Julian’s Gospel, by Veronica Mary Rolf, Orbis Books, 2013, £23.99(available from Alban Books)

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I have twice visited the shrine of Julian of Norwich and am in touch with the activities of Julian’s disciples. I have sat for periods in the little room where Julian lived out the second half of her life.

 

One can sense that the ambience is saturated with prayer, that something good happened there and that what happened and who lived it is somehow available to us today.
Our author begins her book asking what if Mary Magdalene and other women who had loved Christ had written their own accounts of their following of Jesus. They had accompanied him, saw to his needs, cooked for him, washed and mended his robes. How did they see and react to his suffering on the cross, his rising from the dead? How would they have felt the Passion and Resurrection?
Fourteen centuries later another follower of Christ, a woman, lived an experience of the suffering and risen Christ. It took great courage to write down what Christ revealed for Julian was a woman. Illiterate in Latin, she wrote in the vernacular and was not a male theologian. Like Hildegard of Bingen and Catherine of Siena, she felt called to prophesy and interpret.
She lived in interesting times. The Hundred Years’ War was in full swing; there was a Papal Schism within the Church; the heretical teachings of John Wyclif and his Lollards were being heard; and the Great Pestilence afflicted and wiped out the lives of thousands. Our author guides us through Julian’s times, her misogynistic culture and society, her educational background, her contemporary church and her own devotional religiousity.
She devotes the greater part of her book to a study of each of Julian’s revelations. “Showings” is the most frequently used word to describe her experiences. The reader will be amazed at how Julian can in her own words and with her own voice teach us, reveal to us and give witness to the love of God available to every single creature. Indeed, if Julian is to be believed, all is well and all manner of things will be well.
Thomas Merton was an enthusiastic disciple of Julian. He wrote: “Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older…I think that Julian of Norwich is with Newman the greatest English theologian.”
In the ecclesial moment which we are living Julian occupies a very important place. Many Catholics have parted ways with the institutional church but have not separated themselves from their faith nor from their following of Christ. They live in exile from a church which they dismiss yet long for making it theirs once again. They have retained a spiritual relationship with the old community but reject an institution which no longer speaks to their deepest desires. Julian is a mystic much read in these parched years.
This is a book which will give the reader great insights into the beginnings of modern Catholicism. Julian is not simply a mediaeval mystic. Interest in her is worldwide and she is at the centre of spiritual renewal even here in this country. We cannot understand the development of a post-Vatican II spirituality without reference to Julian; nor can we find possible alternative pathways through a secular world which also seeks the Truth but is inclined to worship at the altars of science, or of power or of money.
Frank Regan