Julian of Norwich: The ‘Sharpness’ of Sin

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever heard of Julian of Norwich? She was a mystic who is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches although not officially in the Roman Catholic Church. She also wrote the first book by a woman in the English language.

Her Revelations of Divine Love was published in 1395. Wikipedia tells us this about her life

Her writings indicate that she was probably born around 1342 and died around 1416. She may have been from a privileged family that lived in Norwich, or nearby.[...] Julian may have become an anchoress whilst still unmarried or, having lost her family in the Plague, as a widow. Becoming an anchoress may have served as a way to quarantine her from the rest of the population. There is scholarly debate as to whether Julian was a nun in a nearby convent or even a laywoman. [...]

When she was 30 and living at home, Julian suffered from a severe illness. Whilst apparently on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense visions of Jesus Christ, which ended by the time she recovered from her illness on 13 May 1373.

In other words nobody knows a lot about her life

Her theology is interesting, she comes fairly close to being an Universalist, although some of it appears to be based somewhat on St. Augustine, and her thinking is such that I have heard her called a Proto-Lutheran, because it does somewhat parallel Luther’s beliefs.

I would guess that I will write on this again, since I have just obtained a copy it (it is available online here). But I wanted to introduce you to some of her theology and Journey Towards Easter wrote about her yesterday.

In the thirty-ninth chapter of the Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich writes about the effect that sin has upon the conscientious soul. It is a great pain to one who desires to escape vice and to grow in virtue, and in a certain sense is its own punishment. However, the sense of unworthiness that comes with an experience of the ‘scourge’ of sin does have its positive benefits – it humbles us, [...]

When we have sinned then, we recognise not only that we have done wrong, have offended against the good will of our Creator, but that there is also a profound sense in which we know ourselves to have done violence to the fabric of reality itself. Deep down we know that the will of God is reality, and so when we sin we find ourselves in a kind of spiritual disjunct. This sense of disjuncture, perhaps even more than the feeling of moral outrage, is what so often causes a sense ofembarrassment after sinning – ‘how could I have done this again?’ ‘Am I mad…what was I thinking?’ It is at this point that it is important not to fall into another kind of pride, lambasting ourselves only because we should have known better, because we have fallen short of our expectations, instead of turning to God in a spirit of true contrition.

This is an extract of the book that is quoted in the article that I wanted to share with you, although somewhat out of his context.

Sin is the sharpest scourge that any elect soul can be flogged with. It is the scourge which so reduces a man or woman and makes him loathsome in his own sight that it is not long before he thinks himself fit only to sink down to hell…until the touch of the Holy Spirit forces him to contrition, and turns his bitterness to the hope of God’s mercy. Then he begins to heal his wounds, and to rouse his soul as it turns to the life of Holy Church. The Holy Spirit leads him on to confession, so that he deliberately reveals his sins in all their nakedness and reality, and admits with great sorrow and shame that he has befouled the fair image of God. Then for all his sins he performs penance imposed by his confession according to the doctrine of Holy Church, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the humble things that greatly pleases God…

…Dearly indeed does our Lord hold on to us when it seems to us that we are nearly forsaken and cast away because of our sin – and deservedly so. Because of the humility we acquire this way we are exalted in the sight of God by his grace, and know a very deep contrition and compassion and a genuine longing for God…

Do read the article, in its entirety it makes more sense, Julian of Norwich: The ‘Sharpness’ of Sin and the Goodness of Contrition | Journey Towards Easter.

Remember that this was written by a woman in 14th century England who referred to herself as a “simple creature unlettered (Rev. chap. 2), it is possible that she was educated and that “unlettered” carries a more nuanced meaning.”

A Question in the Comments

copts-attacked1On Jessica’s post Where is Comfort, the Unit asked Jessica in comments a question.

Golly gee Ms. Hof. Thanks for comment. I wonder if you could maybe post here as to a question I still have? One of the last things Momma said to me is “the righteous suffer with the unrighteous.” I spare you (well spare myself) the details as many suffer. But her circumstance didn’t let me delve into what she knew Biblically on that.

That was 2006, she 91…me now in seventies. Thank you so much. the unit

Jess got sick before she answered it, and I think it deserves an answer. She’s far better qualified but I’ll take a shot at it.

St. Peter tells us in I Peter 3:18 that

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

Which is, of course, fairly obvious, or at least we hope so, since we are all sinners, and hence unjust, and need His grace to save us.

But you and I know that sometimes it seems that we who try to do the right thing feel like we are almost oppressed in our society doesn’t it. I, like you see all the stories about Christianity being driven from public life, and all the rest, and in truth sometimes even it seems like those we love and are in the faith hurt us. And we get sick, and we suffer, even in fact as Jess herself has, and those that love her have, and it just doesn’t seem right, does it?

In many ways, I suspect a lot of it, is simply that our culture has led us to believe that we should be happy, in this life. Sometimes we are; but that’s not what Jesus promised was it? He promised that we would be persecuted in this life, and would find our happiness in the next.

But Ezekiel 21 tells us this:

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, preach against the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I I Am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you.Because I will cut off both righteous and wicked from you, therefore My sword shall go out of its sheath against all flesh from south to north,

And that is a pretty dire prophecy, I would say. Dr. John Oakes tells us here, however

When God brings physical judgment on a nation, both the godly and the

ungodly will suffer. This may seem unfair upon first consideration, but
when God judges a nation, as he surely has a right to do, the suffering of
both the good and the evil is inevitable. However, the righteous may
suffer physically, but they will not lose their place in heaven if their
heart is devoted to God. This is a general law of human existence. God
causes the rain to fall on the good and the evil. Some of the blessings of
God will fall on those who do not even acknowledge him. Sometimes, even
good people are caused to suffer because of the sins of others, but in the
end, God will reward them for their righteous life. God does not promise a
care-free life to those who turn to him.

And so it seems like in many ways, if you are righteous, you will suffer along with the unrighteous, in this world. Calamities happen to us all, just as we all get the spring rain, we also get the tornado. We are seeing plenty of that recently aren’t we, what with the Copts and the Iraqi Christians, two of the oldest of Christian communities, going back to the time of the Apostles themselves.

But, at the last we are judged individually, and that is where our reward is. In the next world, not this one. And we have to trust Him, who told us in Mathew 11:30

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And the key here is that a yoke is used on at least two oxen, it is surely placed on us, but the other side is placed on Christ Himself, who helps us by sharing our burden.

Happy ‘anti-slavery day’

Diagram of a slave ship from the Atlantic slav...

Diagram of a slave ship from the Atlantic slave trade. From an Abstract of Evidence delivered before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently in 2007 the EU Parliament passed a law that made 18 October ‘Anti Human trafficking day’ and in 2010 the british Parliament made the same day ‘Anti-slavery day’. My take on that is: whoopee, maybe we could have a hashtag next–they’re all about as effective.

Why this is here is a reminder that it was the British, led mostly by Wilberforce, that ended the transatlantic slave trade, by putting the Royal Navy, and their money where their mouth was.

Still, I like Ann Jolis’ article here, she says some good things, and that’s her job. And she did a good job.

But we need to heed what the Spectator editors of an earlier age said.

We could not have believed for a moment, a year ago, that the Times and Saturday Review would both in the same week devote their ablest pens to an apology, not merely for Slavery itself, but for the Christian character of that institution. Yet so it is. . . .

The Times follows its bolder contemporary on the same track, modestly suggesting that it would be much more Scriptural and Christian in the abolitionists to preach the ‘amelioration of the negro’ (we suppose the writer means, of his lot), than his emancipation. . . .

For ourselves we do not hesitate to say that no religious scepticism of the present day seems to us so monstrous and so atheistic as this; nay, that if the Gospel were weighted with such a condition, it would be one that neither sign nor miracle could prove. It is, speaking relatively, of infinitely little importance whether we live under an aristocracy or a democracy, compared with whether we live under a God who loves freedom, or a Devil who loves Slavery. But, we confess, nothing seems to us more astounding than the assertion that the Divine revelation is indifferent on the matter. No doubt, the Divine education of the Hebrew people never attempted to ignore the actual historical condition of the nation. It recognized, under the strictest possible limitations, the fact of Slavery, at an era when no other people had learned to impose any limitation on the power of the master at all.

 

Via Happy ‘anti-slavery day’ to Clapham Christians, et al » Spectator Blogs.

Those are words we would be well advised to heed, and with more than our mouths.

There is still much work to do.

A Visit to Assandun, maybe

Hadstock Church via A Clerk of Oxford

Hadstock Church
via A Clerk of Oxford

If you remember we talked the other day about the Battle of Hastings and its aftermath, right down to this day. But fifty years before 1066, there was another battle in England, this one between Cnut and Edmund Ironside. In this one the Danish King won, and the first time the House of Wessex lost the throne, actually Edmund conceded half the kingdom and when he died a month later Cnut took over it all.

I don’t know if they teach about this in the UK but, I had barely heard of it, and essentially remember less. But that got remedied yesterday, thanks to The Clerk of Oxford. Here’s a fascinating story about piecing together history, and some beautiful pictures of England and an English church, as well.

All in all a perfect Sunday article for a blog that loves history. Enjoy

18 October is the anniversary of the climactic battle of the Danish Conquest of England: on this day in 1016 the Danish army, led by Cnut, defeated an English army led by Edmund Ironside at a place called Assandun in Essex. After Assandun Edmund Ironside conceded defeat to the Danes and agreed to divide the kingdom with Cnut; when he died just over a month later, Cnut was accepted as king of all England. Assandun was, therefore, a significant date in the history of Anglo-Saxon England, which probably would have been even more significant if it had not been overtaken by the Battle of Hastings, which took place exactly fifty years later, almost to the very day. Last year I wrote about three sources for the battle in English, Latin and Old Norse, partly in an effort to suggest just how large this battle loomed in the memory of Cnut’s conquest later in his reign (those three sources were written between 5-25 years after Assandun). Today I want to do something different – where that post was nearly all words, this will be nearly all pictures.

As I’ve been working on narratives of the Danish Conquest and writing a series of posts about it (which you can find here), I’ve been getting interested in what you might call the landscape of conquest: what significance certain places might have had for the people involved in the various events of the conquest. (For a possible comparison, think how the single word ‘Hastings’ has come to stand for everything that happened at the Norman Conquest.) We don’t know whether Assandun had that kind of significance to Cnut and his followers, but there are various bits of evidence to suggest it might have done – I touched on another possible example in my post about a church in Sandwich. This train of thought has encouraged me to try and visit some of the places in question, so today, come with me on a visit to Assandun.

Actually, that’s not possible. The site of the battle of Assandun has never been conclusively identified: it’s a common placename, and there are various possible candidates. TheAnglo-Saxon Chronicle says it was in Essex, so the two most likely sites are Ashdon and Ashingdon, in the north-west and south-east of Essex respectively. Ashingdon has traditionally been the favoured candidate, but there are strong arguments for both (I personally lean towards Ashdon, for reasons I’ll only bore you with if you really want to hear them). I recently paid a flying visit to Suffolk, in the course of which I found myself not far from Ashdon, which is on the border between Suffolk and Essex. This seemed the perfect opportunity for an impromptu pilgrimage. Now, even I wouldn’t attempt to plan a pilgrimage to a completely unidentified battlefield, but there’s a more tangible relic of Assandun, more worth going in search of. In 1020, a few years after becoming king, Cnut founded a church at the site of the battle. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (D) tells us in the entry for 1020:

on þisan geare for se cyng 7 Þurkyl eorl to Assandune, 7 Wulfstan arcebiscop, 7 oðre biscopas, 7 eac abbodas 7 manege munecas, 7 gehalgodan þæt mynster æt Assandune.

[In this year the king and Earl Thorkell went to Assandun, with Archbishop Wulfstan and other bishops, and also abbots and many monks, and consecrated the church at Assandun.]

The people named in this entry indicate the importance of this church to the new Danish regime. Wulfstan is the great archbishop of York, whom we last encountered in 1014 railing against the disloyalty of English people who collaborated with the Danes; he had by this time had quite a change of heart, and become one of Cnut’s chief advisers and law-makers. (A lot can happen in six years!) Wulfstan presided at the consecration of the church at Assandun, and one of his surviving sermons, ‘On the Dedication of a Church’, may well have been preached on this occasion. The other person named by the Chronicle is Earl Thorkell, who was remembered as thehero of Assandun, and whom Cnut had recently made Earl of East Anglia. Any event which could bring these two men together must have been pretty extraordinary. We can also populate the Chronicle‘s crowd with various people likely to have been there, standing beside Cnut, Thorkell and Wulfstan: Cnut’s new wife Emma, Earl Godwine (and his new Danish wife, Gytha?), Æthelnoth (soon to be made Archbishop of Canterbury), the Norwegian earl Eiríkr, newly appointed earl of Northumbria, and more. The church was entrusted to Stigand, a priest probably of Anglo-Danish origin, who though very much a winner after the Danish Conquest was very much a loser after the Norman Conquest. With hindsight, there are many tantalising connections and ironies to be drawn out from this disparate collection of people – English, Danish, Norwegian and Norman – who were between them to shape England’s fate throughout the eleventh century: the following year Thorkell would be outlawed, three years later Wulfstan would be dead, and fifty years later the young priest Stigand would be Archbishop of Canterbury, crowning the upstart Godwine’s son King of England.

Continued at A Clerk of Oxford: A Visit to Assandun maybe.

Martin Luther Reviews Joel Osteen’s ‘Your Best Life Now’

NEO:

That about sums it up, I think.

Originally posted on Zwinglius Redivivus:

Luthers handschriftlicher Eintrag der Lebensdaten der Heiligen Elisabeth in dem Sammelband mit der Signatur 75.2 Quod.

Luthers handschriftlicher Eintrag der Lebensdaten der Heiligen Elisabeth in dem Sammelband mit der Signatur 75.2 Quod.

May God punish you, I say, you shameless, barefaced liar, devil’s mouthpiece, who dares to spit out, before God, before all the angels, before the dear sun, before all the world, your devil’s filth. You are in all you do the very opposite of Christ as befits a true Antichrist. You are the devil’s most dangerous tool! Must we believe your nightmares? We leave you to your own devices, for nothing properly suits you except hypocrisy, flattery, and lies.– Martin Luther

View original

Naught For Our Comfort

I doubt that it is news to any of you but, one of the great joys of mine in writing this blog for the last two years has been the help and friendship of Jessica, and her co-author Chalcedon. I admire them both greatly, and one of the reasons for that is that they have rekindled my love for poetry, and you have seen all of us use it to reinforce our points. It is hardly a new method but, it is one used rarely these days. I suspect because most of us are so ill-educated that we are unaware of its richness, and ability to reinforce our point.

If you read much of Lincoln’ writings and speeches, for instance, you will see it used to great effect. For instance his famous, “of the people, for the people, and by the people’ was not original, nor did he claim it was, and his listeners knew it was not. The original is this: “This Bible is for the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” it is by John Wycliffe and it is from 1384.

And so they have enriched my life, and will continue to do so, God willing, and yours as well because it is reflected in my posts for you. And so

A sea-folk blinder than the sea
Broke all about his land,
But Alfred up against them bare
And gripped the ground and grasped the air,
Staggered, and strove to stand.

For earthquake swallowing earthquake
Uprent the Wessex tree;
The whirlpool of the pagan sway
Had swirled his sires as sticks away
When a flood smites the sea.

Our towns were shaken of tall kings
With scarlet beards like blood:
The world turned empty where they trod,
They took the kindly cross of God
And cut it up for wood.

He bent them back with spear and spade,
With desperate dyke and wall,
With foemen leaning on his shield
And roaring on him when he reeled;
And no help came at all.

There was not English armor left,
Nor any English thing,
When Alfred came to Athelney
To be an English king.

It was a very bad time to be King Alfred of Wessex, and I think it holds parallels to our time as well. to continue

“Mother of God” the wanderer said
“I am but a common king,
Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
To see a secret thing.

“But for this earth most pitiful.
This little land I know,
If that which is forever is,
Or if our hearts shall break with bliss
Seeing the stranger go?”

And here we come to my introduction to this epic by Jess, when she quoted to me on one of our political defeats

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher

“And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.’

Naught for your  comfort has become a catchphrase for us when things go awry, which has been often these last few years for us Americans, and for Britons as well.

We are living through a failed presidency (or at least trying to) and one of the reasons it has failed is that many of our countrymen have confused Obama with God, and I suspect he has as well. That never turns out well, and it is not here either.

I’m reminded that first class leaders hire the best men they can find to help them, and second class leaders hire third class helpers, and worst of all, third class leaders hire lackeys who will tell them what they want to hear. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

But we are going to have to soldier until after the next election, and hope we find a man (not a god) to help us lead in the rebuilding western civilization, for without our leadership it will fall. It’s going to be an epically hard battle, and we could do worse than to emulate King Alfred.

But remember, we remember King Alfred because he won. Let’s finish with the rest of the poem.

And this was the might of Alfred,
At the ending of the way;
That of such smiters, wise or wild,
He was least distant from the child,
Piling the stones all day.

The King looked up, and what he saw

Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

[...]

They shall not come in warships,
They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.

Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.

What though they come with
scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them
That they ruin and make dark;

By all men bond to nothing
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed
Too blind to be abhorred.

By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast
of the world
And the end of the world’s desire.

By God and man dishonored
By death and life made vain
Know ye, the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again

The eternal battle against barbarism is ours to win for our generation or to lose for generations to come. It has taken us a thousand years to get where we are, and it might take longer to recover. So, Stand Fast, my friends.

Did that interest you enough to wonder about the poem and its author? I hope so. It was written by G.K. Chesterton (and its much longer than the excerpts here) it’s called The Ballad of the White Horse. You can find it at Project Gutenberg.

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