The Great Deed
As a result of the Thirteenth Revelation, Julian of Norwich understood that:
There is a deed which the blissful trinity shall do in the last day, as to my sight. And what the deed shall be and how it shall be done, is unknown by all creatures who are beneath Christ, and shall be till it shall be done. The goodness and the love of our lord God wills that we know that it shall be. And his might and his wisdom, by the same love, will conceal and hide it from us, what it shall be and how it shall be done. And the reason why he wills we know it thus is because he wills we be the more eased in our soul and at peace in love, leaving the beholding of all tempestes [agitations and tumults] that might prevent us from truly rejoicing in him. This is the great deed ordained by our lord God from without beginning, reassured and hidden in his blessed breast, known only to himself, by which deed he shall make alle thing wele. For as truly as the blessed trinity made alle thing of nought, right so the same blessed trinity shalle make wele alle that is not wele.
The monumental Revelation that Julian received concerning the Great Deed does not explicitly answer her questions (or ours) about why evil was allowed to come into the world, nor how sin is behovely [necessary], nor how evil will finally be overcome. This crucial section does not even appear in the Short Text. Yet it became paramount in Julian’s soteriology (her understanding of how God saves) over the course of several decades of contemplation on the Thirteenth Revelation.
Julian specifies that the Great Deed “is unknown by all creatures who are beneath Christ.” The Blessed Virgin does not know, nor do the angels and saints know, what the Great Deed will be and how it will be done. Yet Julian is sure that Christ wants everyone to know that there will be such a deed that will finally make all things well. In his trinitarian might, wisdom, and love, Christ does not wish us to speculate about what it is and how it will be accomplished because he does not want us consumed by torturous imaginings “that might prevent us from truly rejoicing in him.” Simply receiving the Revelation that there will be a Great Deed should give sufficient comfort to our souls and enable us to be at peace and live in love.
The Great Deed has been ordained “from without beginning,” and while we know by faith that Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection make all things well ultimately, it seems Julian is implying another divine action here. It has been suggested that she might be anticipating a decree of universal salvation and the emptying out of hell. But Julian in no way hints at or dares to imply this possibility, much as we might like to read such an interpretation into her text. On the contrary, she does not speculate at all and perhaps neither should we. Suffice it to say that Julian compares the Great Deed with the act of creation itself: as the Trinity creates all things from nothing, so the Trinity “shalle make wele alle that is not wele.”
The key to Julian’s ongoing explanation is that the Lord showed her two separate realities. The one, human reality, we experience mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually every day, with both its joys and its sufferings, its blessings and its curses. This reality is constantly in flux, ever-changing from moment to moment for good or for ill. Therefore, it is always fraught with uncertainty, hidden dangers, the pain of dissolution. Nothing lasts. In this reality, we think and feel and make countless choices, some right, some wrong. We try to create safe havens of light and peace and love, but at the same time we are tossed about by conflicts, within and without, over which we have no control. This is what we call our “life.” But it is only one way of existing. This earthly life is not the whole of reality. And it is continually darkened by our deep ignorance about the other Divine Reality.
Divine Reality is God’s own life in trinitarian bliss. When we are wrenched away from what we call our “life” and resurrected as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, our minds will become illuminated through and through with God’s life. Then we will be able to see and experience the ever-new creation as it pours forth from the Word of God in perfect wisdom and love. Then it will be made clear what we cannot possibly fathom now: how the resurrection (Christ’s, and ours-to-come in Christ) has changed everything. Then we will truly have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16, cf. Phil 2:5) to be able to witness the Great Deed, whatever it will be, and to see that “alle manner of thing shalle be wele.” Once our minds and hearts are completely transformed and incorporated into Christ’s own mind and heart, we will be able to rest in contemplation of the central mystery of the Trinity. This alone is eternal happiness.
Yet even now our efforts to persevere in hope can enlighten our minds and reassure our hearts. Faith can enable us to believe that this, even this, illness or tragedy -- or pandemic or war -- will be transformed by Christ. Even now Divine Reality is constantly impinging on human reality through the outpouring of grace, like shafts of sunlight reaching deep into the thick, dark forest of our minds. During her Revelations and in the years-to-come of contemplation, Julian glimpsed this Divine Reality and gained profound insights concerning its nature. But she could not rest in the promise Christ gave her concerning this Reality until she had first allowed him to calm the raging tempestes of doubts and terrors that plagued her very human soul.
As we approach Pentecost Sunday, let us ask the Holy Spirit to descend into our hearts and teach us how to dwell more peacefully and contemplatively in Divine Reality, trusting that the Creator who made all things well “in the beginning” will make all things well “in the end.”
NOTE: Excerpts above and translations from the Middle English are from my book, Julian’s Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books. 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf
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All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.