March 24th: Julian of Norwich

The term “affective piety” is defined as a religious zeal in which the worshiper meditates deeply upon the emotional and physical sufferings of holy figures. After having read both the introductory material to Julian of Norwich and A Revelation of Love, how would you describe the influence of affective piety on Julian and her outlook? What kinds of rhetorical devices help Julian achieve this level of zeal and, finally, what could you say about her purpose as a medieval writer?

4 thoughts on “March 24th: Julian of Norwich

  1. I found another definition for “affective piety” that I thought was really helpful as well. It’s from Wikipedia, not sure how everyone feels about it but I thought it worked: “Affective piety is most commonly described as a style of highly emotional devotion to the humanity of Jesus, particularly in his infancy and his death, and to the joys and sorrows of the Virgin Mary.”

    It might be just my cultural conditioning, but the emphasis on the “humanity” of Jesus seemed to really influence Julian. I don’t mean that she ignored the supernatural aspects or the sort of cosmic view of things, I just mean that I felt like there was more of a link between God and people. That we shared some similarities and purpose maybe, that there was sort of a science of love that everything existed from. Julian seemed to have more of a humanist take on religion . I was in a jam and had to read an online version of this, so I’m not sure what the page number is in the Broadview, but this quote seemed pretty relevant:

    “The fulness, therefore, of a man’s life is to be measured by the number of persons and groups of persons in whom his affections are interested by the nature, depth, and variety of those affections, whether of sympathy or antipathy, of love or of aversion; and the whole movement and life of this world of wills, like that of motes in a sunbeam”

    This understanding of a person being driven by a “world of wills” and that a person was judged more by how much he loved than what specific actions he committed seem pretty revolutionary (even for many of the churches I’ve attended). Julian’s purpose seems to be to present an entirely different understanding of Christianity and spirituality as a whole (though she does believe that Christianity is ultimately the correct religion) by suggesting different motives- a beneficial life of love instead of a fear of Hell.

  2. Teamed with her near-dear experience, affective piety heavily influenced Julian Norwich, whose view on the divine is shaped around the transference of suffering. When describing her sixteen deathbed visions in her essay A Revelation of Love, she invokes the “ghost” motif several times, connecting her own sick and ghostly condition to internal “ghostly suffering” God imparts on those who suffer. We come to understand this motif firstly as a connection to Christ’s sacrifice; affective piety, in turn, means understanding one’s own suffering in relation to Christ’s, thus making suffering a spiritual gift of sorts. Julian also invokes imagery to make God into a tangible figure, as she describes him in great detail on pages 628-629 in human form. These rhetorical devices work as a way to show the function and importance of the Holy Ghost within the trinity. As Julian notes, “The Holy Ghost is even love which is in them both.” Considering love is important to Julian’s understanding of God as an intervening entity, we can best understand the Holy Ghost as the vehicle for affective piety, one which works to both transfer suffering and evoke God’s love. Overall, we can consider Julian of Norwich to be the medieval writer who set the framework for suffering as a means to connect with the divine.

  3. I believe that the influence of affective piety given Julian a more positive and accepting vision of physical suffering and illness. She believes her own illness and suffering to be a gift from God on which to meditate on the suffering of Christ. Her meditation is explained as: “And this I meant for I would be purged by the mercy of God and after live more to the worship of God because of that sickness” (p. 619); understanding the meaning of her suffering would bring her closer to God. In other words, she looks at the illness as a gift from God in order to understand what Jesus had to do for the greater good of all man; simply, if Christ can handle suffering on the cross, then man can endure suffering also through his strength. Julian’s recovery resolves itself with powerful imagery in the text; while meditating on Christ’s death on her own deathbed, Julian has a sudden recovery while gazing at an image of Christ. This symbolizes the power of faith in Christ and of affective piety; by meditating on Christ’s suffering, Julian was able to come to an understanding of true piety and was able to overcome her own illness with a faith in God. Julian also uses a more plain, straightforward speaking style which helps encourage the power of the story. It feel like a more personal experience than when reading a text in verse.

  4. Affective piety helps Julian cope with her own suffering. By understanding God’s suffering, she feels closer to Him. And this, in her eyes, gives her suffering meaning. She sees her suffering as a gift from God, and one that brings the two closer. She also considers Christ’s suffering on the cross in order to save humanity, which gives her the sense that her suffering serves a great purpose in her life and the world.

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