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Definition: Julian of Norwich from Chambers Biographical Dictionary


English mystic

Born probably in Norwich, Norfolk, she is thought to have lived in isolation outside St Julian's Church, Norwich. She had a series of visions in May 1373, and her account of these and meditations on their significance have survived in mid-15th- and mid-16th-century manuscript copies, published in modern versions as the Showings or Revelations of Divine Love. Her thoughts have had lasting influence on theologians stressing the power of the love of God.

Summary Article: Julian of Norwich
from Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology

Medieval mystic and theologian, Julian of Norwich (1342–ca 1416) is best known for her Showings, an account of her sixteen visions of Christ on the cross. Vowing a life of solitary devotion and prayer as an anchoress (see Anchoritism), she wrote within the anchorhold of the church of St Julian in the context of England’s Black Death. A product of over three decades of interpreting the visions, the long text of Showings (the expanded version) contains rich theological reflections on the nature of God, the Trinity, and redemption. Her interpretation of atonement, conveyed in the parable of the lord and the servant (Chapter 51), is one of her most significant contributions to Christian theology. In this parable, she replaces the forensic language of humanity as guilty before God, with a depiction of humanity as weak and vulnerable, willing to do God’s will, but lacking strength. In her visions, Julian receives a view of the world through the eyes of the suffering Christ. Her frequently quoted statement –‘all manner of thing shall be well’ – provides a vision of wellness from the site of suffering. This vision is expressed in multiple Trinitarian iterations, in which sin is contained within a vision of God as creating, loving, and sustaining the world in its fragile goodness. Although she claims to be both ‘unlettered’ and fully aligned with the teachings of the Church, her writings display significant theological acumen and innovations on medieval theology. She exposes the inadequacy of divisions between ‘spiritual’ and ‘theological’ writings, and her references to God and Jesus as Mother provide insights for rethinking gendered language for God.

  • Jantzen, G., Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian (Paulist Press, 2000).
  • Shell Rambo
    © Cambridge University Press 2011

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