Revelations of Julian

Here es a vision schewed be the goodenes of god to a devoute woman and hir name es Julyan that is recluse atte Norwyche and zitt ys on lyfe anno domini millesimo ccccxiii

So begins the short text of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. Julian was an anchoress in fourteenth-century Norwich. She lived in a small cell attached to a church and never left, dedicating her life to private contemplation and writing. She claimed to have seen a number of visions which she duly recorded. I have resolved to read them, having dipped in and out. Much as I love the fact she is a female author from a time when few of either gender could write, and that she wrote in vernacular, Middle English rather than scholastic Latin, I shall read with caution. I have little time for Romish monkery nor for extra-biblical visions and revelation. Of course, some of it I found rather charming:

For we are now so blind and unwise that we never seek God till He of His goodness shew Himself to us. And when we aught see of Him graciously, then are we stirred by the same grace to seek with great desire to see Him more blissfully. And thus I saw Him, and sought Him; and I had Him, I wanted Him. And this is, and should be, our common working in this life, as to my sight. (Chapter X, Produced by Clare Graham & Marc D'Hooghe, translator: Grace Warrack).

This summer I visited the church in which she lived. The original was demolished by German bombs in the last war, but it was sympathetically rebuilt, with a load of Julian memorabilia. She’s something of a heroine among religious feminists, an early female voice calling out from a violent male world. Good for her, but can we trust what she saw? We must not be led astray even by sweet words and apparent truths. Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Angels gave messages to the prophets of Arabia and Utah. Mary appeared in France, Portugal and England. Who’s to know the origin of what the Nofolk Dame saw? Were they visions from God or mere fantasies? 

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1