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Perfect unity

"I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17.23

On the day the Church celebrates the conversion of Saul to Paul, it is appropriate to mention Julian of Norwich (1343 - 1416). Like Paul, Julian experienced God in a way which transformed her life and blessed the world. At the age of 30 and on what was expected to be her death-bed, Julian enjoyed an encounter with God which gave her another 43 years of life and prompted two accounts, which she entitled Vision and Revelation.

The times were liminal and fertile. The social balance was shifting from feudalism to an increasingly urban mercantile economy and Latin was giving was giving way to vernacular languages, with emerging authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer and William of Hilton taking full advantage. Julian may have had to educate herself but we do not know for sure because she channels all her energy into describing her experience of God and tells us nothing about herself - even her name (she is known simply by the church to which she belonged, St Julian's in Norwich!).

The influence of Neoplatonism and the likes of St Augustine emerges in her dualistic understanding of humans as being possessed of higher and lower natures, characterised by what she calls substance and sensuality which, in turn, reflects the divinity and humanity of Jesus. But unlike the Church Fathers, Julian does not distinguish pejoratively between male and female, nor does she condemn our earthly nature while spiritualising the soul. Hers is a theology of integration, in which sorrow and joy complement one another in the same way that suffering leads to redemption - in a glorious expression of God's redeeming love.



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