Maureen L. Walsh’s essay “Re-imagining Redemption: Universal Salvation in the Theology of Julian of Norwich,” addresses the rhetoric of universality and inclusivity of salvation in Julian of Norwich’s Showings. The essay focuses on the question of salvation in the Showings, but uses the argument of salvation, and different readings of salvation, to posit the larger, and more contentious, claim about Julian’s identity as a female mystic. Specifically, Walsh argues that Julian’s Showings develop “a theology of universal salvation,” which is read as a recategorization of the text (190).
Walsh argues that Norwich’s identity as a theologian has been overlooked because her Showings are written atypically and are not reflective of the traditional theologian structure or method. According to Walsh, Norwich retains her identity as a mystic, and should continue to be referred to as a mystic, but her work has theology qualities that bring its current categorization as a mystical work into question (191). Walsh highlights Norwich’s “openness toward the salvation of more than just Christians,” as the primary theologic claim made in her work. This, along with Norwich’s reconception of sin and redemption through similar ideas of openness, love, and forgiveness, challenge the church’s teaching, placing Norwich as a theologian outside of the authority and the teachings of the Church. Norwich’s assertion that “all will be well,” is in direct opposition to Cyprian of Carthage’s position that baptism is a prerequisite for salvation (192). She also argues that the experience of salvation is directly related to rest, bliss and union.
Walsh’s argument is well constructed, but it could have benefitted from a clearer definition of mystic and theologian. This could be an issue of ignorance on my part, but the difference between mystic and theologian, and discussing Norwich’s identity as a mystic who writes theology confused the argument. Related to this is the missing conversation of gender in Walsh’s article. Through a contemporary lens and a relativist lens, Norwich’s work can be read as a theologic text, but with historical context the male dominated field of theology would have been barred to women, particularly mystics. Walsh does discuss Norwich’s challenges as a female mystic, and the difficulties she faced as a woman writing against the church, but the discussion of gender was missing from Walsh’s later discussion of theology.
Secondly, Walsh’s article was critically fragmented and could have benefited from more synthesis between sections. The topic of theology, a key component of Walsh’s argument, was abandoned for the topic of salvation and bliss. These sections were clearly evidential, but both arguments were at odds. Walsh attempts to reaffirm both arguments by discussing Norwich’s subversion of the church, and presumption of authority, but the conclusion to these arguments is, intentionally, unsatisfying. Norwich continues to challenge the church and assert her claim that God’s teachings are inclusive, and salvation is open to everyone, but the author never clarifies her identity as a theologian or a mystic, or perhaps the point is that one can be both. And is Walsh's statement that Norwich can be a mystic and write theology at odds? Or is this a question of Middle English intersectionality?