St Julian of Nor’ich

Julian of Norwich (c. November 8, 1342 – c. 1416) is considered to be one of the greatest English mystics. Little is known of her life aside from her writings. Even her name is uncertain, the name “Julian” coming from the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she occupied a cell adjoining the church as an anchoress. At the age of thirty, suffering from a severe illness and believing she was on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions. (They ended by the time she overcame her illness on May 13, 1373.) Having contemplated these visions for twenty years they would become the source of her major work, called Revelations of Divine Love (circa 1393). Julian became well known throughout England as a spiritual authority: Margery Kempe mentions going to Norwich to speak with Julian.

Although she lived in a time of turmoil, Julian’s theology was hopeful, speaking 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, but rather a means God used to draw us closer to Himself. (C.S. Lewis would much later write (in the Problem of Pain) that pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.) This is more reflective of Eastern Christian theology than the prevailing Western (i.e., Anselmic) view of her time, which typically saw afflictions like the Plague as divine punishment. Her visions yielded the hope that beyond the reality of hell-fire is yet a greater mystery of God’s love. Her great saying, “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” reflects this theology. It is also one of the most individually famous lines in all Anglican Catholic theological writing, and certainly one of the most well-known phrases of the literature of her era. It was quoted in T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” the fourth of his Four Quartets.

She is commemorated by the Roman Catholic Church on May 13, and by both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Anglican Church on May 8.

Adapted and edited for theology from here and there is much more here.


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