Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Very little is known about the life of Julian of Norwich, not even her real name. She adopted the name Julian from the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, to which she attached herself when she took up life as an anchoress. However, we can tell from her writing that she was an educated woman, familiar with Scripture, the writings of Saint Augustine and Boethius, and works of contemplative monastic spirituality. Her teachings on sin, for example, show the influence of both Boethius and Augustine in their insistence that evil lacks substance: “I believe that it [evil] has no substance, no share in being. . . .” (chapter 27, LT) and that, though sin is a necessary part of reality, God has the power to bring good out of evil, summoning the assurance “that all will be well.” Her mystical visions will yield a unique theological perspective, but this perspective will be grounded in traditional Catholic Christian orthodoxy.

This is true even of her portrayal of God/Christ as mother. She is not the first to think of God this way. Others from the Middle Ages and earlier, including Saint Anselm and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, had touched on this idea, but she offers possibly the fullest, richest, most thought-out development of the concept. Her God is close and caring. He is our clothing, she says, made of love that wraps us in a protective embrace, much as the protective womb of the mother cradles the growing baby. Through the labor pains of his passion and death, Christ births us into eternal life. He remains a doting mother, ever at our side, nourishing us with the Eucharist, always eager to hear our voices in prayer and to shower gifts on us.

Julian’s interpretation of God’s motherliness is derived from her exploration of the Trinity, a mystery she reflects on without apparent trepidation. Through the Incarnation, Christ shares in our human nature, both physical and spiritual, and for Julian this sharing makes him the best expression of the motherliness of divine love.