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.”

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30 Responses to Julian of Norwich: The ‘Sharpness’ of Sin

  1. I have a 1987 edition of a book on Julian of Norwich, (SPCK) by Grace Jantzen, and then her 2000 updated edition, (Paulist Press). Of course Julian was an anchoress of the 14th century. The 2000 edition takes feminist ideas sadly, so the 1987 edition is preferred, of course in my opinion. I am always interested myself in solid Christian mysticism, and one must be careful with Julian’s so-called “visions”! I have an older book (Blackfriars, London 1958, by Conrad Pepler, O.P. Catholic Dominican, called: The English Religious Heritage, 444 pages. Which includes so-called ‘Mother Julian’). And Christian mystics are never optimistic without the Cross, but hopefully a biblical one! My favorite guy or person in this whole history is Walter Hilton, no doubt the most precision theologically! But surely all of these are seeking the way of ascent in union with God. (He died some 20 years before Julian) And btw Hilton warned against any trust in “bodily” experiences, which may be from an evil source as well as from good. And Hilton’s terminology is always more Pauline, (Romans 12: 2).

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    • NEO says:

      The one that is online (and I have just started, is dated 1902). Haven’t read enough yet to comment intelligently but, am fascinated. She worked hard to stay withing church teaching, as a matter of fact. And of course, our favorite phrase around here came from her:

      “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

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      • Yes, overall she was a mystic Trinitarian too. But, the mystic path must be disciplined biblically and theologically! 🙂

        *Btw, I have a 1912 edition of the Anglican (CoE) William Ralph Inge’s (one time Dean of St. Paul’s) book: Christian Mysticism (The 1899 Bampton Lectures put to print). Of course this book is a classic (379 pages). The Book also has four Appendix’s!

        Liked by 1 person

        • And btw too, a few book reads I would recommend here, are On Loving God, (by Bernard of Clairvaux) An Analytical Commentary by Emero Stiegman, Cistercian Publications, (1995). And then too, any of the many books by the Anglican Evelyn Underhill. (Perhaps my favorite is her: The Ways of the Spirit. But her classic book on The Essentials Mysticism should be read!)

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        • And btw too for you NEO, (since your a Lutheran) see (if you can find a copy?) a book: Luther and the Mystics, A re-examination of Luther’s spiritual experience and his relationship to the mystics, by Bengt Hoffman, (Augsburg Publishing House, 1976). A nice book, 285 pages with chap. notes. And way back at the time (1976), Heiko Oberman wrote a positive piece for the book! Note Oberman was actually Reformed.

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  2. the unit says:

    As usual enjoyed this and comments. Enjoy is all I can do as don’t know much about geometry, algebra, or history. lol.
    Anyway early voted today. First time I ever voted party line. Used to say I vote for the person, not party. Even with RINOS now couldn’t mark a D. Only for school board which was non partisan, voted for the one who at least said against Common Core. Opponent a migrant who said 31 years as teacher…in Baltimore. lol

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    • NEO says:

      Sounds reasonable to me, Unit. Sounds like I would’ve voted much the same. My real voting here was last spring in the primary though LOL. Once you get west of grand Island there’s only one party, of course most of our are supposed to be non-partisan. Meaning George Norris was a fool! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        You always leave me with home work to do…George Norris this time. 🙂

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        • NEO says:

          He was a Progressive Senator from ut here during ( and maybe a bit before) FDRs time. Sorry about that, I forget, my dad knew him a bit. 🙂

          Norris Dam is named for him.

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        • the unit says:

          Yeah, I’ve already looked a bit. Isn’t that Damn Norris instead? 🙂

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        • NEO says:

          Would be to me, dad would have disagreed-at the time. Now, who knows. 🙂

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        • the unit says:

          Dads. Yes. The times of our/their lives. Mine advised me in the late ’50’s to take high school
          Spanish which I did two years. Guess I should’ve learnt it better.

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        • NEO says:

          Ha! You’re better off than me, my choices were German or French. Then again we could have been Brits. A good many of them took Latin.

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        • the unit says:

          And that was instead of Latin. And I forgot the 🙂

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        • NEO says:

          Great minds! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          🙂 There is there there, there. 🙂

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        • NEO says:

          🙂 We try 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        • Anybody for Latin? 😉 Us old Irish Catholic educated had to take Latin! One of the better lasting aspects actually. It’s use in theology has been helpful, we Protestant Reformed use it in Protestant Scholastic Theology also. And It also helps with The Lutheran Confessions.

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        • NEO says:

          Yep, i wish I’d had it, not that I would have elected to take it. 🙂

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        • the unit says:

          There you go again Fr. Robert, talking geometry, algebra and history which I don’t know much about.. You know that’s a song? 🙂

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        • NEO says:

          Just assume he’s Henery the Eighth he is 🙂

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        • the unit says:

          Love his comments and interplay to that which I don’t know about. Live and learn. 🙂

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        • I am no Henry the 8th, though I do like women! But married to just one! 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Now I done fully cooked. Leave it to you all for anymore contributions. Always fun. Thanks.

          Like

        • Yes, I guess I am just the perpetual student! And living is learning! 😉 I thank God for each and every day! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Fr. Robert. 🙂

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  3. the unit says:

    1965 good year for Henry the Eighth I Am. Also…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWB1Sqsx1jo
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Julian of Norwich ~ Mystic, Theologian and Anchoress | nebraskaenergyobserver

  5. Pingback: Six Hundred Years- The Same Message | All Along the Watchtower

  6. Pingback: Julian of Norwich | nebraskaenergyobserver

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