In a letter to his good friend Owen Barfield, dated June 2, 1940, Lewis invokes Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). Julian is a Christian mystic known for her 16 visions that she recorded in Revelations of Divine Love. From Norfolk, England, she is credited with the first book written by a woman in the English language.
Lewis tells Barfield, “‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well'” — This is from Lady Julian of Norwich whom I have been reading lately and who seems, in the Fifteenth century, to have rivalled Thomas Aquinas’ reconciliation of Aristotle and Christianity by nearly reconciling Christianity with Kant.
What does Lewis mean about Aquinas and Aristotle and Christianity and Kant?
As you know, Aquinas lived a bit before Julian, from 1225-1274. His legacy is one of philosophy, aiming to teach that reason is not in all parts opposed to faith, or, as Lewis says it, reconciling Greek philosophy to the heartbeat of Christianity. It’s all in careful steps, though. As he says in Summa Theologica, “It was necessary for our salvation that there be a knowledge revealed by God, besides philosophical science built up by human reason.”
Immanuel Kant lived after Julian, from 1724-1804. If Aquinas tries to bring reason into Christianity, Kant attempts (only in part and not solely his focus) to draw Christianity out into what he deems the larger landscape of reason and general morality. In his Critique of Practical Reason, he says, “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
Back to Julian: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” The anxiety of Aquinas and the pining away of Kant is brought into simple and eternally true focus in with Julian’s vision. I think that’s what Lewis saying to us.
His letter to Barfield continues. “The real difficulty is, isn’t it, to adapt ones steady beliefs about tribulation to this particular tribulation; for the particular, when it arrives, always seems so peculiarly intolerable,” he says. “I find it helpful to keep it very particular — to stop thinking about the ruin of the world etc., for no one is going to experience that, and to see it as each individual’s personal sufferings, which never can be more than those of one man, or more than one man, if he were very unlucky, might have suffered in peacetime.”
Julian presents her vision in the context of sin. In Chapter 27 of Revelations of Divine Love, she says, “After this the Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had to Him afore. And I saw that nothing letted me but sin. And so I looked, generally, upon us all, and methought: If sin had not been, we should all have been clean and like to our Lord, as He made us.” Is this the end? Where is the hope and peace in our particular trials and in the trials the entangle the world? She continues:
And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved. Then were it a great unkindness to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since He blameth not me for sin. And in these words I saw a marvellous high mystery hid in God, which mystery He shall openly make known to us in Heaven: in which knowing we shall verily see the cause why He suffered sin to come. In which sight we shall endlessly joy in our Lord God.