fully annotated edition of both the Short Text and Long Text, basing the latter on the Paris manuscript but using alternative readings from the Sloane manuscript when these were judged to be superior)
- Crampton, Georgia, The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, (Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1994), [Of the Long Text, based largely on one of the two Sloane manuscripts.]
- Showing of Love: Extant Texts and Translation, ed. Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P., and Julia Bolton Holloway. Florence: SISMEL Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2001. ISBN 88-8450-095-8. [A “quasi-fascimile” of all the versions of the Long Text.]
- Showing of Love, Trans. Julia Bolton Holloway. Collegeville: Liturgical Press; London; Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003.
- Baker (2005), of the Long Text, based on the Paris manuscript
- The Writings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. Brepols, 2006. [An edition and commentary of both the Short Text and Long Text. The Long Text is here generally based on the Paris manuscript, though using others at times.]
- Dutton, Elisabeth. A Revelation of Love (Introduced, Edited & Modernized). Rowman & Littlefield, 2008
- Jantzen, Grace. Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian. London: SPCK. 1987. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000.
- 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.)
- 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
- Watt, D., Medieval Women's Writing. Cambridge, Polity, 2007
- McAvoy, L. H., ed., A Companion to Julian of Norwich, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2008.
- Holloway, J.B., Anchoress and Cardinal: Julian of Norwich and Adam Easton, O.S.B., Analecta Cartusiana, 2008; ISBN 978-3-902649-01-0.
- 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
- Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian, Yale University Press, 2011
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