With no overtly evident guile and a voice infused with redundant humility, Julian of Norwich’s A Book of Showings successfully invades the male dominated forum of religious thought that existed in her day. She does this partly by using careful language and partly by employing the contemporary convention of affective piety. Together, these tactics effectively manipulate the reader into conceding the validity of her point of view.
Affective piety was a mode of religious observance during the Middle Ages whereby a Christian seeking a better connexion to Christ and the teachings of Christianity would attempt to personally identify with the physical injuries and stress endured by Christ during his Passion. An anchoress at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, Julian, took to affective piety quite naturally as her religious views and concerns were shaped by visions of Christ’s Passion she received when she was extremely ill. This experience, and the religious views it inspired in her, prompted her to write her A Book of Showings, wherein she recounts her visions and provides complex analyses of them.
Chapter three of Showings well establishes a link between Julian’s own sickness and the bodily suffering of Jesus Christ. “I would that his pains were my pains, with compassion and afterward longing to God,” as Julian puts it in the chapter’s final paragraph. By framing her own pain in terms of the socially acceptable context of deliberate compassion for Christ’s suffering, Julian establishes her experience and perspective as relevant. She has also avoided giving the impression that she is staking this rhetorical territory for her own intellectual goals by rendering her motivation as a desire to serve God’s will; “Then came suddenly to my mind that I should desire the second wound of our Lord’s gift and of his grace . . .”
After laying this groundwork, and reiterating it a few times, Julian ventures in later chapters to convey a radical theory. Starting by likening God’s love for, and nurturing of, mankind to the love of a mother, Julian eventually proclaims God to be a sort of mother; “This fair lovely word ‘Mother,’ it is so sweet and so kind in itself that it may not verily be said of none ne to none but of him and to him that is very mother of life and of all. To the property of motherhood longeth kind love, wisdom, and knowing, and it is God.”
By following rhetorical paths framed by humility and the conventional religious mode known as affective piety, Julian has effectively drawn her average, contemporary reader through his own beliefs and dispositions to reach a natural conclusion contrary to them. Julian is a woman, Julian’s suffering is like Christ’s suffering, and therefore it is not as startling to think that Christ may in some other way be like a woman. So, with methods that are almost peripheral, Julian elevates women to a social status equal to men, as the reader is forced to concede by her humble arguments that the being most commonly regarded as a father might just as likely, and more poetically, be regarded as a mother.
If anyone has any suggestions, I'll be more than happy to hear them.
I also have to read Philip Sidney's The Defence of Poesy to-day. At least I have Atomic Fireballs this time, though I'll hold off on those 'til I've finished my tea.
I've downloaded every Ramones album to-day. I haven't even finished listening to all the Led Zeppelin albums, not to mention all the Chuck Berry I downloaded, though in Berry's case I accidentally downloaded a bunch of collections. Generally speaking, I hate collections, but it's even sillier in this case as it means I have several folders with the same mp3s in different orders.
Digging the Ramones so far . . .