Julian of Norwich

Addressing the introduction to Julian’s Showings is a challenging task, indeed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh have densely packed their research of the text noting the differences between the Short Text and the Long Text, Julian’s theology and exegesis of her showings, her keen development of the rhetorical style, the role of contemplation, and the dichotomy that inherently exists in God’s movement within fallen man.
In their introduction Colledge and Walsh note Julian’s two texts and the differences between them. First, they comment on Julian’s inclusion of the allegorical lord and servant motif found in the second text but absent from the first. Their ultimate conclusion concerning the inclusion of the showing in the second text is that Julian had received the revelation but had not yet discovered its meaning and suppressed the verbalization of it until she had worked through its purpose. As a whole, they observe that the revelations that Julian shares in the first text are more subjective than in the second and that she desired, in her own personal growth as a contemplative and rhetorician, to attend her work from a more rational yet more intimate perspective.

As Julian’s manner of addressing her subject grew, Colledge and Walsh also note her own theology and exegesis of her revelations. Distinctly Trinitarian in theology, Julian “states that the soul’s longing for God is a participation in Christ’s own longing” (53). Passion and desire for Christ echoes the passion and longing from the Son to His Father. Additionally, Julian emphasizes salvation contingent upon “prevenient and concomitant grace” (55); without grace occurring first, salvation is impossible. Upon this solid foundation of grace resides Julian’s longing for her revelations and the translation of those showings for a fallen man.

Concerning her conviction of what contemplation indicates, she resolves that prayer is “seeking, suffering, and trusting” (63). To add Julian intimated that a contemplative, and all Christians for that matter, feel the pain and pleasure of salvation; that pain could only be delivered through prayer, faith, and theology (36). Concerning the pleasure of contemplation the introduction refers to Julian’s belief of intense passion and diligence inherent in contemplative prayer. One must be resolute in desire to see the face of God else no answer will come from prayer. As she grows in her vocation, they also note her development of exegesis of her showings in four methods: tropological, syllogistic, anagogical, and allegorical. Furthermore, as she matures (I use that term not with disrespect), she also matures in her rhetorical style. Colledge and Walsh liken her stylistic form to Geoffrey Chaucer. These subtle qualities of her writing reveal the growth in her introspection and patience as she discerns the Holy Spirit’s revelation.

Finally, threading throughout their introduction is the dichotomy of passion and pain, anguish and rapture. They note “shame and sorrow for sin are linked with a proper fear of divine retribution” (70). Yet, this shame and fear are balanced with joy and weightlessness and sublime peace. Julian perceived “joy and sorrow” were in harmony with “despair and presumption” (43). She also uses the terms “consolation” and “desolation” as she gazes upon her showing (52). Colledge and Walsh note that Julian writes with “paradoxical” rhetoric as she conveys the truth of her showings (57).

I wish to conclude with a brilliant summation of Julian’s revelation from Colledge and Walsh: “The authority with which her thinking develops, the clarity and decision of her language, and the ease and subtlety with which this complex of inspirations and the associations which they suggest to Julian is resolved make this chapter [chapter 10, long text] a truly remarkable and wholly professional performance” (35).

This piece is written as a reflection of Julian of Norwich Showings, The Classics of Western Spirituality edition.

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