Juliana of Norwich

Julian of Norwich, also called Juliana, English, born 1342, died after 1416.

Juliana, a celebrated Christian mystic whose Revelations of Divine Love (or Showings) is generally considered one of the most remarkable documents of medieval religious experience, and is, in fact, the first book known to be written in English by a woman. Although Juliana describes herself as “unlettered”, her theological sophistication testifies not only to the validity of her religious experience but also to her appreciation of the sacredness of womanhood and of things earthly as well as metaphysical. She was, most especially, a woman with the passionate love of all things, as she considered all things God.

Matthew Fox writes of her: “She is rightly famous for articulating in considerable detail the motherhood of God and even the motherhood of Christ. In spite of her living immediately following the Black Death and during very troubled times, she maintains a hope and joy that are remarkable for their sanity and groundedness. She truly develops a metaphysics of goodness, declaring that ‘goodness is God.’”

Elizabeth Spearing writes about Juliana “…Norwich, close to the coast in East Anglia, was one of the largest and most prosperous English cities; it had close trading and cultural ties with Northern Europe, where individualized and passionate forms of religion had developed, especially among women. We do not know if Julian was born in Norwich, or who her parents were, though she probably came from a prosperous family. She can be placed in Norwich from 1394 when a will refers to her as “Julian anchorite”. Even her name is unknown; “Julian” is taken from Saint Julian’s church, where she lived as an anchoress, a woman who had entered into an enclosed, solitary life in a fixed place in order to achieve spiritual perfection.”
Michael Gore writes: “Julian lived in a time of social, political, and religious upheaval. The Black Death swept through Norwich at least three times during Julian’s lifetime. Some reports from the period indicate that half the population of Norwich died. The clergy were unable to cope with the large numbers of the dead…Concurrent with the Black Death was severe disease among cattle and several years of disastrous harvests. Events finally culminated in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. The city of Norwich saw its churches and monasteries looted…The institution of the church was also in disarray. The Great Schism erupted in 1377, creating two rival popes, one in France and the other in Rome. In England, the preacher John Wyclif condemned the corruption of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the church. Wyclif s translation of the Scriptures into English earned him the accusation of heresy. Wyclif’s followers, the Lollards, continued stirring up trouble. They believed, as had Wyclif, that religion should be made available to the people and so began to preach in the vernacular. The Lollards also expressed a deep devotion to the human nature of Jesus, a sentiment shared by Julian in her book. In 1397, the bishop of Norwich received permission to execute all Lollards captured. The Lollard’s Pit, where they were burned alive, was only half a mile from Julian’s cell. That, in the midst of such suffering and turmoil, Julian could have written a book of such profound hope and assurance in God’s mercy and goodwill is a testimony to the power and wisdom of her knowledge and insight. “

Julian’s anchorhold, built into the side of a church, had three windows. One window looked into the church and through it she followed the service and received the Holy Sacrament. The second opened to the world outside and allowed access to those seeking counsel from Julian. The final window opened into the servant’s quarters, providing a means of communication and companionship. Many anchorholds also had small gardens in which the anchoress walked.

Anchorites lived in solitude, but were not completely cut off from human contact; they were expected to give spiritual counsel. Julian acted as a kind of counselor or spiritual advisor to her local community. Rich and poor alike sought her out for comfort and guidance.

Her writings, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica are “unparalleled in English religious literature, Revelations spans the most profound mysteries of the Christian faith—such as the problems of predestination, the foreknowledge of God, and the existence of evil. The clarity and depth of her perception, the precision and accuracy of her theological presentation, and the sincerity and beauty of her expression reveal a mind and personality of exceptional strength and charm. Never beatified, Julian is honoured on the unofficial feast day of May 13. A modern chapel in the Church of St. Julian has been dedicated to her memory. “

A Selection of Julian of Norwich’s Quotations:

“[Christ] Our natural mother, our gracious mother, because he willed to become our mother in everything, took the ground for his work most humbly and most mildly in the maiden’s womb…. Our high God, the sovereign wisdom of all, arrayed himself in this low place and made himself entirely ready in our poor flesh in order to do the service and the office of motherhood himself in all things.

…. A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself. He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life. With all the sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously. That is what he meant in these blessed words, where he said, ‘I am that which holy Church preaches and teaches you,’ that is to say, ‘All the health and life of the sacraments, all the virtue and grace of my word, all the goodness that is ordained for you in holy Church, that I am.’ ” (pages 191-192)

“To motherhood as properties belong natural love, wisdom and knowledge – and this is God. For though it is true that our bodily bringing forth is very little, low, and simple compared to our spiritual bringing forth, yet it is he who does the mothering in the creatures by whom it is done.

The natural loving mother, who recognises and knows the need of her child, takes care of it most tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will do. And continually, as the child grows in age and size, she changes what she does, but not her love. When the child has grown older, she allows it to be punished, breaking down vices to enable the child to receive virtues and grace…

In this I saw that all the debts we owe, by God’s command, to fatherhood and motherhood by reason of God’s fatherhood and motherhood, are repaid in the true loving of God. This blessed love Christ works in us. And this was showed in everything, especially in the noble, plenteous words, where he says, ‘I am what you love.’ ” (page 193)

“It is a lofty understanding inwardly to see and to know that God, who is our maker, dwells in our soul, and it is a still loftier and greater understanding inwardly to see and to know that our soul, which is created, dwells in God’s substance…

I saw no difference between God and our substance, but saw it as if it were all God. And yet my understanding accepted the fact that our substance is in God; that is to say that God is God and our substance is a creature in God. For the Almighty Truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he made us and preserves us in himself; the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our mother, in whom we are enclosed; the lofty goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us.

We are enclosed in the Father, we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. The Father is enclosed in us – All-power, All-wisdom, and All-goodness: one God, one Lord.” (pages 179-180)

“…And thus in our creation God Almighty is our natural father, and God all-wisdom is our natural mother, with the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit…

“…In our Father Almighty we have our preservation and our bliss, as far as our natural substance, which we have from our creation without beginning, is concerned. In the Second Person we have our preservation, in wit and wisdom, as far as our sensuality, our restoring and our saving are concerned. For he is our mother, brother and saviour. And in our good Lord the Holy Spirit we have our rewarding and our harvest for our living and our bitter labour, endlessly surpassing all that we desire in his marvellous courtesy from his lofty, plenteous grace.

All our life is in three modes. In the first is our being. In the second we have our increasing. And in the third we have our fulfilling.

The first is nature. The second is mercy. The third is grace.

….The Second, most precious, Person, who is our substantial mother has now become our sensual mother, for we are double by God’s making, that is to say, substantial and sensual. Our substance is the higher part that we have in our father, God Almighty.

The Second Person of the Trinity is our mother in nature, in our substantial making. In him we are grounded and rooted, and he is our mother by mercy in our sensuality, by taking flesh.

Thus our mother, Christ, in whom our parts are kept unseparated, works in us in various ways. For in our mother, Christ, we profit and increase, and in mercy he reforms and restores us, and by virtue of his passion, death, and resurrection joins us to our substance. This is how our mother, Christ, works in mercy in all his beloved children who are submissive and obedient to him…. (pages 187-189)

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