Julian begins her introduction of the first “shewing” with the words: “[t]he first is of his [Jesus’] precious crowning of thorns. And in this was included and specified the blessed trinity, with the incarnation and the union between God and man’s soul.” 1 In her visions of the crucified Christ, the crowning of thorns becomes a root image from which so much of the rest of her text flows. The seeds of a piety focused on the Passion and Death of Christ that had been sown by Anselm and others grew exponentially over the next centuries. By the 14th century, there were countless texts – poems, plays, sermons, and meditation guides – which lavishly focused on this theme, and many of these texts were now available in vernacular languages, including what we now call “Middle English.” Elaborating on passages from the Gospels, the 14th century meditation guide, The Privity of the Passion, re-presents the events which Julian identifies with the first showing:
Then they took an old red robe, foul, misshapen, and of poor quality, and clothed him with it. And [they] took a wreath of sharp thorns, instead of a crown, and thrust [it] on his head and gave him a scepter in his hand – all for scorn.” 2
Oxford scholar, Vincent Gillespie, and contemporary Solitary, Maggie Ross, insightfully point out the distinctiveness of the imposition of the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head: “Its paradoxical resonance signifies the experience of humiliation for the sake of truth and love that lies at the heart of the trinity and the incarnation.” 3 Here again the actions and experiences of Jesus are in no way separated from the triune life of God, but instead are reflective of the very nature and energies of that divine vitality. And Julian’s experience of and her witness to it “places a model of self-emptying humility as the cornerstone” of her text. 4 The anchorite’s approach, the penetrative Oxford readers explain, invokes the portrayal of the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ depicted in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:
For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause, God also hath exalted him … 5
Professor Gillespie and Maggie Ross indicate that this passage is “fundamental to Julian’s strategy,” and they further point out that it is one of the very few direct scriptural references she makes in all her writings:
Such pains I saw that everything that I tell and say is too little, too inadequate, for it cannot be told. But each soul, after the saying of Saint Paul, should ‘feel in [“fele in”] her/himself what is in Christ Jesus.’ 6
The Philippians passage has been identified with the activity of “kenosis,” a term taken from the Greek verb used in Verse 7 which is translated in the Vulgate by the word “exinanire,” “to empty” or “to make empty.” 7 Put succinctly, kenosis “involves strategies for laying aside self-consciousness.” 8
- Here is a longer quotation of Julian’s Middle English: “[T]he first is of his [Jesus’] precious crowning of thornes. And therin was comprehended and specified the blessed trinity, with the incarnation and the oning between God and mans soul, with many fair shewynges and techinges of endelesse wisdom and love, in which all the shewinges that foloweth be groundide and oned” (Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, Eds, Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, Chapter 1, Lines 3-7, page 123.) Of this passage scholars Edmund Colledge and James Walsh note: “The theological structure of each showing and of the entire revelation is delineated: Jesus Christ shown in his sufferings, but also glorified and revealing the triune God …” (A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich. Part Two. Edited by Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. and James Walsh, S.J. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1978, page 281.)
- Middle English: “Then they toke ane olde rede mantill, foule and myschapene, & cloþed hym þerwith & toke a garlande of scharpe thornes in stede of a corowne & threste one his hede, & toke hym a septur in his hande, all for scorne.” (“The Privity of the Passion.” In C. Horstman. Ed. Yorkshire Writers: Richard Rolle of Hampole and His Followers. 2 vols. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1896, pages 203-204.) This text is also available online via Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/rollecmp/1:4.2.2?rgn=div3;view=fulltext Image One below contains some relevant Gospel passages. The Vulgate quotations are taken primarily from Latin Vulgate.com: http://www.latinvulgate.com/ And the Wycliffe quotations are taken from “John Wycliffe Bible 1382,” Textus Receptus Bibles: https://textusreceptusbibles.com/Wycliffe
- Vincent Gillespie and Maggie Ross, “The Apophatic Image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich,” The Medieval Mystical Tradition, 5. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1992, pages 59.
- Vincent Gillespie and Maggie Ross, “The Apophatic Image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich,” page 59.
- Vincent Gillespie and Maggie Ross, “The Apophatic Image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich,” pages 59-60. I have followed the example of Professor Gillespie and Maggie Ross in using the Douay-Rheims translation, which is a translation of the Vulgate. Below are the Vulgate and the Wycliffe translations of the same passage, Philippians (2.5-9a).
- Vincent Gillespie and Maggie Ross, “The Apophatic Image: The Poetics of Effacement in Julian of Norwich,” note #22, page 60. Middle English: “Swilke paines I saw that alle es to litelle that I can telle or saye, for it maye nought be tolde. Botte ilke saule, after saying of Sainte Paule, shulde ‘fele in him that is Criste Jhesu.’ (Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, Eds, Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, Section 10, Lines 21-23, page 83.) The quotation is taken from Chapter 10 of the Short Text where Julian is speaking of the pains of Jesus’ Passion that she has witnessed in her visions.
- See “exinanio,” Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources: https://logeion.uchicago.edu/exinanio
- Vincent Gillespie and Maggie Ross, “With Mekeness Aske Perseverantly’: On Reading Julian of Norwich.” Mystics Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 3/4, Penn State University Press, 2004, page 132. Available online at JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20716485. A fuller quotation: “Kenosis is a concept that is often misunderstood, particularly by contemporary theologians. Put quite simply, it involves strategies for laying aside self-consciousness. The unconditional and self-emptying love of Christ is one of the core images of Julian’s text.” (Ibid. 132).
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