„After that the Lord brought to my mind the yearning that I had for Him in the past, and I saw that nothing stood in my way except sin (and thus I observed universally in us all).
And it seemed to me that if sin had not been, we would all have been pure and like to our Lord as He made us, and thus, in my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented, for then, it seemed to me, all would have been well. I ought much to have given up this disturbing wondering, but nevertheless, I made mourning and sorrow about it without reason or discretion.
But Jesus (who in this vision informed me of all that I needed) answered by this word and said: „Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love. Ch. 27
About Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich (1342-ca.1416) is known to us almost only through her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, which is widely acknowledged as one of the great classics of the spiritual life. She is thought to have been the first woman to write a book to survive in English.
We do not know Julian’s real name but she was named after St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as a anchoress most of her life. From another medieval literary work, The Book of Margery Kempe, we know that Julian was known as a spiritual counsellor of her time. People would come to her cell in Norwich and ask for advice. Considering that the citizens of Norwich suffered from the plague, poverty and a famine at Julian’s time, she must have counselled a lot of people in pain. Yet, her writings are suffused with hope and trust in God’s goodness.
The Revelations of Divine Love
Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love is based on a series of sixteen visions she received on the 8th of May 1373. Julian was lying on what she thought was going to be her deathbed when she suddenly saw Christ bleeding in front of her and received an insight into his sufferings and love for us. Her visions also took her to the heavens and to explore the soul as a city. Julian’s message was one of hope and trust in a God whose compassionate love is always given to us. In this all-gracious God there can be no element of wrath. The wrath — ‘all that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God’s spirit, is to slake our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love. Julian did not percieve God as blaming or judging us, but as enfolding us in love. Famously, Julian also used women’s experience of motherhood to explore how God loves us, refering to Jesus as our Mother.
The Writing of the Revelations
The Revelations of Divine Love comes to us in two versions, the first — the short text — written shortly after the revelation given to Julian as a mystical autobiography, the second — the long text — twenty years later greatly expanded to include her meditations on what she had been shown. Today we have only 17th century copies of earlier manuscripts of this long text, as well as fragments from the 15th centurty.
Julian tells us that she was thirty and a half years old when she received her visions which is why we know she was born in 1342. A scribe editor to one of the surviving manuscripts speaks of her as a ‘devout woman, who is a recluse at Norwich, and still alive, A.D. 1413.’ There is further evidence through a will that she was living in 1416 and that she had a maid who lived in a room next to the cell but apart from that we know virtually nothing about Julian as a person.
However, when you read Revelations of Divine Love, you get an impression of an intelligent, sensitive and very down-to-earth woman who tries to keep her trust in God’s goodness while dealing with doubt, fear and deep theological questions.