Review of EDWARD J CLEMMER, Julian of Norwich in Her Phenomenology: Her Spiritual Texts and Their Historical Contexts.

EDWARD J CLEMMER, Julian of Norwich in Her Phenomenology: Her Spiritual Texts and Their Historical Contexts. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2023. Pp. viii, 598. £70 (Hbk) 978-1-8007-9914-1, £70 (epub) 978-1-8007-9916-5.

This is one of the most thorough examinations of Julian, her Short Text (headed There is a vision showed by the goodness of God to a Devout woman, and her name is Julian), and her Long Text (headed Revelations of Divine Love) in print.

Following the Introduction, the book is in three parts: Introduction to the Historical Julian of Norwich; and The Short Text, The Amherst Manuscript, British Library, Additional 37,790 Analytical Transcription and Annotation; and Julian’s Long Text: Her Trinitarian Theology of Love.

The ten chapters forming Part One rather cleverly brake Clemmer’s scholarship on the visionary and her writings into ten time slots: up to and including 6 May 1373; Nine nights and days in May 1373; from Sunday 15 May 1373 to c.1393 (together with two other chapters on the same time slot); 1393-1418; 1623-51 and 1575-1641; 1651-70 and 1670; 1670-1902 and 1657-72; 1947-2016 and 1877-2015. If I add the subject matter, Julian aficionados can have fun matching these to the slots: vision, anchorite, Walter Hilton, The Cloud of Unknowing, Lollardy, Cambrai Benedictine nuns, Augustine Baker, Paris Benedictine nuns, Serenus Cressy, Edward Stillingfleet, English translations and modernisations.    

After this comprehensive historical section, the second part consists of a useful edition of the Short Text.

Part Three is an extended meditation on grace. Clemmer looks at three aspects: grace as divinisation (the unity of finite and eternal being); grace as charity (transformation in prayer by divine love); and grace as faith (life, love, light). This final part opens with an extraordinary section on Edith Stein and Julian. We don’t know if Stein ever had a copy of or access to Revelations and she does not refer to Julian in her published writings. A rather strange bed fellow!

The text is supported by the most exhaustive Bibliography on Julian ever printed. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that the Index leaves much to be desired with a number of lacunae.

We would not read Clemmer’s book from cover to cover, probably not even from the beginning to the end of a chapter (especially if one took into consideration the footnotes which on several occasions take up a whole page). And it is certainly not as accessible as I would hope a book for the general public should be. But it is useful to have such a feast of Julianalia in one publication. One might well take it off the shelf to look up a specific point and for this reason I hope, if the book is to go into its second edition, that the Index will be complete.


Curator of the Margery Kempe Centre, King’s Lynn

Hon. Sec. of the Margery Kempe Society

Book Reviews Editor, Medieval Mystical Theology


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published