Julian of Norwich bigraphy, stories - English theologian and anchoress

Julian of Norwich : biography

ca. 8 November 1342 - ca. 1416

Julian of Norwich (ca. 8 November 1342 – ca. 1416) was an English anchoress who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but has never been canonized, or officially beatified, by the Roman Catholic Church, probably because so little is known of her life, aside from her writings.


Julian of Norwich lived in a time of turmoil, but her theology was optimistic and spoke 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, as was the common understanding. She believed that God loved everyone and wanted to save them all. Popular theology, magnified by current events that included the Black Death and a series of peasant revolts, asserted that God punished the wicked. Julian suggested a more merciful theology, which some http://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/incontext/article/julian/ say leaned towards universal salvation. She believed that behind the reality of hell is a greater mystery of God's love. In modern times, she has been classified as a proto-universalist, although she did not claim more than hope that all might be saved.John Hick, The Fifth Dimension: An Exploration of the Spiritual Realm, Oxford: One World, 2004.

Although Julian's views were not typical, the authorities did not challenge her theology because of her status as an anchoress. A lack of references to her work during her own time may indicate that the religious authorities did not count her worthy of refuting, since she was a woman. Her theology was unique in three aspects: her view of sin; her belief that God is all-loving and without wrath; and her view of Christ as mother. According to Julian, God is both our mother and our father. This idea was also developed by Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Feminist theology in the 20th and 21st centuries has developed along similar lines. The harmony Julian suggests between the motherly and fatherly qualities of Christ has greatly influenced feminist theology.

Julian believed that sin was necessary because it brings someone to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in their life.Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, pg. 143. Boydell Press, 1992 She taught that humans sin because they are ignorant or naive, and not because they are evil, the reason commonly given by the mediaeval church to explain sin.Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, pg. 144. Boydell Press, 1992 Julian believed that in order to learn, we must fail, and in order to fail, we must sin. The pain caused by sin is an earthly reminder of the pain of the passion of Christ. As people suffer as Christ did, they will become closer to Him by their experiences.

Julian saw no wrath in God. She believed wrath existed in humans, but that God forgives us for this. She wrote, “For I saw no wrath except on man's side, and He forgives that in us, for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love”.Julian, Revelations of Divine Love, pg. 45. ed., D.S. Brewer, 1998 Julian believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God's granting forgiveness for sins, because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong. Julian preached that sin should be seen as a part of the learning process of life, not a malice that needed forgiveness. Julian wrote that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when humans' souls mature, so that evil and sin will no longer hinder us.Julian, Revelations of Divine Love, pg. 50. D.S. Brewer, 1998

Julian's belief in God as mother was controversial. Some scholars think this is a metaphor, rather than a literal belief or dogma. In her fourteenth revelation, Julian writes of the Trinity in domestic terms, comparing Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving and merciful. Julian's revelation revealed that God is our mother as much as He is our father. F. Beer asserted that Julian believed that the maternal aspect of Christ was literal and not metaphoric: Christ is not like a mother, He is literally the mother.Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, pg. 152. Boydell Press, 1992 Julian believed that the mother's role was the truest of all jobs on earth. She emphasized this by explaining how the bond between mother and child is the only earthly relationship that comes close to the relationship one can have with Jesus.Beer, F: Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, pg. 155. Boydell Press, 1992 She also connected God with motherhood in terms of "the foundation of our nature's creation, "the taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins" and "the motherhood at work". She wrote metaphorically of Jesus in connection with conception, nursing, labor and upbringing, but saw him as our brother as well.

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