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Title: Julian of Norwich : a theological reappraisal
Author: Pelphrey, Brant
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1977
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In recent years there has developed a popular interest in the medieval recluse and visionary, Dame Julian of Norwich. Her single book, Revelations of Divine Love, records sixteen "shewings" which she received during the day and night of May 8, 1373. The Revelations is primarily a theological, rather than autobiographical, work, and touches upon virtually every aspect of Christian doctrine. Julian is better known, however, as a source of meditation, than as a theologian. Some aspects of her thought which have been noted in the literature include her concept of the "motherhood of God", her statement that sin "has no manner of substance nor particle of being" (i.e., that it has no positive existence), and her bald assertion that "there is no wrath in God". She has also been quoted, in poetry as well as in critical works, for her optimistic vision of the last Judgement, that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well". Out of context, these elements of the Revelations have been subjected to a variety of interpretations, including the (heretical) ones that God is never displeased with sin, that sin does not exist, or that all souls shall be equally "saved" on the Last Day. At the present time, no comprehensive study of Julian's theology has been published, with the exception of one account which limits itself to the nature of her visions and her description of contemplative prayer. While there is considerable disagreement in the literature regarding her value as a theologian, and the character of her thought as a whole, it has been widely assumed that she borrows Neoplatonic concepts available to her through other English mystics of her time, notably Walter Hilton and the Anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing; or from other sources including the translated works of Pseudo-Dionysius, the victorire mystics, Meister Eckhardt, or Jan van Ruysbroeck. Published accounts of her work consist largely of comparisons of her thought with that of her more eminent contemporaries; and of attempts either to establish her as a mystic along the lines of Platonic mysticism (seen especially in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius) or along "traditional" Catholic lines (laid down primarily by the Spanish Carmelite mystics, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, nearly two centuries later). The present study is an attempt to reassess the value of Julian of Norwich as an important theologian, whose doctrine in the Revelations not only does not recapitulate Neoplatonic thought, but represents a significant challenge to it; and which, while it is Catholic, is also highly original, strongly resembling Byzantine mystical theology and Orthodox thought as a whole. Because of the limitations of space and practicality, no attempt has been made to compare her thought in detail with other theologies, except where similarities to earlier or contemporary works which she might have known seem obvious. Rather, a systematic approach to her theology, suggested by Julian herself in the Revelations, is explored, underlining its major elements and drawing out her original contributions to Christian theology in the West. In particular, she is seen to develop an ontological understanding of divine Love, and therefore of sin and salvation, based on her vision of the Trinity "in" Christ: that in the Incarnation, the Trinity is economically revealed, encorporating humanity into God in the relationship of "homely" love.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available