“And the child, skipping and rejoicing, as if in a bed chamber, walked into the temple of God”

Then holding the child with great joy, Zacharias eagerly brought Mary into the holy of holies, perhaps saying words such as these to her:

“Come, fulfilment of my prophecy! Come, completion of the promises of God! Come, seal of his covenant! Come, achievement of his purposes! Come, manifestation of his mysteries! Come, speculum of all prophets! Come, point of agreement for all those who wickedly dissent! Come, conjunction of those who have previously been separated! Come, support of those who have inclined downwards! Come, renewal of the old! Come, the light of those who lie in darkness! Come, most new and divine gift! Come, Mistress of all who dwell on earth! Come into the glory of your Lord, glory which for now is here below and treated with contempt but which will, after a short time, become heavenly and inaccessible to humankind.”

Having spoken, as is likely, to the child in such a way, the initiate placed her where it was fitting, appropriate, and preordained. And the child, skipping and rejoicing, as if in a bed chamber, walked into the temple of God. She was three years old and supremely perfect with divine grace, since she had been recognized and designated in advance and had been chosen by the God and Steward of all things.

Mary remained in the innermost holy of holies, nourished with ambrosial food by an angel and given divine nectar to drink, until her second stage of life. Then, with the consent of God and by the will of priests, an allotment regarding her was granted and the righteous Joseph gained her as his share. By divine dispensation, he took this holy Virgin out of the temple of God and from its priests to deceive the snake that caused evil in the beginning, in order that it might not attack the untouched maiden, since she was a virgin, but instead pass her by since she had become betrothed. Therefore the wholly undefiled girl was in the house of the carpenter Joseph, kept safe by the Master-builder, God, until the divine mystery which had been hidden from before all ages was accomplished in her, and God was made like mortals out of her.

St Germanos of Constantinople

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Julian of Norwich and the God who Delights to Die

“Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” (Revelations LT 27).

On reading these words of Christ to Julian of Norwich we might be tempted to think that our Lord is telling the anchoress that the Eschaton will somehow compensate—and more than compensate—for the horrific evils we are forced to suffer in our lives. “Yes, violence, oppression, and poverty are terrible. Yes, your sufferings are intolerable and meaningless. Yes, the sin that causes them is unfortunate (but don’t forget free will). But I promise you that your torments will end when I bring you into the beatific vision. Dawn will break. The lame will walk and the blind will see. I will wipe away all your tears. All is not well now, I know, but all will be well.” Yet as attractive such a reading may be, this is not how Julian understands the dominical words. It is prohibited by the “befitting.” As Denys Turner writes: “Note that Julian does not say only that however awful things are in the meantime, all will turn out well in the end. What happens ‘in the end’ is that we will see how everything was all right at the time; and that is what we must believe now at the time of its awfulness” (Julian of Norwich, Theologian, p. 233, n. 28). Here is where we stumble. How can evil, especially horrific evil, ever be judged behovely?

In my earlier article “God is the Doer,” I noted that Julian affirms a strong version of divine sovereignty. She is given to see “that alle thinges that is done is welle done, for our Lord doth all” (LT 11). All of God’s workings are accomplished in mercy and grace, and “the blessed trinite is ever fulle plesed in alle his workes.” God causes all events and all actions, including the free actions of human beings, and because he does so, we may confidently anticipate the fulfillment of his eschatological promises. Evil is real and truly horrible and contrary to God’s will for his creation, yet is nonetheless comprehended within his beneficent providence. God does not cause evil qua evil. As the Creator of all that exists, he necessarily brings into being our sinful actions, but he does not choose them for us. Or as Turner puts it: “God causes sinful actions in that they are actions, because God causes everything that there is. But God is not and could not be the cause of my actions in that they are sinful” (p. 63). Which is simply to say, Julian is no deist. Like her fellow medieval theologians, Julian understands that everything owes its existence to the immediate doing of the Creator, and this must include sinners and their immoral actions. Julian’s presentation of divine agency is no doubt vulnerable to the charge of occasionalism, but given her insistence that God does not cause evil, it seems more likely that she presupposes a Thomistic understanding of noncompetitive transcendent causality (see Brian Davies, Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil). We moderns, on the other hand, tend to think of the world as a stage upon which human beings think, choose, and act, apart from the divine causality. God builds the set and casts the actors, who then compose and live out their scripts. We model ourselves upon Aristotle’s prime mover. We do not usually put matters so starkly, yet some version of libertarian autonomy typically informs our thinking. Human freedom, we think, requires the absence of divine causality. In the words of philosopher Roderick Chisholm: “each of us, when we act, is a prime mover unmoved. In doing what we do, we cause certain events to happen, and nothing—or no one—causes us to cause those events to happen.” Where does God fit into this? He’s our audience and critic. Divine agency and human freedom are thus viewed as mutually exclusive. For the anchoress, though, God can never be thought as an observer of the human drama: he is the transcendent doer of the drama. God does not create sin–the nothingness that sin is is not a something that can be created–but from nothing he creates human beings with their sinful and virtuous actions.

At this point classical theology has typically invoked a distinction between God’s absolute and permissive wills: God does not ordain evil but rather permits it. Julian too brings this distinction into her reflection:

All that oure lorde doeth is rightfulle, and alle that he suffereth is wurshipfulle. And in theyse two is comprehended good and eville. For alle that is good oure lord doeth, and that is evil oure lord suffereth. I say not that eville is wurshipfulle, but I sey the sufferance of oure lorde God is wurshipfulle, whereby his goodnes shalle be know without ende, and his mervelous mekenesse and mildhed, by this werking of mercy and grace. Rightfulhed is that thing that is so good that may not be better than it is. For God himselfe is very rightfulhed, and all his werkes be done rightfully, as they be ordained from without beginning by his high might, his high wisdom, his high goodnesse. And right as he hath ordained it to the best, right so he werketh continually, and ledeth it to the same ende. And he is ever fulle plesed with himselfe and with alle his workes. And the beholding of this blisseful acord is full swete to the soule that seeth it by grace. (LT 35)

All that our lord does is right and all that he endures is praiseworthy; and in these two are contained good and evil, for our Lord does everything which is good and he endures everything which is evil. I am not saying that any evil is to be praised, but I am saying that our Lord God’s willingness to endure evil is praiseworthy, and through this his goodness will be recognized for ever in his wonderful compassion and kindness, through the operation of mercy and grace. Righteousness is the thing which is so good that it cannot be better than it is; for God himself is true righteousness and all his deeds are rightly done as they have been ordained since before time began by his great power, his great wisdom, his great goodness. And just as he ordained what is for the best, in the same way he continues to work and lead everything to the same end; and he always take great pleasure in himself and all his works. And the sight of this blessed accord is very sweet to the soul that sees it through grace. 

Yet the dual distinction appears to play only a minor role in Julian’s reflections, perhaps because she is not really concerned to advance a theodicy; or perhaps more accurately, because she is principally concerned to proclaim the crucifixion of theodicy in the death of Jesus. As Denys Turner notes, Julian’s explorations are dominated by the tension between two apparently irreconcilable convictions:

On the one hand, she is acutely aware that the appallingly irrational cruelties of sin that the world contains deserve just and due punishment, as the Church teaches. On the other, and no more nor less unshakeably, she is convinced that just that world containing just that quantity of sin and evil was created by a Love who is absolute, and absolutely invincible, who does not, and cannot, condemn. … Her shewings afford her no conclusive answers. Never is she shown any one compendious vision containing both truths in harmonious conjunction. … For Julian is certain that any theology that purports to know how the divine love and omnipotence and the existence of a world of sin might be reconciled must be wrong one way or the other, either about sin’s reality or about the reality of the divine love. (pp. 19-20)

Julian eschews simplistic resolutions. She sees before her only the riddle of the Cross. “When she is tempted to look beyond the Cross to heaven, she resists,” writes Turner, “because she wants no other focus of explanation than the crucified Christ” (p. 20). Even the resurrection seems to disappear into the background:

Notably, there is no concluding Resurrection narrative in Julian, no further episode of dénouement, no upbeat reversal of the fortunes of the Cross. That is not the Gospel. That is Hollywood’s role for the Marine Corps, an entirely secular form of optimism, and a merely Pelagian story that tells of the hope that may be placed in superior force. No such narrative is possible, because the conflict between sin and love is the final conflict, and the Cross is the final outcome of that conflict. It is perhaps Julian’s central theological insight that sin wages war against love because sin is of its own nature violent, but love wages no wars at all, not even against sin, for love is absolute vulnerability. Love knows no other strategy than that vulnerability. For that reason, then, neither is any subsequent reversal of the Cross’s violent defeat necessary, for it is precisely in that victory of sin over love that sin is defeated. In its victory over love sin defeats itself. Sin’s failure to engage perfect love in a contest on sin’s terms of violence and power is sin’s defeat, its power being exhausted by its very success. For killing is the best strategy that sin can come up with; it is sin’s last resort. The Resurrection, then, is the meaning of the Cross, the meaning that the vulnerability of love, its refusal of the sword, is stronger than sin’s power to kill. That is all we know. That is all we can know. The meaning of the Cross neither allows for a fairy-tale ending nor needs one. (pp. 20-21)

Turner’s interpretation of Julian at this point may be a bit too modern. Does she think of Christ’s death in any way as a defeat? I’m not sure. I need to reread the Showings in order to test it. But he is correct that for Julian the Cross is determinative. She does not proclaim the victory of God over sin and death on Easter morning, at least not as an independent event. Certainly she believes in the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Christ is the living Savior. In this sense she is very Latin and very medieval. But neither does she masochistically glory in the violence and brutality of Calvary. Her visions of the Passion have a matter-of-fact quality and convey a mood of serenity and peace, even a holy mirth—and above all, indomitable hope. Absent in her presentation are any intimations of divine wrath or retribu­tive satisfaction. There is only the quiet but decisive victory of love over sin on the Cross. “Furthermore he lerned that I shulde beholde the glorious asseeth [atonement],” writes Julian. “For this asseeth-making is more plesing to the blessed godhed and more wurshipfulle for mannes salvation withoute comparison than ever was the sinne of Adam harmfulle. Then meneth oure blessed lorde thus in this teching, that we shulde take hede to this: ‘For sithen I have made welle the most harm, than it is my wille that thou know therby that I shalle make wele alle that is lesse'” (LT 29). In the ninth shewing Christ asks Julian:

“Arte thou well apaid that I suffered for thee?” I saide: “Ye, good lorde, gramercy. Ye, good lorde, blessed mot thow be.” Then saide Jhesu, our good lord: “If thou arte apaide, I am apaide. It is a joy, a blisse, an endlesse liking to me that ever I sufferd passion for the. And if I might suffer more, I wolde suffer more.” (LT 22)

“Are you well pleased that I suffered for you?” I said, “Yes, my good Lord, thank you. Yes, my good Lord, blessed may you be!” Then Jesus, our kind Lord, said, “If you are pleased, I am pleased. It is a joy, a delight and an endless happiness to me that I ever endured suffering for you, and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more.”

“If I might suffer more, I wolde suffer more”–the Son’s love for sinners is so great that he would freely endure countless deaths, if such were necessary to restore every human being to his Father:

And I behelde with grete diligence for to wet how often he wolde die if he might. And sothly the nomber passed my understanding and my wittes so ferre that my reson might not, nor cold not, comprehende it ne take it. And whan he had thus ofte died, or shuld, yet he wolde set it at nought for love, for alle thinketh him but litille in regard of his love. (LT 22)

And I watched very carefully to see how often he would die if he could, and truly the number of times passed my understanding and my senses by so much that my reason neither would nor could comprehend it. And if he had died, or was going to die, so often, he would still think nothing of it out of love. For his love is so great that everything seems a trifle to him in comparison.

Nothing has been left undone; all has been accomplished in perfect atonement. If another crucifixion were necessary, Jesus would gladly embrace it. And so Julian sees “fulle blisse in Crist, for his blisse shuld not have ben fulle if it might ony better have been done than it was done.” The joy of the Trinity is complete.

Perhaps here is the clue to the Lord’s shocking statement “Sin is befitting.” Julian is not an analytic philosopher who seeks to justify the presence of evil by modal analysis of possible worlds. There is simply the good world, this world, that the good God has made; and at the center of this world is crucified Goodness hanging on a tree. Thus Turner:

“How shoulde anything be amisse?” Nothing can be amiss because from all eternity all of it was intended by a God who can only love and cannot will sin, but can, out of pure love, will a world in which there is sin. Julian believes this because she is shown how the solution is willed all at once with the problem, so that while in one sense it is true that everything went wrong with Creation, in another she has overriding reasons for believing that nothing has gone wrong at all. Everything went wrong because the Fall excluded all human beings from the destiny for which they were created: they can no longer enjoy the beatitude of the vision of God because they repeatedly choose for themselves, through sin, the blindness of mind and soul in which, as the result of the Fall, they are born. Their predicament is real; they can do nothing whatever about it. And yet nothing has gone wrong, because that same divine act that willed the world as it is, thus fallen, willed also the remedy–which is not a “remedy” at all, because it goes far beyond the measure that any remedy could require. The compassionate gaze enclosed, foreclosed, the falling itself. And Julian is sure that it is a better world in which the problem is solved than any world would be in which, because there had been no problem in the first place, there was no need for the solution. (pp. 209-210)

And sin? Sin is a felix culpa, sin too is behovely. It fits, if anywhere, within that delight that the Father has in his Creation, within the Father’s delight in the Son, and in the Son’s delight in the Father’s gift to him, which is humanity redeemed. (p. 214)

The befittingness of sin cannot be proven by reason. Its truth will only be apprehended on the Last Day. But perhaps it can be believed–if, like Julian, we have been captured by the breathtaking and astounding love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


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“Do not imagine that everything has been provided for your own stomach”

Now why did that land bear so well, when it belonged to a man who would make no good use of its fertility? 

It was to show more clearly the forbearance of God, whose kindness extends even to such people as this. “He sends rain on both the just and the unjust, and makes the sun rise on the wicked and the good alike.”

But what do we find in this man? A bitter disposition, hatred of other people, unwillingness to give. This is the return he made to his Benefactor. He forgot that we all share the same nature; he felt no obligation to distribute his surplus to the needy. His barns were full to bursting point, but still his miserly heart was not satisfied. Year by year he increased his wealth, always adding new crops to the old. The result was a hopeless impasse: greed would not permit him to part with anything he possessed, and yet because he had so much there was no place to store his latest harvest.

And so he was incapable of making a decision and could find no escape from his anxiety. What am I to do?

Who would not pity a man so oppressed? His land yields him no profit but only sighs; it brings him no rich returns but only cares and distress and a terrible helplessness. He laments in the same way as the poor do.

Is not his cry like that of one hard pressed by poverty? What am I to do? How can I find food and clothing?

You who have wealth, recognize who has given you the gifts you have received. Consider yourself, who you are, what has been committed to your charge, from whom you have received it, why you have been preferred to most other people. You are the servant of the good God, a steward on behalf of your fellow servants. Do not imagine that everything has been provided for your own stomach. Take decisions regarding your property as though it belonged to another. Possessions give you pleasure for a short time, but then they will slip through your fingers and be gone, and you will be required to give an exact account of them.

What am I to do? It would have been so easy to say: “I will feed the hungry, I will open my barns and call in all the poor. I will imitate Joseph in proclaiming my good will toward everyone. I will issue the generous invitation: ‘Let anyone who lacks bread come to me. You shall share, each according to need, in the good things God has given me, just as though you were drawing from a common well’.”

St Basil the Great

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Alec Guiness reads Julian of Norwich

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Cross, Exsultet, and the Behoveliness of Sin

Dame Julian of Norwich presents us with antinomies which most of us (excepting hard-core Calvinists and traditional Thomists) would dismiss as metaphysical contradictions and moral nonsense:

  • In his infinite power, God might have created a world in which all human beings, without exception, freely live in perfect love—yet he did not.
  • In his transcendent agency, God causes all happenings, including the free actions of rational beings, including evil actions—yet he does not and cannot do evil.

We deem them contradictions because, we reason, God cannot guarantee the good conduct of libertarianly free rational agents. We deem them nonsense because were it possible for God to have created a world populated by free rational agents and yet did not, then he would not be supremely good, which the gospel tells us that he is. Julian’s understanding of divine providence and agency thus appears to violate the autonomy of human beings, reducing them to automatons and thereby rendering the Creator responsible for the terrible evils of the world.

But Julian’s antinomic theologizing gets even worse!  In chapter 27 of the Showings she tells how she worried and grieved over the presence of sin in the world the good God had made. Jesus then spoke to her these famous words: “Sinne is behovely, but alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and alle maner of thinge shalle be wele.” “Behovely”—what a lovely sounding word (“You look behovely this evening, my dear”), but what does it signify? Watson and Jenkins tell us that the word means “necessary or fitting, also good or opportune” (The Writings of Julian of Norwich, p. 208). Each is possible, yet how could Julian intend any of them? Not only is evil unnecessary to human flourishing in Christ, but it subverts human flourishing. We are created for the Good, not for its opposite. Thus Julian can declare that “sinne is worse, viler, and painfuller than hell without ony liknesse, for it is contrarious to our fair kinde [nature]. For as sothly as sinne is unclene, as sothly sinne is unkinde [unnatural, perverse] and thus an horrible thing to see to the loving soule that whole be alle fair and shining in the sight of God, as kind and grace techeth” (LT 63). Hence it is unlikely that Julian intends a strong sense of “necessary,” but a weaker sense is possible. Watson and Jenkins suggest that in Christ’s statement of the behoveliness of sin we hear echoes of the Exsultet, sung every year at the Paschal Vigil:

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!

O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out! O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!

From the tragedy of the fall of man God has miraculously brought forth a good surpassing all expectation and necessity. The eternal Logos has become Man, sin has been healed, death has been conquered, human nature has been elevated into the trinitarian life of the Godhead. The sin of Adam has thus become boon and blessing—not in itself but as the occasion and cause of Pascha. The fall was certainly not necessary—it need not have been and should not have been—yet in light of the atonement won by Christ on the Cross, we acclaim it a behovely and happy fault. Its necessity, as Denys Turner suggests, is narratival, not logical or metaphysical:

If, as Julian believes, sin can be seen to be behovely, then this can only one because there is a narrative of everything whatever, because the sum total of things adds up to a story, to just this story of this sequence of events, including those sins. For there is just one sum total of events that is human history, and what is behovely is what fits within the particular narrative of just this world. We could say that the world we inhabit, and the history we have made, are, in respect of this character of singularity, very much like a work of art—unique; and that Julian’s notion of what “fits” is, in consequence, more of an aesthetic kind than a logical one. … Nor is this narratival way of “making sense” of what follows anything like the way in which the conclusion of an entailment is made sense of by the premises that entail it; again, it is more like the right way of something happens in a story. For even if everything in a narrative could have, logically, been otherwise, when we say of what does happen that its happening was behovely, it is because it was just right that it should happen so, and not otherwise, as if with a kind of narratival necessity. It fits. There is a plot to it. It’s contingency is not that of the arbitrary. It just “so happens”—it is not necessary. But also, it’s happening is “just so”—it is not contingent. In short it is conveniens, behovely. (Julian of Norwich, Theologian, pp. 43-44)

Sin is befitting, as it discloses the dramatic befittingness of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as the atoning work of Christ unveils the dramatic necessity of the unnecessary sin of Adam. The behoveliness works both ways.

In chapter 51 Julian shares a simple parable given to her by Christ, the Lord and the Servant. The lord sits in peace and tranquility; the servant stands before his lord, ready to do his will. The lord sends him on a mission, and the servant joyously runs to accomplish it but falls into a dell. He is severely wounded and unable to rescue himself. He is not even able to “turne his face to loke uppe on his loving lorde, which was to him full nere, in whom is full comfort.” Christ then gives Julian to understand that the lord of the parable is God and the servant is Adam:

The lorde that sat solemply in rest and in peas, I understonde that he is God. The servant that stode before him, I understode that he was shewed for Adam: that is to sey, one man was shewed that time, and his falling, to make thereby to be understonde how God beholdeth alle manne and his falling. For in the sighte of God alle man is one man, and one man is alle man. This man was hurte in his mighte and made fulle febil, and he was stoned in his understanding, for he was turned fro the beholding of his lorde. But his wille was kepte hole in God’s sight. For his wille I saw oure lorde commende and aprove, but himselfe was letted and blinded of the knowing of this will. And this is to him gret sorow and grevous disses, for neither he seeth clerly his loving lorde, which is to him full meke and milde, nor he seeth truly what himselfe is in the sight of his loving lord. And wele I wot, when theyse two be wisely and truly seen, we shall get rest and peas: here in party, and the fulhede in the blisse in heven, by his plentuous grace. (LT 51)

I understood that the lord who sat in state in rest and peace is God. I understood that the servant who stood before him was shown for Adam, that is to say, one man was shown at that time and his fall, so as to make it understood how God regards all men and their falling. For in the sight of God all men are one man, and one man is all men. This man was injured in his powers and made most feeble, and in his understanding he was amazed, because he was diverted from looking on his lord, but his will was preserved in God’s sight. I saw the lord commend and approve him for his will, but he himself was blinded and hindered from knowing this will. And this is a great sorrow and cruel suffering to him, for he neither sees clearly his loving lord, who is so meek and mild to him, nor does he truly see what he himself is in the sight of his loving lord. And I know well that when these two things are wisely and truly seen, we shall gain rest and peace, here in part and the fulness in the bliss of heaven, by God’s plentiful grace. (Showings)

The story of the sin of Adam is thus revealed to be the story of humanity’s alienation from God. We each are Adam, trapped in blindness and impotence. But Julian wonders where the servant came from, why he is included in the story, for God is happy and complete in his divine aseity and does not need anyone to serve him. In response Christ provides the following illumination:

In the servant is comprehended the seconde person of the trinite, and in the servant is comprehended Adam: that is to sey, all men. And therefore whan I sey “the sonne,” it meneth the godhed, which is even with the fader; and when I sey “the servant,” it meneth Christes manhode, which is rightful Adam. By the nerehed of the servant is understand the sonne, and by the stonding on the left side is understond Adam. The lorde is God the father; the servant is the sonne Jesu Crist; the holy gost is the even love which is in them both. When Adam felle, Godes sonne fell. For the rightful oning which was made in heven, Goddes sonne might not be seperath from Adam, for by Adam I understond alle man. Adam fell fro life to deth: into the slade of this wretched worlde, and after that into hell. Goddes son fell with Adam into the slade of the maidens wombe, which was the fairest doughter of Adam—and that for to excuse Adam from blame in heven and in erth—and mightely he feched him out of hell.

By the wisdom and goodnesse that was in the servant is understond Goddes son. By the pore clothing as a laborer, stonding nere the left side, is understonde the manhode and Adam, with alle the mischefe and febilnesse that foloweth. For in alle this, oure good lorde shewed his owne son and Adam but one man. The vertu and the goodnesse that we have is of Jesu Crist, the febilnesse and blindnesse that we have is of Adam: which two were shewed in the servant. And thus hath oure good lorde Jhesu taken upon him all oure blame, and therfore oure fader may nor will no more blame assigne to us than to his owne derwurthy son, Jhesu Crist.

Thus was he the servant, before his coming into erth, stonding redy before the father in purpos, till what time he wolde sende him to do the wurshipful deede by which mankinde was brought again into heven. That is to sey, notwithstonding that he is God, even with the fader as anenst the godhede, but in his forseeing purpos–that he woulde be man to save man in fulfilling of the will of his fader–so he stode before his fader as a servant, wilfully taking upon him alle oure charge. And then he sterte full redely at the faders will, and anon he fell full lowe in the maidens wombe, having no regarded to himself ne to his harde paines. (LT 51)

In the servant is comprehended the second person of the Trinity, and in the servant is comprehended Adam, that is to say all men. And therefore when I say ‘the Son’, that means the divinity which is equal to the Father, and when I say ‘the servant’, that means Christ’s humanity, which is the true Adam. By the closeness of the servant is understood Son, and by his standing to the left is understood Adam. The lord is God the Father, the servant is the son, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is the equal love which is in them both. When Adam fell, God’s Son fell; because of the true union which was made in heaven, God’s Son could not be separated from Adam, for by Adam I understand all mankind. Adam fell from life to death, into the valley of this wretched world, and after that into hell. God’s Son fell with Adam, into the valley of the womb of the maiden who was the fairest daughter of Adam, and that was to excuse Adam from blame in heaven and on earth; and powerfully he brought him out of hell.

By the wisdom and the goodness which were in the servant is understood God’s Son, by the poor labourer’s clothing and the standing close by on the left is understood Adam’s humanity with all the harm and weakness which follow. For in this our good Lord showed his own Son and Adam as only one man. The strength and the goodness that we have is from Jesus Christ, the weakness and blindness that we have is from Adam, which two were shown in the servant. And so our good Lord Jesus taken upon him all our blame; and therefore our Father may not, does not wish to assign more blame to us than to his own beloved Son Jesus Christ. 

So he was the servant before he came on earth, standing ready in purpose before the Father until the time when he would send him to do the glorious deed by which mankind was brought back to heaven. That is to say, even though he is God, equal with the Father as regards his divinity, but with his prescient purpose that he would become man to save mankind in fulfillment of the will of his Father, so he stood before his Father as a servant, willingly taking upon him all our charge. And then he rushed off very readily at the Father’s bidding, and soon he fell very low into the maiden’s womb, having no regard for himself or for his cruel pains.

Julian pulls together into dramatic unity the fall of Adam and the atoning mission of the divine Son. Adam = Humanity = Christ. One might be tempted to think of Adam’s sin as temporally triggering the Incarnation, yet Julian makes clear that in his divine eternity the Son is already the suffering servant predestined to the Cross. She presents us with three dramatic fallings: “The servant’s falling into a dell is Adam’s falling into sin, and that is our falling into sin, which is none other than the Son’s falling into Mary’s womb” (Turner, p. 117). For us the events of salvation history are unfolded over time, but for God they are foreseen and willed in one eternal event. “God doth alle thing,” Julian declares (LT 11). She does not attempt to explain how this is possible. She does not offer a metaphysical disquisition on eternity and temporality. She simply sees, as Turner puts it, that “Creation, Fall, and Redemption are all, somehow, contained within one another, are in some unimaginable way a single divine action eternally willed in a single act of willing” (p. 119). All is accomplished in freedom, both divine and human; all is enveloped by the absolute and unconditional love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sin is necessary, befitting, behovely. Here is the key to Dame Julian’s theodicy, her theology of divine providence and agency, and the paradoxes cited in the beginning of this article. In chapter one Julian tells us that in the first shewing of the Crucified is “comprehended and specified the blessed trinity, with the incarnation and the oning betweene God and mans soule, with many fair shewings and techinges of endelesse wisdom and love, in which all the shewings that foloweth be groundide and oned” (LT 1). The revelations begin and conclude with the servant “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). From all eternity the Cross is planted in Paradise. O happy fault!

“Sin is behovely.” We must not minimize the scandal and radicality. As Turner writes:

Here we have a great theologian of the Christian Church telling us that sin is behovely. She tells us this not because she is cheerfully naïve about the world’s evil, but because knowing the world’s evil for what it is, she believes that it follows from core Christian beliefs about the divine love and power, that evil so “fits” with the divine plan that nothing can be “amisse.” Behovely, then, not “amisse,’ was the bureaucratic, cold efficiency with which the murder of 6 million Jews was planned and executed; behovely, the ideologically motivated mass exterminations of the Pol Pot regime; behovely, the frenzied pogroms of Rwanda and the mass rapes of Bosnia; behovely, the betrayals of every adulterous spouse; behovely, every lie told in breach of trust; behovely, every sexual abuse of a child; behovely, every rich person’s denial of food to the hungry. Thus, incredibly, for Julian, none of it is “amisse.” (pp. 61-62)

Julian neither rationalizes nor justifies the horrors of history. She does not provide a theodicy that might persuade philosophers and skeptics. She simply sees in all things the gracious and loving providence of God and in his Name declares to us his eschatological promise.

Sinne is behovely,
but alle shalle be wele,
and alle shalle be wele,
and alle maner of thinge shalle be wele.

(Go to “The God Who Delights to Die”)

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Searching for Our Human Face: The Babel of Autonomy

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.


It was well recognized amongst the early church fathers that fragmentation and the Fall went together. “Where there is sin, there is multiplicity”—Origen. “And now, we rend each other like wild beasts”—Maximus the Confessor. “Satan has broken us up”—Cyril of Alexandria. The joyous unity of the Adam becomes the blaming of Eve, the serpent, mistrust between the sexes, the whole sad groaning of creation which is the only reality we have ever known. How does one get around it? Part of the difficulty is that one should not isolate freedom and identity as if one could focus purely on the individual. There’s the story in The Brothers Karamazov about the old woman in hell who once gave a shriveled, sorry excuse for an onion to a beggar. An angel tries to pull her out from infernal chains by the strength of this single act of…

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Searching for Our Human Face: The Eros of Love

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.


Everyone born into this earth seeks the path. Each embraces some narrative that claims to tell us who we are, from whence we come and where we are going. Whilst one can learn to read the earth and the seas, the sun and the moon and the stars as theophanic, singing of divine love, it is also possible to proclaim chance and chemical soup, that we are unplanned, unwelcomed, uncared for, that what beauty and love we happen upon is adventitious and meaningless but for a brief, transient consolation of purely individual scope. The latter is poor metaphysics, unable to trace out the implications of contingent being, to properly think nothingness, and hence, to properly wonder at creation. Nonetheless, it is a common prejudice.

Parmenides was a human being like you or I. He wondered and sought to comprehend and gave out some ideas for…

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