Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416) wrote Revelations of Divine Love, based upon a series of divine visions she received in the late 14th century, in Norwich, England. This book is considered the first book ever written by a woman in the English language, though I would argue that The Cloud of Unknowing, really should hold this place of honor, as many signs in that book, written several decades before Julian’s Revelation, point to female authorship.
Julian was born in 1342, a few years before the pandemic known as the Black Plague, or the Black Death (1346-1353) spread across Europe and England, a pandemic that was estimated to have killed over half the population of Europe. The Black Death ravaged Julian’s home city of Norwich, England from 1348-1350, when she was just a child.
In 1373, “the 8th day of May,” at the age of 30, while seriously ill on her deathbed, Julian began receiving a series of 16 divine visions, many of which were related to the death of Jesus. When she recovered from this illness, she wrote down her revelations in a book over a period of twenty years that later would be titled Revelations of Divine Love.
Julian is known as an Anchoress, a monastic person in the eremitic form of monastic life, living enclosed in a “cell,” a room attached to the church of St. Julian, in Norwich, England. From this solitary living space, Julian could listen in upon services of worship within the church, receive food and water from an outside window, and also “receive” visitors through a grated window to offer them her spiritual counsel and prayers.
Julian wrote in the vernacular, Middle English, the language of the people. She joins at least three other major mystical writers of 14th century England, all of whom also wrote some or all of their mystical works in Middle English: Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.
The long text of her book Revelation of Divine Love was not published until 1670, by English Benedictine monk, Serenus de Cressy. In the 14th century, as in many times and places since, women authors were not allowed to publish their writings, and often were either suppressed or their works were brought to the public anonymously.
Themes in Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love
Some of the great themes found in Julian’s writings include:
- The passion of Jesus on the Cross as consolation to all who suffer;
- God’s love express in all things and at all times;
- The inherent goodness of God’s creation;
- Creation as tiny, but good and highly valued and loved by God;
- The ultimate impotence of evil;
- The feminine aspects of God’s character;
- The beauty, friendliness, and love of God;
- Jesus speaking directly to us as readers in first person, personally, intimately;
- The reassurance that even in face of a corrupt world around us filled with great troubles, because of God’s love and because of Jesus’ death on the Cross, “all will be will.”
Sample quotes from Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love
The following quotes are from Revelation of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich, translated by Fr. John-Julian, OJN (Paraclete Press, 2011).
- For the Trinity is God, God in the Trinity; the Trinity is our Maker, the Trinity is our Keeper, the Trinity is our everlasting Lover, the Trinity is our endless Joy and Bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ (11)
- Also in this revelation He showed a little thing, the size of a hazel nut in the palm of my hand, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: “What can this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is made.” God loves it; and in this way everything has its being by the love of God. (13)
- And all this He showed me most blessedly, meaning this: “See, I am God. See, I am in everything. See, I do everything. See, I never lift my hands from my works, nor ever shall without end. See, I lead everything to the end I ordained for it from without beginning by the same Power, Wisdom, and Love with which I made it. How would anything be amiss?” (34)
- For this little pain that we suffer here we shall have an exalted, endless knowledge in God, which we could never have without that pain. (53)
- Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. (64)
- Each kind compassion that a person has toward his fellow Christian with love, it is Christ in him. (67)
- “I am able to make everything well, and I know how to make everything well, and I wish to make everything well, and I shall make everything well, and you shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well.”
- It is a supreme friendship of our gracious Lord that He protects us so tenderly while we are in our sin. Furthermore, He touches us most secretly and shows us our sin by the sweet light of mercy and grace. (90)
- Praying is a true, gracious, lasting intention of the soul one-ed and made fast to the will of our Lord by the sweet, secret working of the Holy Spirit. (94)
- Pray inwardly, though you sense nothing, though you see nothing, though you think you can achieve nothing, for in dryness and barrenness, in sickness and in feebleness, then is your prayer completely pleasing to me (says God) though it seems to give you but little pleasure. Thus, all your living is prayer in my eyes.” (95)
- Thanksgiving is also part of prayer. Thanksgiving is a true awareness, with great reverence and loving awe turning ourselves with all our might toward the actions our good Lord guides us to, rejoicing and thanking Him inwardly. (96)