ENG 310A: Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

Before getting to the discussion and reading guide, let me give you some glosses for some of the words in Julian's Revelations, words that the translator has chosen to retain so as to preserve the flavor of Julian's "homely" language more fully. Some of these are just ordinary Middle English words with different meanings than their modern descendants have, but some are Julian's own creative coinages or idiosyncratic uses. They're all more concrete than the abstract equivalents we'd use in Modern English, and thus rhetorically more effective (once you know their meaning and connotations).


again-making: an English equivalent to the word "re-creation," which is of course the origin of our word "recreation," in which we are refreshed and made new by play. Similarly, some ME religious writers "translate" the Latinate word "redemption" into its literal meaning or "again-buying," meaning that God "buys us back" from the Devil through Christ.

courteous, courtesy (adj. and n.): certainly not merely superficial politeness, or holding doors open for people out of habit, but rather the deep respect for others as persons that helps actualize both the respecter and the respected person. The theme of courtesy in Pearl is at least a partial gloss on the various levels of the idea of courtesy in the Middle Ages--it carried a spectrum of meanings from the interactions within a lord's court (where consciousness of and respect for social status was always part of the picture) to the kind of social behavior represented by Chaucer's Knight (who shows his nobility and charity by being courteous to all people, no matter what their status, to the courtesy and "royal democracy" of heaven where all souls are equal before God.

even-christians (n.): fellow-Christians -- but notice the connotations of equality, peer-relationship, matching, and perhaps identification in the word "even"; we are not just "fellows" with each other, but peers or mates (like spouses, or elements in a matched set).

full filling (v.): here Julian stretches the meaning of the word "fulfill" to its etymological limits--she means both "achieve, fulfill" in the modern sense and "fill full, fill up, fill completely." God's grace "full fills" us in both senses.

ghostly (adj.): only tangentially related to dead people; the original meaning of "ghostly" was "spiritual," and a "ghost" was any spirit (hence a dead person's spirit that appears to us is a ghost). Thus the Holy Ghost has nothing to do with white sheets on Halloween, but is the Holy Spirit. Priests who heard confessions were sometimes referred to as "ghostly fathers," i.e., spiritual fathers.

homely (adj.): not "ugly, plain," but "intimate, home-like, close, warm"; even "homey" doesn't quite get it, since that word tends to cutesy connotations, and Julian's "homely" has to do with a far deeper emotion than mere "homey-ness." If you know Alice Walker's powerful story "Everyday Use," you might think of how "every-day-ness" is given its true value in that story--Julian's "homeliness" is something like that. "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Etc., etc.

kind (n. and adj.); has its modern senses of "type, sort" and "gentle, loving," but is still much closer to the original meaning of the word, "nature, essence"/"natural," with the idea that it is deeply natural for human beings made in God's image to be loving and gentle to others--especially to those whose "kind" we share, like our relatives, our fellow-humans, or God himself, just as he is "kind" to us. Thus, it's both a philosophical concept ("essence, nature") and an emotive term ("kindly, loving as part of one's essential nature"). To hate another person is deeply "unkind," unnatural, monstrous, in this medieval sense of the word. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called "God's Kind" by medieval poets, meaning God's essence, since the Holy Spirit is God's Love "in person," as it were--and God is love.

naughting (v. and n.): emptying out, making naught, making into nothingness; a very common concept in mysticism of all cultures, form Zen to Christianity to Sufism. It especially refers to the emptying out of the ego, which keeps us aware (too aware, sometimes) of our selves as isolated individuals, so as to allow union with the transcendent Other and thus to achieve the All. Cf. "full filling."

oneing (v. and n.): another special usage, which means "making one" or "the act of making one, unification." "Onehead" is the ME way of saying "one-hood, one-ness." Isn't "oneing" a much more concise and forceful word than the abstract Latinate noun "unification"?

shew, shewing (v. and n.): just a variant spelling of "show, showing," either as the verb or as the noun meaning "a revelation."

substance, sensuality: two of Julian's most challenging concepts, "substance" and "sensuality" are sometimes mistakenly taken to be equivalent to "soul" and "the body/the senses" respectively. A better translation of "substance" would be "the truth of our being, body and soul: the way we are meant to be, as whole persons" (Brant Pelphrey)--i.e., human nature as it exists in eternity. "Sensuality" is equivalent to "that human existence which becomes God's in the Incarnation, human nature as it exists in time, experientially, both in body and soul" (Ritamary Bradley).

vernicle (n.): the veil that St. Veronica was said to have pressed to Christ's face as he carried the cross to Calvary, so as to relieve him of the sweat and blood pouring down his face; in some ways like the Shroud of Turin, it was said to carry the image of Christ's face from the blood- and sweat-stains left on it. Not surprisingly, the idea that the vernicle showed what Christ's face actually looked like, and what he looked like while suffering for us, made it a particularly holy relic.

worship (n. and v.): can mean "honor" as well as the more theological notion of "adoration" (the high form of honor that is owed to God.)


Points for Discussion:

We'll probably have discussion on Thursday, 2/11/98, unless we've fallen behind.

1. Look for places where Julian talks about the idea of "one-ing" or unity with God. What does this idea seem to mean to her? How does it come to pass? What kinds of function does the action of "oneing" serve in her system of religious psychology?

2. Examine the language Julian uses to express the relationship between the Godhead, the human soul, and the human body. What kinds of experience does she draw on to explain her revelations? What consequences might her definitions have for our understanding of Divine Love? (How do her definitions differ from your own ideas of a supreme being?)

3. Compare Julian with the Pearl-poet in terms of some of the following: their treatment and experience of grace, God's will, the expression of peak spiritual experience (both use the vision-form, but what different visions!), their imagery, their notions of parent-child relations, their responses to earthly suffering, their representation of divine love, and anything else that strikes you as an interesting basis for comparison.

4. Look at all the personal relationships, both spiritual and physical (some may be both!) which are described in Julian's Revelations. List some of these relations, and discuss the psychological force they seem to have for Julian. If you "add up" these relationships in Julian's work, looking at them as a whole web of relations, what sort of picture do you get of her sense of personal human networks? (i.e., of the links in those networks, the relative importance of the different links, the quality or type of feelings associated with the links, etc., etc.) If you have time, you might also think about how these relational networks compare with those seen in Bwf or Pearl or T&C.

5. As you read, note the various images and metaphors Julian uses to express spiritual or psychological experience. What sorts of connotations do some of these images and figures of speech seem to carry for her? What areas of life does she tend to draw on for this sort of figurative expression of the non-physical world of the spirit? What effects do her metaphors and images have on you as a reader?

6. How does Julian of Norwich negotiate the competing voices of her own experience and Church authority (the institutional hierarchies and Church doctrine)? Identify and discuss passages in her work where this issue arises. Keep in mind that Julian expresses no desire to break with the Church (in fact, the Church's authority helps to validate her spiritual power), yet she also has or receives insights that are, at least at first glance, somewhat surprising in comparison to traditional Church doctrine about sin and evil and God's "gender." [Remember too that a conceited and absolute refusal to admit possible mistakes or listen to others, including those in authority, would have been seen as a form of pride, and thus something to avoid.]