Meditation upon the passion and death of Christ leads Dame Julian into a deeper understanding of God’s creation of the world, which in turn prepares her for the third showing—the presence of God in all:
And after this I saw God in a pointe—that is to say, in my understanding—by which I saw that he is in al thing. I beheld with avisement, seeing and knowing in that sight that he doth alle that is done. (LT 11)
Not only is God present in his creation by his goodness and love, but he is present by his transcendent causality, as the doer of all actions and all events. This apprehension of the divine omnipresence immediately raises for Julian the question of God’s responsibility for evil. We will discuss this question in the next article; at this point we need only observe that in this showing Julian does not apprehend sin. She does not see evil in God, nor does she see him doing evil. Julian is most certainly not denying the reality of sin, for it was sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross. But because God is intrinsically good, he does not will evil. He wills only the good and he wills it perfectly. His sovereignty over history, therefore, with all of its violence, horrors, privations, and tragedies, is complete; and because it is complete, we may confidently and calmly trust in the divine providence.
For I saw truly that God doth alle thing, be it never so litile. And I saw truly that nothing is done by happe ne by aventure, but alle by the foreseing wisdom of God. If it be hap or aventure in the sight of man, our blindhede and our unforsight is the cause. For tho thinges that be in the foreseing wisdom of God bene from without beginning, which rightfully and worshipfully and continually he ledeth to the best ende as it cometh aboute, falling to us sodeynly, ourself unweting. And thus, by our blindhede and our unforsighte, we say these thinges be by happes and aventure. Thus I understonde in this shewing of love, for wel I wot in the sight of our Lord God is no happe ne aventure. Wherfore me behoved nedes to grant that alle things that is done is welle done, for our lord God doth all. For in this time the working of creatures was not shewde, but of our lord God in the creature. For he is in the mid point of all thinges, and all he doth, and I was seker that he doth no sinne. And here I saw sothly that sinne is no dede, for in alle this, sinne was not shewde. (LT 11)
For I saw truly that God does everything, however small it may be, and that nothing is done by chance, but all by God’s prescient wisdom. If it seem chance in man’s sight, our blindness and lack of prescience is the reason. For those things which are in God’s prescient wisdom before time, which duly and to his glory he always guides to the best conclusion, as things come about, come suddenly upon us when we are ignorant; and so through our blindness and our lack of prescience we say that these things are by chance. So I understood in this revelation of love, for I know well that in our Lord’s sight there is no chance; and therefore I was compelled to admit that everything which is done is well done, for our Lord does everything. For at this time the work of creatures was not revealed, but the work of our Lord God in creatures; for he is at the centre of everything, and he does everything. And I was certain that he does no sin; and here I was certain that sin is no deed, for in all this sin was not shown to me. (Showings)
Julian advances a very strong construal of divine agency and providence (“God doth alle thing”), yet all the while denying the implication of divine responsibility for sin. How is that possible?
One way to address this apparent conundrum is to ask, “Could God have created a world inhabited by rational creatures who, without exception, freely choose obedience and love?” Of course not, we answer. By popular definition a free being must be always capable of disobeying the sovereign rule of its Creator. To be free is to be free from divine determination. As Alvin Plantinga writes: “Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely.” Given the dark history of our own world, we reasonably deem the actualization of a universe of sinless beings as statistically improbable, if not impossible. This impossibility is advanced to explain wickedness and sin (commonly called the free will defense), as well as to justify eternal damnation. The sovereignty of God ends where human freedom begins. This most certainly is not what Julian believed.
In the thirteenth showing we learn that Julian had long wrestled with the question, why sin?
And after this, oure lorde brought to my minde the longing that I had to him before. And I saw that nothing letted me but sinne. And so I behelde generally in us alle, and me thought: “If sinne had not be, we shulde alle have be clene and like to oure lorde as he made us.” And thus in my foly before this time, often I wondred why, by the grete foreseeing wisdom of God, the beginning of sinne was not letted. For then thought me that alle shulde have be wele. (LT 27)
And after this our Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had for him before, and I saw that nothing hindered me but sin, and I saw that this is true of us all in general, and it seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as he created us. And so in my folly before this time I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me that all would have been well.
In the next article we will explore Julian’s reflections on the mystery of evil, but here I simply note that Julian does not answer her question “why sin?” by invoking some form of the free-will defense. She apparently finds it plausible that God might have created free human beings who not only did not sin but could not sin. In fact, all medieval Christians believed that such a world already exists—it’s called heaven. Once admitted to the beatific vision, sin becomes impossible in the perfection of human freedom. If this were not so, both God and humanity would be trapped in a vicious cycle of fall and redemption.
While Julian does not analyze the mystery of divine agency and human freedom, she appears to presuppose, suggests Denys Turner, a position similar to that of St Thomas Aquinas. According to Thomas, the divine providence comprehends all activities and events. Turner summarizes:
God’s sovereign providence maintains its sway over everything, but it does so thereby achieving the perfection of each creature according to what it is created to be, according, that is, to its own nature. … And so God has created a world in which not only does each thing achieve its own good—as it were, for itself—for with some things their good consists in their sharing in the divine governance itself. Thus, Thomas says, “God governs the world in such a way as to establish certain causes the governance of other things,” so that the immediacy of the divine providence does not exclude God’s bringing about this created effect by means of that created cause. In fact, it is perfectly obvious to Thomas that if the whole universe of natural causes is caused by God immediately, it is nonetheless a system caused by God to operate by means of its own natural laws, being, as it were, a democracy of natural causation. Of course everything whatever is immediately dependent on God’s causality for its existence, for everything is created ex nihilo, and nothing that now exists could do so otherwise than by virtue of God’s creative act. Indeed, for Thomas, for a creature to exist at all is for it to be “created out of nothing.” But what there is in the world—that, for example, there are giraffes—God brings about through the natural processes of evolution over billions of years of, as most today would agree, random mutations thrown up by the interaction of multiple chains of causality. That there are giraffes, therefore, is the result of the world’s natural processes effecting what those natural processes were created to effect. In that sense, then, God can bring one thing about by means of another thing that God has brought about, and so indirectly, the immediate dependence of each and every thing upon God’s creating causality notwithstanding. For God is the total cause of all causalities, and so of evolution’s having randomly given risen to giraffes because that is just what God brought about those evolutionary processes, among other things, to do. (Julian of Norwich, Theologian, pp. 55-56; needless to say, Aquinas was unacquainted with modern theories of evolution)
Long time readers of Eclectic Orthodoxy will immediately recognize Thomas’s analysis of divine and creaturely causality as one of double agency: God implements his sovereign will for the cosmos in, through, and by the causal relations between creatures. The divine providence is immediate (at every moment every entity is created and sustained in being from out of nothing) yet also mediated (the cue ball hits the eight-ball and knocks it into the corner pocket). Personal causality, however, must be exempted from the dynamics of secondary causality. If my typing of this article is caused by something external to myself, whether by the firing of neurons in my brain or by the operation of the moon on the tides, then it is not the product of my freedom:
God brings about the history of salvation by means of the free acts of human beings. But by contrast with God’s having brought about my existence indirectly by means of my parents—granted the whole causality of which process is dependent upon God’s creating it ex nihilo—nothing at all mediates God’s relationship to those free acts: God creates ex nihilo each and every free act, with nothing in between. If one wants to speak of freedom needing “space” to be freedom, as the free-will defenders do, then it is right to conceive of that space as being unoccupied by natural created causes. Even God cannot cause a free act of mine by means of any created cause other than my own choices. But this is no restriction on the divine power, for God’s power is not restricted by the impossibility of creating what it is a contradiction to describe. Contradictions describe nothing. So they describe nothing God cannot do. But just for the reason that no created cause can mediate between God and my freedom, it is entirely wrong to conceive of that freedom as a space unoccupied by the divine causality. On the contrary, rather than excluding God’s causality from our free actions, we have to say that our free acts are where God’s causality is most evident, most immediate—most, we might in fact say, revealingly divine. For it is within our freedom that the divine causality, as creating all things “out of nothing,” is wholly undisguised by the mediation of any natural, secondary cause. If anything, then, my freedom reveals God more in the way that miracles do than as the natural world does, for the whole effect that is a free action directly reveals God precisely insofar as it is free. God’s causality lies within my freedom, sustaining it, not outside it, not canceling it. It is within my freedom, therefore, that God is, as Augustine says, “interior intimo meo,” “more within me than I am.” (pp. 56-57)
It may initially appear that Thomas has presented us with an antinomy or paradox—but only apparently so. We would have an antinomy if we were to say that God causes our free actions through the interactions with other entities and forces. Thomas insists that God creates our free actions immediately, from out of nothing: “My free actions,” Turner explains, “cannot be caused by anything other than God and myself: otherwise than as effected by my agency, a free act can only be created, out of nothing. God’s causing my free actions ex nihilo is therefore precisely what makes them free” (p. 58). Hence we are not confronted with a contradiction or paradox, as long as we do not think of God as a being alongside beings, thereby reducing divine causality to one cause among many.
And so Mother Julian confidently states, “For there is no doer but he” (LT 11). And this is no doubt true, from God’s transcendent point of view. But from our finite point of view, there are no doers but us. God concludes his third showing with the following encouraging words:
“See, I am God. See, I am in all thing. See, I do all thing. See, I never lefte my handes of my workes, ne never shale without ende. See, I lede all thing to the end that I ordaine it to, from without beginning, by the same might, wisdom, and love that I made it with. How shoulde any thing be amisse.” (LT 11)
(Go to “The Nought of Sin”)