Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Triads and Julian of Norwich (Re-Post)

Since I'm reading Julian, I thought I would put this up; it's very weird reading something you originally wrote twenty-two years ago, and even on the blog it was posted thirteen years ago. The syntactic devices used in the building of Julian's theological interpretations of her visions are still, I think, important for understanding what she is doing, and the awkwardness of expression doesn't make my nineteen-year-old self any less right about it. I have corrected a few typos and unbearably awkward expressions, though.


I came across the following some time ago when going through some papers; it is a short essay written in the summer of '98 (the date on the paper is 15.7.98), my sophomore year of college, for a course on women and literature in the later Medieval and Renaissance periods. Needless to say, there are a number of things I would do differently now, and it's all very clumsily expressed, but in the main it is right, and I thought it would be interesting to put it up.

Use of Triadic Form in Julian's Revelations of Divine Love

With careful examination one can find many literary, as opposed to theological or philosophical, qualities in Julian's Revelation of Divine Love. One such literary characteristic is Julian's use of syntactic features, such as parallelism or repetition, to further the themes of her work. This is perhaps most easily seen in her continual use of the triad to emphasize the Trinitarian aspects of the message of the Revelation.

By far the most common triad in Julian's work is that of might, wisdom, and goodness. The first instance of this occurs in the first chapter, in her summary of what will follow in Revelation XIII. The sense of the usage is that, just as God has made everything with might, wisdom, and goodness, everything will be made right again by means of the same might, wisdom, and goodness (1:38-40). This is shown to be a good preparatory summary in the fact that this same triad is mentioned in Revelation XIII in a context that elaborates on this very thought (35:26-35). In these passages, however, Julian is not speaking of might, wisdom, and goodness as general characteristics of the Godhead, but of the three together, functioning as a unity, being the very Godhead. Each of the three characteristics, might, wisdom, and goodness, is proper to one of the three Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. THus, when Julian says in Revelation XIV that it is neither in the might of God, nor in the wisdom of God, nor in the goodness of God to be wrathful (46:33-35), she is saying that the very substance of God, threefold yet one, is not in any way wrathful. That this is the case is given in a passage later during the same Revelation. In this passage she gives the identification very clearly: "And thus in oure makyng god almyghty is oure kyndly fader, and god all wisdom is oure kindly mother, with the loue and the goodnes of the holy gost, whych is all one god, one lord" (58:12-14). Here are found the elements of might, wisdom,a nd goodness, each identified with one Person of the Trinity. Thus, might is the characteristic of God the Father; wisdom is the characteristic of God the Son, who is also referred to in Julian's works, as here, as the Mother; and goodness is a characteristic of God the Holy Spirit. For Julian, therefore, human interaction with the Godhead is highly Trinitarian. When a human being experiences God, it is an experience of "souereyne myghte, souereyne wysdom and souereyn goodnesse" (68:12-14).

Another triad is found on multiple occasions in the Revelations, which is sufficiently similar to the previous to be considered a variation, to wit, might, wisdom, and love. In matter of fact, the two triads are identical in their referents and interchangeable; what this new triad, the second most common in the work, does is to give an idea of what Julian means the reader to understand the work of the Holy Spirit to be. This is shown by Julian's assignation of the characteristic or property of love, along with the characteristic of goodness, to the Holy Spirit in the quotation from Revelation XIV above. The relationship between love and goodness as seen by Julian is even more clearly brought out in a passage that occurs earlier in the same Revelation. In this passage, Julian, speaking of how God created humanity, speaks of "loue made of the kyndly substanncyall goodnesse of the holy gost" along with the might of the Father and the wisdom of the Son (53:36-39). Love and goodness are, as was said, interchangeable in the triad, since they have the same referent, but in Julian give a somewhat more active implication than does goodness. Thus, one finds that when Christ in Revelation III speaks of himself as the one who leads all things to the end he has ordained, he uses this triad (11:53-56). In the same place the soul is said to be "examynyd" in the vision "myghtly, wysely, and louyngly" (11:56-57). This is an elaboration of the theme summarized for this Revelation in the first chapter, where Julian uses this triad for the first time (1:10-13). Might, wisdom, and love are also brough together in Revelation XIV, in a passage in which Julian speaks of the way in which God keeps the souls of the believers (62:5-10). Perhaps the most important use of the triad occurs earlier in this same Revelation during the discussion of how God has no wrath. In one sense, what is used here is not a triad but a tetrad, since it has four members: might, wisdom, charity, and unity (46:31-32). It can be easily seen, however, that unity does not function at the same level as the other three, because it is that which joins the other three together. The conclusion is obvious: here Julian is emphasizing the Trinity, not merely as the Godhead of Three Persons, but also, simultaneously, as one God. At times the property of goodness also serves as this function; one example of which can be seen at the end of Revelation I.

There are several lesser variants of these two primary triads that fulfill the same function of further Julian's Trinitarian theme. Some of these triads are similar in that they refer to God the Father with the property kind. These are often less obviously Trinitarian than the triads given above, but the Trinitarian trace can still be found in them. In a pssage found in the long Reverlation XIV, Julian uses the triad kind, mercy, and grace, in a way that, upon investigation, can be seen to refer to the Trinity: "For in kynde we haue oure lyfe and oure beyng, and in mercy and grace we haue oure encre and oure fulfyllyng" (56:43-44). Kind, or nature, is reserved to God the Father, whos it he beginning point of the Trinitarian procession of Persons, and so is, in a sense, the very substance of the Godhead. In mercy one can immediately see the saving action of God the Son, who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, while grace is a characteristic of God the Spirit, who is the gift given by God the Father and God the Son to the Church, as, for example, at Pentecost. A similar triad is found later on, when Julian is discussing the nature of Motherhood in the Godhead, which is, she says, nearest, readiest, and surest: "nerest for it is most of kynd, redyest for it is most of loue, and sekerest for it is most of trewth" (60:14-16). Kind, as has been seen, is a characteristic of the Father, and love, of course, of the Spirit. The relationship between wisdom and truth, should be obvious, particularly in how, if one applies to the Second Person of the Trinity, the other can also reasonably be said to apply.

Other variant triads refer less to the substance of the Persons of the Trinity and focus more on their operations. An example of this is found in Revelation I, where Julian says that God made human beings to himself, restored them by his Passion, and keeps them in his love (5:44-46). God the maker, God the restorer, and God the keeper are, in fact, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as any sharp eye might perceive. In the same Revelation Julian speaks of how no one can know the homeliness of the Father in this life unless they receive it by a special showing from Christ or by an inwardly given grace of the Holy Spirit (7:55-58). These are just a few instances that show how dominated by the Trinity Julian's theological thought is.

Perhaps one of the most interesting uses to which Julian puts the triad to further her Trinitarian emphasis is in speaking of the human being. In Revelation XIV Julian says that "oure soule is a made trynyte lyke to the unmade trynyte" (55:40-41), an integral part of Julian's anthropology that could have been discovered from a study of her use of the triadic function. In several places Julian uses triads in describing the human being in such a way as to leave no doubt about how important the Trinity is in her view for understanding humanity. In one place, speaking of human nature when apart from God, she says that it is "vnmyghty and vnwyse of hym selfe, and also his wyll is ovyr leyde in thys tyme he is in tempest and in sorow and woe" (47:17-19). In this can be seen the transformation of the human soul, made in the image of the Trinity, into the reverse of the triad of might, wisdom, and love or goodness. Similarly, she says that the Christian's willing assent to the presence of God involves loving Him with all one's heart, soul, and might (52:23-26), in which one can also see the human type of the Trinitarian antitype. Further on she says, "Oure feyth comyth of the kynde loue of oure soule, and of the clere lyghte or oure reson, and of the stedfaste mynde whych we haue of god in oure furst makyng" (55:14-16). Here is shown the exact manner in which Julian conceives the human being to be made in God's image, once again Trinitarian in form: humanity has "stedfaste mynde" like the Father, reason like the Son, and love like the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps more important than these, however, is her assertion in Revelation XVI of the three ways in which God is worshipped and human beings are "sped, kepte and savyd," namely, one's own reason, the teaching authority of the Church, and the experience of the interior working of the Spirit (80:1-8). Each of these three are given to use by God and are, as a result to be respected and used. The human reason, in a sense, proceeds from God the Father, who created it. The teaching authority of the Church proceeds form God the Son because He is both the Head of the Church and the subject matter taught by the Church's gospel. These two, when added to the graces bestowed through the Holy Spirit, constitute what might be called Julian's theological epistemology. By means of these three gifts, which the Christian must continually use, one comes to know oneself and God; because from these three sources come the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, in which the entire Christian life is grounded (7:58-65).

So rich is Julian's work with triads, it is soon seen to be far beyond the capability of a short essay to investigate the entire depth of meaning Julian is able to place in her words by means of this simple syntactic device. It is certain, however, that she uses the mechanism with ease and mastery, giving every triad a use that is more than merely rhetorical. Nor can one say that only the Trinitarian aspects of Julian's revelations are shown by her use of the triad; as was seen above, some of her most obviously Trinitarian triads further anthropological, ethical, and epistemological themes as well. Given this, and the wealth of other well-used syntactic devices found in the Revelations of Divine Love, one can truly say that Julian of Norwich is a masterful writer.

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