Janna Gosselin gave a paper at the Christian Spirituality Group’s session “Perspectives on Spiritual Direction: Historical and Contemporary” which took place during last November’s AAR conference. It was titled “Julian as Spiritual Director: Julian’s Theodicy of Sin and Soul Growth,” and here are the first two paragraphs:
The argument for reading Julian of Norwich as a spiritual director is not new. Margery Kempe was the first to make such a claim. In Margery’s book, she extolls Julian as an “expert” in spiritual matters who could give good advice. More recently, scholars have turned to Julian for guidance as well. Julia Gatta and Kenneth Leech have looked to Julian as an inspiration for spiritual directors. Gatta sees Julian as a director of both passion and compassion, who contemplates a God who suffers. Gatta addresses Julian’s view of “the larger, cosmic problem of sin” yet she finds hope in Christ’s assurance that “all shall be well.” In Soul Friend, Kenneth Leech, calling Julian one of the greatest spiritual guides of all time, astutely claims that, for Julian, God permits sin in order that good may be achieved. He notes that Julian “seems to mean by this that sins are disguised virtues for ‘in heaven what sin typifies is turned into a thing of honour’”.
In this paper, I will argue that Julian steps beyond both Gatta and Leech’s assessment of her theology of sin and soul growth. For Julian, Christ not only assures us that all will be well, and that our sin will be turned to good, but that the Holy Spirit will lift us higher than where we were before we had sinned in the first place. As Bernard McGinn has observed, Julian’s theology of sin can be likened to the notion of felix culpa, whereby Adam’s sin is a happy sin because, with Christ, we are left better off than we were before. Yet, Julian applies this concept to all of our sins.