A bright young Jewish Catholic friend of mine recently told me about her visit to the cell of Mother Julian of Norwich, an English anchoress and mystic venerated widely in the Anglican community. Amongst Anglicans, she is not infrequently called Saint Julian of Norwich, and yet while she is not (yet) canonized formally by the Holy See, she is indeed also venerated in the Catholic Church, as the father of the Anglican ordinariate, Pope Benedict XVI, affirmed in 2010, and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates.
Is there amongst English Latin Catholics an over-reliance on the formal process of canonization? After all, canonization is supposed to reflect an already existing social veneration of the saint in question. Have Anglicans come to venerate Mother Julian’s memory more freely than Latin Catholics?
Lady Julian’s book, Revelations of Divine Love, written around 1395 AD, was the first English-language book published by a woman. T.S. Eliot incorporated some of her writings into his works, particularly the line “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites Dame Julian along with another great saint of Anglican devotion, Sir Thomas More, in its section on how God works everything to good.
313 “We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.” The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth:
St Catherine of Siena said to “those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them”: “Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind.”
St Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: “Nothing can come but that that God wills. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best.”
Dame Julian of Norwich: “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith. . . and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time – that ‘all manner [of] thing shall be well.'”
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about her at length in 2010:
“I still remember with great joy the Apostolic Journey I made in the United Kingdom last September. England is a land that has given birth to a great many distinguished figures who enhanced Church history with their testimony and their teaching. One of them, venerated both in the Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion, is the mystic Julian of Norwich, of whom I wish to speak this morning.
…It is known that she lived from 1342 until about 1430, turbulent years both for the Church…
As Julian herself recounts, in May 1373, most likely on the 13th of that month, she was suddenly stricken with a very serious illness that in three days seemed to be carrying her to the grave. After the priest, who hastened to her bedside, had shown her the Crucified One not only did Julian rapidly recover her health but she received the 16 revelations that she subsequently wrote down and commented on in her book, Revelations of Divine Love.
And it was the Lord himself, 15 years after these extraordinary events, who revealed to her the meaning of those visions.
“‘Would you learn to see clearly your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love…. Why did he show it to you? For Love’…. Thus I was taught that Love was our Lord’s meaning” (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 86).
Inspired by divine love, Julian made a radical decision. Like an ancient anchoress, she decided to live in a cell located near the church called after St Julian, in the city of Norwich — in her time an important urban centre not far from London.
She may have taken the name of Julian precisely from that Saint to whom was dedicated the church in whose vicinity she lived for so many years, until her death.
…We also know that Julian too received frequent visitors, as is attested by the autobiography of another fervent Christian of her time, Margery Kempe, who went to Norwich in 1413 to receive advice on her spiritual life. This is why, in her lifetime, Julian was called “Dame Julian”, as is engraved on the funeral monument that contains her remains. She had become a mother to many.
…In this book we read the following wonderful words: “And I saw full surely that ere God made us he loved us; which love was never lacking nor ever shall be. And in this love he has made all his works; and in this love he has made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting… in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end” (Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 86).
The theme of divine love recurs frequently in the visions of Julian of Norwich who, with a certain daring, did not hesitate to compare them also to motherly love. This is one of the most characteristic messages of her mystical theology.
The tenderness, concern and gentleness of God’s kindness to us are so great that they remind us, pilgrims on earth, of a mother’s love for her children. In fact the biblical prophets also sometimes used this language that calls to mind the tenderness, intensity and totality of God’s love, which is manifested in creation and in the whole history of salvation that is crowned by the Incarnation of the Son.
God, however, always excels all human love, as the Prophet Isaiah says: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will never forget you” (Is 49:15).
Julian of Norwich understood the central message for spiritual life: God is love and it is only if one opens oneself to this love, totally and with total trust, and lets it become one’s sole guide in life, that all things are transfigured, true peace and true joy found and one is able to radiate it.
…If God is supremely good and wise, why do evil and the suffering of innocents exist? And the Saints themselves asked this very question. Illumined by faith, they give an answer that opens our hearts to trust and hope: in the mysterious designs of Providence, God can draw a greater good even from evil, as Julian of Norwich wrote: “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly hold me in the Faith … and that … I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in … that ‘all manner of thing shall be well”’ (The Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 32).
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, God’s promises are ever greater than our expectations. If we present to God, to his immense love, the purest and deepest desires of our heart, we shall never be disappointed. “And all will be well”, “all manner of things shall be well”: this is the final message that Julian of Norwich transmits to us and that I am also proposing to you today.”
Pope Francis has also quoted Julian of Norwich to teach about God’s mercy.
Cardinal Adam Easton, an Englishman & contemporary of Julian’s, may have been her spiritual director, and his story is quite fascinating in itself (made Cardinal by Pope Urban VI, he later became Dean of York & Prebend at Salisbury Cathedral, arranged the wedding coronation of King Richard II & Queen Anne, was deprived of his cardinalate by the same pope and restored by Pope Boniface IX).
Perhaps we Anglican Catholics in the ordinariates ought to promote her cause for canonization. It took 900 years for Hildegard of Bingen to be finally recognized a saint in the Church’s liturgy, so we’re still ahead of the curve for Julian!
My friend Amanda Achtman delves into Julian’s life further on a visit to her cell in this video: