Monday, 29 August 2011

Julian of Norwich: Part 3

In which I consider Julian's treatment of God as mother or, more precisely, of Jesus as mother.
Thus our Lady is our mother in whom we are all enclosed and we are born from her in Christ; for she who is mother of our Saviour is mother of all who will be saved in our Saviour. And our Saviour is our true mother in whom we are eternally born and by whom we shall always be enclosed.
This is a first sense in which Julian describes Christ as mother, and she does it in a relation to her understanding of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary. A reading of both texts of the Revelations indicates a Marian dimension to Julian's writing that has a very modern ring to it, though studies explain this dimension in the context of a growth in Marian devotion at Julian's time, a growth that more feminist interpretations put down to wish at the time to find a more feminine aspect to a religion dominated by maleness. Julian also does this in the context of the Church as the Body of Christ and mother of all Christians, the Marian dimension also having an ecclesial dimension.

The second, and more systematically developed, way in which Julian describes Christ as mother is in the context of the Holy Trinity.
I considered the operation of all the Holy Trinity, and in doing so I saw and understood these three properties: the property of fatherhood, the property of motherhood and the property of lordship, all in one God. In our almighty Father we are sustained and blessed as far as our essential nature is concerned, which belongs to us through our making since before time began; and in the second Person, who is Intellect and Wisdom, we are sustained as far as our sensory being, our redemption and salvation are concerned; for he is our mother, brother and saviour. And in our good lord the Holy Ghost we have our reward and recompense for our living and suffering; and endless surpassing of all we desire comes from his marvellous generosity, his great and abundant grace.
Julian draws a distinction between the "essential" and the "sensory" in man, which might roughly though inexactly be considered a distinction between soul and body. This is a context in which she further develops the idea of motherhood in the activity of the Trinity. She identifies the act of creation with the Father, that of redemption with the Son/mother and that of grace with the lord/Holy Ghost. The moment of the passion and death of Jesus is described by Julian as a labour, giving birth to the redeeming of mankind; and his feeding us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist is likened to a mother feeding her child with her own milk.
.. Jesus is our true mother by nature, at our first creation, and he is out true mother in grace by taking on our created nature ...

I understand three ways of seeing motherhood in God: the first is that he is the ground of our natural creation, the second is the taking on of our nature (and there the motherhood of grace begins), the third is the motherhood of works ...

... we are redeemed by the motherhood of mercy and grace and brought back into our natural dwelling where we were made by the motherhood of natural love; a natural love which never leaves us.
In using the word "mother" of Christ, there is no suggestion that Julian intends in any way to attribute a female identity to him, and indeed she uses the masculine pronoun of him. Whilst the offices of "father" and "mother" in the Godhead (see below) are in themselves analogous with regard to gender, Julian does not suggest anything other than that Christ becomes incarnate as a man.

In using the word "mother" of Christ, Julian does not intend any denial of a "fatherhood" in God. On the contrary, such fatherhood is affirmed.

Whilst it may not be possible to dissociate Julian's use of the word "mother" of Christ completely from a question about gender, nevertheless such a question is not the purpose of her writing with regard to the motherhood of God. In this sense, one can challenge the view that Julian should be seen as an icon for a feminist theological hermeneutic.

The essence of what Julian means by the term "mother" as applied to Christ is the delineation of an office (in the sense in which Hans Urs von Balthasar would use that term), an existence and a work, within the life of the Trinity and in the action of the Trinity ad extra. The same can be said of her use of the term "father" with regard to the first person of the Trinity, and one can suggest in following her that the Christian tradition might become more aware of fatherhood in the Trinity as an office. Both terms are analogous (in the sense of the analogy of being) to the human experiences of mother and father.

There is an ecclesiological development of Julian's thought that might be explored further. This arises from her use of the word "enclosed" - that we are enclosed in both the Virgin Mary and in Christ. We are enclosed in Mary as a figure of the Church and we are enclosed in Christ, whose mystical body is the Church.

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