Fritz Kemmler

title.none: Abbott, Julian of Norwich (Kemmler)

identifier.other: baj9928.0012.004 00.12.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Fritz Kemmler, Universitaet Tuebingen, lecturer,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Abbott, Christopher. Julian of Norwich: Autobiography and Theology. Studies in Medieval Mysticism, vol. 2. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999. Pp. xi, 195. $60.00. ISBN: 0-859-91548-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.12.04

Abbott, Christopher. Julian of Norwich: Autobiography and Theology. Studies in Medieval Mysticism, vol. 2. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999. Pp. xi, 195. $60.00. ISBN: 0-859-91548-4.

Reviewed by:

Fritz Kemmler
Universitaet Tuebingen, lecturer

This study of Julian of Norwich's Revelations is based on "a doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Manchester". (ix) As the title itself indicates, a major portion of the book (ch. 1) is devoted to the problems of writing, and reading a text with both autobiographical (subjective, personal experience) and theological (intersubjective, shared knowledge) subject matter. And in Julian's case this means a highly selective 'autobiography' containing, on the whole, a more than ordinary personal and individual subject matter (vision, revelation) which cannot be 'verified' by the readers of the book and must therefore be 'taken on belief'.

At the beginning of chapter 73, Julian herself comments on this very problem originating from the nature of her related experience (revelation, vision) and its implications for the creative act of transforming and communicating it. And this passage deserves to be quoted here in full (the text is taken from Marion Glasscoe's revised edition, Exeter, 1993): All the blissid teching of our lord God was shewid be iii partes: that is to sey, by bodily syte, and by word formyd in myn vnderstondyng, and be gostly sight. For the bodily seyte, I have seid as I saw as trewly as I can; and for the words, I have seid them rith as our lord shewid hem to me; and for the gostly syght, I have seyd sumdele, but I may neve[r] full tellen it, and therefore of this syght I am sterrid to sey more as God will give me grace. (p. 117; emphasis mine) Julian's emphasis on the truthfulness of her account ("I have seid as I saw as trewly as I can"), on the subjective perception and interpretation ("in myn vnderstondyng" and "rith as our lord shewid hem to me"), and on the problem of selection ("I have seyd sumdele, but I may neve[r] full tellen it") is, of course, of central importance for the problem "autobiography" treated in chapter 1, "Julian of Norwich and Autobiography", of Abbott's study--but I have looked in vain for a reference to and discussion of this passage, especially on p. 9, where he touches the problems of seeing (event, revelation), selecting and reporting (text).

But I have further problems with certain parts of chapter 1. Thus, when raising the crucial problem of the relation of a particular text to a certain literary genre, Abbott, on p. 3-4, uses a (biblical) comparison I do not understand: Before any attempt is made to link Julian's Revelation with as complex and elusive a generic category as autobiography it is necessary to sound a brief note of caution on the question of genre as such. A critical interest in the generic identity of a particular text can be compared with the power to bind and loose invested in the keys of the Kingdom [of Heaven; Matth. 16:19]. On the one hand, the sense of a particular work's uniqueness can be virtually sacrificed to an impulse to prove that the work is a greater or lesser example of a type. [...] On the other hand, even texts such as Julian's do not drop down from heaven. Who is called upon to execute the power "to bind and loose" entrusted to Peter? What--in the relation constituted by the biblical (con)text--should be viewed as "heaven" and what as "earth"?

Abbott's observations on the "implications of autobiography" (pp. 38-46), i.e. the act of writing--as a woman--the Revelations in the context of late medieval Catholicism, are more convincing. In this part of chapter 1 the argument is mainly based on the Short Text; with, alas, several errors in his quotations from the critical edition by Colledge and Walsh (cf. p. 39, 40 [second quotation] and 41 [both quotations]; see also below).

In the subsequent chapters, entitled "A Journey into Christ" (ch. 2), "Incarnation (I): A Lord and a Servant" (ch. 3), "Incarnation (II): The City of God" (ch. 4) and "Interiority and the Pastoral Dimension" (ch. 5), the major themes of Julian's text are presented and evaluated. The manner of presentation is based mainly on a close reading, with many quotations from the text itself. In most of these chapters there is little with which I would disagree radically. Abbott presents a number of valuable observations in unfolding and developing the exemplum "A Lord and a servant" and Julian's thought-provoking concept of God as "very fader and very moder of kinde", especially in the section "Christ the mother" with its division into motherhood "of kind", "of grace" and "of working".

A detailed evaluation of the contents of chapters 2-5 cannot be attempted in this review. Instead, I shall concentrate on some points raised by Abbott in chapter 5. When discussing the difference between active and contemplative life and their respective merits (p. 170-1), Abbott should also have referred to Walter Hilton's Mixed Life with its emphasis on both forms of life for those with a 'worldly' charge: Vnto thise men also longeth this medeled lif that is bothe actif and contemplatif. For 3if thise men, standynge the charge and the boond whiche thei han take, wolen leeue vttirli the bisynesse of the world, the whiche oweth skilfulli for to be vsed in fulfillynge of here chaarge, and hooli 3yue hem to contemplatif liyf, thei doon not weel, for thei kepen not the ordre of charite. [quoted from Walter Hilton's Mixed Life, ed. by S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson, Salzburg, 1986, p. 16]. But why raise this issue at all in the context of Julian's Revelations? Julian herself does not mention these two modes of life and their respective merits at all.

Again, when exploring the theme 'fear and love' in the same chapter (pp. 173-8), Abbott remarks that in Julian we find only an indirect mention of one of the central themes of the medieval manuals of religious and moral instruction: the seven deadly sins and their remedies. True enough; but Julian is not writing a manual of religious and moral instruction. And further: when examining the sections of Julian's text in which the theme "deadly sins" occurs--and it occurs exclusively in the heading and two further sentences of chapter 72--we notice two important points: sin is deadly "for a tyme in the chosen soulis"; "synne dedly in the creatures which shall not dyen for synne, but liven in the ioy of God without end" and, finally "synne is dedly for a short time in the blissid creatures of endless life" (emphasis mine).

There is a second, though indirect, reference to the seven deadly sins in Julian's chapter 52, echoing the important distinction between venial and deadly sin in the manuals of religious instruction: And therfore the creature that seith and felith the werkyng of love be grace hatith nowte but synne; for of althyng, to my syte, love and hate arn herdest and most onmesurable contraries. And notwithstondyng all this, I saw and understode in our lord menyng that we may not in this life kepe us from synne as holy in ful clenes as we shal ben in hevyn. But we may wele be grace kepe us from the synnes which will ledyn us to endles pay[n]es, as holy church techith us, and eschewen venal, resonable upon our myte; (Glasscoe, p. 83; emphasis mine) A detailed account of the horrors and consequences of the seven deadly sins in the manner of the medieval manuals of religious and moral instruction would be detrimental to Julian's central message: the workings of divine love and grace.

In concluding this review of a both stimulating and disappointing book two of its more formal and--in view of the use of the book in the scholarly debate--highly frustrating aspects must be pointed out.

FIRST, the index (pp. 195-7): a mixture of an index locorum, an index nominum and an index rerum. While the index nominum is adequate and helpful, the index locorum (biblical references) is somewhat unusual (cf. "John, Gospel of" [p. 196]; "Paul, St [...] Romans [...] I Corinthians" [etc., p. 196] and the index rerum is totally inadequate. Let me quote a few examples from the latter:

p. 195: "autobiography Chapter 1 and passim."--a very enlightening and helpful reference indeed p. 195: "courtesy 177"--in my view a minor theme in Abbott's study p. 197: "homeliness 177" the term also appears on p. 176

Why an entry for homeliness but none for the related (and complementary) term "familiarity" (cf. the coupling of these terms on p. 177)? Why are there no entries for the even more important terms beholding and seeking, central to one of the arguments developed (convincingly) in the book (cf. p. 22-23; 184)? In addition, I would have expected an entry for both reason and discretion, since a considerable part of the argument (correctly) concentrates on the importance of these concepts for Julian and her world--and, of course, for the modern reader of the Revelations (cf. the discussion of these concepts on p. 25, 85, 169f., 178).

SECOND--and most frustrating--the carelessness evident in one of the central parts of the book: the numerous quotations from Julian's text. In the main text and in the footnotes there are only a few errors and oversights:

p. 11, note 8: "emphatic nattative" should read "emphatic narrative" p. 18, note 26: "rehtorical" should read "rhetorical" p. 23: "and that by which conveys her" should read "and that by which she conveys her" p. 82, note 2: "auctoritatis" should read "auctoritates" p. 146: "observible" should read "observable" p. 162 (first quotation): "but the vertues" should read "but the vertuse" p. 170, note 49: "very God and very man" should read "very God and man" p. 171, note 53: "n. 39, above" should read "n. 38, above" p. 175: "(78.118)" should read "(74.118)" p. 184: "can thought of" should read "can be thought of"

The numerous quotations from Julian's text (based on Marion Glasscoe's revised edition [Exeter, 1993] and, in a few instances (see above), on the critical edition by Colledge and Walsh [Toronto, 1978]) contain a surprising number of errors, ranging from simple errors--word-final "l" and "ll", word-final "e", the use of "i" and "y" as well as of "ea" and "e", omission of punctuation marks and single letters--to more serious errors some of which are listed below.

(1) TRANSPOSITION of words: p. 71 (22.31-2): "that ever I suffrid" should read "that ever suffrid I" p. 134 (63.102-3): "He is in ii manner werkyng" should read "He is ii in manner werkyng" p. 159 (67.110): "yet it may" should read "yet may it"

(2) OMISSION of a SINGLE word: p. 28 (50.71-2): "how it longyth to me to synne" should read "how it longyth to me to se synne" p. 99 (51.77): "and noble plenteous fruits" should read "and noble and plenteous fruits" p. 102 (51.78): "And thus our good lo[r]d Iesus" should read "And thus hath our good lo[r]d Iesus" p. 128 (62.101-2): "and he is very fader and moder" should read "and he is very fader and very moder" p. 143 (51.76): "betokenith that he beclesid" should read "betokenith that he hath beclesid" p. 172 (76.122): "for the beholdyng of mannys synnes" should read "for the beholdyng of other mannys synnes" p. 172 (76.115): "I saw synne in the creatures" should read "I saw synne dedly in the creatures" p. 178 (86.134-5) first portion: "in which he will give us grace" should read "in which knowing he will give us grace"

(3) OMISSION of SEVERAL words: p. 19 (9.13): "ese and comfort; for sothly" should read "ese and comfort, for we arn al one in comfort; for sothly" p. 74 (28.39): "in sorows and anguis in this world" should read "in sorows and anguis and tribulation in this world" p. 144 (51.80): "and our foule dedly flesh, which was Adams old kirtle" should read "and our foule dedly flesh that Gods Son toke on him, which was Adams old kirtle" p. 163 (25.36): "his blissid moder, Seyt Mary" should read "his blissid moder, our lady, Seyt Mary"

(4) ADDITION of words: p. 47 (2.3): "if I should dye, and with all" should read "if I should dye, with all" p. 85 (11.18-19): "to the end that I ordeynd" should read "to the end I ordeynd" p. 86 (27.38): "our good lord" should read "our lord" p. 104 (51.81): "very god and very man" should read "very god and man" p. 115 (53.86): "which knott is so sotil and so myty" should read "which knott is sotil and so myty" p. 123 (18.28): "Thus was our blissid lord Iesus" should read "Thus was our lord Iesus"

Summing up: There are only 27 pages in the book where the quotations from Julian, set off from the main body of the text, contain no errors--as against 87 pages with at least one error. Even the very last quotation from Julian (p. 185) contains a minor error: "begynnyng" should read "begynning".