A Schema for Studying the Revelations

 

Today we have access to millions of books, and millions of people—both men and women—write them, but this was not the case in Julian's day. It is difficult for us truly to appreciate her book without understanding this. Whether it was dictated at several sittings or written slowly and carefully by her own hand, it stands as an astounding testament both to the spiritual maturity that was able to integrate and dispense such wisdom and experience, as well as to the intellectual capacity to organize and recall it.

Julian's work is also unique among a similar group of contemporary and near-contemporary women who wrote books—Gertrude of Helfta, Mechtilde of Magdeburg, Brigit of Sweden, Margery Kempe of Lynn, Angela of Foligno, even Catherine of Siena—in that no other book of visions has the same tenor, or speaks to our age with such necessity and power as this collection of visions and subsequent reflections 'showed to a devout lady that is recluse at Norwich'.

The Revelations are staggeringly rich. How does one approach them? What is the best way to go about exploring and understanding them?

Little books of daily reflections have their place, and meditated upon consistently, will always yield new insight, but due to their piecemeal nature can hardly scratch the surface of what the Revelations have to offer.

For those interested in learning more about the Revelations, we suggest the following 5-level schema of reading, from basic introductions to intensive study, with options at each stage. Most of the titles are in print.

 

1                                                    

Introducing Julian, Woman of Norwich

Elizabeth Ruth Obbard

1995. A lovely and gentle beginner's introduction to Julian, her vocation, writings, and world, with excerpts from a translation by Josef Pichler.

 

In Search of Julian of Norwich

Sheila Upjohn

1989. You cannot find another introduction to Julian that combines so much careful scholarship with so much sparkling wit, with so much enjoyment and success.

 

Why Julian Now? A Voyage of Discovery

Sheila Upjohn

1997. A searching and enjoyable commentary on the applicability of Julian’s writing to our times; like Upjohn's previous book an excellent preliminary to reading the text itself.

 

With Pity Not With Blame

Robert Llewelyn

1994. One of the best introductions to Julian’s thought. Links aspects of Julian’s theology with the near-contemporary Cloud of Unknowing and explores some of the issues the Revelations deal with.

 

2                                                        

Love's Trinity: A Companion to Julian of Norwich

Frederick Roden

2009. Accompanies each chapter of the Paraclete edition of Julian's Long Text with an incisive, challenging, and prayerful commentary. A very perceptive modern commentary on the Revelations.

 

The Complete Julian of Norwich

Fr John-Julian OJN Trans, Ed.

2009. A thorough and annotated commentary on the Long Text of Julian’s Revelations, contemporary language translation, with contextual information & appendices covering aspects of Julian's life, speculation about her identity, the theology of her day, and possible influences.

 

Sin Shall Be A Glory

John Michael Mountney

1992. In his introduction, the author writes wryly of his desire to add yet "another Julian book" to the growing heap. But his discourses on the topic of Julian's treatment of sin are serious. This graceful book is a good preparation for reading Denys Turner's treatment of "sin is behovabil".

 

A Neighbour—Kind & Known: The Spirituality of Julian of Norwich

Ambrose Tinsley OSB

1997. Simple, gentle, and unassuming in tone but backed up with solid Julian scholarship. Especially enlightening are the short quotations from Julian's work side-by-side with scriptural texts which her words reflect.

 

3                                          

Christ Our Mother 

Brant Pelphrey

1989. A study of Julian's mysticism and theology of compassion, especially in regard to motherhood in God. Pelphrey breaks down each of the Showings into discrete elements, also looking at number groupings in the Revelations as a whole.

 

Julian of Norwich: Mystic & Theologian

Grace Jantzen

2000. A very thorough study, looking carefully at background and biography, Julian's spirituality, her 'theology of integration', and her consideration of sin, suffering, growth, and healing.

 

Julian of Norwich's Showings: From Vision to Book

Denise Baker

1994. The development of Julian's theology, especially a good study of Julian's treatment of evil.

 

4                                                      

The Writings of Julian of Norwich (Middle English)

Nicholas Watson & Jacqueline Jenkins Eds.

2006. Separate texts of both the Middle English Short and Long Text, plus an analytic edition of the Short Text printed underneath the Long Text; facing page explanatory notes plus translations of difficult words and phrases, cross references and citations; textual endnotes; various appendices. Very user-friendly, with quite sound and level-headed scholarship.

 

Julian's Way: A Practical Commentary on Julian of Norwich

Ritamary Bradley

1992. Discusses Julian's work by "themes", which is very handy, but only if Julian's text is already very familiar.

 

5                                                    

Julian of Norwich: Theologian

Denys Turner

2011. Possibly the best serious study available on Julian's theology. A very rewarding book which should be read by anyone truly interested in Julian and her Revelations.

 

Julian of Norwich: Autobiography and Theology

Christopher Abbot

1999. Explores the relationship between Julian's predicament as a writer who must derive her authority from experience rather than ecclesiastical office; and the precise character of her theology as it issues from that predicament.

 

Lo How I Love Thee: Divine Love in Julian of Norwich

Brendan (Brant) Pelphrey

2012. A new edition of Pelphrey's 1982 study on Julian, with extensive quotations both in Middle English and in a new translation by Julia Holloway. Pelphrey presents the historical and biblical influences on Julian's work, her deep similarities to Eastern Orthodox spirituality, and practical implications for modern readers.