Revelations of Divine Love Summary

Julian of Norwich

Revelations of Divine Love

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Revelations of Divine Love Summary

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Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, also known as A Revelation of Love—In Sixteen Shewings (or Showings in standardized English spelling), was written in the fourteenth century. The book contains Christian mystical devotions, or visions. The book provides a message of hope at a time when the world was being ravaged by the bubonic plague, war, uprisings, and religious schism. Aside from its importance in the landscape of historical writings from the late-fourteenth century, Revelations of Divine Love is also the first published book, written in English, by a woman.

Julian of Norwich fell ill on May 13, 1373 when she was thirty years old. Certain that her time had come, she prayed and prepared herself to die. During her illness, she had sixteen visions, specifically of the Passion of the Christ and the Virgin Mary. The Passion refers to the torture and subsequent execution by crucifixion of Jesus Christ, called the Passion because, according to Christian doctrine, Christ suffered in order to redeem mankind from sin. The Virgin Mary was Christ’s human mother, who, according to doctrine, became pregnant with Jesus following the immaculate conception—that is, the spirit of God impregnated her without her having to commit the sin of having sex. Julian of Norwich managed to survive her illness, against all expectations. She decided to devote the remainder of her life to prayer, with a focus on thinking about and better understanding her visions. While historians think it likely she penned a brief account of each vision, she didn’t write Revelations of Divine Love until twenty or thirty years later. In addition to describing these visions, she provides explanations of their meaning after two or three decades of contemplation.

It’s likely she didn’t know Latin, as she described herself as “a simple creature unlettered” in chapter two. As a result, the manuscript was written in Middle English—like many of Geoffrey Chaucer’s surviving works, and in fact, the two were contemporaries. At the time, French was the legal language of the land, and Latin was used for both legal and religious documents. Most of the populace didn’t know either of those languages, however, which would have made Julian of Norwich’s writings relatable to them. Though the original manuscript of Revelations of Divine Love no longer exists, translations of the text have survived the centuries. Norwich itself was a vibrant center for religion in Julian’s day. With several convents and orders present, education was highly valued, and though she calls herself “unlettered,” it is likely she knew how to read and write, and therefore that the original manuscript of Revelations of Divine Love was written by her and not a scribe. Another reason for this self-deprecating description is perhaps that Julian did not wish to step on men’s toes by claiming to be learned. It wasn’t considered appropriate for women to teach religion to others. Where she learned to read and write is a mystery, but it might be that her brother (if she had one) attended a religiously-founded boarding school and then taught her to how to read and write. Schools at the time taught reading and writing, religion, Latin, and possibly even rhetoric and logic.

Revelations of Divine Love is split into eighty-six chapters, which are grouped into sections. The first three chapters form the introduction. Chapters four through forty-three make up the first fourteen revelations. Julian’s thoughts and reflections on these follow in chapters forty-four through sixty-three. The remaining chapters detail the fifteenth and sixteenth revelations, and are followed by a postscript. In the introductory section, Julian discusses her illness, offers a brief summary of the revelations, and the three gifts God has bestowed upon her through them. Those three gifts are meditation on the Passion of Christ, meditation on her individual suffering, and greater piety that results from the first two gifts. She reflects on receiving last rites and then later recovering from her illness after she’d prepared to die. Julian’s first revelation is about the Crown of Thorns Christ was made to wear during the torture he suffered at the hands of Pontius Pilate and the other Roman soldiers who crucified him.

Her second revelation is of Jesus on the Cross. In the third revelation, Julian contemplates all of creation and God’s wisdom and care. The fourth revelation is about Christ’s torture: he is scourged, which spills his blood. The fifth revelation is about how the “evil one” is defeated by the cross. God’s gifts of gratitude to those who serve him make up the sixth revelation. In the seventh, God’s faithful are comforted whether they’re experiencing good or bad fortune. The eighth revelation is about Christ’s death. In the ninth revelation, Christ’s love for humankind fills the heavens. His heart is broken for his love of the world in the tenth revelation. Julian’s eleventh revelation is about the Virgin Mary and her role as Jesus’ mother, and the twelfth revelation is about Christ’s glory. Next, in the thirteenth revelation, Julian contemplates God’s actions to make amends for mankind’s sin—that is the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. In the fourteenth revelation, God inspires prayer from the faithful. The fifteenth revelation is about resurrection, and in the sixteenth and final revelation, Christ is ever-present in the souls of those who love Him.