On May 13, 1373, a thirty-year-old nun, near death from a painful, unspecified disease, had a series of visions. Twenty years later, feeling much better, she wrote down the visions so that God’s faithful people would be able to love and worship him more. And so appeared one of the classics in the genre of Christian Mystic writings, Revelations of Divine Love.
This review does contain spoilers; it’s not just a hallucination. Also, some of the images described below are somewhat graphic.
It may be Julian’s own fault that she had these visions. When she was very young, she asked God for three things: (1) an understanding of Christ’s Passion, (2) bodily sickness by age 30 to understand true suffering, and (3) three (figurative) wounds of contrition, compassion, and a steadfast longing toward God. And she received them all.
There were sixteen visions in all, fifteen occurring between 4:00am and 9:00pm on May 13, and one additional “be strong, God is with you” vision the next day. Most of the visions present some physical image of Christ’s suffering on the cross, but others are more cerebral. The visions included:
- Christ’s head bleeding from the crown of thorns he wore. Meaning: Everything is held together by God’s love, and so we should simply cleave to him.
- Christ on the cross. Meaning: Recognizing our foul sins, we are to seek God and behold him.
- God as a single, indivisible point. Meaning: God is in all things.
- Christ’s “plenteous” bleeding from the whippings he received. Meaning: Christ’s blood reaches to all, whether on earth or in Hell.
- The words, “Herewith is the Fiend overcome.”
- A stately feast at the Lord’s house in Heaven, with all his “dearworthy friends.” Meaning: There is a true bliss in being thankful to God.
- God moving her about twenty times, quickly, between states of comfort and pain. Meaning: God keeps us secure in times of “woe and weal.”
- Christ crucified, covered in dried blood, and enduring internal pain from having all his blood drained or dried. Meaning: Christ understands our pain, because he went through so much more.
- A little taste of Heaven, and of God the Father’s presence, who has no bodily form. Meaning: The joy and bliss of heaven will be worth all the earthly pain.
- The blood and water that flowed from Christ’s pierced side on the cross. Meaning: God’s endless love flows for us.
- Mary, and Christ’s love for her. Meaning: Christ’s love of Mary is proof of his love for us.
- Christ “more glorified.” Meaning: Our souls will never rest until we experience him at this level.
- A deep longing for God that is blocked by sin. During this vision, God told her to commit one sin so that he could show her his forgiving love.
- Prayer requires “rightfulness” and “sure trust.”
- A young child springs from a dead body and flies to Heaven. Meaning: “It is more blissful that man be taken from pain, than that pain be taken from man.”
- A worshipful city where Jesus was sitting as king. Meaning: Jesus rests in our souls forever.
It was easy to see how such visions could bring her both fear and encouragement. It probably brought those same things to the larger church as well, since some of the conclusions she draws from the visions are at odds with church orthodoxy, while others are exciting messages of God’s care for his people.
The book ends with a postscript by an unnamed scribe. He prays “Almyty God that this booke com not but to the hands of them that will be his faithfull lovers.” Somewhat restrictive, what? For my part, I encourage you all, “faithfull lovers” or not, to pick up this Christian Mystic text and enjoy its moments of bliss and comfort.
The Well-Read Man Project
For more information about this book, visit its Well-Read Man Project page.