The Comfort and Challenge of Julian of Norwich’s Showings for Contemporary Catholic Spirituality

  • Esther Sanborn Catholic Theological Union
Keywords: Julian of Norwich, Young Adults, Trinity, Spirituality, Image of God, Jesus as Mother, Motherhood of God, God as Mother


This paper attempts to reclaim a spiritual classic, Julian of Norwich’s Showings, for a contemporary Catholic audience.  I begin by introducing Showings and reviewing Julian’s use of maternal imagery for the divine.  Next I engage contemporary scholarship in a theological and historical-critical analysis of the text.  Then I suggest how Julian’s imagery of divine motherhood offers both comfort and challenge to contemporary Catholics.  I conclude that Julian’s Christ-centered Trinitarian theology has enduring value for Catholic spirituality.

Author Biography

Esther Sanborn, Catholic Theological Union
Esther Sanborn is a Bernardin Scholar enrolled in the E.D.Min. program, Spirituality concentration. The author has a B.A. from Canisius College, M.Div. from the University of Notre Dame, and Pastoral Ministry graduate certificate from Saint Xavier University. The author is certified as a campus minister by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Catholic Campus Ministry Association. The author is a former member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (Cleveland, 97-98) and is an Associate of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community.


Bɵrresen, Kari Elisabeth. “Female Godlanguage in Christian Spirituality.” In Spirituality and Society in the New Millennium, edited by Ursula King, 35-50. Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2001.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982.

Colledge, Edmund, OSA, and James Walsh, SJ. Julian of Norwich: Showings, Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.

Donohue-White, Patricia. “Reading Divine Maternity in Julian of Norwich.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 5, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 19-36.

Fox, Patricia A. “The Trinity: Gender and the Role of Dissonance.” In Gender in Theology, Spirituality and Practice, edited by Lisa Sowle Cahill, Diego Irarrazaval, and Elaine M. Wainwright, 95-101. London: SCM, 2012.

Gill-Austern, Brita. “She Who Desires: The Transformative Power of Subjectivity in Women’s Psychological and Spiritual Experience.” In Psyche and Spirit: Dialectics of Transformation, edited by W. W. Meissner and Chris R. Schlauch, 153-174. Lanham, MD: University Press, 2003.

Jantzen, Grace. Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 1992.

LaCugna, Catherine Mowry. “God in Communion with Us: The Trinity.” In Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna, 83-114. San Francisco: Harper, 1993.

Leclercq, Jean, OSB. Preface to Edmund Colledge, OSA, and James Walsh, SJ. Julian of Norwich: Showings, Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978, 1-16.

McAvoy, Liz Herbert. “‘The Moders Service’: Motherhood as Matrix in Julian of Norwich.” Mystics Quarterly 24, no. 4 (December 1998): 181-197.

Palliser, Margaret Ann, OP. Christ, Our Mother of Mercy: Divine Mercy and Compassion in the Theology of the Shewings of Julian of Norwich. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1992.

Pope Benedict XVI. “General Audience: Julian of Norwich” (December 1, 2010),

Pope Francis. “Text of Pope’s Interview with Italian Jubilee Publication ‘Credere.’” Zenit (December 3, 2015).

Reinhard, Kathryn. “Joy to the Father, Bliss to the Son: Unity and the Motherhood Theology of Julian of Norwich.” Anglican Theological Review 89, no.4 (2007): 629-645.

Schneiders, Sandra M. “Feminist Spirituality: Christian Alternative or Alternative to Spirituality?” In Women’s Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development, 2nd ed., edited by Joann Wolski Conn, 30-67. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1996.

Sheldrake, Philip, SJ. Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995.

USCCB Committee on Doctrine. “Statement on Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, by Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson” (March 24, 2011).