(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although divine love is the overarching theme of Julian’s visions, two other, related issues dealt with in A Book of Showings are the problem of sin and suffering and the nature of prayer. In addition, the nature of mystical experience itself is considered, as Julian attempts to explain to her readers the physical, intellectual, and spiritual means by which she perceived certain elements of the visions. Most critics accept Julian’s visions as genuine spiritual experiences, rather than attributing them to physical or mental conditions.

Julian perceives God’s love as the force that holds the universe together. Julian’s God is not at all a God of wrath or condemnation; some have interpreted this theology as leaning toward universalism, the belief that all humanity will ultimately be saved, as opposed to the doctrine that some will reject salvation and be punished eternally in Hell. Others point out that Julian never explicitly states a universalistic view, but she does state that “though the revelation was one of goodness, with very little reference to evil, I was not drawn thereby from any article of the Faith in which Holy Church teaches me to believe.” Nevertheless, in her visions she is repeatedly told that “Everything is going to be all right.”

Julian understands sin as both real and unreal. It has a real effect on human lives and spirits (that is, pain or suffering) and is the cause of Christ’s sacrificial death—the focus of twelve of the sixteen visions. At the same time, sin is unreal in that ultimately it has no existence without God’s permission. Julian sees God’s love as nullifying the spiritual damage caused...

(The entire section is 684 words.)