Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.
Revelations of Divine Love is a Medieval work by Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic and anchoress. It was first published in 1395 and in it Julian of Norwich describes the sixteen visions she received whilst at the age of 31.
Before then little is known about her life, but it's suggested she may have been born around 1342. At the age of 31 she became critically ill. She writes in the third chapter, titled "The illness thus obtained from God",
When I was half way through my thirty-first year God sent me an illness which prostrated me for three days and nights. On the fourth night I received the last rites of Holy Church as it was thought I could not survive till day. After this I lingered two more days and nights, and on the third night I was quite convinced that I was passing away - as indeed were those about me.
Since I was still young I thought it a great pity to die - not that there was anything on earth I wanted to live for, or on the other hand any pain that I was afraid of, for I trusted God and his mercy. But were I to love I might come to love God more and better, and so ultimately know and love him more in the bliss of heaven. Yet compared with that eternal bliss the length of my earthly life was so insignificant and short that it seemed to me to be nothing. And so I thought, 'Good Lord, let my ceasing to love to be your glory!' Reason and suffering alike told me I was going to die, so I surrendered my will wholeheartedly to the will of God.
Thus I endured till day. By then my body was dead from the waist downwards, so far as I could tell. I asked if I might be helped and supported to sit up, so that my heart could be more freely at God's disposal, and that I might think of him while my life lasted.
My parish priest was sent for to be at my end, and by the time he came my eyes were fixed, and I could no longer speak. He set the cross before my face and said, 'I have brought you the image of your Maker and Saviour. Look at it, and be strengthened.'
I thought indeed that what I was doing was good enough, for my eyes were fixed heavenwards where by the mercy of God I trusted to go. But I agreed none the less to fix my eyes on the face of the crucifix if I could. And this I was able to do. I thought that perhaps I could look straight ahead longer than I could look up.
Then my sight began to fail, and the room became dark about me, as if it were night, except for the image of the cross which somehow was lighted up; but how was beyond my comprehension. Apart from the cross everything else seemed horrible as if it were occupied by fiends.
Then the rest of my body began to die, and I could hardly feel a thing. As my breathing became shorter and shorter I knew for certain that I was passing away.
Suddenly all my pain was taken away, and I was as fit and well as I had ever been; and this was especially true of the lower part of my body. I was amazed at this sudden change, for I thought it must have been a special miracle of God, and not something natural. And though I felt so much more comfortable I still did not think I was going to survive. Not that this experience was any real comfort to me, for I was thinking I would much rather have been delivered from this world!
Then it came suddenly to my mind that I should ask for the second wound of our Lord's gracious gift, that I might in my own body fully experience and understand his blessed passion. I wanted his pain to be my pain: a true compassion producing a longing for God. I was not wanting a physical vision or revelation of God, but such compassion as a soul would naturally have for our Lord Jesus, who for love became a mortal man. Therefore I desired to suffer with him.
|Depiction of Julian of Norwich at|
St Andrew and St Mary Church, Norfolk.
From here Julian of Norwich describes the visions she received, already outlined in the first chapter of the book:
- "The first revelation tells of Christ's precious crowning with thorns. It included and demonstrated the Trinity, the incarnation, and the unity between God and the soul of man..." (Chapters 4 - 9).
- "The second concerns the discolouring of his fair face, the sign of his most dear passion." (Chapter 10).
- "The third shows that our Lord God, almighty, all-wisdom, and all-love, has made everything, and also works in and through everything." (Chapter 11).
- "The fourth speaks of the flogging of that tender body, and of the blood shed copiously." (Chapter 12).
- "The fifth reveals that the Fiend is conquered through Christ's pitiful passion." (Chapter 13).
- "The sixth describes the great honour of God's gratitude and the heavenly reward for his blessed servants." (Chapter 14).
- "The seventh depicts the recurring experience of delight and depression. The former is God's touch of grace and radiance... the latter is a temptation caused by the dullness and frustration of our life in the body..." (Chapter 15).
- "The eighth speaks of Christ's final sufferings and his cruel death." (Chapters 16 - 21).
- "The ninth relates the pleasure that the Blessed Trinity has in the grievous passion of Christ, and his pitiful death..." (Chapters 22 - 23).
- "The tenth shows our Lord Jesus rejoicing to display, in his love, his blessed heart, riven in two." (Chapter 24).
- "The eleventh is a high and spiritual revelation of his beloved Mother." (Chapter 25).
- "The twelfth shows our Lord to be the being of all that is, and most worthy." (Chapter 26).
- "The thirteenth declares the will of God to be that we should greatly value all his works..." (Chapters 27 - 40).
- "The fourteenth reveals that our Lord is the foundation of our prayers..." (Chapters 41 - 63).
- "The fifteenth says that we shall be taken suddenly from all our pain and distress and by the goodness of God attain heaven, where the Lord Jesus will be our reward, and we shall be filled with joy and bliss." (Chapters 64 - 65).
- "The sixteenth affirms that the Blessed Trinity, our Creator in Christ Jesus our Savious, lives eternally in our soul. There he rules in honour and governs all things; by making his might and wisdom he saves and keeps us for love's sake; we will not be overcome by our enemy." (Chapters 66 - 86).
In terms of writing-style, this is a simple read: Julian of Norwich communicates her thoughts and revelations eloquently and describes a loving and wise God. The subject matter is of course what makes it such a difficult read: though she was writing at the end of the fourteenth century there is essentially two thousand years of some of the most difficult questions theology faces. But Julian of Norwich's faith is the inspiring thing in all of this: that she does not know all the answers but she has complete faith and though she is like all humans with sin she is determined to overcome. For that it is a very human book, and very touching, and finally, very accessible.