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These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community.

Revelations of Divine Love belongs to the same genre of texts based entirely upon mysterious visions imparted through what is believed to be a divine goodness. In this case, the year was and a woman who has become known as Julian of Norwich became violently ill and pushed to the brink of death. A combination of high fever, extended periods of dehydration and paralysis situated the woman into a position in which visions of a crucified Jesus appeared. Today, the symptoms that are described in these revelations have been linked with Guillian-Barre syndrome or possibly an extreme case of botulism.

A much greater mystery than what exactly caused the near-fatal state of illness into which the author slipped is the how she was able to produce such graphically complex imagery replicating these visions of a fevered brain with such startling literary power in both English and Latin. The details of the woman know as Julian of Norwich are sketchy at best and it was certainly not common for just anyone of the period to gifted with bilingual writing skills. The name Julian is today, of course, primarily associated with males. Oddly enough, even the name of the writer of the Revelations of Divine Love has a strange connection with one aspect of the book which might confound many contemporary readers.

So when the Revelation finally closed and Julian was left to "keep it in the Faith"—the Common Christian Faith—it was Sunday morning, and the words and voices she would hear through her window opening into the Church would be from the early worship of "the Blessed Common" assembled there. Of Domestic Matters , for counsels to anchoresses as to judicious care of the body: diet, washing, needful rest, avoidance of idleness and gloom, reading, sewing for Church and Poor, making and mending and washing of clothes by the anchoress or her servant.

Let your shoes be thick and warm. Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra , xii. Servitium includendorum. See Ancren Riwle p. The remedy for indolence is spiritual joy, and the consolation of joyful hope from reading and from holy meditation, or when spoken by the mouth of man. Often, dear sisters, ye ought to pray less, that ye may read more. Reading is good prayer. Reading teacheth how, and for what ye ought to pray. In reading, when the heart feels delight, devotion ariseth, and that is worth many prayers. Everything, however, may be overdone.


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Moderation is always best. St John xiv. And though thou be at prayer, or at thy devotions, that thou thinkest loth to break off, for that thou thinkest that thou oughtest not leave God for to speake with any one, I think not so in this case, for if thou be wise, thou shalt not leave God, but thou shalt find him, and have him, and see him in thy Neighbour as well as in prayer, onely in another manner. If thou canst love thy Neighbour well, to speake with thy Neighbour with discretion shall be no hindrance to thee If he come to tell thee his disease [distress] or trouble, and to be comforted by thy speech, heare him gladly, and suffer him to say what he will for ease of his own heart; And when he hath done, comfort him if thou canst, gladly, gently, and charitably, and soon break off.

And then, after that, if he will fall into idle tales, or vanities of the World, or of other men's actions, answer him but little, and feed not his speech, and he will soon be weary, and quickly take his leave," etc. As an hert desirith to the wellis of watris: so thou God, my soule desirith to thee The Lord sent his merci in the day: and his song in the nyght. Without any special study of the literature of Mysticism for purposes of comparison, in reading Julian's book one is struck by a few characteristics wherein it differs from many other Mystical writings as well as by qualities that belong to most or all of that general designation.

The silence of this book both as to preliminary ascetic exercises and as to ultimate visions of the Absolute, might be attributed to Julian's being wholly concerned with giving, for comfort to all, that special sight of truth that came to her as the answer to her own need. She sets out not to teach methods of any kind for the gradual drawing near of man to God, but to record and shew forth a Revelation, granted once, of God's actual nearness to the soul, and for this Revelation she herself had been prepared by the "stirring" of her conscience, her love and her understanding, in a word of her faith , even as she was in short time to be left "neither sign nor token," but only the Revelation to hold "in faith.

The natural and common heritage of love and faith is a theme that is dear to Julian: in her view, longing toward God is grounded in the love to Him that is native to the human heart, and this longing painful through sin as it is stirred by the Holy Spirit, who comes with Christ, is, in each naturally developed Christian, spontaneous and increasing;—"for the nearer we be to our bliss, the more we long after it" xlvi.

Certainly on the way—the way of these three, by falling, by succour, by upraising—to the more perfect knowing of God that is the soul's Fulfilment in Heaven, there is a less immediate knowledge to be gained through experience: " And if I aske anything that is lesse, ever me wantith ," for "It needyth us to have knoweing of the littlehede of creatures and to nowtyn all thing that is [Pg xxxv] made, for to love and have God that is onmade. For that which was seen by the soul as so little that it seemed to be about to fall to nothing for littleness, is seen by the understanding to have "three properties":—God made it, God loveth it, God keepeth it.


Thus it is known as "great and large, fair and good"; "it lasteth, and ever shall, for God loveth it. This "fastening" is all that in Julian's book represents that needful process wherein the truth of asceticism has a part. It is not essentially a process of detaching the thought from created things of time—still less one of detaching the heart from created beings of eternity—but a process of more and more allowing and presenting [Pg xxxvi] the man to be fastened closely to God by means of the original longing of the soul, the influence of the Holy Ghost, and the discipline of life with its natural tribulations, which by their purifying serve to strengthen the affections that remaining pass through them.

And Julian, notwithstanding her enclosure as a recluse, is one of those that, happy in nature and not too much hindered by conditions of life, possess for large use by the way the mystical peace of fulfilled possession through virtue of freedom from bondage to self. For it is by means of the tyranny of the "self," regarding chiefly itself in its claims and enjoyments, that creature things can be intruded between the soul and God; and always, in some way, the meek inherit the earth. The life of a recluse demanded, no doubt, as other lives do, a daily self-denial as well as an initiatory self-devotion, and from Julian's silence as to "bodily exercises" it cannot of course be assumed that she did not give them, even beyond the incumbent rule of the Church, though not in excess of her usual moderation, some part in her Christian striving for mastery over self.

Nor could this silence in itself be taken as a proof that ascetic practices had not in her view a preparatory [Pg xxxvii] function such as has by many of the Mystics been assigned to them during a process of self-training in the earlier stages of the soul's ascent to aptitude for mystical vision. It is, however, to be noted that neither in regard to herself nor others do we hear from Julian anything about an undertaking of this kind. To her the "special Shewing" came as a gift, unearned, and unexpected: it came in an abundant answer to a prayer for other things needed by every soul.

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According to Julian the "special Shewing" is a gift of comfort for all, sent by God in a time to some soul that is chosen in order that it may have, and so may minister, the comfort needed by itself and by others ix. In her experience this Revelation, soon closed, is renewed by influence and enlightenment in the more ordinary grace of its giver, the Holy Ghost. But a still fuller sight of God shall be given, she rejoices to think, in Heaven, to all that shall reach that Fulfilment of blessed life—the only mount of the soul set forth in this book.

Julian of Norwich: Selections from Revelations of Divine Love—Annotated & Explained

Thither, by the high-road of Christ, all souls may go, making the steep ascent [Pg xxxix] through "longing and desire,"—longing that embodies itself in desire towards God, that is, in Prayer. Nothing is said by Julian as to successive stages of Prayer, though she speaks of different kinds of prayer as the natural action of the soul under different experiences or in different states of feeling or "dryness.

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And in all these ways "Prayer oneth the soul to God. To Julian's understanding the only Shewing of God that could ever be, the highest and lowest, the first and the last, was the Vision of Him as Love. But thou shalt never knowen ne witten other thing without end. Thus was I lerid that Love was our Lord's menyng" lxxxvi. Alien to the "simple creature" was that desert region where some of the lovers of God have endeavoured to find Him,—desiring an extreme penetration of thought human thought, after all, since for men there is none beyond it or an utmost reach of worship worship from fire and ice in proclaiming the Absolute One not only as All that is , but as All that is not.

Therefore she follows only the upward way of the light attempered by grace, not turning back to the Via Negativa , that downward road that starting from a conception of the Infinite "as the antithesis of the finite," [2] rather than as including and transcending the finite, leads man to deny to his words of God all qualities known or had by human, finite beings. Julian keeps on the way that is natural to her spirit and to all her habits of thought as these may have been directed by reading and conversation: it does not take her towards that Divine Darkness of which some seers have brought report.

Hers was not one of those souls that would, and must, go silent and alone and strenuous through strange places: "homely and courteous" she ever found Almighty God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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  • Julian's mystical sight was not a negation of human modes of thought: neither was it a torture to human powers of speech nor a death-sentence to human activities of feeling. This seer of the littleness of all that is made saw the Divine as containing, not as engulfing, all things that truly are, so that in some way "all things that are made" because of His love last ever. Certainly she passes sometimes beyond the language of earth, seeing a love and a Goodness "more than tongue can tell," but she is never inarticulate in any painful, [Pg xli] struggling way—when words are not to be found that can tell all the truth revealed, she leaves her Lord's "meaning" to be taken directly from Him by the understanding of each desirous soul.

    Certainly Julian looks both downward and upward, sees Love in the lowest depth, far below sin, below even Mercy; sees Love as the highest that can be, rising higher and higher far above sight, in skies that as yet she is not called to enter: "abysses" there are, below and above, like Angela di Foligno's "double abyss"; but here is no desert region like that where Angela seems as "an eagle descending" [3] from heights of unbreathable air, baffled and blinded in its assault on the Sun, proclaiming the Light Unspeakable in anguished, hoarse, inarticulate cries; here is a mountain-path between the abysses and the sound as of a chorus from pilgrims singing:.

    Moreover, Julian while guided by Reason is led by the "Mind" of her soul—pioneer of the path through the wood of darkness though Reason is ready to disentangle the lower hindrances of the way; and where her instructed soul "finds rest," those things that are hid from [Pg xlii] the wisdom and prudence of Reason only are to its simplicity of obedience revealed.

    Even as her Way is Christ-Jesus, and her walk by "longing and desire" is of faith and effort, so the End and the Rest that she seeks is the fulness of God, in measure as the soul can enter upon His fulness here and in that heavenly "oneing" with Him which shall be by grace the "fulfilling" and "overpassing" of "Mankind. Words of the Spirit-nature fail to describe to man, as he is, this fulness of personal life, and Julian falls back in one effort, daring in its infantine concreteness of language, on acts of all the five senses to symbolise the perfection of spiritual life that is in oneness with God xliii.

    It may be noted that in these "Revelations" there is absolutely no regarding of Christ as the "Bridegroom" of the individual soul: once or twice Julian in passing uses the symbol of "the Spouse," "the Fair Maiden," "His loved Wife," but this she applies only to the Church. In her usual speech Christ when unnamed is our "Good" or our "Courteous" Lord, or sometimes simply [Pg xliii] "God," and when she seeks to express pictorially His union with men and His work for men, then the soul is the Child and Christ is the Mother.

    In this symbolic language the love of the Christian soul is the love of the Child to its Mother and to each of the other children. Julian's Mystical views seem in parts to be cognate with those of earlier and later systems based on Plato's philosophy, and especially perhaps on his doctrine of Love as reaching through the beauties of created things higher and higher to union with the Absolute Beauty above, Which is God—schemes of thought developed before her and in her time by Plotinus, Clement, Augustine, Dionysius "the Areopagite," John the Scot, Eckhart, the Victorines, [5] Ruysbroeck, and others.

    One does not know what her reading may have been, or with what people she may have conversed. Possibly the learned Austin Friars that were settled close to St Julian's in Conisford may have lent her books by some of these writers, or she may have been influenced through talks with a Confessor, or with some of the Flemish weavers of Norwich, with whom Mystical views were not uncommon. Yet the Mysticism of the "Revelations" is peculiarly of the English type.

    Less exuberant in language than Richard Rolle, the Hermit of Hampole, Julian resembles him a little in her blending of practical sense with devotional fervour; but the writer to whom [Pg xliv] she seems, at any rate in some of her phrases, most akin is Walter Hilton, her contemporary. And indeed these three are a fit embodiment of the Christian Faith as seen in her "Revelations.

    Lacking their literary method of procedure, she has a high and tender beauty of thought and a delicate bloom of expression that are her own rare gifts—the beauty of the hills against skies in summer evenings, of an orchard in mornings of April. Again and again she stirs in the reader a kind of surprised gladness of the simple perfection wherewith she utters, by few and adequate words, a thought that in its quietness convinces of truth, or an emotion deep in life.

    Of a little child it has been said: "He thought great thoughts simply," and Julian's deepness of insight and simplicity of speech are like the Child's. For then was rightfully ended" Generally, perhaps, the style in its movement [Pg xlvii] recalls the rippling yet even flow of a brook, cheerfully, sweetly monotonous: "If any such lover be in earth which is continually kept from falling, I know it not: for it was not shewed me.

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    But this was shewed: that in falling and in rising we are ever preciously kept in one love" lxxxii. But now and again the listener seems to be caught up to Heaven with song, as in that time when her "marvelling" joy in beholding love "breaks out with voice":—"Behold and see!

    The precious plenty of His dearworthy blood overfloweth all Earth and is ready to wash all creatures of sin which be of goodwill, have been and shall be. The precious plenty of His dearworthy blood ascended up into Heaven to the blessed body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there is in Him, bleeding and praying for us to the Father, and is and shall be as long as it needeth; and ever shall be as long as it needeth; and evermore it floweth in all Heavens, enjoying the salvation of all mankind that are there, and shall be—fulfilling the Number that faileth" xii.

    The Early English Mystics make good reading,—even as to the mere manner of their writings we might say, if it were possible to separate the style from the freshness of feeling and the pointedness of thought that inform it; and though we do not, of course, have from [Pg xlviii] Julian,—a woman writing of the Revelations of Love ,—the delightfully trenchant, easy address of Hilton in his counsels as to how to scale the Ladder of Perfection —counsels both wise and witty—yet Julian, too, with all her sweetness, is full of this every day vigour and common sense.

    Rolle, Hilton, and more especially the Ancren Riwle , give examples of that custom of allegorical interpretation of Sacred Scriptures that has fascinated many mystical authors, but one can scarcely suppose that this method would ever have been a favourite one with Julian even if she had been in the way of dealing with literary parallels and references.

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    For though she uses "examples," or illustrations sometimes calling them "shewings," or "bodily examples" and also metaphorically figurative speech, she does not shew any interest in elaborate, arbitrary symbolism. At any rate she is too directly simple, it seems, and too much in the centre of realities, to be a writer that without constraint of following the lines of others would take as foundation for an argument or an exposition outward resemblances or verbal [Pg xlix] connections, fit perhaps to illustrate or enforce the truth in question, but lacking in relation to it that inward vital oneness whereby certain things that to man seem below him may become symbolic to him of others that he beholds as within or above him.

    Exposition by analysis has been reckoned to be characteristic of the Schoolmen rather than of the Mystics, [9] though surely a mystical sight may be served by an analytical process, and to see God in a part before or while He is seen in the whole is effected not without analysis of the subtlest kind. So we find analysis in Julian's sight Rev. Even for the merely formal task of distinguishing by number, Julian, we see, will set briskly forward though we may not feel much inclined to follow and often she begins her careful dissections with: "In this I see"—four, five, or six things, as the case may be.

    Her speech of spiritual Revelations is, however, helped out less by numbers than by living and homely things of sight: the mother and the children and the nurse; lords and servants, kings and their subjects with echoes of the language of Court and [Pg l] chivalry ; the deep sea-ground, waters for our service; clothing, in its warmth, grace and colour; the light that stands in the night, the hazel-nut, the scales of herrings. As one grows familiar with the "Revelations" one finds oneself in the midst of a great scheme: a network of ideas that cross and re-cross each other in a way not very clear at first, perhaps, but not really in confusion.

    All through this treatise from its beginning, the Revelation as a whole is in the mind of Julian; interpolation by another writer is out of the question: the book is all of a piece, both as the expression of one person, in mind and character, and as the setting forth of a theological system. From the first we find Julian holding her diverse threads of nature and mercy and grace for the fabric of love she is weaving, and all through she guides them in and out, with no hesitation, till at last the whole design lies fair before her, shewing the Goodness of God.

    With regard to this scheme it may be noted that apart from her merely intellectual pleasure in arithmetical methods of statement, Julian shews throughout a mystical sense of numerical correspondences. Life, both as being and action, is, to her sight, in its perfection full of trinities ; while there are doubles ,—incident to its imperfection, as we may put it, perhaps, though the book itself does not mark this distinction in so many words—there are doubles wherein two things are partially opposed and require for their reconciling a [Pg li] third that will complete them into trinity.

    So also "the Father willeth , the Son worketh , the Holy Ghost confirmeth.