Chapter 2: Reflection 20 – Wounds of Love  

In the last sentences of Chapter 2, Julian writes: “For the third [gift], by the grace of God and teching of holy church, I conceived a mighty desire to receive thre woundes in my life: that is to say, the wound of very contrition, the wound of kind compassion, and the wilful longing to God.” 1 To appreciate Julian’s image of the “thre woundes,” it is helpful to read how she articulated her desire for the third gift in her shorter, and generally understood to be, earlier, Short Text:

For the thirde, I harde a man telle of halye kyrke [church] of the story of Sainte Cecille, in the whilke shewinge I understode that she hadde thre woundes with a swerde in the nekke, with the whilke she pinede to the dede. By the stirrings of this, I conseyvede a mighty desire, prayande oure lorde God that he wolde graunte me thre woundes in my life time: that is to saye, the wounde of contrition, the wounde of compassion, and the wounde of wilfulle langinge to God. 2

The Short Text reveals that Julian’s reference to the “thre woundes” is rooted in the story she heard a churchman tell of the 3rd century Christian martyr, Cecilia. As indicated above, Cecilia is said to have died from wounds she sustained after her executioner tried to behead her. Striking her three times, and failing in his mission, the executioner departed. The saint lived an additional three days during which she gave all that she had to the poor and preached the faith continually.  Julian’s mention of “Sainte Cecille” is worthy of note, because the martyr is one of the very few figures she mentions by name – apart from Jesus and other biblical figures – in either of her texts.

In her use of the image of “wound,” Julian would seem to be drawing on ancient associations with martyrdom, and specifically the martyrdom of an early Christian woman. The image of the wound has a long, long history in Christian discourse, and by the time it was received by Julian and her contemporaries, it had been invested with layers and layers of meaning. One of the primary sites around which these investments were made was the Song of Songs, that most unique text in Holy Scripture. Early Christian commentators such as Origen of Alexandria populated it with spiritual, and indeed, mystical, significance. And while Origen certainly explores the image of the wound in his commentary on the Song of Songs, it is in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans that we find a moment which poignantly speaks to Julian’s use of it, and her association of it with Saint Cecilia. In this teaching, the Alexandrian exegete creatively weaves together the language of martyrdom with that of the Song’s love poetry in a manner that provides an apt context within which to appreciate the ancient Roman martyr whose neck is said to have been remarkably resistant to the sword of her executioner. Here Origen is reflecting on the epistle’s eighth chapter where Paul asks: “Who will separate us, then, from the love of God? Will affliction or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or the sword?” (8.35). The Alexandrian writes:

An earthly sword cannot terrify me, because I have a stronger one with me: ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ And with me it is ‘the living and effective word of God,’ which is more penetrating than any sharp double-edged sword. Therefore, if a sword of this world comes down over my neck, it procures for me greater love toward God ….  For if I live my entire life in the midst of persecutions and dangers, I shall say ‘the sufferings of this time are not worth comparing with the future glory about to be revealed to us.’ Surely the time of this life that we spend involved in persecutions is brief and fleeting, but the time we look forward to spending in glory is eternal and perpetual. And for this reason [Paul] says, ‘In all these things we overcome,’ not by our virtue, but ‘through him who loved us.’ For when we weigh his love, we do not receive the sensation of the pain. For his love with which he has loved us and seized our affection to himself causes us not to feel torture and pain. For this reason, then, ‘in all these things we overcome.’ The bride in Canticles says something similar to this to the Word. ‘I have been wounded [vulnerata],’ it says, ‘by his love [charitate].’ In this way as well, then, our soul, having received the wound of love [vulnere charitatis] from Christ, will not feel the wounds the flesh [vulnera carnis], even if it should hand the body over to the sword, on account of his wound of love [vulnere charitatis]. 3


  1. Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, Eds, Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, Long Text, chapter 2, lines 33-36, page 129.
  2. Julian of Norwich, The Writings of Julian of Norwich, Eds, Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, Short Text, section 1, lines 36-41, page 65.
  3. Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Books 6-10. Translated by Thomas P. Scheck. Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 2002, pages 98-99. We have access to Origen’s commentary through its translation into Latin by Rufinus (344/345–411). See Patrologia Graeca, Edited by J. P. Migne. 162 volumes. Paris, 1857-1886. Volume 14, columns 1131-1132. In her, Story of a Soul, Thérèse of Lisieux writes: “We had to carry off some souvenir from the Catacombs; having allowed the procession to pass on a little, Celine and Thérèse slipped down together to the bottom of the ancient tomb of St. Cecilia and took some earth which was sanctified by her presence. Before my trip to Rome I didn’t have any special devotion to this saint, but when I visited her house transformed into a church, the site of her martyrdom, when learning that she was proclaimed patroness of music not because of her beautiful voice or her talent for music, but in memory of the virginal song she sang to her heavenly Spouse in the hidden depths of her heart. She became my saint of predilection, my intimate confidante. Everything in her thrilled me, especially her abandonment, her limitless confidence … St. Cecilia is like the bride in the Canticle; in her I see ‘a choir in an armed camp’ [Song of Songs 7.1] Her life was nothing else but a melodious song in the midst of the greatest trials, and this does not surprise me because ‘the Gospel rested in her heart,’ [evangelium … gerebat in pectore] and in her heart reposed the Spouse of Virgins.” (Story of a Soul. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Translated From the Original Manuscripts by John Clarke, O.C.D. Third Edition. Washington, D. C.: ICS Publications, 1996, pages 131-132.) In notes for a series of monastic conferences offered at Gethsemani between 1961-1964, TM reflects on Origen’s role in developing the image of “the wound”: “Origen … introduces the idea of ‘the wound of love’ … In the Oriental Church a mystic is referred to as ‘a man kissed by God’… [F]or Origin, the martyr is the one perfectly united to the Word in mystical marriage. This idea of union with the Logos through union in love and suffering with Christ, the Word Incarnate, is the most fundamental idea in all Christian mystical theology.” (A Course in Christian Mysticism: Thirteen Sessions with the Famous Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton. Edited by Jon M. Sweeney. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2017, page 38).

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