Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
I discovered Julian of Norwich's Book of Showings while searching for mystical literature written by English-speaking authors. I was already acquainted with the English translations of the works of Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Therese of Lisieux, but I felt a gap between these authors' cultures and my own. I was slowly becoming convinced that I might be able to learn more from an English-speaking author whose mind was influenced by the same construct of language. I believed I could intuitively understand the works that were mediated through another culture and another language. In addition to this, I have been interested in the theology of the Crucified Jesus for as long as I can remember and so I am partial to this topic whenever it appears. I was hoping to find an English-speaking author who concentrated on the mystery of the crucifixion, but my main intention was to see how an English-speaking theologian could resonate my own experience of knowing God.
Julian of Norwich fulfilled the criteria I had set down. She wove the story of the crucifixion into a larger doctrine of love, using the rich and colorful imagery of fourteenth century English. I found an immediate kinship with the subject matter of her text and I enjoyed the way she expanded metaphors and allegories to develop her theological teaching. As I read the Book of Showings over and over, I began to decipher an intricate structure in Julian's text. I detected a theme of love running through every page of her book, although Julian did not draw out a theology of love. The longer I studied the Showings, the more I realized that Julian's flair for developing simple metaphors and images was an integral part of her theological framework. Taking all these facets of the text into account, I have decided to focus attention on the images and themes in the Book of Showings and to specify the character of this theology of love. I try to demonstrate how Julian engaged in a style of biblical exegesis that was popular in her time and I explain why her adaptation of this methodology is a work of spiritual genius. Rather recently Karl Rahner has pointed to the significance of understanding this mode of medieval thinking, known as the spiritual senses. Rahner defends the task of wading through various theological constructs in the texts of the mystical writers to discover more of the original mystical events that the mystical authors have set out to describe.1 In carrying out my investigation of Julian of Norwich's notion of love, I have not only discovered more of her original mystical experience, I have also found that Julian's reflections on her revelations deepened her original mystical experience and allowed her to pass on a fuller revelation of divine love to her fellow Christians.
This is the first serious study of the theme of love in Julian of Norwich's writings. Paul Molinari has approached Julian's Book of Showings as a treatise on prayer,2 and Colledge and Walsh repeated the same theme in their long introduction to the critical edition of the Showings.3 T. S. Eliot focused on her words of hope--"all shall be well"-- and immortalized them for twentieth century men and women in his poem "Little Gidding" in Four Quartets.4 Thomas Merton eulogized the same words--"all shall be well"-- and advocated the serious study of the Showings in order to tap into the wisdom of Lady Julian's heart; Merton felt that Julian experienced a hidden dynamism already at work in creation and believed this dynamism held the key to the meaning of life.5
Molinari's study of the theme of the prayer does not clarify all that Julian has to say. Neither does the research of Colledge and Walsh, the poetry of Eliot, the essays of Merton or my study of her notion of love. The Book of Showings is a classic because it can stand the test of constant interpretation without exhausting its content it contains what David Tracy calls an "excess of meaning."6 Authors from various disciplines can bring numerous questions to her text and discover numerous responses worth considering. Her influence in theological circles, in particular, ts becoming more apparent.
The cross-section of people who filled my requests for information and materials illustrate this growing interest in Julian of Norwich and her times. In 1977, Fr. Edmund Colledge, O.S.A., gave the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies permission to send me galley sheets of A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich. The editor of the Publishing House at the Institute, Fr. Walter Hayes, allowed me to use the galley sheets and a microfilm of some of the pages until the book was published in 1978. Jean Kennedy, the county archivist for the Norfolk Record Office., sent me pamphlets and books about the history of the city of Norwich and Norfolk County, and the rector at the Church of St. Julian answered a number of my questions and sent me photos of St. Julian Church and of a restored anchorhold which was built on the site of Julian's original dwelling, destroyed during World War II. Fr. Norman Tanner, S.J., helped me to locate a photocopy of his dissertation which studied the wills and bequests of fourteenth and fifteenth century Norwich.7
1 The Doctrine of the 'Spiritual Senses' in the Middle Ages," Theological Investigations 16, trans. David Morland (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1981), pp. 104-134.
2 Julian of Norwich: The Teaching of a 14th Century English Mystic (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1958), pp. 73-186.
3 Showings, I, pp. 130-162.
4 Four Quartets (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), pp. 56-57.
5 Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1966), pp. 191-192.
6 The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), p. 102.
7 Letter to P. Vinje from Jean Kennedy, May 20, 1980; letter to P. Vinje from Fr . Michael McLean, rector at St. Julian Church, May, 1980; letter to P. Vinje from Norman Tanner, June 13, 1980.