text often prefers an abstraction to a concrete term, and the word
she translates here as "instant" is in Julian's text "poynte," so a
more powerful translation of this passage comes from a translator
of a previous Penguin edition, it goes: "I saw the whole Godhead
concentrated as it were in a single point, and thereby I learnt that
he is in all things."
This image is the closest Julian comes to expressing an experience
of mystical union. In fact, it is not an experience of mystical union:
She still views this "point" from an objective standpoint,
indicating there's a duality - herself, and the fact of God's allness.
She does not experience herself as God or as all her surroundings,
so this is not (in Dupre's terms) "a union with a transcendent
reality" nor (in Stace's terms) an introvertive or an extrovertive
But it's definitely mystical in the sense that it expresses an
understanding of mystical reality that is revealed to her in a "state
of consciousness that surpasses ordinary reality." Julian seems
squarely in the phase of Illumination described by Evelyn
Underhill. This is a way of saying not only that Julian does not
experience mystical union, but that she accordingly never attains
to the Unitive Life, which few living people do. At the bottom of
p. 47 in our text a passage appears which expresses her
understanding - not her experience - of this mystical fact. I am
quoting the alternate translation because I think it expresses the
sensibility more clearly for us than your text, you can follow it
No soul can rest until it is detached from all creation. When it is
deliberately so detached for love of him who is all, then only can it
experience spiritual rest. (Clifton Wolters trans., p. 68)
Without experiencing unity, Julian understands it.
A great deal of her text is devoted to talking about her
understanding that the unity of everything inheres in God's love.
This is a fundamental mystical idea: Socrates demonstrates it in
the Symposium, and Rumi with his characteristic ability to
crystallize profound thought in delightfully simple imagery says
(in Coleman Barks's translation), "Your love of many different
things proves they're one."
An example early in Julian's text is again in her introductory
comments to Chapter 5, where she says of the spiritual, or
Intellectual dimension of the hazel-nut ball vision that God "is
everything that is good for us." This echoes, probably
unbeknownst to Julian, the Neoplatonic identification of the Good
with the One, or Absolute all. In the same chapter she indicates
that everything owes its existence to God's love. In Chapter 9 she
reiterates this understanding.
In Chapter 52 (p. 127) she expresses the perennial understanding
that love actually binds the lower and higher worlds together -
that the physical world and the divine world are in fact one
because they are both encompassed or contained in love:
… the life and the virtue which we have on the lower level comes
from the higher, and it comes down to us from our natural
self-love through grace. Nothing comes between the first and the
second, for all is one love, and this one blessed love now works
doubly in us; for on the lower level there are pains and passions,
sorrows and pities, mercies and forgiveness, and many similar
benefits; but on the higher level there are none of these, but all one
great love and wonderful joy, and in the wonderful joy there is
great compensation for all suffering. And in this our good Lord
showed not only our forgiveness, but also the glorious height to
which he will bring us, turning all our guilt into endless glory.
Her sentence "all is one love" is a classic, simple expression of the
classic mystical understanding; and in the alternate text the same
sentence is given as "The same single love pervades all" (Wolters,
trans., p. 124), which with a slightly different angle says the same
thing, which is that love binds all the universe.
In Chapter 53 (p. 129) the same idea is expressed again when she
says, "in this eternal love man's soul is kept whole," and
developing the idea further in Chapter 54 she says (at p. 130):
I saw no difference between God and our essential being, it seemed
to be all God … We are enclosed in the Father, and we are
enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Ghost; and
the Father is enclosed in us, and the Son is enclosed in us, and the
Holy Ghost is enclosed in us: almighty, all wisdom, all goodness,
one God, one Lord.
And in Chapter 65 (p. 150) another facet of this idea is expressed
when she says: "the love of God unites us to such an extent that
when we are truly aware of it, no man can separate himself from
another." The mystical sensibility that all people are actually one
person, which occurs in all the mystical traditions I know of, takes
on its Christian tint when she goes on to say, "So our soul ought to
think that all that God has done was done for it." The meaning here
is that God took on life at the "lower level" when Jesus was born,
and that the sufferings of Jesus were given as atonement for the
"sin" or separation from God which human beings willfully took
upon themselves; Jesus' work, which was an act of love, treated all
human beings as they are in reality - one.
To sum up, the point here is that Julian is not speculating about
this, or repeating what she has heard from church teachings, or
trying to invent a new Christian metaphysic. Instead, she is
reporting a personal experience and trying to articulate what she
understood of the experience - in other words, she is reporting a
classic mystical experience, in which she gained a new sense of
reality, feelings of blessedness and love, and a feeling that what
she apprehended is divine. The intensity of the experience changed
her inner life, as far as anyone can tell, and her expression of it
matches not only the terms and ideas, but also the intensity of
expression of other mystics. She experienced all three kinds of
visions spoken of by Augustine, Aquinas and others, but she did
not experience mystical union in the way W.T. Stace and others
define that experience. Julian's experience occupies a stage of
personal growth indicated by Evelyn Underhill's description of
Illumination, at an intense moment (or point) between the stage of
Purgation and the Unitive Life, before the final struggle Underhill
called the Dark Night of the Soul.
* * *
Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. Elizabeth Spearing, translator.
Penguin Books, 1998.
Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. Clifton Wolters, translator.
Penguin Books, 1966.
W.T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, MacMillan, 1960.
Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's
Spiritual Consciousness, E.P. Dutton, 1961.
Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Tradition