Alle shall be well,
and alle shalle be wele,
and alle maner of thinge shall be wel.1
Does Julian of Norwich advocate the salvation of every human being? The question haunts readers of her Showings. On the one hand, one may find numerous statements that strongly suggest universal salvation, including the famous “All shall be well …” On the other hand, Julian repeatedly qualifies (25 times, to be exact) God’s salvific work in Christ with the phrase “that shalle be saved.” For example:
For in this onehede stondeth the life of alle mankind that shalle be saved. (Long Text 9)
And for the tender love that oure good lorde hath to alle that shalle be saved, he comforteth redely and swetly, mening thus: “It is soth that sinne is cause of alle this paine, but alle shalle be wele, and alle maner of thing shalle be wele.” (LT 27)
Crist, having knit in him all man that shalle be saved, is perfete man. (LT 57)
For I saw, as it is knowen in oure faith, that than paine and sorow shall be ended to alle that shalle be saved. (LT 75)
Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins comment that the phrase appears to “pull against” the universalizing thrust of “All shalle be welle” and similar expressions.2 Granted, “that shalle be saved” is ambiguous. It need not exclude a universalist reading, yet why introduce it if the author intended apokatastasis? The phrase appears to mediate between the universality of the salvific will of God, as clearly revealed in the shewings, and its particularity, as stated in the Church’s teaching of the necessity of baptism, faith, and repentance. It may even reflect the belief that the number of the elect is eternally set. More likely, Julian intended the open-endedness of the phrase. It gives her the space to reflect on her shewings without committing herself on the doctrinal questions which they raise. I take the anchoress at her word when she states that nothing in them led her to question the common teaching of Holy Church (LT 46). And at a critical juncture in her reflections she explicitly affirms the the doctrine of eternal damnation:
Oure faith is grounded in Goddes word, and it longeth to oure faith that we beleve that Goddes worde shalle be saved in alle thing. And one point of oure faith is that many creatures shall be dampned: as angels that felle out of heven for pride, which be now fendes, and man in erth that dyeth out of the faith of holy church—that is to sey, tho that be hethen—and also man that have received cristondom and liveth uncristen life, and so dyeth oute of cherite. All theyse shalle be dampned to helle without ende, as holy church techeth me to believe. And stonding alle this, methought it was impossible that alle maner of thing shuld be wele, as oure lorde shewde in this time. (LT 32)
Our faith is founded on God’s Word, and it belongs to our faith that we believe that God’s word will be preserved in all things. And one article of our faith is that many creatures will be damned, such as the angels who fell out of heaven because of pride, who now are devils, and many men upon earth who die out of the faith of Holy Church, that is to say those who are pagans and many who have received baptism and who live unchristian lives and so die out of God’s love. All these will be eternally condemned to hell, as Holy Church teaches me to believe. And all this being so, it seemed to me that it was impossible that every kind of thing should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time.
The last sentence highlights the tension between the teaching of the medieval Latin Church on eternal damnation and the shewings Julian has received. She is a faithful daughter of the Church—“it was not my intention to make trial of anything which belongs to our faith” (LT 33)—but she recognizes that the revelations are irreconcilable with the doctrine of final retribution. In her heart she knows that hell is not well: it may be just, but it is certainly not well. Eternal punishment testifies not to the triumph of love but to its failure. “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” writes the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 2:3-4 [Douay-Rheims]); yet in the end, so the Church teaches and Julian affirms, many whom the Savior desires to save will be condemned by the Savior. That Julian is troubled by hell and its torments is telling. Everyone in the 14th century believed in the justice of eternal retribution, as evidenced by sermons, paintings and passion plays, theological and spiritual writings. It is manifestly meet and right that God should punish the wicked for their sins and impenitence. There’s no conundrum to be solved, no antinomy to ponder upon—yet still Julian is troubled. To resolve her perplexity, she might have availed herself of the medieval distinction between the antecedent and consequent will of God. In the words of St Thomas Aquinas: “In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts.”3 But surprisingly divine retribution has no place in Julian’s vision of divinity. There is no suggestion in the Showings that when love fails, justice steps in; no suggestion that the perditional punishment of the wicked is an expression of divine charity. Against everything she has been taught, Julian does not see retribution in God. When she looks at her own sins and those of her fellow human beings, she acknowledges that “we deserve paine, blame and wrath,” yet when she looks at God, she sees only mercy (LT 46). God does not blame his children for their sins. And so she wonders how hell can be well.
We will return shortly to this tension, but here I wish to record Denys Turner’s judgment regarding the alleged universalism of Julian:
Moreover, Julian appears to be certain not just of the possibility that God can be rejected, but that in fact at least some people actually make that choice, and that they get what they want—to be in hell. Disputed as the matter is, there is much less textual support to be found in Julian’s Revelation for the ‘universalist’ doctrine that all will be saved and none that is as explicit as her emphatic assertion that many are not.4
When Turner writes that Julian recognizes that the damned get “what they want,” he goes beyond the text. Who desires unbearable torment? I do not recall her ever suggesting that the damned have chosen condemnation and punishment, as if she were an early exponent of the free-will defense of hell. She simply acknowledges that by their wicked acts and impenitence the reprobate have died “out of God’s love” and in consequence have received their just desserts.
Yet even still … when I concluded my first reading of the Showings, having noted along the way the various texts supporting the traditional position, I had nonetheless developed the clear impression that Christ had led Julian into the greater hope, perhaps not as a theological judgment (I agree with Turner that she is not a closet universalist) but most assuredly as rhetorical performance, and this impression was confirmed in subsequent rereadings. Julian discourses as if she is a committed universalist. Missing are prophetic threats of perdition, as well as the countless summonses to repentance that often characterize homilies and spiritual writings. The note of exhortation is occasionally struck, but it plays only a minor role. Missing also are the expected qualifications of her universalist-sounding statements, lest her readers misunderstand. That which one hears in her words is the divine word of absolute love; that which one remembers is the divine word of promise, spoken in a striking and emphatic mode of unconditionality: “Alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and alle maner of thinge shalle be wele” (LT 27).
I submit the following: even though Julian herself did not assert an explicit universalism, both the content and logic of her revelations challenges the traditional doctrine of eternal damnation. They therefore invite the Church to a deeper understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ. I note four features of her Showings in support of this thesis. Perhaps none are individually decisive, yet cumulatively they produce conviction, at least to my mind.
1) God is absolute Love, through and through.
All Christians affirm that God is love. One can hardly get around it, given the 4th chapter of the First Epistle of John. Yet preachers and theologians, particularly in the Latin tradition, have also sought to balance this attribute with the attribute of retributive justice. God is merciful, they say, but he is also holy and righteous. He rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked. On the last day, Scripture tells us, he will “render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6). Yet in Julian’s visions the attribute of justice recedes into the background. She sees only love in God. “Charite unmade is God,” she declares (LT 84). God does not begin to love his creatures; it is from love he has created them and to love he destines them:
For I saw that God began never to love mankinde. For righte the same that mankind shall be in endlesse blesse, fulfilling the joy of God (as he anemptis his werkes), righte so the same mankind hath be, in the forsighte of God, knowen and love from without beginning in his rightful entent. And by the endlesse entent and assent and the full acorde of the trinite, the mid person [the incarnate Christ] wolde be grounde and hed of this fair kine out of whom we be all come, in whom we all enclosed, into whom we shall all wenden, in him finding oure full heen in everlasting joy, by the forseeing purpose of all the blessed trinite from without beginning. (LT 53)
For I saw that God never began to love mankind; for just as mankind will be in endless bliss, fulfilling God’s joy with regard to his works, just so has that same mankind been known and love in God’s prescience, from without beginning in his righteous intent. And by the endless intent and assent and the full accord of all the Trinity, the mediator wanted to be the foundation and the head of his fair nature, out of whom we have all come, in whom we are all enclosed, into whom we shall all go, finding in him our full heaven in everlasting joy by the prescient purpose of all the blessed Trinity from without beginning.
Love is both beginning and consummation. Julian does not hesitate to speak categorically in the first-person plural: we have come from Christ, we are enveloped by Christ, and to Christ we shall return, according to the eternal plan and foreknowledge of the Holy Trinity. No ifs, ands, or buts. Was perdition too a part of the plan? I find it difficult to believe that Julian would unreservedly assent, despite the passage quoted above in the introduction. Perhaps she might whisper in reply: “God did not show me hell.”
In the conclusion of her book, she shares that she long wanted to know the meaning of what God had shown her:
And fro the time that it was shewde, I desyerde oftentimes to witte what was oure lords mening. And fifteen yere after and more, I was answered in gostly understonding, seyeng thus: “What, woldest thou wit thy lordes mening in this thing? Wit it wele, love was his meaning. Who shewed it the? Love. What shewid he the? Love. Wherfore shewed he it thee? For love. Holde the therin, thou shalt wit more in the same. But thou shalt never wit therin other withouten ende.” Thus was I lerned that love is oure lordes mening. And I sawe fulle skerly in this and in alle, that or God made us he loved us, which love was never sleked, ne never shalle. And in this love he hath done all his werkes, and in this love he hath made alle thinges profitable to us. And in this love oure life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning, but the love wherein he made us was in him from without beginning, in which love we have oure beginning. And all this shalle we see in God withouten ende. Deo gracias. (LT 86)
And from the time that it was revealed, I desired many times to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. For you will never know different, without end. So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning. And I saw very certainly in this and in everything that before God made us he loved us, which love was never abated and never will be. And in this love he has done all his works, and in this love he had made all things profitable to us, and in this love our life is everlasting. In our creation we had beginning, but the love in which he created us was in him from without beginning. In this love we have our beginning, and all this we shall see in God without end.
God wills our good and never ceases to will our good. And so we may ask, even if Julian does not, how can eternal damnation be an expression of love?
Most arrestingly, Julian elaborates on the divine love in her figurative identification of Jesus as Mother:
Thus Jhesu Crist, that doth good against evil, is oure very moder: we have oure being of him, where the ground of moderhed beginneth, with alle the swete keping of love that endlesly foloweth. As verely as God is oure fader, as verely is God oure moder. And that shewde he in all, and namely in theyse swete wordes there he seyth: I it am.” That is to sey: I it am, the might and the goodnes of faderhode. I it am, the wisdom and the kindnes of moderhode. I it am, the light and the grace that is all blessed love. I it am, the trinite. I it am, the unite. I it am, the hye sovereyn goodnesse of all manner thing. I it am that maketh the to love. I it am that makith the to long. I it am, the endlesse fulfilling of all true desyers.” [LT 59]
Oure hye fader, almighty God, which is being, he knew us and loved us fro before ony time. Of which knowing, in his full mervelous depe charite, by the forseeing endlesse councel of all the blessed trinite, he woulde that the seconde person shulde become oure moder, oure brother, and oure savioure. Whereof it foloweth that as verely as God is oure fader, as verely God is oure mother. Oure fader willeth, oure mother werketh, our good lorde the holy gost confirmeth. And therfore it longeth to us to love oure God in whome we have oure being, him reverently thanking and praising of oure making, mightly prayeng to oure moder of mercy and pitte, and to oure lorde the holy gost of helpe and grace. For in these three is alle oure life: kind, mercy, and grace, werof we have mekehede, mildehed, patience, and pitte, and hating of sinne and wickednesse—for it longeth properly to vertuse to hat sinne and wickednesse. (LT 59)
Thus Jesus Christ, who opposes good to evil, is our true Mother. We have our being from him, where the foundation of motherhood begins, with all the sweet protection of love which endlessly follows. As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother, and he revealed that in everything, and especially in these sweet words where he says: I am he; that is to say: I am he, the power and goodness of fatherhood; I am he, the wisdom and the lovingness of motherhood; I am he, the light and the grace which is all blessed love; I am he, the Trinity; I am he, the unity; I am he, the great supreme goodness of every kind of thing; I am he who makes you to love; I am he who makes you to long; I am he, the endless fulfilling of all true desires. For where the soul is highest, noblest, most honourable, still it is lowest, meekest and mildest.
Our great Father, almighty God, who is being, knows us and loved us before time began. Out of this knowledge, in his most wonderful deep love, by the prescient eternal counsel of all the blessed Trinity, he wanted the second person to become our Mother, our brother and our saviour. From this it follows that as truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother. Our Father wills, our Mother works, our good Lord the Holy Spirit confirms. And therefore it is our part to love our God in whom we have our being, reverently thanking and praising him for our creation, mightily praying to our Mother for mercy and pity, and to our Lord the Holy Spirit for help and grace. For in these three is all our life: nature, mercy and grace, of which we have mildness, patience and pity, and hatred of sin and wickedness; for the virtues must of themselves hate sin and wickedness.
Perhaps we can entertain with St Augustine and John Calvin the possibility that the Father of Jesus might restrict his atoning love to the elect; but Julian’s bold maternal identification of Christ excludes such limitation. Mothers love all their children, in all times and all situations. They are devoted in their care; ferocious in their protection. The metaphor highlights the universality, inclusivity, unconditionality, as well as tenderness and passion, of the divine love. “The moders service is nerest, rediest, and sekerest: nerest, for it is most of kind: rediest, for it is most of love; and sekerest, for it is most of trewth. This office ne might nor coulde never none done to the full but he alone” (LT 61).
The love of Jesus for humanity is put on full display in his passion and death. On the cross our Lord yearns and thirsts for the salvation of every human being (LT 31). “If I might suffer more,” he tells Julian, “I wolde suffer more” (LT 22). One can hardly imagine a stronger affirmation of the absolute love of God. How much does a mother love her children? God loves his infinitely more. He is willing to experience any and every suffering, to whatever degree, in order to accomplish the deification of his children.
2) Divine love excludes wrath and condemnation.
In a book full of theological surprises, perhaps the most startling is Julian’s statement that in her shewings she does not see any sign of the divine wrath. Its absence surprises her (and the reader), for she has been taught by Holy Church that “we be sinners and do many evilles that we oughte to leve, and leve many good dedes undone that we oughte to do, wherfore we deserve paine, blame, and wrath” (LT 46). Yet despite the undeniable actuality of human wickedness, at no point does God blame his people for their sins. God’s anger is absent, she tells us, (a) because anger cannot exist within the God who is absolute goodness and unconditional love, and (b) because the oneing between God and human beings in Jesus Christ is inalienable:
And notwithstonding alle this, I saw sothfastly that oure lorde was never wroth nor never shall. For he is God, he is good, he is truth, he is love, he is pees. And his might, his wisdom, his charite, and his unite suffereth him not to be wroth. For I saw truly that it is against the properte of his might to be wroth, and against the properte of his wisdom, and against the properte of his goodnes. God is that goodnesse that may not be wroth, for God is not but goodnes. Oure soule is oned to him, unchangeable goodnesse. And betwen God and oure soule is neither wrath nor forgevenesse in his sight. For oure soule is so fulsomly oned to God of his owne goodnesse that betwene God and oure soule may be right nought. (LT 46)
And despite all this, I saw truly that our Lord was never angry, and never will be. Because he is God, he is good, he is truth, he is love, he is peace; and his power, his wisdom, his charity and his unity do not allow him to be angry. For I saw truly that it is against the property of his power to be angry, and against the property of his wisdom and against the property of his goodness. For it is that goodness which cannot be angry, for God is nothing but goodness. And between God and our soul there is neither wrath nor forgiveness in his sight. For our soul is so wholly united to God, through his own goodness, that between God and our soul nothing can interpose.
The first reason is easily grasped. If God genuinely and always wills the good and wellness of those whom God has freely created in his goodness, then he will never act in ways that might irreparably harm them. Whatever justice might mean, therefore, it cannot mean anything less than the realization of their good—at least so I think Julian would argue. She does not see wrath or retributive punishment in God because it has no place in the One who is Love. This apprehension of divinity leads Julian to the conclusion that God does not literally forgive:
For this was an hye marveyle to the soule, which was continuantly shewed in alle and with gret diligence beholden: that oure lorde God, as anynst himself, may not forgeve, for he may not be wroth. It were impossible. For this was shewed: that oure life is alle grounded and roted in love, and without love we may not live. And therfor, to the soule that of his special grace seeth so ferforth of the hye, marvelous goodnesse of God, and that we be endlesly oned to him in love, it is the most unpossible that may be that God shulde be wrath. For wrath and frenshippe be two contraries. For he that wasteth and destroyeth oure wrath and maketh us meke and milde, it behoveth nedes to be that he be ever in one love, meke and milde, which is contariouse to wrath. For I saw full sekerly that there oure lorde apereth, pees is taken and wrath hath no stede. For I saw no manner of wrath in God, neither for shorte time nor for long. For sothly, as to my sight, if God might be wroth a touch, we shuld neither have life, ne stede, ne being. For as verely as we have oure being of the endlesse might of God, and of the endlesse wisdom, and of the endlesse goodnesse, also verely we have oure keping in the endles might of God, in the endles might of God, in the endlesse wisdom, and the endlesse goodnesse. For thowe we fele in us wrath, debate, and strife, yet we be all mercifully beclosed in the mildehed of God and in his mekehed, in his beningnite and in his buxomhede. (LT 49)
For it was a great marvel, constantly shown to the soul in all the revelations, and the soul was contemplating with great diligence that our Lord God cannot in his own judgment forgive, because he cannot be angry—that would be impossible. For this was revealed, that our life is all founded and rooted in love, and without love we cannot live. And therefore to the soul which by God’s special grace sees so much of his great and wonderful goodness as that we are endlessly united to him in love, it is the most impossible thing which could be that God might be angry, for anger and friendship are two contraries; for he dispels and destroys our wrath and makes us meek and mild—we must necessarily believe that he is always one in love, meek and mild, which is contrary to wrath. For I saw most truly that where our Lord appears, peace is received and wrath has no place; for I saw no kind of wrath in God, neither briefly nor for long. For truly, as I see it, if God could be angry for any time, we should neither have life nor place nor being; for as truly as we have our being from the endless goodness, just as truly we have our preservation in the endless power of God and in his endless wisdom and in his endless goodness. For though we may feel in ourselves anger, contention and strife, still we are all mercifully enclosed in God’s mildness and in his meekness, in his benignity and in his accessibility.
God cannot forgive because God does not get angry with the sins of humanity. They do not, as Herbert McCabe liked to say, make a difference to him. God does not change his mind about us. He does not move from a state of disapproval to approval, from condemnation to acceptance. Or as Fr Brendan Pelphrey puts it: “Forgiveness does not describe our relationship to God, because forgiveness implies a change from displeasure.”5 God simply loves—totally, passionately, unconditionally, redemptively. This leads Julian to the conclusion that our sins cannot disrupt our friendship with God, at least not from God’s side. Consider the parable of the prodigal son. When the son returns home, the father runs out to greet him, cuts shorts the prodigal’s confession, and orders the making of a feast. He speaks no words of absolution. There is only celebration. As Turner observes: “He offers no forgiveness after the event because he does not need to; the forgiveness was always there before the event of the son’s betrayal, because forgiveness was in the very nature of his fatherhood.”6 Consider the ramifications for our understanding of the sacrament of penance: we make our confession not to fulfill a condition for reconciliation with God but to celebrate the forgiveness that God’s love eternally is. “In Christ,” as Pelphrey remarks, “we do not encounter a Judge who graciously accepts out contrition, and magnanimously ‘forgives’ us. Instead, we discover that he has always been with us, in ‘homely’ love.”7
The second reason Julian offers for the absence of divine wrath is a bit more complex. That God continues to conserve and sustain us in existence witnesses to his abiding love: “For sothly, as to my sight, if God might be wroth a touch, we shuld neither have life, ne sted [locality], ne being” (LT 49). If God were truly angry with humanity, we might say, he would never have rescued Noah. But Julian also seems to be making a stronger claim: because of our abiding union with our Creator, not only can we not undo our existence, but we cannot extinguish our desire for God as our supreme good and eschatological end. She posits in every human being (or at least in every human being “that shalle be saved”) a bestial will and a godly will. The godly will, Julian tells us, has “never assented to sinne, nor never shalle” (LT 37). Fallen humanity is so immersed in the sensual world that it has lost sight of its fundamental orientation to God, yet it remains deep within each of us. “This godly will,” comments Denys Turner, “is the level of true desire that is indeed there already in us.”8 Neither original sin nor our actual sins has obliterated it. No matter how mortal our transgression, it is never quite mortal (or as Miracle Max explained to Inigo Montoya: “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead”). Turner continues: “There is nothing that we have to get ourselves to do except allow ourselves to be drawn by grace to see that we love God anyway, for loving God comes with our being created by God’s love for us. It is only sin that prevents us from seeing this and causes us to misrelate to our selves and our truest loves.”9 The Christian life is a seeking for that which we already possess and need to repossess. Julian then makes the following astounding claim:
For or that he made us he loved us, and when we were made we loved him. And this is a love made of the kindly, substantial goodnesse of the holy gost, mighty in reson of the mighte of the fader, and wise in minde of the wisdom of the son. And thus is mannes soule made of God, and in the same pointe knit to God. … And in this endlesse love, mannis soule is kepte hole, as all the mater of the revelation meneth and sheweth, in which endlesse love we be ledde and kepte of God, and never shalle be lost. (LT 53)
For before he made us he loved us, and when we were made we loved him; and this is made only of the natural substantial goodness of the Holy Spirit, mighty by reason of the might of the Father, wise in mind of the wisdom of the Son. And so is man’s soul made by God, and in the same moment joined to God…. In this endless love man’s soul is kept whole, as all the matter of the revelation means and shows. In this endless love we are led and protected by God, and we never shall be lost.
“We shall never be lost”—to whom is the promise spoken? to Julian and her readers, to the baptized, the elect, all mankind? In our determination to conform Julian to doctrinal orthodoxy, we hasten to reframe the promise into the subjunctive mood. Hidden within the promise there must be an “if,” we think, followed by stipulated conditions. Yet the shewings argue against the addition of the if. Christ will keep us close to him, will protect us, will prevent us from getting lost. Our grasp of our Mother’s hand is enclosed within the safety of her grasp. We may let go, but she will never let go. Our ultimate desire for wholeness in Christ abides, and by this desire we are clasped by Christ. How then can we entertain an everlasting alienation of humanity from God? How can we entertain the possibility that our Lord will abandon us to interminable torment? Humanity’s desire for full and complete union with God (our godly will) remains intact, despite our sin. Will not Love find a way, even after death, even for the obdurately wicked and selfish, to bring to full blaze our yearning for the perfection of salvation?
3) Sinful humanity is eternally oned to Jesus Christ.
That Julian does not see wrath in God confronts Julian with a contradiction. On the one hand, Holy Church teaches her that we are responsible for our actions and that our sinful acts rightly incur guilt and blame. On the other hand, she does not see wrath and judgment in God: “Then was this my merveyle, that I saw oure lorde God shewing to us no more blame that if we were as clene and as holy as angels in heven” (LT 50). And so she cries out to Christ for enlightenment. In response he shares with her the parable of the lord and servant. (I have provided a brief summary of the parable in my article “Cross, Exsultet, and the Behoveliness of Sin.” Better yet, read chaps 51-52 in the long version of the Showings.)
In the parable of the lord and the servant, we learn that by the Incarnation God has united himself to sinful humanity so intimately that the Son is Adam and Adam is the Son. The corporate Son and the corporate Christ are one.
For in the sighte of God all man is one man, and one man is alle man. (LT 51)
For in alle this, oure good lorde shewed his own son and Adam but one man. (LT 51).
When Adam fell into the abyss of darkness and sin, the Son simultaneously fell into the womb of Mary. Each human being is Adam and Adam is Christ. Our story is his and his ours.
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. (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.
Every human being is joined to Christ in ontological solidarity. Together they are one man, one Adam, one Son. This is the deepest reason why God does not condemn the sinner. To do so would be to condemn Jesus himself. God does not ultimately hold the sinner responsible for his sin and therefore does not reject him. “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” (LT 51). God does not judge us as human beings judge one another: “For man beholdeth some dedes wele done and some dedes eville, and our lorde beholdeth them not so” (LT 11). We judge each other according to our virtues and vices, our good and bad actions—and always from the perspective of our fallen experience. “But God judges us,” Pelphrey explains, “as he sees us, which ‘beholding’ … is always to see us as oned to him.”10 By the Spirit the Lord teaches us to replace our judgments with his judgments, to see ourselves through the eyes of divine mercy rather than wrath.
Julian’s visions lead her into a understanding of two judgments: the judgment of the Church and the judgment of God. Both are needful, she believes:
The furst dome, which is of Goddes rightfulhede,· and that is of his owne high, endlesse love—and that is that fair, swete dome that was shewed in alle the fair revelation, in which I saw him assigne to us no maner of blame. And though this was swete and delectable, yet only in the beholding of this I culde not be fulle esed. And that was for the dome of holy church, which I had before understonde and was continually in my sight. And therfore, by this dome, methought that me behoveth nedes to know myselfe a sinner. And by the same dome I understode that sinners be sometime wurthy blame and wrath, and theyse two culde I not see in God. And therfore my advice and desyer was more than I can or may telle. For the higher dome God shewed himselfe in the same time, and therfore me behoved nedes to take it. And the lower dome was lerned me before time in holy churche, and therfore I might not by no weye leve the lower dome. Then was this my desyer: that I might se in God in what manner that the dome of holy church herein techeth is tru in his sight, and howe it longeth to me sothly to know it, whereby they might both be saved, so as it ware wurshipfulle to God and right wey to me. (LT 45)
The first judgment, which is from God’s justice, is from his own great endless love, and that is that fair, sweet judgment which was shown in all the fair revelation in which I saw him assign to us no kind of blame. And though this was sweet and delectable, I could not be fully comforted only by contemplating it, and that was because of the judgment of Holy Church, which I had understood before, and which was continually in my sight. And therefore it seemed to me that by this judgment I must necessarily know myself a sinner. And by the same judgment I understood that sinners sometimes deserve blame and wrath, and I could not see these two in God, and therefore my desire was more than I can or may tell, because of the higher judgment which God himself revealed at the same time, and therefore I had of necessity to accept it. And the lower judgment had previously been taught me in Holy Church, and therefore I could not in any way ignore the lower judgment. This then was my desire, that I might see in God in what way the judgment of Holy Church here on earth is true in his sight, and how it pertains to me to know it truly, whereby they might both be reconciled as might be glory to God and the right way for me.
Julian was never given a solution to the riddle of the two judgments, except for the parable itself.
Julian’s long contemplation upon her shewings brought to her a deep understanding of time, eternity, and our oneing in Jesus Christ. She takes the Church’s teaching on the timelessness of God with decisive seriousness. God does not abide in time but is the transcendent Creator of time. He sees all temporal events simultaneously, with important consequences for both the Incarnation and the salvation of humanity. And so Julian understands humanity’s oneing with God as having occurred in the womb of the Virgin Mary: “For in that same time that God knit him to oure body in the maidens wombe, he toke oure sensual soule. In which taking—he us all having beclosed in him—he oned it to oure substance, in which oning he was perfit man” (LT 57). Pelphrey summarizes:
Because there is no time for God, God sees us as already dwelling within him, and Jesus living within us. We are already in substantial union with him, and have always been from the beginning of creation…. From God’s perspective there is no time (God having created time for our lives), and therefore the whole question of temporal “fall” and forgiveness is limited to an earthly point of view. For God, our salvation occurs at the same “time” as our own creation: “When Adam fell, God’s son fell” (into the womb of Mary). There is, therefore, no “time” in which we are unredeemed, although in our own experience the process of redemption and sanctification seems to be a slow one. Christ lives in our souls already, and from God’s point of view always has.11
Julian then elaborates this ontological oneing of Christ and humanity into a sublime vision of the eschaton:
Wherfore this mening was shewed in understanding of the manhod of Crist. For all mankinde that shall be saved by the swete incarnation and the blisseful passion of Crist, alle is the manhode of Crist. For he is the heed, and we be his membris, to which membris the day and the time is unknowen whan every passing wo and sorow shall have an ende and the everlasting joy and blisse shall be fulfilled. Which day and time for to see, all the company of heven longeth or desireth. And all that be under heven which shall come theder, ther way is by longing and desyering; which desyering and longing was shewed in the servant stonding before the lorde—or elles thus, in the son stonding afore the fader in Adam kirtel. For the longing and desyer of all mankind that shall be safe apered in Jhesu. For Jhesu is all that shall be saved, and all that shall be saved is Jhesu—and all of the charite of God, with obedience, mekenesse, and patiens, and vertues that longeth to us. (LT 51)
Therefore this meaning was shown for understanding of Christ’s humanity. For all mankind which will be saved by the sweet Incarnation and the Passion of Christ, all is Christ’s humanity, for he is the head, and we are his members, to which members the day and the time are unknown when every passing woe and sorrow will have an end, and everlasting joy and bliss will be fulfilled, which day and time all the company of heaven longs and desires to see. And all who are under heaven and will come there, their way is by longing and desiring, which desiring and longing was shown in the servant standing before the lord, or, otherwise, in the Son standing before the Father in Adam’s tunic. For the longing and desire of all mankind which will be saved appeared in Jesus, for Jesus is in all who will be saved, and all who will be saved are in Jesus, and all is of the love of God, with obedience, meekness and patience and the virtues which befit us.
By and in the eternal Son’s embodiment as the man Jesus of Nazareth, every human being has already been brought into the life and glory of the Holy Trinity. “For Jhesu is all that shall be saved, and all that shall be saved is Jhesu.”
I do not doubt that competent theologians (Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) will be able to offer various solutions. qualifications, and caveats to bring Julian into conformity with the traditional doctrine of perdition, yet not into full conformity, I would think. Julian clearly understands Christ’s revelations to her as a rejection of eternal retribution, which is an essential component of the Latin doctrine (or at least was until the late 20th century). As she repeatedly asserts, there is no wrath in God. God does not condemn his children: to do so would be to condemn his Son and thus sunder the unity of the Holy Trinity.
4) What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.
“There is a deed the which the blisseful trinite shalle do in the last day,” the anchoress prophesies (LT 32). What this deed will be and when it will occur is unknown to all creatures. It is, as we say, a mystery. All we need to know is this:
This is the gret deed ordained of oure lorde God fro without beginning, tresured and hid in his blessed brest, only knowen to himselfe, by which deed he shalle make all thing wele. For right as the blessed trinite made alle thing of nought, right so the sam blessed trinite shale make wele alle that is not welle. (LT 32)
This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from without beginning, treasured and hidden in his blessed breast, known only to himself, through which deed he will make all things well. For just as the blessed Trinity created all things from nothing, just so will the same blessed Trinity make everything well which is not well.
Julian does not know how to rationally harmonize her shewings with the teaching of the Church on hell: “And stonding alle this, methought it was unpossible that alle maner of thing shuld be wele, as oure lorde shewde in this time” (LT 32). In response Christ reiterates his promise: “That that is unpossible to the is not unpossible to me. I shalle save my worde in alle thing, and I shalle make althing wele.” Watson and Jenkins interpret Christ’s words as promising “the reconciliation of orthodox teaching on damnation with God’s message of love to Julian.”12 Still we wonder. How well is well? Is hell well, can it be well? Turner construes the pledge as eschatological manifestation of the behoveliness of perdition. Just as we will be given to see the befittingness of evil within the economy of salvation, so we will come to understand the inconceivable befittingness of damnation and everlasting loss and suffering. The conflict between magisterial teaching on hell and the revelation to Julian of God’s infinite love is therefore only apparent. We cannot see the reconciliation now because we grasp only a fragment of the story:
The Church teaches that many are damned. Her shewings reveal to her a God whose love is so universal and inclusive as to be beyond the need even to forgive sins, never mind any desire to punish for them. But that is the point: the tension between her two sources is troublingly present in a way that it would not be were Julian to have seriously challenged the Church’s teaching in a universalist manner. Moreover, what does seem to be clear is that her frequently repeated references to “all that shalle be saved,” though theoretically open to the possibility that every soul is to be saved, is more naturally read against the background of her unambiguous declarations that many are not. It is therefore true that, as Watson and Jenkins say, Julian is caused to be anxious by the difficulty of reconciling the universal love of God with the fact that some place themselves by their own choices outside that love. But when she tells God of this anxiety Julian admits that “as to this, I had no other answere in shewing of oure lorde but this: ‘that that is unpossible to the[e] is not unpossible to me. I shalle save my worde in alle thing, and I shalle make althing wele.'” It does not seem right to conclude that the Lord’s answer “I shalle make althing wele” entails that, contrary to the teaching of the Church, God will pull off the “impossibility” of saving everyone. It seems a more natural reading of what Julian says that the impossibility of which the Lord speaks refers to her problem of seeing how the damnation of many can be made consistent with God’s making “althing wele,” that what seems impossible to her is not an impossibility to God.13
I am unconvinced. If Turner’s reading is correct, then the shewings seem all too inconsequential, even trivial and banal. Julian’s problem wtih hell would merely be the consequence of the lack of scholastic schooling. All the Lord needed to do was quote a passage on eternal damnation from St Bonaventure’s Breviloquim, and all would have been made clear. As it is, the traditional teaching is preserved at the cost of being made even more intolerable. Do not be anxious. One day you too will see that hell is well.
Surely, though, “All shall be well” and “I shall make all things well” intimate something far more glorious, more wondrous and astonishing, than the behoveliness of eternal damnation. The divine promise, after all, portends an eschatological act, an unexpected “gret deed” that redeems, heals, and makes whole. Hence I propose an alternative reading, along the lines of the illumination given to St Isaac the Syrian:
I am of the opinion, that He is going to manifest some wonderful outcome, a matter of immense and ineffable compassion on the part of the glorious Creator, with respect to the ordering of this difficult matter of Gehenna’s torment: out of it the wealth of His love and power and wisdom will become known all the more—and so will the insistent might of the waves of His goodness. (39.16)14
Accordingly we say that, even in the matter of the afflictions and sentence of Gehenna, there is some hidden mystery, whereby the wise Maker has taken as a starting point for its future outcome the wickedness of our actions and wilfulness, using it as a way of bringing to perfection His dispensation wherein lies the teaching which makes wise, and the advantage beyond description, hidden from both angels and human beings, hidden too from those who are being chastised, whether they be demons or human beings, hidden for as long as the ordained period of time holds sway. (39.20)
How is it possible that the God of love might save the incorrigibly impenitent? It all seems quite impossible. Like Julian, we cannot see beyond the limits of human freedom and the constraints of dogma. If God has brought into being a world in which human beings may irrevocably reject him, how can we confidently hope and pray for the salvation of all? Yet that which is impossible for man is not impossible for God. Messias will return in glory, Thomas Merton assures us, bearing an “eschatological secret”:
I pray much to have a wise heart, and perhaps the re-discovery of Lady Julian of Norwich will help me. I took her book with me on a quiet walk among the cedars. She is a true theologian with greater clarity, depth, and order than St Theresa: she really elaborates, theologically, the content of her revelations. She first experienced, then thought, and the thoughtful deepening of experience worked it back into her life, deeper and deeper, until her whole life as a recluse at Norwich was simply a matter of getting completely saturated in the light she had received all at once, in the “shewings,” when she thought she was about to die.
One of her most telling and central convictions is her orientation to what one might call an eschatological secret, the hidden dynamism which is at work already and by which “all manner of thing shall be well.” This “secret,” this act which the Lord keeps hidden, is really the full fruit of the Parousia. It is not just that “He comes,” but He comes with this secret to reveal, He comes with this final answer to all the world’s anguish, this answer which is already decided, but which we cannot discover (and which, since we think we have reasoned it all out anyway) we have stopped trying to discover. Actually, her life was lived in the belief in this “secret,” the “great deed” that the Lord will do on the Last Day, not a deed of destruction and revenge, but of mercy and of life, all partial expectations will be exploded and everything will be made right. It is the great deed of “the end,” which is still secret, but already fully at work in the world, in spite of all its sorrow, the great deed “ordained by Our Lord from without beginning.”
She must indeed believe and accept the fact that there is a hell, yet also at the same time, impossibly one would think, she believes even more firmly that “the word of Christ shall be saved in all things” and “all manner of thing shall be well.” This is, for her, the heart of theology: not solving the contradiction, but remaining in the midst of it, in peace, knowing that it is fully solved, but that the solution is secret, and will never be guessed until it is revealed.
To have a “wise heart,” it seems to me, is to live centered on this dynamism and this secret hope—this hoped-for secret. It is the key to our life, but as long as we are alive we must see that we do not have this key: it is not at our disposal. Christ has it, in us, for us. We have the key in so far as we believe in Him, and are one with Him. So this is it: the “wise heart” remains in hope and in contradiction, in sorrow and in joy, fixed on the secret and the “great deed” which alone gives Christian life its true scope and dimensions!
The wise heart lives in Christ.15
Merton has offered a penetrating interpretation of how it was possible for Julian to sincerely affirm the Church’s teaching on eternal reprobation and yet expound her shewings with such power and beauty that many readers are left with a puissant hope, nay certainty, that all shall be saved. Julian acknowledges the contrariety between the shewings of the absolute love of Christ and the teachings of the Church on repentance and judgment and determines to be faithful to both, abandoning premature resolution of the antinomies. In faith and humility she will wait until the great eschatological deed of the glorified Lord when all will be made known and well.
In conclusion let us listen again to the transcendent words of the Anchorite:
And thus oure good lorde answered to alle the questions and doutes that I might make, sayeng full comfortabely: “I may make alle thing wele, and I can make alle thing welle, and I wille make alle thing wele, and I shalle make alle thing welle. And thou shal se thyselfe that alle maner of thing shall be welle.” There he seyth “I may,” I understonde for the father; and there he seyth “I can,” I understond for the sonne; and there he seyth “I wille,” I understonde for the holy gost; and there he seyth “I shalle,” I understonde for the unite of the blessed trinite, thre person and on truth. And there he seyth “thou shalt se thyselfe,” I understond the oning of alle mankinde that shall be saved into the blissful trinite. (LT 31; my emphasis)
Christ is risen and his love will triumph! Christ is risen and all shall be made well! Christ is risen and all is well!
(27 November 2017; rev.)
 LT 27. All Middle English quotations from the long text [LT] of Julian’s Showings are from Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins, The Writings of Julian of Norwich.
 Watson and Jenkins, p. 154.
 Summa Theologiae I.19.6; see my article “Revealing the God Behind the Curtain.”
 p. 127.
 p. 408.
 p. 170.
 pp. 170-171.
 Pelphrey, p. 409.
 pp. 82-83. Also see Pelphrey’s paper “Cosmic Science: Julian’s Vision of Space, Time and the Resurrection in Pastoral Care“:
We may ask, for example: How long after the Fall of Adam, did God provide for the salvation of mankind in Jesus Christ? Julian answers, No time; for “when Adam fell, God’s Son fell” into the womb of the Mother of God. A different question is, “when will I die?” Julian’s answer is, At the same time that Christ died, which is the same time Adam died, although we will have suffered death at different times.8 Therefore, my Grandmother died at the same time that I will die, although I am still alive. In the traditional triple-immersion baptism of the ancient Church, the catechumen is seen to die with Christ and is then raised with Christ9—although in the context of time, the Resurrection happened two thousand years ago, and the general resurrection has not happened yet. This language is not simply metaphorical (it is not as though we died in Christ), but quite real from the point of view of Julian’s Christological science….
Since the work of God is without-time, Julian is able to say that salvation is inherent in the original act of creation. It was always God’s plan (or rather, there is no “always” but simply “now”) for humanity to share the humanity of Christ. It is not that God became human like us, but that our humanity is God’s; it was created for Christ and is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is all, in all. (pp. 9-10, 11)
 p. 224.
 pp. 106-107.
 The Second Part.
 Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 211-212.