The past thirty years have seen a surge of publications on Julian of Norwich (1343-1420?). This 14th century British mystic is riding the wave of womens' studies that have added interest, light, and depth to women writers in a variety of religious traditions. Julian, whose name comes from the Catholic Church in Norwich England where she lived during her later years, authored the first book to be written by a woman in English. Manuscript copies of her Revelations of Divine Love survived in London and Parisian libraries.
Fourteenth Century Europeans experienced a transition from Medieval to Renaissance and Reformation life. During Julian's life time England hosted the Black Death, abetted the 100 years war, the Peasant Revolt, the Lollard Bible, John Wyclif, were touched by the effects of the Avignon Papacy, the Great Schism, religious orders, crusades, inquisitions, gradual changes in the feudal system of law, economy, and government, and even enjoyed pilgrimages like that memorialized by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Barbara Tuchman called the century "calamitous."
Julian reflects the "passion piety" of her time, an extremely sensitive devotion to the crucifixion, accentuated by her own near-death experience, in which she imaginatively reenacted the dramatic biblical scenes like an actor in a passion play, or made the "stations" of the Cross as if she were physically present. Out of this deeply felt experience and after years of meditation, prayer, and reflection, Julian composed her early and mature Revelations of Divine Love.
Kerrie Hide brings our attention to a heretofore lightly explored theological theme or concept in Julian, the idea of salvation called soteriology, as if she has found a diamond that upon turning reflects many facets of light on Julian's famous saying, "all things will be well." Hide searches Julian's texts to find answers for her existential questions. "Does life have meaning? Is...sharing of love at the core of all reality? Is all existence relational? Where does God stand in relation to human suffering and the incompletion of the cosmos? How do we remain open to growth, to change, to transformation? How can we confront the non-being and non-doing of sin that creates so much despair and hoplessness? How do we keep hope alive?" Hide's book articulates Julian's answers to these questions. She says that she was introduced to Julian while "studying the history of Christian spirituality for a Master's degree." I assume that degree was earned at Fordham University in 1987 and was not one of the three diplomas she earned in Australian Higher Education.
Hide is a writer and lecturer in theology at the Signadou campus of the Australian Catholic University, from which she earned the Ph.D.in 2000 with a dissertation that carried the same title as this book. There is no statement in the book about the relationship between the dissertation and the book, so claims to that effect would be presumptuous at this writing. Unlike a dissertation this book has a helpful index, albeit with minor misspellings and omissions.
The book is divided into ten brief chapters. After an historical introduction to Julian and her writings, chapter 2 explains the hermeneutic used in the remainder of the book, based on contemplative experience called beholding and a three dimensional religious epistemology of sensory experience, understanding of words, and spiritual insight. Hide never refers to the medieval hermeneutic of the four senses of scripture, but is keenly aware of the metaphorical and allegorical tenor of Julian's style. Chapter ten summarizes Julian's relevance and meanings today with a reminder that women's voices need to be heard in Christian communities. The body of the work consists of seven chapters which divide seven ways humans are knitted, bonded, or oned with God; oneing takes place in different ways with the Trinity, Being, Crucifixion, Servant, Christ the Wisdom Mother, Holy Spirit, and Eschaton; oneing expresses the soteriology of Julian because "central to Julian's soteriology is the belief that human beings are in a permanent relationship with divine love." Therefore salvation in Julian's Revelations is based on relationships that result from God's initiating activities towards us and our faithful responses to these encounters with revelation and salvation.
Hide challenges the Christian theological tradition that refers to mystical literature as private. She claims "Revelations" like Julian's are public, but "dependent" on the canonical sources of revelation, an idea she attributes to Gerard O'Collins, S.J.
Although Hide defines Middle English terms like beholding, oneing, kind, and asseth or satisfaction, to mention a few, the continual repetition of Julian's language, intended to catch Julian's original rhythm, rhyme, and meaning, like her frequent "medley of weal and woe," sometimes sounds pedantic. Hide is critical of Julian's limitations on many points and integrates both positive and negative conclusions on a number of sub-themes. The touchstone that links all Julian's revelations to the salvation theme is that we all come from God and return to God, the "Gifted...to Graced" theme of the title. Almost every chapter includes a reminder of the exitus reditus refrain, a medieval version of the journey of faith. Hide acknowledges the medieval inheritance of this Christian Neoplatonic theme from Plotinus and more directly from Augustine. Plotinus called the emanation or outgoing, proodos, which exitus captures. But the Plotinian return is an epistrophe, a turning, which connotes a conversion more than a reditus, or return trip. The Gospels add the power of metanoia, conversion, reform, repentance, to the Neoplatonic conversion of the soul, so that in Christian philosophy turns of thought serve pre-evangelical purposes, preparations for the journey of faith with God's rule. Catherine La Cugna wrote something similar to Hide, "This exitus and reditus is the choreography of the divine dance which takes place from all eternity and is manifest at every moment in creation"(God For Us, 274). Julian's perichoresis is less a "dance" and more an "encompassing" (La Cugna 312, n94)
Hide has crafted an original, integrated, systematic, extensively researched, existential reading of salvation from Julian's Revelations, something challenged by "...Julian's eclectic integration of Scripture and other sources. This makes the theology extremely dense." Hide cuts ontological, anthropological, and philological pathways through the dense thickets of this 14th century contemplative's writings to provide a close reading that finds salvation and divine bonding with humanity that connects many disparate sections of Julian's chapters. Julian's language and images can be paradoxical, ambiguous, equivocal, polysemous, which Hide exposes with critical skill and dialectical analysis. Hide interprets the metaphors, similes, parables, visions, allegories, archetypes, and critiques some of Julian's romantic, courtley images. She frequently contrasts Julian with contemporary thought.
From the perichoresis of the Trinity which we share as image of God to the communion of saints in the eschaton, this comprehensive thesis on God's saving works for us, that we are called to share with one another, may contribute to the contemporary discussion of communion theology. Vatican II taught that the church is the universal sacrament of salvation, and ideally calls us to integrate peace and justice on earth as well as offer the safe path for the journey to heaven. Kerrie Hide's understanding of a theology of salvation in Julian inspires ongoing research in mystical literature to discover alternative theologies of the universal call to salvation that manifest themselves in this dependent tradition of revelation and salvation.