Sr Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P., with the Edition of Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love, Kilcullen, Kildare, Ireland, 1998
ixteen Revelations of Divine Love would be a remarkable book in any age; as a product of fourteenth-century England it is something of a miracle. To begin with, its author is a woman, a fact that at once challenged contemporary English convention, firmly set as it was against women's receiving mystical favours at all, and still more against their desiring to blaze them abroad, if such favours were actually experienced.(2) Moreover, despite the profoundness and sublimity of its subject-matter, the Revelations is written in the most lucid and expressive English prose, with just enough rhetorical device to place it unmistakeably in the tradition of the Ancren Riwle and of Rolle .(3) Most surprising of all, perhaps, the matter of this book, written in English by an anchoress of Norwich, has little in common with the works of those great spiritual writers to whose age and country she belonged: Rolle, Hilton , and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing ; and no affinities whatever with The Book of her famous contemporary and fellow-visionary, Margery Kempe of Lynn.
Dame Julian's (4) book is extant in several manuscripts, of which four are in the British Library, one is owned by Westminster Cathedral and one is in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Of the British Library Manuscripts, Additional 37,790 [also known as the Amherst Manuscript, and giving the Short Text] is mid-fifteenth-century, and Sloane 2499, Sloane 3705 [and Stowe 42], giving the Long Text, are mid-seventeenth-century, the Westminster Cathedral Manuscript is circa 1500, while the Paris Manuscript [the earliest extant version of the Long Text] is sixteenth-century.
The apparantly simple manuscript relationship is complicated by the following circumstances: Additional 37,790 contains only about one-third of the matter contained in each of the others, Paris, Sloane and Stowe, and the same is true of Westminster. The neatly-written Paris Manuscript, though it gives Julian's name and has a fuller text than have the Sloane Manuscripts, is slightly modernized in diction and has several inferior readings; while Sloane 2499, though a later manuscript and most carelessly written, with a number of doubtful readings, yet appears to preserve on the whole the idiom and vocabulary of a later fourteenth or early fifteenth-century original.
Several modernized versions (6) and foreign translations of all or part of the Revelations have been printed (7), and the task of preparing a critical edition undertaken by the present writer. In addition, numerous essays and also full-length studies of Julian and her writings (8) have appeared. All this activity testifies to the strong attraction to the modern mind of this medieval recluse.
Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love is a series of meditations made over a period of nearly twenty years(9), based on a vision of Christ in His Passion granted to the author when she was about thirty years old(10). In describing the circumstances under which the vision was experienced, Julian alludes to herself as 'a symple creature unlettyrde'(11), the precise significance of which statement is difficult to ascertain (12). Her book in no way suggests an untutored mind. Though it contains, apart from Biblical sayings, but one direct quotation, the Revelations is nevertheless so full of scriptural allusion and imagery, so shot through with echoes of other spiritual writings, as to compel the belief that its author, through whatever medium, was familiar with at least the common stock of ideas in a vigorous mystical tradition, and with the classic expositions of those dieas. In the following pages an attempt, by no means exhaustive, is made to distinguish some of the literary influences apparently discerible in the Revelations.
By far the most important single influence is the Bible, both Old and New Testaments (13). This scriptural element is present in three forms: as more or less direct quotation; as the source of concepts adopted and expanded by Julian; and as the unconscious borrowings of a mind steeped in the language and thought of the Bible. Examples of the first type are few in number, quotations are usually short and sometimes inaccurate, as if Julian were relying on her memory:
'And in the tyme of Joy I myght haue seyde with Seynt Paule, ''Nothing schalle departe me fro the charyte of Crist''. And in the tyme of payne I myght haue seyd with Seynt Peter, ''Lorde, saue me, I peryssch''.
' . . . thys is an awter of the Unknowyn God '. (14)
Borrowings of this type are also made from the New Testament. For example, the Pauline writings provide two figures highly important to Julian's thought: the duality of man's nature, expressed in Romans 7.15-25, 2 Corinthians 4.16 etc (17); and the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, found in 1 Corinthians 12.27, Romans 12.5, Ephesians 1.23, etc.
What is described above as Julian's 'unconscious' use of scripture, namely the clothing in Biblical language of a theme not in itself Biblical, is by far the most pervasive of the three types of influence mentioned. Almost every page of the Revelations is steeped in Biblical reminiscence. The allegory of the Lord and the Servant, for example, is a marvellous blend of many scriptural ingredients: the Fall of Adam, Isaias' Song of the Servant, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Labourers in the Vineyard, the Treasure hidden in the Field, the Gospel accounts of the Passion - to name but the most obvious. Nor is this an isolated instance, for the same sort of thing is illustrated in Chapters 10, 14, 51, etc., of her work (19).
The anchoress' spontaneous use of scriptural phraseology illustrates another aspect of the same unconscious borrowing, and seems to point to close familiarity with the text of the Bible, either in the Vulgate or in the vernacular:
'Whan God shulde make mannes body he toke the slyme of the erth, whych is a mater medelyd and gaderyd of all bodely thynges . . . . '
'touch we him [Christ] and we shalle be made cleene.' (20)
As far as the Patristic writings are concerned there is some evidence in Julian's book of an acquaintance with the works of St Augustine of Hippo . Several Julian passages call to mind at once the writings of Augustine. (22). This is one striking instance:
'And than shall we alle come in to oure Lord, oure selfe clerely knowyng and God fulsomly hauying; and we endlesly be alle hyd in god - verely seyeng and fulsomly felyng - and hym gostely heryng and hym delectably smellyng and hym hall swetly swelwyng. And ther shall we se God face to face, homely and fulsomely . . . .' (23) Compare St Augustine: `Quid autem, amo, cum te amo? Non speciem corporis, nec decus temporis, nec candorem lucis . . . . Non haec amo cum amo Deum meum; et tamen amo quamdam cibum, et quemdam amplexum, cum amo Deum meum, lucen, covem, odorem, cibum, amplexum interioris hominis mei . . . . ' (24)
The only direct non-scriptural quotation in the Revelations is from Gregory 's Life of St Benedict . 'For a soul that seth the Maker of al thyng, all that is made semyth fulle lytylle'( 25) is Julian's beautiful rendering of 'quia animae videnti Creatorem angusta est omnis creature'.(26)
Possibly Julian was familiar with the Benjamin Minor of Richard of St Victor, current in her day in an English translation usually attributed to the author of The Cloud of Unknowing (27). She mentions Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite by name as 'Seynt Dyonisi of France' (28). She is quite likely to have known his Mystical Theology, also translated by the author of The Cloud (29), and perhaps his Divine Names through some similar channel. Julian's peculiarly Dionysian use of the word 'touch' (epaphe) signifying God's direct action on the soul, her fondness for numbers (especially triads), and the numerous echoes in her book of Dionysius' thought suggest a knowledge of the Areopagite's writings, though it is worthy of note that her treatment of the problem of evil (30) owes little to that of Dionysius.
A single instance must suffice to illustrate Julian's affinities in thought with Pseudo-Dionysius . The eleventh chapter of her book begins: `And after this I saw God in a poynte . . . by which syght I saw that he is in al thyng . . . . (31) It is hard to believe that this statement owes nothing to the following utterance of the Areopagite, in which, after remarking that Existence belongs to the `Absolute and Transcendent Goodness' in an incomprehensible and concentrated oneness, he goes on: `All the radii of a circle are concentrated into a single unity in the centre, and this point contains all the straight lines brought together within itself and unified to one another, and to the one starting-point from which they began . . . . ' (32)
Julian's debt to earlier and contemporary English writings is chiefly one of form. But there is a similarity in spirit to the Ancren Riwle , as well as some obvious, though probably unconscious, borrowings (33). This indebtedness to the Ancren Riwle is most likely due to Julian's close acquaintance with the earlier book, which is just what one would expect, since the Riwle was written for anchoresses. With The Cloud of Unknowing the Revelations have little in common, despite the fact that both works deal primarily with the higher forms of mystical experience. The homely spirit of The Scale of Perfection is more akin to that of the Revelations; but the scope of Hilton's book is wider, and the speculative element, so surprisingly present in the Revelations, is absent from The Scale. The two writers express at least on truth in identical terms (34) and several others in similar form (35).
While Julian may have known the writings of Richard Rolle , there is lttle evidence in her book to support such a conjecture. The two mystics differ fundamentally in temperament; and one may reasonably doubt whether the rather emotional style of the Hampole hermit would be congenial to the rationalizing mind of the anchoress; all the more so as most of Rolle's treatises (36) were intended for souls less advanced in the way of virtue than was Julian. On the other hand, Rolle's devotion to the humanity of Christ, his predilection for the Passion as a subject of meditation, and the vivid pictorial quality of his English writings in particular, find their counterpart in the Revelations of Julian (37).
The Book of Margery Kempe is not likely to have been in circulation during Julian's lifetime (38), but Margery paid a visit to Julian and they had a long talk together on the subject of Margery's trials (39). The Book is in strong contrast to the Revelations in tone and subject-matter, and would scarcely have appealed to the reticent nature of the anchoress.
This brief survey must suffice to show the truth of the contention that the subject-matter of the Revelations not only shows little trace of English formative influence, but differs strikingly in important respects from contemporary religious treatises. For it is less theoretical, less ascetic and severe in tone than The Cloud ; more limited in scope, more personal and speculative than The Scale ; more intellectual in approach than Rolle 's writings; and more spiritual than The Book of Margery Kempe .
Since Julian was a contemporary of several famous continental women mystics and ecstatics, it is interesting to inquire how much she has in common with them and to what extent she was influenced by them. It has been suggested that the Revelations may reflect an acquaintance with the letters of St Catherine of Siena (40), and it is not unlikely also that she had at least heard of the Revelationes of St Birgitta of Sweden (41) as well as those of earlier women visionaries of Helfta, like St Gertrude of Helfta and St Mechthild of Hackeborn. Even if this is true, however, their chief importance for Julian was that their writings helped to establish a new spiritual fashion, as it were, and possibly weakened contemporary English prejudice against female mystics. With the actual writings of these women (those of St Catherine perhaps excepted) Julian's work appears to have but few points of contact. While Catherine, Birgitta and Dorothea of Prussia in their writings are 'prophetical or practical;, intent on finding and interpreting the intensely active and world-reforming will of God' (42), there is a detachment and remoteness, an absence of topical allusion and denunciation in the Englishwoman's book, that contrast strangely with the writings of her continental sisters (43).
Perhaps it is even stranger that Julian seems to have more in common with the Flemish and German mystics of her century than with her own native brethren (44). The writings of Ruusbroec, Tauler and Suso furnish many parallels with her work in imagery and ideas (45), while Johannes Eckhart would appear to have influenced her strongly (45). Julian's tendency to speculate, her concrete imagery and a certain forthrightness of expression would certainly seem to give her kinship with this great German thinker. And while this resemblance may be accidental, it is a tempting surmise that two of the English writer's most daring pronouncements - on the Motherhood of God (47) and the 'godly wylle' (the only passage in her book which approaches unorthodoxy) - owe either their form or their matter, or both, to the Dominican (48). Compare, for instance, the content of the following passages, the first from Julian, the second from Eckhart: '. . . in ech a soule that shall be safe is a godly wylle that never assentyd to synne ne nevyr shall: whych wyl is so good that it may nevyr wylle evyll but evyr more contynuly it wyllyth good and workyth good in the sight of God . . . .' (49) '. . . the spark of the soul is [God's] light striking down from above, the reflection of his divine nature and ever opposed to anything ungodly . . . a permanent tendency to good; aye, even in Hell it is inclined to good . . . . ' (50)
despite these apparent reflections of foreign influence in her
book, Julian contrives triumphantly to preserve her own
personality. `The first English Woman of Letters', as Miss
Underhill styles her (51), she is as original as a Christian
writer can well be' (53); and yet, at the same time, she is
securely entrenched in the religious traditions of her age. Sixteen
Revelations of Divine Love is unique in this respect, that
it combines the fervour of the continental women mystics with
the speculativeness of the continental male mystics, and adds to
both the sanity, balance and sobriety characteristic of English
Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P.
Cross and Passion Convent
22 Griffith Avenue
Marino, Dublin 9
This essay was first published in Leeds University Studies in Language and Literature 7-8 (1952), 18-28, and is republished with the kind permission of Leeds University and of Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P.
1 Dr Hope Emily Allen gave Sister Anna Maria
Reynolds, C.P., important information concerning Julian's
dates from a will of 1394, Roger Reed, priest, vicar of St
Michael's, Coslany; as did Dom Aelred Watkins, O.S.B., from
wills of 1404, Thomas Edmund, chantry chaplain of Ainsworth,
Norwich, and 1415, John Plumpton, merchant of Conisford.. A
fourth will is that of 1416, Isabella Ufford, Countess of
2 Both Hilton and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, like the writer of the Ancren Riwle , were distrustful of such phenomenoa. See J. Morton, Ancrene Riwle Camden Society 57 (1853), 224; Phyllis Hodgson, The Cloud of Unknowing , EETS 218 (1944), Chapter IX; Rev. J.B. Dalgairnes, The Scale of Perfection (London, 1901), I.x-xi; Sanford Brown Meech and Hope Emily Allen,The Book of Margery Kempe, EETS 212 (1940), I.lxvii, p. 259, note on 6/9, p. 315, note on 126/14; Julian's own fears expressed in the Short Text of the Revelations, Chapter 6; Rev Dundas Harford, Comfortable Words for Christ's Lovers (London, 1925), p. 42.
3 R.W. Chambers, The Continuity of English Prose London, 1932), xcvii-cii; Sister Agnes Margaret Humbert, Verbal Repetition in the Ancren Riwle, pp. 101-4.
4 Serenus Cressy, O.S.B., editor of the first edition (1670) in print, used title 'Mother Juliana' [it earlier appeared in the Cambrai/Paris Catalogue, now in Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarin. J.B.H.]; Margery Kempe gives 'Dame Ielyan', p. 42; Additional 37,790, 'Iulyan'; Paris, Anglais 40, 'Iulyane' (genitive). The Sloane Manuscripts do not give Julian's name.
5 It is not known which of the two versions, the Long or the Short, was first composed, but internal evidence favours the supposition that the Short Text was written soon after the visions of 1373 were experienced, and the Long Text in the course of the 'twenty yere' mentioned in Revelations, Chapter 51, fol. 96v. For a suggested explanation see John Lawlor, 'A Note on the Revelations of Julian of Norwich', Review of English Studies, NS 11 (1951), 255-8.
6 Chapter references are to Grace Warrack's edition of Sloane 2499; capitalization and punctuation are modern.
7 A useful account of the versions is given in the Orchard Series edition of the Revelations, ed. Dom Roger Hudleston, O.S.B. (London, 1927), vii-ix. Tersteegen's German extract, which is not continuous, is based on the 1670 edition by Serenus Cressy. Dom Meunier's valuable French edition of Sloane 2499 - Révèlations de l'Amour Divine (Tours, 1925) - errs in stating Sloane chapter headings are in Paris version.
8 R.H. Thouless, The Lady Julian: A Psychological Study (SPCK, 1924); R.H. Flood, St Julian's Church, and Dame Julian (Norwich, 1937).
9 Revelations, beginning, Chapter 51.
10 Chapter 3.
11 Paris Manuscript, Chapter 2, fol. 3.
12 It is just possible that this phrase means that Julian could not read; Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries (Cambridge, 1922), p. 260; Dialogues of St Catherine of Siena, trans. A. Thorold (London, 1905), viii, Acta Sanctorum Oct.13, col 538, on two famous but illiterate women mystics who were Julian's contemporaries; however, Julian's later remark, 'I have techyng within me as it were the begynnyng of an ABC . . . ') fols. 103v-104, suggest she had mastered the art of reading; Hope Emily Allen read phrase as meaning unlettered in Latin.
13 T.W. Coleman, English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century (London, 1938), p. 149, remarks that Julian in the Revelations seldom quotes the Bible, and contrasts, p. 163, the talk of Julian with Margery Kempe, The Book, pp. 42-3, on this point. This distinction does not commend itself to the present writer, who finds the scriptural content of Julian's conversation identical in kind with that of the Revelations.
14 Revelations, Chapter IV, fols 31-31v, Chapter VIII, fols 37-37v. Compare with Like 1.38, Romans 8.35, Matthew 8.25,14.30, Acts 12.33. References are to the Douay Bible.
15 Revelations, Chapters 59 and 60. Compare with The Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. C. de B. Evans (London, 1924), I.427. See also Sister M. Albert, O.P., 'God is Our Mother', Life of the Spirit, Blackfriars, May 1945; André Cabusset, O.S.B., 'Une Dévotion Médiévale Peu Connu: La Dévotion a ''Jésus notre Mère''', Revue d'Ascétique et de Mystique, 99-100 (Avril-Décembre 1949).
16 Revelations, Chapter 52, fol. 106v. For a short history of the image see Dom Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism (London, 1922), p. 160. On the whole, the absence of erotic imagery in the Revelations is one of its salient characteristics.
17 Revelations, Chapters 19, 52.
18 Revelations, Chapters 51,53,54, etc.
19 Matthew 26.67, 14.25-33, Luke 14.16-17, Matthew 6, passim.
20Revelations, Chapter 10, fol. 21v; Chapter 53, fol. 112v, Chapter 77, fol. 162. Compare with Genesis 1.26, 11.7, Matthew 8.3.
21 If the shorter text be the earlier of the two versions, the omission may then be accounted for by the fact that the teachings of which they form the kernel had not yet been given to Julian. [However, see the arguments of Nicholas Watson concerning the censorship by 1413, when the Short Text proclaims itself that it was being written down, due to Arundel's prohibitions against the Bible being used in the vernacular without license. J.B.H.]
22 As there was, in Julian's day, an Augustinian friary in the very street where stood (until destroyed by enemy action in 1942) St Julian's Chruch, the anchoress could easily have become acquainted with the spirit and ideal of its friars.
23 Revelations, Chapter 43, fol. 80v.
24Confessions, X.6 (Migne, Patrologia Latina vol. 32, col. 782). Other Augustinian passages are found in Revelations, Chapters 9, 51, etc. Compare, Epist, ad Parthos, Tract. X (PL 35.2060); In Ps. CXXIX (PL 37.1696-1703), etc.
25 Revelations, Chapter 8, fols. 16v-17.
26 Gregory's Life of St Benedict, Chapter 35 (PL 66.200). The use of this quotation is noted in Father Hudleston's edition of the Revelations, p. xii; by Dom Meunier, op. cit. 34; and by Dom David Knowles, The English Mystics (London, 1927), 132.
27 Phyllis Hodgson, op cit., pp. lviii, lxxviii.
28 Revelations, Chapter 18, fol. 37. Julian, like other medieval writers, erroneously identifies St Denis of France (Martyred c. 250 A.D.) with Denis the Areopagite, who was converted by St Paul's preaching (Acts of the Apostles 17.34). See Butler, op. cit., 180-1; also Von Hügel, The Mystical Element in Religion (London, 1908), II.92 f.
29 Op. cit., pp. lviii, lxxviii.
30 Revelations, Chapter 32. Compare, Dionysius, Divine Names, Chapter 4 (Migne, Patrologia Graeca , 3.731.
31Revelations, fol. 22v.
32 Divine Names, Chapter 5 (PG 3.821. The translation is that of C.E. Rolt, The Divine Names and Mystical Theology of Pseudo-Dionysius (London, 1920), p. 137.
33Revelations, ed. Warrack, p. 152, n. 2.
34 Noted by Coleman, op. cit., p. 148.
35 See Revelations, ed. Warrack, p. 140, n. 2. For a theory about the possible mutual influence of Julian and Hilton, see Scala Perfectionis, a French translation by Dom M. Noetinger and Dom E. Bouvet, O.S.B. (Tours, 1923), II.191-3.
36 For example, Emending of Life and Fire of Divine Love.
37 Many of the lyrics on the Passion composed in Julian's day possess the vividness of detail and intimate personal tone found in both the Revelations and the writings of Rolle. See C. Brown, Religious Lyrics of the Fourteenth Century (Oxford, 1924), nos. 64, 67, 76, 79, etc.
38 See The Book, op. cit, p. li.
39 Ibid. pp. 42-3.
40 See Catholic Encyclopaedia VIII, St Catherine of Siena. For an account of the English Augustinian Hermit, William Flete, and his relations with St Catherine, see A. Gwynne, The English Austin Friars in the Time of Wycliff (Oxford, 1940), pp. 161 f. Sister M Albert, O.P., in a study as yet unpublished, finds a strong similarity in outlook between St Catherine and Julian. The present writer feels that, despite a fundamental spiritual kinship, there is a dynamic quality in the Italian mystic's method which differentiates her completely from the English recluse.
41 St Birgitta died in 1373 and was canonized in October, 1391. See The Book, p. 95.
42 W.P. Cummin, The Revelation of St Birgitta, EETS 178 (1929), p. 123, note on 1/1.
43 This may be due to the fact that Julian, as a recluse, was withdrawn from external affairs, while these other women mystics lived all or most of their lives 'in the world'.
44 For commerce in Flanders at this period see F. Blomefield, History of Norfolk (1739-1775), 5 vols, II.61-3.
45 Dom Meunier, op. cit., quotes several instances.
46 It is possible that Julian had a Dominican confessor or director; the Dominicans were a great power in Norwich in Julian's day.
47 See above, p. 21, n. 15.
48 See Knowles, op. cit., p. 144.
49Revelations, Chapter 53, fol. 111.
50The Works of Meister Eckhart , op. cit., II.113.
51 Ibid., I.88.
52Cambridge Medieval History VII.807.
53 Knowles, op.cit., p. 131.
54 Acknowledgements are due to Mr. R.M. Wilson, University of Sheffield, under whose supervision the writer of this article prepared an edition of the British Library Sloane Manuscript 2499 for the M.A. degree of Leeds University, 1947.
Pieter Breughel the Elder, 1564, 'Death of the Virgin'
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Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P., The Passion in Julian of Norwich;
and The Julian Summit
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