Julian of Norwich


Julian (1342 - after 1416). Inspired as a youth with the tale of St. Cecilia, which is the same tale that inspired Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale. She meditated on the crucifixion, and asked for 3 gifts from God: to understand his Passion, to suffer physically while still a young women of 30, and to have as God's gift 3 wounds. The first two were left to God's will, but the last had no conditions. She forgot about the first two prayers, but right on time she fell sick to the point of death. At this time she had 15 showing, or revelations, which included visions of the Passion of Christ. She survived the illness, and had one final vision which convinced her that her experiences were genuine. She gave them a 3-fold meaning: 1. The first meaning is the literal words; 2. The second meaning is the inner significance she discovered since the visions; 3. The third is the whole revelation itself.

She became an anchoress after that, in a cell attached to the church of St. Julian in Norwich, from which she is thought to have taken her name. There are two accounts of her visions: a short account, written close to the time of the visions, which exhibit uncertainty about them, and a long account written 20 years later, which are much more certain. She also became a spiritual guide. Visitors would come and consult her. Some of this is recorded by one of her proteges, Margery Kempe.

In her visions, Julian saw five phases of the Passion of Christ:

  1. His head bleeding from a garland of thorns;
  2. His face undergoing changes of colour;
  3. His flesh marked with the scourging and profuse bleeding;
  4. His body drying from lack of moisture as it neared the moment of death;
  5. The cloven heart, from which flowed an abundance of blood.


These phases point to Julian's concern about the Trinity, and its manifestation of the relationship between the divine and the human. In the early work, the result of this is a focus on sin; in the later work, it is a compassion for other Christians. Many questions about sin arise in all this: Why was sin allowed? Why did she herself fall again and again? Why was not Adam's sin forestalled? How can it be that God's love never wavers, yet people are often alienated from him by their sin? If God loves us even in our sin, why do we blame ourselves, if he is not angry with us? How could anger be compatible with compassionate love? How can there be a hell for the damned, as the Church teaches?

Her answer (and the first great secret): Sin is necessary. All men are one man, and one man is all men. Our nature is wholly in God. The higher part is grounded and rooted in the Trinity; God is connected to the lower part in the Incarnate Word. This meeting makes it possible for God to always love humanity, since thereby he loves Christ. Furthermore, he loves all that human beings will become, though we see humans in time. Sin is not to be taken lightly, but there is no wrath in God. Rather, God is compassionate.

The second secret: All that is good will be transformed. He who made the greatest evil -- Adam -- can make all else well.

In the second version, Julian uses two great metaphors to understand all this: the allegory of the Lord and the Servant, and the metaphor of the motherhood of Christ.

The Lord and the Servant: The reality of the parable is that of Christ. In Christ are the interpenetrations of other realities -- Adam of Genesis, the total Adam (all humanity), Christ as the second Adam, and Christ as Saviour.

Christ as Mother: Christ is mother in many ways. He gives birth to us in creation, in our "again-making", and in our dying (birth to eternal life). He is mother because he carries out all the functions of motherhood: nurturing, feeding, chiding, rewarding, loving.