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Born on the 8th of November, 1342, and dying in 1416, Julian of Norwich was a 14th Century English pioneer in Christian philosophy, theology, and mystics. Her original name, along with many other crucial details concerning her life, remain unknown to this day. What propelled her to eternal fame, however, is her book titled “Revelations of Divine Love”, a compilation of 16 Revelations of a Mystical Christian variety.
Credible sources attribute the writing of this masterpiece to a near-death experience that she had at the age of thirty. It is widely believed that as she lay dying, in the company of her mother and a priest who had just given her the last rites, she experienced a long vision that depicted the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, as well as his never-ending love for mankind.
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Following this vision, Julian miraculously recovered, and devoted the rest of her life to offering Christian counsel to all around her in the capacity of an anchoress. She also went on to record the revelations that she had in a book titled ‘Showings’, later writing its lengthier version, which scholars now fondly refer to as the “Revelations of Divine Love.” They are discussed as follows:
THE SIXTEEN REVELATIONS
The first revelation was that regarding Christ’s crowning with thorns, as well as a detailed description of The Holy Trinity, the amalgamation of God with the soul of mankind, as well as the incarnation. It also provided an illustration of God’s limitless wisdom and love, around which the ensuing showings would revolve. The second revelation showed the discoloration of Jesus Christ’s faultless face, which was believed to be symbolic of His passion. The third vision acted as an indication of God’s love, wisdom and power, evident in the fact that He is the doer and inducer of all that befalls mankind, since it is He that created everything in existence.
The fourth Revelation was rather gruesome, but all the same, not devoid of meaning. It depicted Christ’s bruised and battered body covered in His own blood. In the fifth, Julian envisioned the triumph of Christ’s precious passion over all that is evil. The sixth showing was encompassed God’s honorable favor, as illustrated by His rewarding in heaven of all those who stayed true to Him. The seventh revelation was a representation of the “well and woe” that mankind is frequently subjected to. Subjection to “well” bestows upon one endless joy, grace, and enlightenment while subjection to “woe” entails the annoyance and occasional sadness that characterize our Earthly lives. The eight revelation showed Christ’s agony as he approached death, while the ninth entailed that joy and comfort brought about by the manifestation of the Holy Trinity amongst mankind in the aftermath of Christ’s crucifixion.
The tenth showing depicted Christ’s heart divided equally in two, symbolic of the equal love he would bestow upon all who sought him. The eleventh one was a vision of Christ’s Mother in her spiritual form, while the twelfth depicted the Lord God as a Supreme Being. The twelfth showing was an illustration of God’s will that obliged us to appreciate and respect all that he had done in the creation of all beings, especially man, as well the great sacrifice that he had shouldered in cleansing man of his sin. It also asserts that all should strive only for that which is proper in this life, and not desire to know any of His secrets.
The fourteenth showing emphasized on the fact that prayer ought to have God as its key foundation, and should possesses righteousness and trust as its two main cornerstones. In the fifteenth, Julian envisioned the substitution of all suffering with the joy of His goodness in heaven while the sixteenth and final revelation depicted the Holy Trinity manifesting itself in man’s soul while employing its power in the protection and wise governance of all.
Julian was rather unfortunate to have lived in a time when the Church, and the larger European continent, was undergoing a period of renaissance, with regard to matters of the Church and the State. Prior to the 14th State, Christianity was the primary tool of unification of Western Europe. However, the onset of the 14th Century brought with it an increase in the assertion of State Power by French and English monarchies and aristocracies. This culminated in a tumultuous relationship between the two states.
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With war in the horizon, both monarchies saw it fit to tax the clergy. The clergy’s patron, the Pope retaliated by declaring that every human being would bow to Papal authority, thus making the Church’s funds immune to taxation. The net result of these impulsive moves was a continent that would know no peace for years to come. Julian, however, refrained from addressing any of these issues directly in her teachings, choosing instead to be the neutral voice of Christian reason for commoners seeking spiritual redemption.
Symbol of Hope
Through her works, we are able to see Julian’s sense of optimism, a quality quite rare in an age rife with political, social, and cultural turmoil. The long-standing institutions and cultures that characterized Europe were collapsing all around her. It was also during her time that her country was struck by the Black Death, which decimated a large portion of the population in Norwich. She also witnessed the onset of the Hundred Years’ War between her country and France, which was accompanied by the decline of Papal authority in the region. She also beheld the fall of a monarchy, the high profile killing of an Archbishop, as well as the moral degradation of the monasteries and Franciscan Friars. In this dark times, it was Julian of Norwich who stood out as the true embodiment of hope and optimism, encouraging all around her in times of grief. She is famously remembered for her words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Non-acknowledgement of World Events
Of importance to note is the fact that in her writings, Julian makes no or little, if any, mention of the negative sociopolitical occurrences that ailed her society. The lack of worry towards events with historical significance has been attributed to her revelations, which led her to look beyond earthly matters and thus evade entrapment by worldly negativity. This was further reinforced by her belief that the Lord God was the one true doer and cause of everything that takes place on Earth. Therefore, going by this line of thought, there was indeed no need to mutter about the world’s troubles, since they were the manifestations of the will of God. She was also of the conviction that man should instead look to the future, and live in the hope that all pain and suffering would be replaced with endless joy once they enter God’s heavenly realm.
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Emphasis on God’s Goodness
In her writings and teachings, Julian consistently reassures her audience that God’s goodness greatly surpasses the intensity of His wrath. She further adds that people’s tendency to ramble about God’s wrath is primarily due to the fact that they are oblivious to the anger within them, and in their ignorance, project and ascribe this wrath to God. She was quoted as saying, “He cannot be angry. It would be impossible.” In light of God’s good and loving nature, sin would also have no substance in both the physical and spiritual realms, since God, in his merciful nature, has already forgiven us of our misdeeds.
Christ as a Symbol of Motherhood.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Julian’s writings was her insistence on God being a symbol of motherhood. She states, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.” She also refers to Jesus Christ as mankind’s mother in the following statements: “Our savior is our true Mother, in whom we are endlessly born.” And “A mother can give her child to suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and does . . . with the Blessed Sacrament.” As a result, many would say that she had adopted a rather feminist stance, a quality that would have been frowned upon in the middle ages. However, to do so would have been a great injustice, since her convictions regarding this matter mainly arose from the association between God and the Divine Feminine virtue of wisdom, as well as the well-defined link between the Mother Church and the Body of Christ.
With respect to the information provided above, it can be deduced that Julian of Norwich was indeed an extraordinary character, an outstanding theologian who expressed radical ideas, most of which were far ahead of their time. Even the gradual and unforgiving decay of time does little to diminish the relevance of her writings and teachings to theologians today. Her book, “Revelations of Divine Love” has proved itself a masterpiece, and will surely withstand the test of time. Her visions, along with her own interpretation of these visions, continue to impact greatly on Christian Literature and will likely continue to do so in the days to come. It is my hope that all who go through this paper are able to appreciate the significance of Julian’s philosophies, and they role they have to play in our attempt to comprehend the mystical aspects of Christianity.
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