Sunday, 28 August 2011

Julian of Norwich: Part 2

One of the best known citations from Julian's account of her visions is the following:
At one time our good Lord said, "All manner of things shall be well"; and at another time he said, "You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well"; and the soul understood these two sayings differently.
Julian's explanation of the first of these statements would today be expressed as a trust in the providence of God, who will take a care of the big things and the small things in the our lives.

Julian's explanation of the second statement puts an emphasis on its first words, "You shall see for yourself...". Referring to evil and sin, Julian observes that some evil is so serious that we are not able to see how any good can come of it; and, for the concerned soul, this represents a disturbance in the contemplation of God. The wisdom and power of the Trinity, however, is of a different order that we are not able to understand in our weakness, and it is to this wisdom and power that the Lord refers in the visions.

Julian further develops this in two ways. The first is eschatological:
It appears to me that there is a deed which the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creaturs under Christ ... This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.
In the Short Text, Julian identifies this deed as "referring to the union with the Holy Trinity of all mankind who shall be saved".

The second is in relation to what we would think of today as the problem of evil and the Church's teaching on hell. Julian suggests that it is praiseworthy that the Trinity should tolerate the evil that exists until that deed at the end of time that will make "all things well that are not well". In the light of the first, eschatological development, she insists on faithfulness to the teaching of the Church about hell and the condemnation of the Devil and of damned souls to hell. Julian then holds this in balance with the trust engendered in the visions that what is not well will be changed into that which is well.  A passage from the Short Text also conrtibutes to understanding Julian's position:
God showed me that sin is not shameful to man, but his glory ...

Sin is the sharpest scourge that any chosen soul can be struck with ... But when the touch of the Holy Ghost brings contrition, it turns bitterness into hope of God's mercy; and then their wounds begin to heal and the soul begins to revive into the life of Holy Church. The Holy Ghost leads a man on to confession, and he earnestly shows his sins... Then in accordance with the basic teaching which the Church has received from the Holy Ghost, his confessor imposes a penance on him for each sin. By this medicine every sinful soul needs to be healed ... Although a man has the scars of healed wounds, when he appears before God they do not deface but enoble him.
We can see her theological method of synthesising what is given in the visions with what is taught by the Church at play here.

The original citation can be very easily taken as meaning that Julian has an over optimistic view with regard to evil and the reality of sin. A full reading of its context and explanation in the two texts of the Revelations does not support this.

Julian's discussion does, I think, have relevance for the new evangelisation. At the stage of proclamation, it is a common place to speak of God's love for us and the mercy that he extends towards us. The way in which Julian holds in balance a reality in the sense of sin and evil and a trust in the providence of God to make well that which is not well could inform this proclamation.

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