Amazing articles on just about every subject...



The Ancren Riwle And Julian Of Norwich

THE life of the recluse is now seldom chosen and never respected. It is difficult for us to realise that it was once a career, and not the abdication of all careers. The professional saint almost disappeared from Northern Europe at or before the Reformation. In the earlier Middle Ages, however, his was a recognised manner of life which, however austere, did not at all condemn him who had chosen it to obscurity or contempt. The hermit becomes an important figure in Church history in the half century which followed the Decian persecution, when many thousands in Northern Africa alone fled to the deserts, renouncing all domestic and civic ties. In ecclesiastical circles, at any rate, it was the shortest road to a high reputation. Pilgrims who visited the caves and huts in which the hermits found shelter, spread far and wide accounts of their austerities and their miracles. They described how some lived in dried-up wells, others among the tombs, others on pillars. The macerations to which they subjected themselves — their abstinence from food, sleep, and ablutions—made them heroes at a time when mortification of the flesh was considered the highest virtue. They were consulted on problems of theology, and even on practical questions. This movement, one of the most difficult in history for moderns to comprehend, was on its saner side a great purity crusade, combined with a desire to cultivate to the utmost the spiritual life by sacrificing all else to it. To call the hermits selfish is a mistake. There is room for this kind of specialisation as well as f o r others. I f the hermits " produced " nothing, in the economic sense, they consumed next to nothing ; and even those who are most sceptical about the value of intercessory prayer may admit that the true saint, who can bring his example and influence to bear on the social life of his generation, is a useful member of the community.

It is true that we cannot regard the anchorite as the most perfect imitator of Jesus Christ. Our Master began his ministry at a marriage feast. He was continually reproached for practising no austerities in public, and for associating freely with all classes and with both sexes. Monkish ethics involved a violent distortion of the true Christian ideal. But now that eremitism in the Church has become an episode of past history, we may admit a partial justification for those who practised it, in the desire to bring to its highest perfection the faculty of spiritual vision—the contemplation of the light invisible. Their experiences illustrate the advantage as well as the defects of a highly specialised training.

In the Middle Ages, England was full of persons who in one form or another had taken religious vows. Besides the larger monasteries and convents, there were numerous " anchor-ages " for solitary women, some in the open country, but more in the vicinity of a church. The cell of the anchoress, which was often built against the church wall or in a church-yard, sometimes contained more than one apartment, for the recluse usually had one, or even two, servants to attend upon her. She herself never left the walls of her cell, which had no means of egress, except by the windows. Even the window which opened towards the outside was generally covered by a heavy curtain, and those who wished for an audience with the recluse would kneel before the window until she chose to draw back the screen.

The Ancren Riwle, a precious specimen of early English, was written for three anchoresses, sisters, who had retired from the world for pious exercises, and lived together with their domestic servants or lay sisters. They were not, it seems, connected with any religious community. They lived at Tarrant Kaines, Dorsetshire. The reputed author of the Ancren Riwle is Simon de Ghent, Arch-deacon of Oxford in 1284, and Bishop of Salisbury 1297-1315. But the style is said to be earlier, and it is more probable that it was written by Bishop Poore, who was born and buried there. The author of the Ancren Riwle was certainly a learned man ; he quotes the Christian Fathers, and even Pagan poets, such as Horace and Ovid. His treatise is just what it professes to be, a compendium of rules and good advice for anchoresses. It is not, properly speaking, a document of mystical theology, like the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, or Hylton's Scale of Perfection, which will presently engage our attention. But it is a very interesting treatise in itself, and throws so much light on the conditions under which these recluses lived and saw their visions, that it will not be out of place to give you some account of its contents, before proceeding to the still more attractive work of Julian, another anchoress.

The book is divided into eight sections, entitled (i) On Devotional Exercises ; (ii) On the Government of the Senses in keeping the Heart ; (iii) Moral Lessons and Examples ; (iv) Temptations and Means to avoid them ; (v) On Confession ; (vi) On Penance and Amendment ; (vii) On Love or Charity ; (viii) On Domestic and Social Duties.

The author begins by saying : " My dear sisters, you have asked me for a Rule. But I will only give you two rules. One rules the heart, and makes it even and smooth, without any knot or scar of evil. This is charity out of a pure heart, and love unfeigned. The other is all external. It is bodily exercise or discipline, which, the apostle says, profiteth little. This rule is only to serve the other. The rule of love is as lady, the rule of discipline as handmaid. The rule of love is always the same, the rule of discipline may be changed and varied.

" If you are asked to what order you belong, say, `The Order of St James.' For it is St James who wrote : `Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.'" Then follow directions for daily devotions. "On waking say, ` In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,' " followed by the Veni Creator, kneeling on your beds. Many offices are enjoined during the day, including, it must be owned, a terrible amount of vain repetition, especially of Paternosters.

The ancient prayer which they are ordered to say at the Holy Communion is remark-able for the spiritual and unsuperstitious doctrine of the Eucharist which it implies : "Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God, that Him whom we see darkly, and under a different form, and on whom we feed sacra-mentally on earth, we may see face to face, and may be thought worthy to enjoy Him truly and really as He is in heaven, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord."

The chapter on the " Guard of the Senses " contains some amusing admonitions. The young ladies are cautioned severely against looking out of the parlour window, "like the staring anchoresses." And they are not to be always chattering with visitors, "like the cackling anchoresses" (kakelinde ancren). Silence is always to be observed at meals, and throughout Friday, and during Holy Week. It is permissible, however, to say "a few words" to your maid during silent times. But talking is a snare. " More slayeth word than sword."

Gossip was evidently a temptation to the recluse. "People say," writes our author, "that an anchoress has always a magpie to chatter to her ; so that men have a proverb : From miln and market, from smithy and nunnery, men bring tidings.' Christ knows, this is a sad tale.

Our Lord's words, " Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests," may be allegorically applied to true and false anchoresses. "The true anchoresses are indeed birds of heaven, that fly aloft and sit on the green boughs singing merrily. That is, they meditate enraptured upon the blessedness of heaven that never fadeth and is ever green. A bird, however, sometimes alighteth on earth to seek food, but never feels secure there, and often turns herself about," on her guard against danger. Even so should the anchoress be wary when she is obliged to busy herself with earthly things. This pretty comparison has been also made use of by a French poet :

" Soyons comme l'oiseau, posé pour un instant
Sur des rameaux trop frèles ;
Qui sent ployer la branche, et qui chante pourtant,
Sachant qu'il a des ailes."

The seven deadly sins are then compared to animals—pride to the lion, envy to the serpent, and so forth. The noxious beasts all have "whelps"— seven, twelve, or six particular vices which all belong to the deadly sin in question. The best worth quoting of these somewhat arbitrary classifications is the paragraph about accidie, that besetting sin of the cloister:

" The bear of heavy sloth hath these whelps. Torpor is the first—that is, a lukewarm heart. Next is pusillanimity, which is too faint-hearted and too reluctant withal to undertake any high thing in hope of God's help and trust in His grace. The third is dullness of heart. Who doeth good, but with a dead and sluggish heart, he hath this whelp. Fourth is idleness. Whoso stands still, doing no good at all, he hath this whelp. Fifth is a grudging and grumbling heart. Sixth is sorrow for anything except sin. Seventh is negligence in saying or doing or providing or remembering or taking care. The eighth is despair, the grimmest bear's whelp of all, which cheweth and wasteth God's mild kindness and much mercy and boundless grace."

The sow of greediness and her pigs are very briefly disposed of, "for I am nought afeard, my beloved sisters, that ye feed them."

There is a remarkable passage about the consolations which an anchoress experiences at first, but which she must not expect to enjoy always. This caution, which we find in almost all who have written with intimate knowledge about the life of devotion, is psychologically and practically of great interest. " An anchoress thinks [beforehand] that she shall be most strongly tempted in the first twelve months. Nay, it is not so. In the first years, it is nothing but ball-play." "In the beginning it is only courtship, to draw you into love." Afterwards, you must expect to be treated with "less forbearance," but "in the end cometh great joy."

The exhortation to sisterly affection is written with great delicacy, and a sort of quaint tenderness which is very charming.

"My dear sisters, let your dear noses always be turned to each other with sweet love, fair semblance, and with sweet cheer, that ye may be ever with oneness of one heart and of one will united together. While you are united, the fiend cannot harm you. .. . And if the fiend blow up any resentment between you, which may Jesus Christ forbid, until it is appeased none ought to receive Jesus Christ's flesh and blood. . . . But let each send word to the other, that she bath humbly asked her forgiveness, as 'if she were present."

We obtain little glimpses into the minor troubles and arrangements of the household when we read special admonitions like the following : " Be glad in your hearts if ye suffer insolence from Slurry the cook's knave, who washes the dishes in the kitchen." " My dear sisters, ye shall have no beast but one cat."

Lastly, the good man is distressed to find his spiritual daughters treating themselves too hardly. " Dear sisters, your meat and drink have seemed to me less than I would have it." He forbids them to wear hedgehog skins as a discipline, or iron or haircloth, and to beat themselves with leathern thongs, or with a leaded lash, or with holly or briars till the blood comes, at least without leave from their confessor. Their clothes are to be warm and well made, "and as many as you need, both for bed and back." They are allowed to wash, we are glad to find, "as often as you please."

Such are the rules and exhortations drawn up for three young ladies in the early part (probably) of the thirteenth century. They will help us to realise the kind of life lived by the numerous female recluses belonging to the upper and middle classes, in the Middle Ages. For our purposes the most interesting and important of these ladies is Julian of Norwich, the author of one of the most precious gems of mediæval sacred literature. To her life and revelations I now turn.

In Blomefield's History of Norfolk (1768) we read :

" In the east part of the churchyard [of the old church of St Julian in the parish of Conisford, near Norwich] stood an anchor-age in which an anchoress or recluse dwelt till the dissolution, when the house was demolished, though the foundations may still be seen. In 1393 Lady Julian, the ankeress here, was a strict recluse, and had two servants to attend her in her old age. In 1472 Dame Agnes was recluse here ; in 1481 Dame Elizabeth Scott ; in 1510 Lady Elizabeth ; in 1524 Dame Agnes Edrygge."

" The little church of St Julian " (says Miss Warrack, whose beautiful edition of Julian's Revelations should be in the hands of all who are interested in our present subject) "still keeps from Norman times its dark round tower of flint rubble, and still there are traces about its foundation of the anchorage built against its south eastern wall." The church was assigned by King Stephen to the nuns of Carrow, a small Benedictine house, the inmates of which in the fifteenth century conducted a fashionable girls' school.

The Lady Julian (the prefix was commonly given by courtesy to recluses of gentle birth) was probably a Benedictine nun belonging to this convent. She was thirty years old when in May 1373 the revelation was made to her which she afterwards recorded in narrative form. She must have lived to an extraordinary age, if we may trust the title, written by a contemporary on an old vellum manuscript of the Visions. " Here is a vision showed by the goodness of God to a devout woman ; and her name is Julian, that is recluse at Norwich, and yet is on life, Anno Domini 1442." Nothing is else known about her, except from the Visions themselves. The attempt to identify her with a Lady Julian Lampet, of Carrow Abbey, who appears to have died about 148o, is manifestly impossible.

Julian describes herself as "a simple creature that could no letter." Whatever may have been the state of her education at the time when she saw the Visions, she was far from being an illiterate person when she wrote them down. Phrases like "after this I saw God in a point," show some acquaintance with the theological learning of the time. The style of the narrative is very simple, but by no means lacking in literary skill.

The description of the revelations made to her at the age of thirty is one of the most attractive documents of mysticism, owing to the combination of fine qualities shown by the author. Her unaffected humility is not more pronounced than her simple desire to know the truth. Her love to God and man is expressed in such sentences as : "What may make me more to love mine even Christen (fellow- Christians) than to see in God that He loveth all that shall be saved as it were all one soul ?" and by her "desire to learn assuredly as to a certain creature that I loved, if it should continue in good living." Particularly pleasing is her thoroughly sane estimate of the favours which God had bestowed upon her. " It was not showed me that God loved me better than the least soul that was in grace ; for I am certain that there be many that never had any showing nor sight, but of the common teaching of Holy Church, that love God better than I." If we contrast Julian's Revelations with the Visions of the Nun Gertrude, a paltry record of sickly compliments and semi-erotic endearments, we shall realise how far the English saint rises above her more honoured sister. It does not seem that her happy nature was much assailed by the common temptation of the cloister—gloom and sloth. She speaks of "sloth and losing of time" as " the beginning of sin, as to my sight," "especially to the creatures who have given themselves to serve our Lord with inward beholding of His blessed goodness" ; but there is no personal confession here.

Her own account of her Visions is very interesting. It is true that it was not written or some years after the event, and that to describe such an experience after a lapse of time is as difficult as to paint a sunset from memory. But there can be no question that 'Lilian tells the truth to the best of her .ability. Absolute candour is a feature of the whole narrative ; and modern psychology must recognise the scientific accuracy of her description of the conditions under which the visions occurred. Julian had prayed for three gifts from God. The first was that she might ear the Passion of Christ in mind. The second was that she might have a bodily sickness at thirty years of age ; "the third was to have, of God's gift, three wounds." As to the first, she "thought she had some feeling," but she desired, if possible, a bodily sight" of Christ upon the Cross, to quicken her sympathies, that she might be "one of His lovers and suffer with Him." "Other sight nor shewing of God, desired I never none, till the soul were disparted from the body." The sickness she desired to be as severe and painful as might be, short of death, that after it she might be purged by the mercy of God, and live to God more because of that sickness. These two petition: Julian made "with a condition "—"if it b( Thy will that I have it." But the "three wounds "—namely, the wounds of very contrition, of kind (i.e. natural) compassion, an( of wilful (i.e. purposeful, steadfast) longing toward God --- she prayed for absolutely knowing the request to be in accordance with the will of God.

Her prayer for a severe sickness at th age of thirty was fulfilled to the letter. Aft( a sharp attack, which lasted three days, she received the last rites of the church and " languored forth " between life and death for two days afterwards. " Being in youth as yet, I thought it great sorrow to die," she says simply ; but she was fully resigned, and said to herself : "Good Lord, may my living no longer be to Thy worship." What follows is so important a document on the physical conditions which may precede trance that I will give it in her own words (from Miss Warrack's edition, p. 6) :

" Thus I dured till day, and by then my body was dead from the middle downwards, as to my feeling. Then was I minded to be set upright, )backward leaning, with help—for to have more freedom of my heart to be at God's will, and thinking on God while my life would last. My urate was sent for to be at my ending, and )y that time when he came I had set my eyes, and might not speak. He set the Cross before ay face and said : ' I have brought thee the nage of thy Maker and Saviour look therepon and comfort thee therewith. Methought was well (i.e. as it was), for my eyes were uprightward unto Heaven, where I trusted to come by the mercy of God ; but nevertheless I assented to set my eyes on the face of the Crucifix, if I might, and so I did. For methought I might no longer dure to look even-forth than right up. After this my sight began to fail, and it was all dark about me in the chamber as if it had been night, save in the image of the Cross, whereon I beheld common light ; and I wist not how. All tha was beside the Cross was of horror to me, a: if it had been greatly occupied by the fiends After this the over part of my body began t die, so far forth that scarcely I had any feeling with shortness of breath. And then I weene in sooth to have passed. And in this sudden] all my pain was taken from me, and I was whole (and specially in the upper part of my body) as ever I was afore. I marvelled at th sudden change, for methought it was a private working of God, and not of nature. And y by the feeling of this ease I trusted never the more to live ; nor was the feeling of this ea any full ease unto me ; for methought I h liefer have been delivered from this wor Then came suddenly to my mind that should desire the second wound of our Lord's gracious gift ; that my body might be fulfilled with mind and feeling of His blessed Passion. For I would that His pains were my pains, with compassion and afterward longing to God. But in this I desired never bodily sight nor shewing of God, but compassion such as a kindred soul might have with our Lord Jesus, that for love would be 1 mortal man ; and therefore I desired to suffer with Him.

In this moment suddenly I saw the red blood trickle down from under the garland not and freshly and right plenteously, as it were in the time of His Passion, when the garland of thorns was pressed on His blessed head. I conceived truly and mightily that was Himself showed it me, without any lean."

In this very interesting and careful description of the beginning of her visions, we should note especially the state of hypnotism duced by steadily gazing at the Crucifix, 1 which also her thoughts were fixed with .dent longing. To fix the eyes steadily on one object seems to be almost a necessary condition of this kind of trance. Before describing the substance of her visions, it may be well to collect other passages which throw light on her psychical state.

Among her early visions on this occasion was one of a landscape—a sea-shore, with hills and valleys, and ground covered with moss. This seemed to her so low and little and simple, that she was some time in doubt " whether it was a shewing." Then more light was vouchsafed to her, but the pictorial image seems to have passed into something quite different. Another passage shows that she was not in a cataleptic state. For when she was shown a vision of Our Lord scorning the malice and setting at nought the "unmight' of the foul fiend, she "laughed mightily, and that made them to laugh that were about me, and their laughing was a pleasure to me." She is careful to add that she saw Christ mocking the devil " by leading of mint understanding ; that is to say, it was al inward shewing of verity, without change o look.' "I saw not Christ laugh." A thin passage which is worth our attention describes how she asked for a special revelation about the spiritual condition of one who was dear to her, which was not granted. The answer which came to her was : "Take it generally, and behold the graciousness of the Lord God as He sheweth to thee ; for it is more worship to God to behold Him in all than in any special thing." It is also remarkable that she draws distinctions as to the manner of her visions. "Our courteous Lord answered in shewing full mightily a wonderful example of the Lord that hath a servant : which sight was shewed doubly in the Lord and doubly in the servant; the one part was shewed spiritually in bodily likeness, and the other part was shewed more spiritually, without bodily likeness." Another vision she almost recognises to have been an ordinary nightmare. " In my sleep, methought the fiend set him on my throat, putting forth a visage full near my face, like a young man's, and it was long and wondrous lean : I never saw none such. This horrible shewing was made sleeping, and so was none other." Later on she says very definitely : All the blessed teaching of our Lord was shewed by three parts ; that is to say, by bodily sight, and by word formed in mine understanding, and by spiritual sight. For the bodily sight, I have said as I saw, as truly as I can; and for the words, I have said them right as our Lord shewed them to me ; and for the spiritual sight, I have told some deal, but I may never fully tell it." The book ends with an explanation of the long interval between the visions and the writing of the book. "From the time that it was shevved I desired oftentimes to witten what was our Lord's meaning. And fifteen years after, and more, I was answered in ghostly under-standing, saying thus : 'Would'st thou learn thy Lord's meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was his meaning." Julian evidently believes that she has preserved in memory the substance of the visions exactly as they occurred to her fifteen years earlier ; it is only the "meaning" that was revealed later. Her readers can only feel assured of the absolute candour of her recital. Signs of rhetorical ornament and literary furbishing are hardly traceable in these pages.

Those who wish to appreciate Julian of Norwich must read her little book for them-selves. Here I can only call attention to some prominent characteristics.

Julian is one of the happy saints. Like the Franciscans, who held it a point of honour that the bridegrooms of my lady Poverty must never be melancholy, she finds good every-where, and believes that God means us to be happy. " Marvellous and solemn is the place where the Lord dwelleth, and therefore He willeth that we readily entenden to His gracious teaching, more rejoicing in His whole love than sorrowing in our often fallings. For it is the most worship to Him of anything that we may do, that we live gladly and merrily, for His love, in our penance. For He beholdeth us so tenderly that He seeth all our living a penance. Nature's longing . . . is our natural penance —the highest, as to my sight. For this penance cometh never from us till we be fulfilled, when we shall have Him to our meed. And therefore He willeth that we set our hearts in the overpassing, that is to say, from the pain that we feel into the bliss that we trust." It is the enemy of our souls who maketh us to feel false dread, so that we are afraid to appear before "our courteous Lord." "For Jesus is our blessed Friend, and it is His will and counsel that we hold us with Him, and fasten us to Him homely evermore, in what state soever we be; for whether we are foul or clean, we are all one in His loving." Julian does not wish us to be implacable against ourselves. For "as God forgiveth our sin after we repent us, right so willeth He that we forgive our sin, as anent our unskilful (=useless) heaviness and our doubtful dreads." And in the vision of the Master and Servant, she says : "The most mischief that I saw him (the servant) in, was failing of comfort ; for he could not turn his face to look upon his loving Lord, which was to him full near ; in whom is full comfort ; but as a man that was feeble and unwise for the time, he turned his mind to his feeling and endured his woe." The optimistic refrain : " All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well," is the keynote of much of the book. It is caught up again in the concluding paragraphs. "Therefore when the doom is given, and we be all brought up above, then shall we clearly see in God the secret things which be now hid to us. Then shall none of us be stirred to say in any wise: ` Lord, if it had been thus, then it had been full well;' but we shall say all with one voice : Lord, blessed mote Thou be, for it is thus : it is well ; ' and now see we verily that all thing is done as it was then ordained before that anything was made." Not that sin is ignored by Julian. In the third shewing, when I saw that God doeth all that is done, I saw no sin ; and then I saw that all is well. But when God shewed me for sin, then said He : All shall be well."

The attitude of a mystical writer in presence of the evil that is in the world is an important test how far we may regard him as a trustworthy guide. For of all the charges that have been brought against the mystics, perhaps none is more possible to justify than the accusation that they have an inadequate sense of the havoc wrought by sin. Julian does not solve the problem of evil for us : but her words about it are true and beautiful. " I stood," she says, " beholding things general, troublously and mourning, saying thus to our Lord, with full great dread : 'Ah, good Lord, how might all be well, for the great hurt that is come by sin to the creature?' And here I desired, so far as I durst, to have some more open declaring whereby I might be eased in this matter." The answer which she then received was that the Fall of Man had been atoned for by the death of Christ ; "and since I have made well the most harm, it is my will that thou know thereby that I shall make well all that is less." But the "making all things well" is one of the works of our Lord God that are yet to come. "There is a deed which the blessed Trinity shall do in the last day, but when the deed shall be, and how it shall be done, is unknown of all creatures that are beneath Christ, and shall be till when it is done." Julian thus professes to have no revelation on this subject. And yet she shares the essentially optimistic conviction which we shall find to hold a still more central position in Browning's poetry, and which may also be found in St Augustine, that every stumbling - block may by God's grace be turned into a stepping-stone, so that our sins, in being conquered, may bring us nearer to God. "God shewed me," she says, "that sin shall be no shame to a man, but worship. For just as to every sin is answering a pain by truth, right so, for every sin, to the same-soul is given a bliss by love. As diverse sins are punished with diverse pains according as they be grievous, right so shall they be rewarded with diverse joys in heaven according as they have been painful and sorrowful to the soul on earth." When the soul is healed, "his wounds are seen before God not as wounds but as worships. . .. So shall shame be turned to worship and more joy." "For grace worketh our dreadful failing into plenteous, endless solace ; and grace worketh our shameful falling into high, worshipful rising ; and grace worketh our sorrowful dying into holy, blissful life."

In one curious chapter she distinctly raises the problem as to how a man who is partaker of the Divine nature, made in the image of God, and consisting essentially of a " Nature-Substance," which is ever kept one in Him whole and safe without end, can ever be worthy of blame and wrath. The truth on this difficult matter was " full mistily shewed" to her ; but she thinks that we ought to distinguish between our " Nature-Substance," which is unstained by sin, and our "Sense-Soul," which, "as Holy Church teacheth," is guilty. Julian is not a metaphysician, and we need not go more deeply into the speculations with which she here shows some acquaintance. The doctrine of the impeccability of the higher Self is Neo-Platonic, and carries with it a whole system of philosophy and ethics.

Her gentle soul was much troubled at the notion of God's wrath. " Methought that to a soul whose meaning and desire is to love, the wrath of God was harder than any other pain, and therefore I took that the forgiveness of this wrath should be one of the principal points of His mercy. But for nought that I might behold and desire I could not see this." " I saw no wrath but on man's part ; and that forgiveth He in us. For wrath is nought else but a frowardness and contrariness to peace and love ; and either it cometh of failing of might, or of failing of wisdom, or of failing of goodness, which failing is not in God but on our part." " To the soul that of His special grace seeth so far into the high, marvellous goodness of God, and seeth that we are endlessly oned to Him in love, it is the most impossible that may be, that God should be wroth. For wrath and friendship be two contraries." " In sooth, as to my sight, if God might be wroth for a touch, we should never have life nor place nor being."

Julian says that God was immediately revealed to her, "in part," in three of His attributes, "in which the strength and effect of all the revelation standeth." These attributes are Life, Love, and Light. " These properties were in one Goodness." In the Gospel and First Epistle of St John these are the three attributes under which God is immediately revealed, and so it has been throughout the history of mystical theology. Julian, however, forsakes the usual order, which is Life, Light, Love. The Jacob's ladder by which the mystic hopes to ascend to heaven begins, as we shall see in the next lecture, with external and internal discipline. Light or illumination is the second stage, and love is the crown and consummation. Of this Julian is well aware, for, in the next chapter she says : "The light is Charity . . . Charity keepeth us in Faith and Hope, and Hope leadeth us to Charity. And in the end all shall be Charity. I had three manners of under-standing this Light, Charity. The first is Charity unmade ; the second is Charity made ; and the third is Charity given. Charity unmade is God : Charity made is our soul in God : and Charity given is virtue. And that is a precious gift of working in which we love God, for Himself; and ourselves in God ; and that which God loveth, for God." In the previous chapter she desires to regard the whole path of the just as a shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day ; and so she puts Light third. The concluding words of this chapter are among the most beautiful in the book. " And at the end of woe suddenly our eyes shall be opened, and in clearness of light our sight shall be full ; which Light is God, our Maker and Holy Ghost, in Christ Jesus our Saviour. Thus I saw and understood that our faith is our light in our might ; which light is God, our endless day."

We cannot leave Julian without some notice of the more distinctively mystical teaching which we find in her book. It is well known that most mystics lay great stress on what is called the negative road, in which the aim is to lose or throw away all human and finite know-ledge, desire, and affection, in order that they may be found again, transmuted into some-thing more Divine, in God. Julian is not a stranger to this method. " It needeth us," she says, "to know the littleness of the creatures, and to noughten all thing that is made, for to love and have God that is unmade." "If I ask anything that is less" than God, "ever me wanteth." And yet "the creatures" are made and loved and kept in being by God ; they must not be despised. Only in all our use of them there is and must ever be something lacking ; true bliss can only be ours when there is "right nought" between us and our Lord.

Another mystical doctrine, already touched upon in this lecture, is, that at the centre of our soul there is a pure spark of the Divine life, which always resists evil and remains in union with the central fire of Divine life and light, unless indeed the soul is utterly lost. "I saw and understood full surely that in every soul that shall be saved is a godly will that never assented unto sin, nor ever shall ; which will is so good that it may never will evil, but evermore continually it willeth good and worketh good in the sight of God." It is through this godly will that we shall at last be united to God, though, she is careful to add, the redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ is " needful and speedful in everything, as Holy Church in our faith us teacheth."

Man's body, she thinks, was made of clay : that is, of materials gathered from bodily things ; but his soul was made of nought, and therefore has a natural affinity to the unmade substance of God's nature. "High understanding it is, inwardly to see and know that God, which is our Maker, dwelleth in our soul ; and a higher understanding it is, inwardly to see and know that our soul, which is made, dwelleth in God's substance." "I saw no difference between God and our Substance, but as it were all God ; and yet mine understanding took that our Substance is in God ; that is to say, that God is God, and our Substance is a creature in God. For the almighty Truth of the Trinity is our Father, for He made us and keepeth us in Him; and the deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are all enclosed ; the high Goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, in whom we are enclosed, and He in us." "Our faith is a virtue that cometh of our Nature-Substance into our Sense-Soul by the Holy Ghost ; in which all our virtues come to us ; for without that no man may receive virtue." In other place she assigns to faith a triple origin. "Our faith cometh of the natural love of our soul, and of the clear light of our reason, and of the steadfast mind which we have of God in our first making." This is a very remarkable sentence, a pro-found analysis of the foundations of belief. Faith is an activity of our whole personality : it stands, as Julian says, on the natural love of our soul, our affections ; on the clear light of our reason ; and on the steadfast mind, or will, which we have of God. Perfect faith involves the harmonious exercise of all parts of our complex nature. A still more remarkable paragraph follows, in which she insists that the indwelling presence of God is not confined to the highest part of our nature, which she calls our Substance. God cometh also in our "sensuality "—that part of our nature which is the seat of the bodily senses ; "to this seat He cometh, and shall never remove" from it. "All the gifts that God may give the creatures, He hath given to His Son Jesus for us : which gifts He, dwelling in us, bath enclosed in Him until the time that we be waxen and grown—our soul with our body and our body with our soul, either of them taking help of other, till we be brought up unto stature, as nature worketh. And then in the ground of nature, with working of mercy, the Holy Ghost graciously inspireth into us gifts leading to endless life." "And thus was my under-standing led of God, to see in Him and understand, that our soul is made - Trinity, like to the unmade blissful Trinity, known and loved from without beginning, and in the making oned to the Maker. This sight was full sweet and marvellous to behold, peaceable, restful, sure, and delectable."

In this passage, the "made-Trinity" of which our soul consists reminds us strongly of the Neo-Platonic Trinity of Soul, Intelligence, and the Absolute One or Good, which are all, according to that philosophy, represented in the nature of man. But Julian's "Trinity" are the Truth that seeth God, the Wisdom that beholdeth God, and the Love that delighteth in God. These correspond to the attributes of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost respectively. The sentence about body and soul "either taking help of the other " is especially valuable, and may surprise us a little in a mediaeval writer. It is the same thought which Robert Browning has developed in Rabbi Ben Ezra :

" Let us not always say
Spite of this flesh today
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole !'
As the bird wings and sings
Let us cry, ` All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul "'

From the morbid emotionalism which disfigures the writings of many mystics of the cloister Julian is entirely free. She never broods on the thought of Christ as the Bridegroom of the individual soul, though personal love and pity for the suffering Redeemer are expressed in touching and tender language. " How might any pain be more to me than to see Him that is all my life, all my bliss, and all my joy, suffer?" When the thought came to her that she ought rather to look up to heaven, to God the Father, than to the Cross of Christi, she "saw well, with the faith that she felt," that "there was nothing betwixt the Cross and heaven that might have harmed me," and she answered inwardly, with all the might of her soul, " Nay, I may not, for Thou art my heaven." " For I would liefer have been in pain till doomsday than to come to heaven otherwise than by Him." There are three ways in which, she tells us, we ought to think about the Passion of Christ : first, the hard pains which He suffered ; second, the love that made Him suffer them ; and third, the joy and bliss that made Him well satisfied to suffer them. In all this there is nothing overstrained or unwholesome — only the pure devotion of a healthy and loving nature. Our relations with Christ are thus described, with a charming echo of the language of knightly chivalry : "Our courteous Lord willeth that we should be as homely with Him as heart may think or soul may desire. But beware that we take not so recklessly this homeliness as to leave courtesy. For our Lord Himself is sovereign homeliness, and as homely as He is, so courteous He is ; for He is very courteous. And the blessed creatures that shall be in heaven with Him without end, He will have them like to Himself in all things. And to be like our Lord perfectly, it is our very salvation and our full bliss."

We like to think of Julian's cell visited not only by grown-up people seeking consolation or advice, but by the little children of the neighbourhood. She loved children, as her Master loved them. " I understood no higher stature in this life than childhood," she says.

The end of this fragrant little book is in character with all the rest. The same faith and love, the same sunny confidence and hope, breathe through it. " When the doom is given, and we be all brought up above, then shall we clearly see in God the secret things which be now hid to us." "For charity pray we all." But God worketh in us ; it is His will that we pray for, and it is by His grace that we pray. " Thus will our good Lord be prayed to, as by the under-standing that I took of His own meaning, and of the sweet words where He saith full merrily I am the Ground of thy beseeching.' For truly I saw and understood that He showed it for that He willeth to have it known more than it is; in which knowing He will give us grace to love Him and cleave to Him. For He beholdeth His heavenly treasure with so great love on earth that He willeth to give us more light and solace in heavenly joy, in drawing to Him of our hearts, for sorrow and darkness which we are in. From the time that it was showed I desired oftentimes to witten what was our Lord's meaning. And fifteen years after, and more, I was answered in ghostly understanding, saying thus : ` Wouldst thou learn thy Lord's meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was His meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed He thee ? Love. Wherefore showed it He ? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same. But thou shalt never know nor learn therein other thing without end.' Thus was I learned that Love was our Lord's meaning. And I saw full clearly that ere God made us He loved us ; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love He hath done all His works ; and in this love He hath made all things profitable to us ; and in this love our life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning ; but the love wherein He made us was in Him from without beginning; in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end."

So Julian lived for the rest of her long life on the sweet memory of the one revelation which came to her during her grievous sickness, and the meaning of which became fully plain to her fifteen years later. There is a very curious parallel in the biography of Erskine of Linlathen, a Scottish layman of great sanctity and beauty of character, who lived within in the last century. Principal Shairp recounts of him: "He spoke of the awful silence of God,, how it sometimes became oppressive, and the heart longed to hear, in answer to its cry, some audible voice. And then he added : `But it has not always been silence to me. I have had one revelation : it is now, I am sorry to say, a matter of memory with me. It was not a revelation of anything that was new to me. After it, I did not know anything which I did not know before. But it was a joy for which one might bear any sorrow. I felt the power of love—that God is love, that He loved me, that He had spoken to me, and then, after a long pause, that He had broken silence to me."

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Studies of English Mystics:
On The Psychology Of Mysticism

The Ancren Riwle And Julian Of Norwich

Mystical Phenomena With Walter Hylton

William Law On English Mystics

The Mysticism Of Wordsworth

The Mysticism Of Robert Browning



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com