"God showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying 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 was made.' It was so small I thought it might disappear, but I was answered... everything has being through the love of God." --Julian of Norwich

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Revisiting Julian

Well, after those beautiful pictures in my last post, I've found myself at a loss for words. This summer so far has been a long road trip, two wonderful courses (Systematic C--on the Holy Spirit, Church, and Eschaton--and T.S. Eliot) and other escapades with Clint and Laura. For example, I learned when we visited Yellowstone National Park that Clint's colorblindness makes it impossible for him to see that I have a sunburn (or warn me that I'm getting one). Odd. Right now my to do list is a reading list...

As a part of that endeavor (and for my upcoming Spiritual Autobiography course) I've been making my way through Julian of Norwich's long text again. Every time I read it I have a very hard time with the initial chapters, which are a beautiful, but bleak description of the crucifixion. But if you can press through, these are a stark contrast to the joyful vision of God's delight in Christ's sacrifice and Christ's deep love for us which she describes toward the middle of the book.

Reading it again has reminded me how important her message has been to my own spiritual journey; her gospel of love and acceptance and her deep desire to explain sin and suffering were the first glimpse I have ever had of a theory of the atonement other than Substitutionary Atonement. Imagine my delight this year when I found out that her ideas are similar to Irenaeus of Lyons' explanation of the Recapitulation of humanity to God, one of the most ancient explanations of atonement. The most fundamental attitude of God toward man that Julian emphasizes is Love (and it is a capital-L Love she's talking about), and she specifically lashes out against those who state that his fundamental attitude is wrath. She describes that our sin does not change that basic attitude of God toward us, but that it changes our basic attitude toward God, coming between us and preventing us from loving Him as we were made to do.

Listen as she talks of God's love: "And with this our good Lord said most joyfully: See how I love you, as if he had said, my darling, behold and see your Lord, your God, who is your Creator and your endless joy; see your own brother, your saviour; my child, behold and see what delight and bliss I have in your salvation and for my love rejoice with me." (Julian of Norwich, Revelation of Love, long text, Chapter 24)

One common reason stated to explain why Christian women thinkers are not included in the History of Theology is that they are not a part of the idolized traditional "development of thought." Yet Julian's work is clearly connected to those great minds of the Church who went before her, and she adds her own beautiful flair. Perhaps one of the reasons that we ought to reintegrate women's texts into our courses on theology as we discover them in dusty, forgotten corners, is that they are a part of a whole new "development of thought." History is not yet completed; the Tradition must be taken seriously, but it is still living and growing. They rediscovered Aristotle in the Middle Ages and it changed the course of thought... It is time.


  1. I want to pick up Cindy's copy of Julian and read through it now. I have a deep devotion to Irenaeus, and I am excited to hear another voice, especially a woman voice, speaking the same things. Thanks for alerting me to this!

  2. Hey Josh, do read it and let me know how you think it compares. My exposure to Ireneus is still very preliminary, but it seems to me that they are along the same lines. I would love to hear your thoughts!