Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
from Clifton Wolters’ translation (London: Penguin, 1966)
Lady Julian had asked “three gifts from God: (i) to understand his passion; (ii) to suffer physically while still a young woman of thirty; and (iii) to have as God’s gift three wounds.” (63) The three wounds she desired were “the wound of true contrition, the wound of genuine compassion, and the wound of sincere longing for God.” (64) On May 8, 1373, at age 31, being on the point of death, she received the last rites. Immediately following this, she received 16 revelations of God’s great love. The first revelations were of Christ’s Passion, and we shall today read about her eighth revelation.
The eighth revelation: the pitiful suffering of Christ as he dies; his discoloured face, and dried-up body
16 It was after this that Christ showed me something of his passion near the time of his dying. I saw his dear face, dry, bloodless, and pallid with death. It became more pale, deathly, and lifeless. Then, dead, it turned a blue colour, gradually changing to a browny blue, as the flesh continued to die. For me his passion was shown primarily through his blessed face, and particularly by his lips. There too I saw these same four colours, though previously they had been, as I had seen, fresh, red, and lovely. It was a sorry business to see him change as he progressively died. His nostrils too shrivelled and dried before my eyes, and his dear body became black and brown as it dried up in death; it was no longer its own fair, living colour
For at the same time as our blessed Lord and Saviour was dying on the cross there was, in my picture of it, a strong, dry, and piercingly cold wind. Even when the precious blood was all drained from that dear body, there still remained a certain moisture in his flesh, as was shown me. The loss of blood and the pain within, the gale and the cold without, met together in his dear body. Between them the four (two outside, two in) with the passage of time dried up the flesh of Christ. The pain, sharp and bitter, lasted a very long time, and I could see it painfully drying up the natural vitality of his flesh. I saw his dear body gradually dry out, bit by bit, withering with dreadful suffering. And while there remained any natural vitality, so long he suffered pain. And it seemed to me, that with all this drawn-out pain, he had been a week in dying, dying and on the point of passing all that time he endured this final suffering. When I say ‘it seemed to me that he had been a week in dying’ I am only meaning that his dear body was so discoloured and dry, so shrivelled, deathly, and pitiful, that he might well have been seven nights in dying. And I thought to myself that the withering of his flesh was the severest part, as it was the last, of all Christ’s passion. . . .
The comfort of looking at the crucifix; physical desire is not sin if the soul does not assent as well; the body will suffer until united to Christ.
19 There were times when I wanted to look away from the cross, but I dared not. For I knew that while I gazed on the cross I was safe and sound, and I was not willingly going to imperil my soul. Apart from the cross there was no assurance against the horror of fiends. Then a friendly suggestion was put into my mind, ‘Look up to heaven to his Father.’ I saw clearly by the faith I had that there was nothing between the cross and heaven to distress me. I had either to look up or to reply. So I made inward answer as firmly as I could, and said, ‘No. I cannot. You are my heaven.’ I said this because I would not look. I would rather endure that suffering until the Day of Judgement than to come to heaven apart from him. I was quite clear that he who held me so closely bound could equally well release me when he pleased. Thus I was taught to choose Jesus for my heaven, whom I never at this time saw apart from his suffering. I wanted no other heaven than Jesus, who will be my joy when I do eventually get there.
Ever since, this has been a great comfort to me that by his grace I chose Jesus for my heaven, and him in all his passion and grief. It taught me to choose only Jesus for my heaven, come what may. For, wretch that I was, I had already regretted having asked this favour. Had I known the sort of suffering it would involve, I should have thought twice about praying for it. But now I could recognize it for what it was: the natural demurring and reaction of the body. My soul was not protesting, nor was God blaming me. I was experiencing both regret and deliberate choice at one and the same time. And this was due to the two sides of our nature, outward and inward. The outward side is our mortal physical nature, which will continue to suffer and grieve all the time it lives—as I knew only too well! It was this part of me that regretted it all. The inward side is exalted and joyful and vital, all peaceful and loving. And deep down I was experiencing this. It was this part of me that so strongly, sensibly, and deliberately chose Jesus for my heaven. In this way I saw the truth that the inward part is superior to, and governor of, the outward, and that it was neither responsible for its desires, nor should it heed them, for its own intention is deliberately and eternally set on being united to our Lord Jesus. That the outward could draw the inward to conform to it was not shown me: rather it was shown that the inward should by grace draw the outward, that by the power of Christ both might be made eternally and blessedly one.
The indescribable passion of Christ; three things about his passion that we must always remember.
20 Thus it was that I saw our Lord Jesus languish a long time. For the union in him of Godhead with manhood strengthened the latter to suffer for love’s sake more than the whole of mankind could suffer. I mean, not only that he suffered more pain than they, but that the pain he endured for our salvation was more than the whole body of mankind from the beginning to the end of time could experience or imagine. We have only to contrast the worthiness of the most high and revered king, with his shameful, scandalous, painful death: he that is the most high and most worthy was the most fully humiliated and most utterly despised. For the fundamental thing about the passion is to consider who he is who has suffered. I began to think about the majesty and greatness of his glorious Godhead, now united with his precious, tender body; I also remembered how we creatures loathe to suffer pain. For just as he was the gentlest and purest of all, so too would the strength of his sufferings be greatest of all.
He suffered for the sin of every one who is to be saved: and seeing the sorrow and desolation of us all himself was made sorry through his kindness and love. Just as our Lady grieved for his suffering, so too he grieved for her sorrow—and more, of course, since his own humanity was by its nature more worthy. All the time he could suffer, he did suffer for us, and sorrow too. Now that he is risen and is impassible, he still suffers with us.
By his grace I saw all this, and saw that the love which he had for our soul was so strong that he chose to suffer quite deliberately and with strong desire, enduring what he did with meekness and long-suffering. For when a soul that is touched by grace can see it in this way, it sees indeed that the pains of Christ’s passion surpass all our pains; that is to say, all those pains which, by virtue of that passion, will be turned into supreme and eternal joys.
Three ways of looking at Christ’s passion; dying on the cross with Christ; his look banished pain.
21 As I understand it, it is God’s will for us to look at our Lord’s passion in three different ways. And the first is to see with contrition and compassion the severe pain he experienced. That was shown to me by our Lord at this time, and by his grace I was enabled so to see it.
I looked with all my might for the moment of his dying, and thought I would have seen his body completely dead. But I did not see him thus. And just as I was thinking that his life was about to finish and that I must be shown his end, suddenly, while I gazed on the cross, his expression changed to cheerful joy! The change in his blessed countenance changed mine too, and I was as glad and happy as could be. Then our Lord put this thought in my mind, ‘What point is there in your pain and grief, now?’ And I was happy indeed. I understood him to mean that we, through our own pains and passion, are now dying with him on his cross, and that as we deliberately abide on that same cross, helped by his grace, to the very end, suddenly his expression shall change, and we shall be with him in heaven. Between the one thing and the other no time shall intervene: all shall be brought to joy. This is what he meant by this revelation, ‘What point is there in your pain and grief now?’ We shall be blessed indeed!
I saw perfectly clearly that if he was going to show us now his joy and gladness there can be no pain, earthly or otherwise, that will trouble us, but that all things should bring joy and gladness. But because he shows it along with his cross and passion (as he had to endure it in his life), so we too must endure discomfort and hardship with him—as indeed our natural weakness necessitates. He suffers because it is his will and goodness to raise us even higher in bliss. In exchange for the little that we have to suffer here, we shall have the supreme unending knowledge of God which we should never have without it. The sharper our suffering with him on his cross, the greater our glory with him in his kingdom.