Note Taking on Julian of Norwich pt4

Marjorie Kempe was a contemporary of Julian and visited her and wrote to her.

In one letter Marjorie laments at the end of a thought about sin:  “Alas that I ever did sin. It is full merry in heaven.”

This is insightful because of the way this perspective compares with Julian.

Julian said there are Three Knowledges:

  1. To know God
  2. To know ourselves (that we are through Him in nature and grace).
  3. To know our sin and weakness

Julian says, “sin is absence or privation of good, a nullity or non-entity.”  (cf. Negative Theology)

Sin is rarely deliberate evil, but most often ignorant or well-intentioned, and the like.

Thus Julian goes further than Marjorie, when she asks, “Why was there ever sin at all?”

She called sin “the unadorned word,” which is all the more amazing after the fantastical metaphor she uses to describe Christ’s Passion.

There is the idea that sin can’t be recognised except by the suffering it causes, “God doesn’t blame me for my sin.”

Three things:

  1. Sin is behovely (necessary, fitting, inevitable, appropriate)
  2. Sin is negativity
  3. Suffering purges and develops us
    1. God responds with pity not blame
    2. God doesn’t blame us


She rejects the notion of blame in the context of sin, which is interesting given that humans are so prone to blame, finger pointing, scapegoating (cf. Rene Girard).

By this she advocates a “spirituality of responsibility” whereby complicity in a sinful deed is as good as doing it.  For example, in the Stephen Lawrence murder, it wasn’t just the one person who killed Stephen who becomes guilty of his murder, but the others who caused the actual killer to kill.

Reflecting on sin, Julian writes, “It will be turned into glory because of His passion.”  In this way, contemplation will save us from grumbling and despair, even if we deserve suffering.

Even though we are inclined to excuse ourselves of sin, and of those to whom we gain benefit, balance between excuse and grace become matters of judgement and wisdom.

Adam’s sin is a great sin.

Christ’s atonement is greater.

Generosity is the absence of stint:  Therefore give, live, serve unstintingly.

Stephen Cherry reflects:   Although the Catholic tradition has developed various forms of deadly sins or vices and lively virtues, we have nevertheless been weak on the vices of cruelty and snobbishness.  This is worth pondering on.

We concluded this session by listening to the really excellent song by Meg Barnhouse called ‘All Will Be Well.’


These quickly scribbled notes (which will contain my mistakes) come from my recent retreat at the Mary and Martha Society (Sheldon) in South Devon, led by Rev. Dr. Stephen Cherry.  The book we used was Revelations of Divine Love by Barry Windeatt.

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