Julian of Norwich's "Showings"

Julian of Norwich's "Showings": From Vision to Book

Denise Nowakowski Baker
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 226
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztxbt
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    Julian of Norwich's "Showings"
    Book Description:

    The first woman known to have written in English, the fourteenth-century mystic Julian of Norwich has inspired generations of Christians with her reflections on the "motherhood" of Jesus, and her assurance that, despite evil, "all shall be well." In this book, Denise Baker reconsiders Julian not only as an eloquent and profound visionary but also as an evolving, sophisticated theologian of great originality. Focusing on Julian'sBook of Showings, in which the author records a series of revelations she received during a critical illness in May 1373, Baker provides the first historical assessment of Julian's significance as a writer and thinker.

    Inscribing her visionary experience in the short version of herShowings, Julian contemplated the revelations for two decades before she achieved the understanding that enabled her to complete the long text. Baker first traces the genesis of Julian's visionary experience to the practice of affective piety, such as meditations on the life of Christ and, in the arts, a depiction of a suffering rather than triumphant Christ on the cross. Julian's innovations become apparent in the long text. By combining late medieval theology of salvation with the mystics' teachings on the nature of humankind, she arrives at compassionate, optimistic, and liberating conclusions regarding the presence of evil in the world, God's attitude toward sinners, and the possibility of universal salvation. She concludes her theodicy by comparing the connections between the Trinity and humankind to familial relationships, emphasizing Jesus' role as mother. Julian's strategy of revisions and her artistry come under scrutiny in the final chapter of this book, as Baker demonstrates how this writer brings her readers to reenact her own struggle in understanding the revelations.

    Originally published in 1997.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6391-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    In the last quarter of the fourteenth century, while Chaucer wrote vernacular poetry in London, some one hundred miles to the northeast in Norwich, the first English woman identified as an author was composing a book in prose. Impelled by a visionary experience in May 1373, she completed two different versions of herBook of Showings, the short and the long texts, over the course of at least the next two decades.

    Little more is known about this woman beyond what she herself relates. A scribal note introduces the only extant copy of the short text as “a visionn schewed...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Affective Spirituality and the Genesis of A Book of Showings
    (pp. 15-39)

    On 13 May 1373, a thirty-year-old woman lay near death in Norwich, England. She was being cared for by several people, including her mother. Though she had received the last rites of the church four days earlier, the curate was called again on the eighth day of her illness because she seemed in danger of imminent death. Taking the cross from the young boy who accompanied him, the priest held it before the dying woman.¹ Gazing upon it, she saw the room dim around her as the cross grew radiant. Suddenly the woman’s pain diminished. Through the rest of that...

  7. CHAPTER 2 From Visualization to Vision: Meditation and the Bodily Showings
    (pp. 40-62)

    Although the Passion was a frequent subject of medieval religious literature, few works achieve the evocative power ofA Book of Showingsin depicting the physical distress of the dying Jesus. The intensely visual character of Julian’s bodily showings has led scholars to compare her prose account to late medieval paintings and sculptures of the Crucifixion. Richard Kieckhefer, for example, observes that Julian achieves verbally the same violence of emotion that the German plague crosses do visually.

    German crucifixes of the fourteenth century frequently portray Christ’s body in grotesquely distorted fashion, with blood gushing profusely from his wounds. Something of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “Alle Shalle Be Wele”: The Theodicy of Julian of Norwich
    (pp. 63-82)

    Synne is behouely, but alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and alle maner of thynge shalle be wele.” These words from the thirteenth revelation of Julian of Norwich’sBook of Showingshave been inscribed on modern consciousness by T. S. Eliot’s quotation of them in theFour Quartets. Although Eliot’s incorporation of Julian’s voice into his dialogue with the past has brought her recognition within the literary establishment, it has also reduced the message of herShowingsto a conservative, secular mysticism. Echoing as they do through “Little Gidding,” Julian’s words have the resonance of an incantation,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Parable of the Lord and Servant and the Doctrine of Original Sin
    (pp. 83-106)

    One of the most striking features of Julian of Norwich’s solution to the problem of evil is her refusal to attribute wrath to God. She insists in Revelation Thirteen that God ascribes “no maner of blame to me ne to none that shalle be safe” (13.27.407) [“no kind of blame to me or to anyone who will be saved” (225)]. And she commences Revelation Fourteen by acknowledging that her showings seem to contradict the teachings of the church in regard to God’s attitude toward sinners. In rejecting the depiction of God as wrathful, Julian calls into question a central premise...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Reconceiving the Imago Dei: The Motherhood of Jesus and the Ideology of the Self
    (pp. 107-134)

    In Revelation Fourteen ofA Book of ShowingsJulian of Norwich states a critical tenet of her theology: “And thus I saw full suerly that it is redyer to vs and more esy to come to pe knowyng of god then to know oure owne soule” (14.56.570); [“And so I saw most surely that it is quicker for us and easier to come to the knowledge of God than it is to know our own soul” (288)]. This assertion that one knows the self by knowing God situates Julian within the Western project of selfconsciousness initiated by the Delphic injunction,...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Re-Visions and A Book of Showings
    (pp. 135-164)

    After the series of revelations of 13 May 1373, Julian of Norwich experienced no subsequent showings. Rather, she devoted almost a quarter of a century to acts of re-vision, exploring the implications of the revelations and composing at least two different accounts of them, the short and long texts. Just as she matured as a moral and mystical theologian during the twenty years separating her two texts, so she also developed as a writer.

    The showings were obviously Julian’s impetus to authorship. As the first English woman known to have written a book, she was keenly aware of the criticism...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-166)

    Julian of Norwich’sBook of Showingshas achieved a larger audience during this century than at any other time in the six hundred years since her completion of the long text around 1393. This interest in Julian’s book was originally incited by Grace Warrack’s translation of it into modern English in 1901.¹ By midcentury Warrack’s rendition was in its thirteenth edition, and several other translations became available during the next decades. Recognizing the importance of Julian’sShowings, the Paulist Press chose to publish both the short and long texts in its Classics of Western Spirituality series. Judging by the number...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 167-198)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-212)
  15. Index
    (pp. 213-215)