Julian of Norwich's Showings
From Vision to Book
Denise Nowakowski Baker
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's Book 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 her Showings, 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.
First published in 1994.
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