February 16: Julian of Norwich

In chapter 60 of “A Revelation of Love,” Julian of Norwich calls Jesus “our mother.” How does she compare the way that a mother feeds a child and how “Mother Jesus” feeds us?¬†What do you think about this comparison? (i.e., does it differ from current views of Jesus, do you think that this view of hers has anything to do with her being a woman, etc.)

8 thoughts on “February 16: Julian of Norwich

  1. Julian of Norwich writes that “Mother Jesus” feeds us with himself. Julian is comparing the way a carnal mother would give her child physical milk to sustain him with the way Jesus gives of his spiritual blessings to foster a healthy spirit in his children. She writes that “Mother Jesus” feeds us with the sacraments. The sacraments thus are the means by which we attain a healthy spirit. Without the great blessings of partaking in the bread or the wine, we should be in a sense spiritually starved. I think her comparison is apt. She uses an illustration familiar with everyone to explain a difficult, abstract concept. Jesus to one spiritually starved would bring sustenance, just as a mother’s milk would ease the the starving infant.

    • I agree with what you’re saying here. I also want to further the idea that the Bible says in John 6:54-57 “54Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” This is right before Jesus is about to be arrested. Here He is blessing the food at the Passover. In this sense, Julian of Norwich is saying that not only is He providing for us spiritually but physically too. His blood washed our sins away and His body was broken and bruised to save us too. Also she could mean that the way Jesus loves us is at the same level that a mother loves her child.

  2. As Wilson noted, “Mother Jesus” feeds his followers with the sacraments like a mother feeds fer child. Julian of Norwich writes, “The mother may lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus, He may homely lead us into His blessed breast by His sweet open side” (363). Both give something from their bodies that helps the recipient live.

    I think this is consistent with some current views of Jesus. Many New Religious Movements, like Faithism and the World Mission Society Church of God, argue for a feminine side of God. This differs, however, from the traditional Christian view of a masculine God or a God that worshipers refer to with masculine pronouns.

  3. I think that an important part of the comparison between Jesus as a woman comes when Julian of Norwich says “we wit all our Mother’s bearing is us to pain and to dying; and what is that but our very Mother Jesus” (pg. 362). With this, Julian of Norwich is comparing the pain and potential death of childbirth to the suffering that Jesus enduring when he gave his life for mankind’s sins. Both have suffered a great deal and many cases mother’s sacrifice themselves, like Jesus, in order to bring new life into the world. In this sense, both Jesus and mothers are martyrs.

    I think that this does differ from current views of Jesus, mainly because we still see Jesus depicted as a man with a beard everywhere we look. Today, there would probably still be a pretty big backlash against a depiction of Jesus that gave him feminine characteristics. Most modern depictions of him still can’t even get his race correct.

  4. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, the “meek maid” that Julian of Norwich references here. From this “low place” Christ is formed by God in “our poor flesh” (pg. 362). Not only does Julian of Norwich assign Christ as a motherly figure in the way that he nurtures us not “with milk but with Himself,” but he brings us joy and takes on the most “grievous pains” in order for us to have that promised eternal life (pg. 362-3). In this way, Christ provides a motherly role because he serves as an extension of God that protects and nurtures us throughout life. I think this comparison to be quite accurate, but of the rest of the world I think it would come as unusual. I was raised Catholic and the Virgin Mary was always the one assigned motherly traits since she played a much more obviously maternal role in Christ’s life and history. On the other hand, Jesus is portrayed as strong and heroic, traits often associated with men more often then women. Therefore, I think it would be a little unusual if people today heard this description of Christ in this context.

  5. Julian of Norwich draws a parallel between how a “mother may lay [her] child tenderly to her breast” to the way our “tender Mother Jesus” leads us to “His blessed breast by His sweet open side.” (363). It feels strange imagining the tender image of a mother and baby in light of a bleeding crucifixion wound. Her perspective is strikingly different and I think she may recognize this herself because she even calls “the deep wisdom of the Trinity our Mother.” (362) The characteristics Julian describes in Mother Jesus seem intimately connected to her own experience with the Savior.

    This comparison offers a much different picture than the “mainstream Jesus” we see a lot of today. However, there is a bible out now called the “Inclusive Bible” that has an inclusive, non-sexist language translation. Also, some churches are now incorporating the words “Our Mother” into the Lord’s prayer.

  6. Julian’s comparison of Jesus to a mother is not language that is considered traditional by today’s conceptions of Christianity, however it must be noted, as in her biography, that this notion was not considered heretical. Certainly, Christ as mother figure is less emphasized than His role as Son, but it is not something wholly foreign to the Catholic faith- otherwise, the veneration of Mary as Holy Mother would not be ingrained so entirely to the religion.
    “…for He would all wholly become our Mother in all things, He took the ground of His work full low and full mildly in the maiden’s womb.”
    Although one might be tempted to see a feminist reading into the subtext, I believe that the Motherhead constantly referenced in this section is still of a patriarchal origin; for our anchoress’ thinking, if Eve came from Adam, so did maternity come from paternity.
    However, we must not think that there is no significance in this mystical writing- to emphasize the role of Mother in Christ over His divine power and glory is a stark contrast to other theological writings, and without a doubt, I believe Julian’s gender allowed her to interpret her visions in a unique manner.

  7. Julian makes a metaphorical comparison between the physical connection a mother has to her son, and the spiritual connection Jesus has to his “children.” “Jesus is our very Mother,” writes Julian, “not feeding us with milk but with Himself.” She adds, “The mother may hay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus, He may homely lead us into his blessed breast by His sweet open side” (362-3). A mother sustains a healthy (physical) life for her child through nutritional sustenance, similar to the way Jesus provides spiritual sustenance to His followers in order for them to maintain a healthy spiritual life. Moreover, Julian writes, “He would suffer the sharpest thorns and the grievous pains that ever were or ever shall be, and died at the last. And when he had done, and so born us to bliss, yet might not all this make a seeth to His marvellous love” (362). One could realistically compare the pain of childbirth to “sharpest thorns,” and just as a mother suffers tremendous pain for her child, so too does Jesus at the hands of those who crucified Him. Julian also says, “The kind, loving mother that wot and knoweth the need of her child, she keepeth full tenderly as the kind and condition of motherhead will. And is it waxeth in age she changeth her working but not her love. And when it is waxen of more age, she suffered that it be chastised in breaking down of vices o make the child to receive virtues and graces” (363). Julian directly compares the evolution of one’s relationship to his/her mother to one’s relationship with the church. Early on, the church/mother’s job is to love and teach their followers/children compassion and kindness. As the followers/children grow older and soon learn that compassion and kindness isn’t as universal as they once thought, and are thus tempted by other vices, so their church/mother responds by helping them destroy those vices and subsequently seek forgiveness.

    The reasoning behind Julian’s comparisons between Jesus and matriarchy are sound. The modern day interpretation of Jesus, however, would be as more of a brother to the Christian people, being a child of God, as are we, in accordance with the Bible. There is also a more explicit distinction between God as the Father, Jesus as His son, and the Virgin Mary as a figure of motherhood.

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