Julian on the Non-dualism of Nature and Grace

Julian’s theology is decisively non-dualistic (as is that of all authentic mystics).  She is non-dualistic as we have seen when dealing with sensuality and substance, body and soul, matter and spirit, the Divine and creatures including the human (“between God and the human there is no between” she tells us). 

The Taoist “Taijitu (太極圖), with black representing yin and white representing yang, reflects the inescapably intertwined duality of all things in nature. No quality is independent of its opposite, nor so pure that it does not contain its opposite in a diminished form: these concepts are depicted by the flowing boundary between the black and white and the smaller circles within the large regions.” Gregory Maxwell on Wikimedia Commons.

Another dualism that she takes on, inherited from patriarchal theologians such as St. Augustine, deeply affected by Plato’s dualisms, is the dualism of nature vs. grace.  (A dualism picked up heavily by the Protestant reformers such as Luther and Calvin as well.) 

Wherever there is patriarchy and wherever the quest for imperialism reigns there will always be dualism just as there will always be control manias and pessimism, a breeding ground for cynicism and despair. 

But no such dualism that sets nature against grace is found in Julian. 

Like Meister Eckhart, who preceded her (he died thirteen years before her birth), who said “nature is grace,” and like Thomas Aquinas who preceded Eckhart and who turned his back on platonist dualism by choosing Aristotle over Plato because he does not denigrate matter and is not dualistic, Julian set out to heal that awful rift between grace and nature set loose by the platonic and neo-platonic influences on Christian theology. 

Moving through sacred waters. Photo by Elizabeth Gottwald on Unsplash

Julian says: 

Nature and Grace are in harmony with each other.  For Grace is God as Nature is God.

This would seem to drive the arrow into dualism itself and the distortions and disfigurements religion makes of our relationship to our bodies, our sexuality, our earthiness and the rest of creation in the name of a nature/grace mindset. 

Julian expands her teaching this way:

“Passion.” Photo by Charry Jin from Pexels

God is two in manner of working and one in love.  Neither Nature nor Grace works without the other.  They may never be separated. 

She simply demolishes the dualism of nature and grace.  This makes her a feminist for, as feminist theologian Rosemary Ruether points out, dualism is the mark of patriarchy and non-dualism lies at the center of feminist philosophy.

Julian reminds us that “we are indebted to God for our nature and grace.” Nature, she says, “comes from God…and no flaw or fault has been found in it.”

“Offering” Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Contrast this teaching with that of the very popular Thomas a Kempis, author of Imitation of Christ, who followed on Julian of Norwich and who tells us in his writing that, “every time I go into nature I withdraw from God.” 

Once again, Julian stands up as a champion of creation spirituality and as one who trusts nature and human nature.  Indeed, she often makes the point that faith means trust.  For example, she writes:

Faith is nothing else but a right understanding of our being—trusting and allowing things to be; A right understanding that we are in God and God whom we do not see is in us.

Translations from Brendan Doyle, Meditations with Julian of Norwich, pp. 107-109, 89.

See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 81-87, 208-219, 257-264.

Banner Image: “A 3D rendering of Indra’s net, an illustration of the Huayan concept of interpenetration.” Image by Schnerf~commonswiki on Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

Give your own examples of how nature and grace work in tandem and honor one another.

Have you come to the mature understanding, as Julian does, that faith means trust?  What follows from that awareness?

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