There are now several substantial monographs on Julian of Norwich, indicating a healthy and deserved interest in one of the greatest theologians of the Church. Amongst my favourites are Grace Jantzen's careful and respectful account of Julian: Mystic and Theologian, a book that firmly places Julian within the brightest constellation of contemplative theologians. Kerrie Hide's Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfilment is a beautifully written and lucid account of Julian's doctrine of salvation that shows the nuanced and sophisticated clarity of Julian's thinking, while at the same time giving a sympathetic reflection on the speculative humility of Julian's attempts to articulate the great mystery by which all shall be well. Wisdom's Daughter by Joan Nuth is the best book on her spirituality that I know - and it too is written with considerable scholarship distilled and rendered accessible in a volume that I return to often. And there's more - I have at least four other serious studies of this remarkable woman whose one book gathers so much theological fruit from her own experience long pondered, and brought into conversation with the church tradition, and then written out of a profound and searching contemplative mind in love with the Crucified God. I know the phrase is an anachronism, but The Revelations of Divine Love is the medieval theological precursor to our current fascination with the suffering of God, the suffering of the world and the search for a healed creation through the Crucified Son of God.
The most recent study has just been dispatched to me from Amazon. Denys Turner has written widely and deeply on mysticism, apophatic theology and the often contested relationship between faith and reason. I hope not to be disappointed then, when I read him on Julian the Theologian. I have long been an admiring advocate of Julian's crucicentric vision of the universe and her insistence against all comers that the love of God is the ultimate assurance for the future of all that is. Indeed I'm convinced that the current controversies about divine love and judgement, heaven, hell and universalism, come back to the fundamental question of the God we believe in and the definition of love that colours all our theological assumptions and psychological hesitations. And those who dismiss love as sentimental, and recoil from a "soft" theology, haven't really begun to appreciate a theology that was born out of the black death, in a feudal society, and mediated through the near death experience of a woman who took twenty plus years to guage the depth of that abyss she calls the Divine Love.
Sentimental she is not - compassionate, speculative, a thinker unafraid of the affections, each of these she is. But the theological vision of her book has a rigour and robustness that is rooted in the ultimacy of the Divine Love, and nourished by a faith that takes the cross and the Christ with utmost seriousness - and paradoxically, that seriousness is expressed in the hilarity and joyfulness of one who believes she has discovered the secret of the universe, that elusive formula that Stephen hawking is after, the explanation of all things...."All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." It isn't a knock-down argument - it's a credal cry of the heart, an adoring reiteration of quiet if mystified confidence in God, both a prayer and a promise, and the final premise on which she rests her hope for God's broken but deep-loved world.
The image above is from the Book of Kells - included here because I like it, and maybe Julian knew of it?