Book Review, Julian of Norwich, Medieval Book Club, Medieval Literature, Revelations of Divine Love
Welcome to the fifth Medieval Book Club post on this blog. Here I will share some of my thoughts on the book, some observations on the material itself, and open a few questions toward you, the reader.
In case you missed it, for June we’re going to be reading three Anglo-Saxon Poems: Judith, the Dream of the Rood, and Juliana. Those poems are ones you can read free online, just follow the link to my preview post and you will find the link there to the poems. I hope you can join me for next month’s discussion as well, and I’ll be keeping this going all year long with posts on every third Thursday of each month in 2017.
My Thoughts: Let’s start off by being honest…this book left me disappointed. Last year I read a very brief biography of Julian of Norwich and that had me excited to dive into this book. And maybe that was the problem: I was expecting great things. And this book, while worthwhile to read and perhaps study, simply didn’t blow me away. I’m starting to think it is a “its not you, its me” thing, because I felt the same way about Augustine’s Confessions when I finally read that one. Which is a shortcoming on my side of things, because I know these are both worthwhile reads that holds merit in spite of the age of the writing. And I certainly found great things to mine from both of those texts. Revelations of Divine Love is full of thoughts and ideas that were, at the time, quite revolutionary in their scope and understanding. But it ends up being a book that I will probably never feel the urge to revisit again.
In spite of all of this, it certainly is a quotable book. So rather than focus on my own inability to enjoy a Medieval Christian text, I’ll focus more on sharing a few of the quotes that stood out to me. I did find that the reading of both the Short Text and the Long Text were a bit redundant. Perhaps it would be better if they weren’t read back-to-back. But overall there wasn’t too much in the Long Text, in terms of new thoughts, so it felt very repetitive when I was going through it. This is certainly a book where, if I revisited it again, I would probably choose one or the other to read through rather than both.
“… so our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to him that through his goodness we should pray with full confidence, and by his grace cling to him with real understanding and unshakeable love, than that we should go on making as many petitions as our souls are capable of.”
“…we need to fall, and we need to be aware of it; for if we did not fall, we should not know how weak and wretched we are of ourselves, nor should we know our Maker’s marvellous love so fully…”
“…deeds are done which appear so evil to us and people suffer such terrible evils that it does not seem as though any good will ever come of them; and we consider this, sorrowing and grieving over it so that we cannot find peace in the blessed contemplation of God as we should do; and this is why: our reasoning powers are so blind now, so humble and so simple, that we cannot know the high, marvelous wisdom, the might and the goodness of the Holy Trinity. And this is what he means where he says, ‘You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well’, as if he said, ‘Pay attention to this now, faithfully and confidently, and at the end of time you will truly see it in the fullness of joy.”
“And I saw that truly nothing happens by accident or luck, but everything by God’s wise providence. If it seems to be accident or luck from our point of view, our blindness and lack of foreknowledge is the cause; for matters that have been in God’s foreseeing wisdom since before time began befall us suddenly, all unawares; and so in our blindness and ignorance we say that this is accident or luck, but to our Lord God it is not so.”
“Grace transforms our failings full of dread into abundant, endless comfort … our failings full of shame into a noble, glorious rising … our dying full of sorrow into holy, blissful life. …. Just as our contrariness here on earth brings us pain, shame and sorrow, so grace brings us surpassing comfort, glory, and bliss in heaven … And that shall be a property of blessed love, that we shall know in God, which we might never have known without first experiencing woe.”
So my overall impression was that I wanted to like the book, and there is so much good, quotable material, but I found it to be a chore to read by the time I was immersed into the Long Text. It was certainly a worthwhile read, but not one I will be revisiting anytime soon. And if I do revisit it, I will probably not read both versions but instead choose one or the other.
What quotes stood out to you? Were there any thoughts and ideas that surprised you, based on the time period in which this was written?