Monday, March 24, 2014

Did Julian of Norwich Teach Universalism and Deny the Doctrine of an Eternal Hell?

By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong (3-24-14)

In working on my book, Quotable Mystics and Contemplatives, I included Julian of Norwich [female] (c. 1342-c. 1416) and her book, Revelations of Divine Love

Later on Facebook, someone brought up the fact that it is claimed that she was a universalist (the belief that God saves everyone and/or that there is either no hell at all or that it is emptied at some point). I responded:
I didn't see any universalism when I went through her main book. People see a lot of things if they don't read in context.

The Bible and Christianity overwhelmingly (minus a few groups like Seventh-day Adventists) teach that hell is eternal and that unrepentant sinners will be tormented there forever. 

A quick search of Google reveals many sites making the false claim about Julian. But a search of her actual book shows otherwise. I did just that: doing a manual word search of her book, Revelations of Divine Love, in its plain text format (all of it on one web page). Here is what I found:
. . . I knew well that It was strength enough for me, yea, and for all creatures living, against all the fiends of hell and ghostly temptation. (ch. 4)

A universalist would not acknowledge a continuing hell, as she does here. Most would not mention hell at all. 

The dearworthy blood of our Lord Jesus Christ as verily as it is most precious, so verily it is most plenteous. Behold and see! The precious plenty of His dearworthy blood descended down into Hell and burst her bands and delivered all that were there which belonged to the Court of Heaven. (ch. 12)

I believe this is actually a reference to Hades, or Sheol, not hell. Unfortunately, KJV and some Catholic texts (e.g., "descended to hell") continue to use "hell" for this intermediate state that is neither heaven nor hell, but rather, what is called the netherworld or sometimes, the "limbo of the fathers." Jesus went there and took the saved to heaven. That's what she means here: God took all who belonged to heaven; not all to heaven. Big difference! But for those unfamiliar with this "hell" / "Hades" confusion, of course it could read as universalism.

For more on this aspect., see the Protestant apologetic paper, Did Jesus descend into Hell or Hades after he died on the cross? and the Catholic article, Did Jesus Really Go to Hell? by Stephen Beale (Catholic Exchange, 29 March 2013). Also, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.480 Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom":481 "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell."482 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.483

Footnotes480 Cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13.
481 Cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.
482 Roman Catechism I, 6, 3.
483 Cf. Council of Rome (745): DS 587; Benedict XII, Cum dudum (1341): DS 1011; Clement VI, Super quibusdam (1351): DS 1077; Council of Toledo IV (625): DS 485; Mt 27:52-53.

In chapter 27 is a statement that many have wrongly interpreted as indicating universalism: 

And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth [95] that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved.

"all that shall be saved" nor "any that shall be saved" implies, let alone requires, that all persons are saved. If, e.g., I'm a coin collector and refer to "all the coins that shall be saved," I'm not saying that I save all coins. And "any that shall be saved" is an even clearer indication of limitation, not universality.

In any event, Julian of Norwich makes a very clear statement of eternal condemnation in hell five chapters later:  

And in this sight I marvelled greatly and beheld our Faith, marvelling thus: Our Faith is grounded in God's word, and it belongeth to our Faith that we believe that God's word shall be saved in all things; and one point of our Faith is that many creatures shall be condemned: as angels that fell out of Heaven for pride, which be now fiends; and man in earth that dieth out of the Faith of Holy Church: that is to say, they that be heathen men; and also man that hath received christendom and liveth unchristian life and so dieth out of charity: all these shall be condemned to hell without end, as Holy Church teacheth me to believe. And all this [so] standing, methought it was impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord shewed in the same time. (ch. 32; my bolding)

She accepts Church teaching (ch. 33):

And yet in this I desired, as [far] as I durst, that I might have full sight of Hell and Purgatory. But it was not my meaning to make proof of anything that belongeth to the Faith: for I believed soothfastly that Hell and Purgatory is for the same end that Holy Church teacheth, . . . 

Other more-or-less passing references indicate that she casually accepted the existence of hell:
For if afore us were laid [together] all the pains in Hell and in Purgatory and in Earth—death and other—, and [by itself] sin, we should rather choose all that pain than sin. (ch. 40)

For I thought in sooth were I safe from sin, I were full safe from all the fiends of hell and enemies of my soul. (ch. 49)

. . . all the pain that is in hell. (ch. 76)

Don't be fooled by those with an agenda: to bolster up heresies by recourse to quotes out of context and wholesale distortion of a person's beliefs. The universalists (like radical homosexual activists and feminists) are notorious for distorting biblical passages as well as the teaching of historic Christians. Now, with Google Books and Internet Archive and other online sources for books available, it's very easy to do a search just as I did, for key words, and to read in context as well. More than ever, we can learn on our own, and free ourselves from the distortions of mere controversialists and propagandists.

Elsewhere, she makes it very clear that she accepts all Church teaching:
But in all things I believe as Holy Church believeth, preacheth, and teacheth. For the Faith of Holy Church, the which I had aforehand understood and, as I hope, by the grace of God earnestly kept in use and custom, stood continually in my sight: [I] willing and meaning never to receive anything that might be contrary thereunto. (Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 9)

God shewed full great pleasance that He hath in all men and women that mightily and meekly and with all their will take the preaching and teaching of Holy Church. For it is His Holy Church: He is the Ground, He is the Substance, He is the Teaching, He is the Teacher, He is the End, . . . (Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 34)

Therefore, in summary:

1) She says she accepts "all" Church teachings.

2) She says she would never hold anything "contrary thereunto."

3) She states that the Church teaches about a hell and condemnation of men to same.

4) She makes several plain statements about hell and her belief in it.

5) The two supposed "proofs" of universalism in her writing are based on a misunderstanding of the hell / Hades distinction, and her words taken out of context and made to mean what they don't appear to mean in context (reading into them what ain't there).

6) Ergo, she believes in hell herself and disbelieves in universalism.

How anyone could conclude otherwise, given the data here, is beyond me. 

* * * * *


Edward T. Babinski said...

Dave, Hey! Julian of Norwich claims to have rec'd a universalist vision but she didn't dare say the church teaching was wrong which in her day would have led to her execution by the church she loved. See below. Also, if you are right, C. S. Lewis misread what Julian wrote and he's a medievalist. And Julian's biographers also misread her. If you cited her full statement and also noted how she writes as though she is amazed by her vision, and asks, "how can that be so?" you get the point that it's a universalistic vision that she claims to not be able to fully comprehend: "And all this [so] standing, methought it was impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord shewed in the same time."

Edward T. Babinski said...

'Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that I needed to know, answered with this assurance: “Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

'It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done.--This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.
And I wondered greatly at this revelation, and considered our faith, wondering as follows: our faith is grounded in God’s word, and it is part of our faith that we should believe that God’s word will be kept in all things; and one point of our faith is that many shall be damned,--And given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well, as our Lord revealed at this time. And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: “What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well.”'

[SOURCE: Both quotations are from the so-called “Long Text,” and they occur in Julian’s account of her 13th revelation. The first quotation is from Chapter 27 of the Long Text, and the second is from Chapter 32. The modern English is from Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text and Long Text), trans. Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin, 1998). The first quotation is from page 79, and the second quotation is from pages 85-86. The original Middle English versions of these passages can be found in A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, Part Two, ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978). That edition is the one usually cited in scholarly works on Julian. The first quotation is from page 405, and the second is from pages 423-26.]

Edward T. Babinski said...

It is believed that Julian of Norwich was born in or around Norwich, England, and in her youth would have seen half of the city’s population die of the plague, and rot in the streets before being dumped into pits. She lived a very hidden sort of life. But she could have been married and had children, and possibly some of them died during the “Black Death,” and probably her husband did. She was about thirty-years-old when she had the visions. It was also the time of the Hundred Years War between France and England, when violence and death were part of everyday life. Julian decided to become an anchoress at St. Julian’s church and that is why she adopted the name of “St. Julian” as her own. Julian’s perceptions of theology are still studied today. She accepts there is a “hell” but no one could be there because no one willingly consents to sin. There’s a part of the soul, she says, that never consents to sin. So she also has the idea that God, having sent his only son down to be crucified, pays for all sins past, present and future, and a God who would do that, couldn’t possibly condemn anybody to hell. Furthermore, she was certain enough and brave enough to write down such unorthodox theological ideas at a time when heretics were being burned at the stake, sometimes just across the river and within sight of where she lived as an anchoress.
[SOURCE: DVD, "Julian of Norwich" from the series, "Mystic Women of the Middle Ages." Producer: David Wesley. Writers: Dr. Anne Savage, Dr. Kathy Garay, and, David Wesley. Redcanoe Productions (2000), Films for the Humanities and Sciences, #11058

Dave Armstrong said...

Now, why don't you deal with the arguments I actually made in the paper, Ed? If you're so correct, certainly you can dispose of those with no problem.

But dialogue for you seems to be an extreme difficulty, since all the time I've known you, you have been great at one-way lecturing, and pitiful at interacting with an opposing argument.

If the pattern holds, you'll simply ignore this (if you even read it at all) and go your merry way, having made your "blast."

Ball's in your court now.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dave, I did not say anything strongly negative about you in my recent comments I simply mentioned that your interpretation differed from that of some other people's. Also, the largest portion of the three comments I left were from the writings of Julian of Norwich herself and one long paragraph of additional information about her by Dr. Anne Savage, Dr. Kathy Garay, and, David Wesley from the video series, "Mystic Women of the Middle Ages." Is that me being personally "difficult," "pitiful" and "one way lecturing?"

Edward T. Babinski said...

Truly meaning to be friendly and not "condescending" at all, however, searches for Julian of Norwich and universalism at google books and scholar show that scholars view the visionary message that she allegedly received from Jesus as being universalistic, and admittedly she did not abandon the teachings of the church about hell because of that vision but she did share descriptions of her love-filled visions by writing them down, and also admitted she was struggling to understand them, so her own views are sometimes described as proto-universalist, or, in an endnote in The Unbounded Community: Papers in Christian Ecumenism in Honor of Jaroslav Pelikan, "trembles on the brink of universalist heresy, then clearly moves squarely into universalism in ch. 27, 32-34 [of Revelations of Divine Love]." Also, 'While discussing the 14th showing, Julian talks about two judgments – the “high judgment” of God and the “low judgment” of the church... Julian never really resolves her dilemma but confirms the “Christian obligation to live in the hope that [hell] is or shall be an empty place, so that in the end, as Julian never tired of saying, all shall be well.” She acknowledges the limits placed on our capacity to see how these two contrary sources of understanding can be resolved and says, However impossible it is to understand: woe turns to weal, health emerges from the heat of hell. Do not fear to trust Christ’s promise – wonders such as this happen all the time.' Also, Julian says, “It is absolutely impossible that God should be angry. Anger and friendship are mutually opposed," and, “It was the more surprising that I should see the Lord God regard us with no more blame than if we had been as pure and holy as his angels in heaven,” which led to her struggling to understand how God views human sin, which the church taught was a primary human failing. But, she asked, if that were true, “how is it that I cannot see this truth in you, my God and Creator, in whom I long to see all truth?” F. Beer, the author of Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, agrees that Julian saw no wrath in God, for she wrote, “I saw no wrath except on man's side, and He forgives that in us, for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love [so it cannot be in God, only in man].” According to Julian humans did not sin because they were evil but, because they were ignorant or naive, and sinning was part of a learning process (much like the view of universalist Christian George Macdonald). In order to learn we must fail, and in order to fail we must sin. So sin was inevitable in order to learn. She even went so far in portions of her writings as to say that it was inaccurate to speak of God's granting forgiveness for sins, because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong. She wrote that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when human souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer hinder us.

Edward T. Babinski said...

There's a book titled "All Shall Be Well" by Christian Universalist Gregory MacDonald (a pen name), who delves into the writings of Julian of Norwich in chapter 4, and a well written summary of the contents of that chapter (by a journalist and blogger) appears here:

Edward T. Babinski said...

When we started communicating with each other years ago it began in a friendly fashion on both our parts. I would like for us to always be able to press the reset button. As I recall, I had ran across your site and read your testimony there that prompted me to tell you about the book of testimonies I had edited of people who left behind conservative Protestantism (for either more inclusive versions of Christianity, more inclusive non-Christian religions, agnosticism or atheism), and you told me about the testimony book of people who converted to Catholicism in which your journey appeared. We both shared the experience of moving away from conservative Protestantism as well as Hal Lindsey's views. Not too long after we communicated you sent me an email saying that you had mentioned me on your blog because you read something of mine and you wanted to respond. And you wrote in friendly fashion: "Ed Babinski is a friendly Internet acquaintance of mine." You praised me further by saying that I had written some "huge, meticulously-and massively-researched [pieces], which are -- false conclusions entirely aside -- quite impressive," a compliment even with the backhanded remark about my "false conclusions." You said you wrote your piece because you were "in the mood lately to do some Christian-skeptic discussion," which is fine. You even urged any readers to "treat him [Ed] with kindness and charity if he does [respond], and to do our best to provide him with a good Christian example of discourse, politeness, and defense of the faith." That's great, and it's also the reset place where I would like us both to be able to go, forgiving seven times seventy any crude remarks made in the past. In fact, I would like to take back every crude remark I ever made as our "dialogue" on the topic of the psalms continued. But the fact remains we had no difficulty starting out as friends.

Dave Armstrong said...

Here are excerpts from my private messages to Ed:

1) Do you have answers for my arguments in the piece or not? You simply prove my point again.

* * *

2) Do you have arguments against my arguments in the paper or not? I gave several arguments for why Julian of Norwich was NOT a universalist.

* * *

3) I don't have difficulty being friends with anyone.

I'm still waiting for you to interact with my arguments in the paper, indicating that Julian was not a universalist at all.

This is what my gripe is. I don't know what is so difficult to understand about it. You have provided some arguments; at the same time you have not interacted with MINE.

And that was the method that I was objecting to. If you have any respect at all for someone else as a thinker, you interact with their arguments; extend that courtesy to them.

Edward T. Babinski said...

You presuppose that it is up to others to explain the hell passages in Julian's writing, when in fact they are easily explained by her being raised a devout Catholic. So what needs explaining is her vision of Jesus and the way she admits it perplexed her concerning Jesus' view of hell, which she did dare to share.

sarahdsm said...

LOL and woo-hoo! I've just finished listening to the first half of "Divine Revelations" courtesy of Librivox. Around a quarter of the way through, I took a break and googled "Julian heresy" out of curiosity; I knew little about her beyond the quotes I'd run into in Tozer before beginning the listen.

The google brought up a light little article about current U.S. views on Universalism, "just like Julian of Norwich," and I thought, what in the world are they talking about? I've just listened to a good bit of this (including most of what Edward has quoted) and did not interpret her that way at all.

Point 1: Her repeated references to "all who shall be saved" can, I think, only be given a universalist interpretation if one is apt to interpret Biblical passages the same way. I do not do so, but interpret those passages just as they are written. (yup, I'm a Calvinist.)

Point 2: Yes, Julian does say she struggles with the idea that "all things should be well." I did not draw a universalist conclusion from this struggle at all. For me (and I think for Julian also) this is one of those places where we have to put all of our trust in the ultimate and complete goodness of God and His plan, and confess that there are some things that belong to the Lord, that we as creatures do not understand.

Julian also says that, by the way. She also makes a statement somewhere (forgive me, but I was not listening with the intent of replying to a blog post and so did not keep notes about where and exactly what) communication along the lines of us not needing to look too deeply into specifics because His grace is sufficient.

I do love C.S. Lewis, but none of us are beyond error, are we? I would have to say that if he real Julian as a universalist, he was wrong.