Julian of Norwich, Her Showing of Love and Its Contexts , Cloister Websites © Julia Bolton Holloway , 1997/2003



Hans Memling, 'St John Writing Revelation,' St John's Museum, Bruges
Reproduced with permission, Memlingmuseum, Stedelijke Musea, Brugge, Belgium

St  John of the Cross (1542-1591) was small in body, St Teresa calling him but 'half of a monk', though large in soul. Irrepressible, he made use of his monastery's recreation to discourse enthusiastically upon Pseudo-Dionysius ' negative theology. Imprisoned in 1577 by his fellow monks, who were resisting the reform of the Carmelites, he broke loose, coming to the nuns and reciting to them his epithalamium poem, in the style of the Song of Solomon, which became embedded in his Spiritual Canticles, Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul, and Living Flame of Love. St Teresa 's soul mate and companion, who wrote The Interior Castle, the Foundationsand the Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, he wrote once,

{ With God's Word
the pregnant Virgin
comes your way
if you give her lodging.

{ Del Verbo divino
La Virgen preñada
Viene de camino
Si le dais posada.
He also wrote out advice for religious men and women, whose task is to seek perfection, on how to achieve it really writing these words for himself. The observations are not original with him. They can be found, too, in St Ephrem, and also in the Golden Epistle which immediately precedes Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love in the Amherst Manuscript.


{I f any religious desires to attain in a short time to holy recollection, spiritual silence, detachment and poverty of spirit-where the peaceful rest of the spirit is enjoyed, and union with God attained; if he desires to be delivered from all the hindrances which created things put in his way, to be defended against all the wiles and illusions of Satan, and to be protected against himself, he must strictly practise the following instructions.

If he will do this, with ordinary attention, without other efforts or other practices, at the same time carefully observing the obligations of his state, he will advance rapidly to great perfection, acquire all virtue and attain unto holy peace.

All the evils to which the soul is subject proceed from the three enemies already mentioned: the world, the devil and the flesh. If we can hide ourselves from these we shall have no combats to fight. The world is less difficult, and the devil more difficult, to understand; but the flesh is the most obstinate of all, and the last to be overcome together with the 'old man'. If we do not conquer the three, we shall never perfectly conquer one; and if we conquer one, we shall also conquer the others in the same proportion.

In order to escape perfectly from the evils which the world inflicts, there are three things to be observed.


{T he first is, preserve an equal love and an equal forgetfulness of all persons whether relatives or not; withdraw your affections from the former as well as from the latter, yea rather more more from the former, on account of the ties of blood, for the natural affections which people feel for their kindred always subsists. You must mortify this affection if you are to attain to spiritual perfection. Look upon your kindred as strangers, and you will thereby the more completely discharge your duty to them; for by not withdrawing your heart from God on their account, you will fulfil your duties towards them better by not giving to them those affections which are due unto God.

Do not love one person more than another, for if you do you will fall into error. He whom God loves most is the most worthy of love, and you do not know who he is. But if you strive to forget all people alike-as holy recollection requires you to do-you will escape all error, whether great or small. Do not think about them; have nothing to say to them either good or bad. Avoid them as much as you possibly can. If you do not observe this, as things go, you will never become a good religious, you will never attain to holy recollection, nor will you get rid of your imperfections. If you will indulge yourself here, Satan will in some way or other delude you, or you will delude yourself under the pretence of good or evil.

If you will observe this direction you will be safe; and in no other way can you get rid of imperfections and escape the evils which result to your soul from intercourse with others.


{T he second precaution against the world relates to temporal goods. If you desire in earnest to escape the evils which worldly goods occasion and restrain your excessive desires, you must hold all personal possession in abhorrence, and cast from you every thought about it. You must not be solicitous about what you eat or drink or wear, or about any created thing whatever: you must not be 'solicitous for tomorrow', but occupy yourself with higher things-with the Kingdom of God, that is fidelity to Him-for all these things, as our Lord says in the Gospel, 'shall be added unto you' (Matthew 6.33). He who takes care of the beasts of the field will not forget you. If you do this you will attain to silence, and have peace in your senses.


{T he third precaution is most necessary, that you may avoid all evil in your relation with the other religious of the community. Many person from not heeding this have not only lost their peace of mind, but have fallen and fall daily, into great disorders and sin. Be especially careful never to let your mind dwell upon, still less your tongue to speak of, what is passing in the community, its past or present state. Do not speak to any religious in particular, do not discuss their condition or their conversation, or their actions, however grave, either under the cloak of zeal, or of remedying what seems amiss, except only to the one who of right should be spoken to, and then at the fitting time. If you lived among the angels and gave heed to what was going on many things would seem to you not to be good, because you do not understand them.

Take warning from the example of Lot's wife who, because she was disturbed at the destruction of Sodom, turned back to look at it. God punished her for this, and she was 'turned into a pillar of salt' (Genesis 19.26). This teaches you that it is the will of God, even if you were living among devils, you should so live as not to turn back in thought to consider what they are doing, but forget them utterly. You are to keep your soul wholly to God, and not to suffer the thought of this or that to disturb you.

Be sure of this, there is no lack of stumbling blocks in religious houses, because there is no lack of devils who are labouring to throw down the saints. God permits this in order to try them and to prove them, and if you are not on your guard, you will never become a religious, do what you may, neither will you attain to holy detachment and recollection, or avoid loss. If you live otherwise, in spite of your zeal and good intentions, Satan will lay hold of you in one way or another, and indeed you are already sufficiently in his power, when your soul is allowed such distractions as these. Remember those words of the apostle St James, 'If any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, this man's religion is vain'. This is applicable to the interior, quite as much as to the exterior, tongue-to thoughts as well as words.

Three precautions necessary to be observed in order to be delivered from the devil in religion.

If you wish to escape from Satan in religion, you must give heed to three things, without which you cannot be in safety from his cunning. In the first place I would have you take this general advice, which you should never forget, namely, that it is the ordinary practice of Satan to deceive those who are going on to perfection by an appearance of good: he does not tempt them by what seems to be evil. He knows that they will scarcely regard that which they know to be wrong. You must therefore continually distrust what seems to be good, and especially when obedience does not intervene. The remedy here is the direction of one whom you ought to consult. Let this then be the FIRST PRECAUTION.


{N ever set about anything, however good or charitable it may seem, either to yourself or to any other, whether in the community or out of it, except under obedience, unless you are bound to do it by the rule of your order. If you do this you will acquire merit, and be in security. You will be safe against yourself and against evil; you will also avoid evils of which you are ignorant, and of which God will require an account one day. If you do not observe this in little things as well as in great, notwithstanding your apparent progress, Satan will most certainly deceive you little or much. Even if your whole error consist in your not being guided in everything by obedience, you are plainly wrong, because God wills obedience rather than sacrifice (1 Kings 15.22), and the actions of a religious are not his own, but those of obedience, and if he withdraws them from the control of obedience, he will have to give account of them as lost.


{T he second precaution is a very necessary one, because the devil interferes exceedingly in the matter to which it refers. The observance of it will bring great gain and profit, and the neglect great loss and ruin. Never look upon your superiors, be they who they may, otherwise than if you were looking upon God, because they stand in His place. Keep a careful watch upon yourself in this matter, and do not reflect upon the character, ways or conversations or habits of your superior. If you do, you will injure yourself, and you will change your obedience from divine into human, and you will be influenced by what you see in your superior, and not by the invisible God Whom you should obey in that person. Your obedience will be in vain, or the more barren the more you are troubled by the untowardness, or the more you are pleased by the favour, of your superior. I tell you that a great many religious in the way of perfection are ruined by not looking upon their superiors as they ought; their obedience is almost worthless in the eyes of God, because influenced by human considerations. Unless you force yourself therefore to be indifferent as to who your superior may be, so far as your private feelings go, you will never be spiritual, neither will you faithfully observe your vows.


{T he third precaution against Satan is this: strive with all your heart after humility in thought, word and deed, taking more pleasure in others than in yourself, giving way in every thing to others, and doing so as far as you can from a sincere heart. In this way you will overcome evil with good, drive the devil away, and have joy in your heart. Deal thus with those who are less agreeable to you; for be assured, if you do not, you will never have true charity nor make progress in it. Be always more ready to receive instruction from any one than to give it, even to the least of your fellow brethren and sisters.


{I f you wish to be delivered from the uneasiness and imperfections of which the habits and conversation of the religious may be the occasion, and profit by everything that may happen, you must keep in mind that you entered the community to be mortified and tried, and that all those in authority in it are there, as in truth they are, for that purpose. Some have to mortify you by words, others by deeds, and others by what they think of you; in all this you are to submit yourself, unresisting as a statue to the polisher, the painter and the gilder of it. If you do not, you will never be able to live as you ought with the religious in the monastery; you will not attain to holy peace, nor will you escape from much evil.


{N ever omit any practices, if they are such as befit you, because they are disagreeable; neither observe them because they are pleasant, unless they be as necessary as those which are not agreeable. Otherwise you will find it impossible to acquire firmness, and conquer your weakness.


{I n all your spiritual exercises never set your eyes upon the sweetness of them and cling to it, but rather on that in them which is unpleasant and troublesome, and accept it. If you do, you will never destroy self-love, nor acquire the love of God.

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