Julian is the most popular of the English mystics. She lived as a Benedictine nun in Norwich, beside the St. Julian Church, from which she most likely took her name. Little is known about Julian's life. Julian's book Revelations of Divine Love entitled her to become the first great female writer in the English language. Despite her disclaimers of being unskilled as an author, she wrote lively prose in a style all her own. She was well trained in the Bible as well as the teachings of the Church.
Her theology is based on her mystical experiences. She became seriously ill at the age of thirty and in the midst of her suffering prayed for a vision of Christ's passion. Once in a time of prayer Julian heard the words, "I am the foundation of your praying"—words that greatly influenced her spiritual life. She always pointed to the goodness and love of God, a light in a time of darkness for Julian, who lived in an age of social unrest and fear of the Black Plague.
Joy is perhaps the keynote in her writings. She penned the famous saying, "All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Her writings have been called "the most perfect fruit of later medieval mysticism in England." The following selection shows both her intense desire and her sane reasoning. While her "revelations" may be hard for us today to identify with completely, they contain significant insights from which we all can learn.
Born in Prades, France, Thomas Merton had a trying and painful childhood—his mother died when he was six, and his father (an artist who moved from place to place, often leaving young Thomas unattended) died when he was fifteen. In his teens and early twenties Merton led a prodigal, sensual life in his search for fulfillment.
In his mid-twenties Merton experienced a profound conversion while attending Columbia University, and he joined the Roman Catholic church. At the age of twenty-six he entered Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky where he would live the rest of his life as a Trappist monk.
In 1948 he published The Seven Storey Mountain, an autobiography that mirrored the spiritual climate of the times. It quickly became an international best-seller. Merton went on to write many more books that made a significant impact on the face of Western spirituality. Known for his journal writing, meditations, and social critique, Merton continues to influence the late twentieth century in many ways.
Some criticize his attempts to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western spirituality, but he never surrendered his belief in the importance of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In the same vein, Merton also held a delicate balance between the inner and the outer life—contemplation and action. Because of this he was able to have an influence not only in the Church, but in the secular world as well. His accidental death in 1968 was a tragic loss, yet Merton continues to inspire countless men and women.
St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, was the great doctor of the Latin church. He was born in North Africa in 354, the son of a pagan father and a devoutly religious mother. He was brought up as a Christian and at the age of sixteen went to Carthage to complete his education in law. In 375 he became interested in philosophy and abandoned his Christian heritage. A skilled orator, Augustine was offered a professorship in Rome, where he founded his own school of rhetoric.
There he came under the influence of the philosophy of Plato and the teachings of St. Ambrose. After a long inner struggle he renounced his earlier philosophical beliefs and embraced the Christian faith. He then returned to Africa where he formed a religious community. In 391 he was ordained a priest (against his wishes) as the Vandals began an invasion of Hippo.
For thirty-four years he lived in this monastic community. He wrote a vast number of books and became known for his eloquence, logic, and spiritual passion. These three combined to make Augustine one of the most significant thinkers in the history of the Christian Church. Perhaps no one except St. Paul has been so widely read for so long. His theological insights shaped not only the age he lived in, but all the subsequent centuries of Christianity. It is difficult to find a theologian—from any age—who has not been influenced by the teachings of St. Augustine.