Julian of Norwich vs. William Wilberforce

Happy Monday! We trust everyone survived a day without Lent Madness and is ready to get back into the voting fray. We kick off the week with what will sure to be a hotly contested battle between Julian of Norwich and William Wilberforce. 14th century Mystic vs. 18th century Reformer. Who will move on to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen? Well, that's up to the global Lent Madness community.

Over the weekend, in the only Saturday matchup of Lent Madness 2016, Methodius defeated his brother Cyril. Lent Madness bracketologists will note that this was not the first brother vs. brother contest. In the first round of the 2014 Saintly Smackdown, eventual Golden Halo winner Charles Wesley dethroned his brother John. Thus there is indeed precedence for hagiographic fratricide.

As a reminder of how this whole process works, the Supreme Executive Committee, released the Ten Commandments of Lent Madness. We encourage everyone who thought pitting Cyril vs. Methodius was "unfair" to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these rules of the Lenten road.

Finally, some have asked where they can go to see previous results from Lent Madness 2016. Fortunately, we have an amazing Bracket Czar, Adam Thomas, who updates the bracket every day. If you click the Bracket tab on the website, you'll find an updated bracket along with clickable links to the battles that have already taken place. Scroll down on the same tab and you'll encounter the 2016 Matchup Calendar, where you can find out the precise date your favorite saint will be entering the Lent Dome to do battle.

Julian of Norwich


We know very little about Julian of Norwich. Her name is derived from the place where she devoted herself to a life of solitary prayer, study, and writing—the Church of Saint Julian. Her works date her life to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during a period of rampant epidemics of the Black Plague.

In 1373, at around the age of thirty, Julian suffered from a severe illness during which she had visions of Jesus Christ. She wrote them down immediately, and the 11,000-word text is believed to be the earliest surviving book written by a woman in the English language.

Around 1393, Julian explored the meaning of the visions in a longer version of Revelations of Divine Love. The book was widely read and is still embraced by both Catholics and Protestants as offering important and profound mystical insight into the nature of God. Julian believed sin was a necessary step to knowing one’s self and accepting God’s love. She taught that we sin because we are naive. To learn we must fail, and to fail we must sin.

She worried over the fate of those who were not raised in the Christian faith and had never heard the gospel. But she came to believe that God does everything in love, and therefore, “that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” possibly making her an early believer in universal salvation.

Julian described Jesus as a mother who is wise, loving, and merciful. She believed the bond between mother and child was the closest earthly relationship one could have to the love of Jesus. She also used metaphors of conception, nursing, and labor in connection with Jesus’ love, but at other times called him our brother.

Collect for Julian of Norwich 
Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— Amber Belldene

William Wilberforce


William Wilberforce was born on August 24, 1759. Family bequests left him independently wealthy, which allowed him to pursue a life of his own choosing. An affluent, educated politician and Christian who lived out his beliefs, Wilberforce defined himself through his devotion to dismantling slavery throughout the British Empire.

During a trip to the European continent, his spiritual life began to blossom, thanks to Bible reading and a commitment of service to God. Wilberforce’s embrace of Christianity prompted his interest in governmental and human rights reform.

Elected to the House of Commons in 1780 (a seat he held for forty-five years), Wilberforce was someone who commanded an audience. He was introduced to the horrors of the slave trade in 1787 by a group of anti-slave activists. His epiphany was stunning, and his dedication to abolishing slavery was lifelong. A journal entry indicated, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.”

His campaigns eventually led to the passage of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire but did not abolish slavery as a practice. Those who were already slaves remained so. Wilberforce was not deterred, and his efforts to completely abolish slavery throughout the empire continued. Poor health forced his resignation from Parliament in 1826, but he persisted in his crusade. Eventually, he was instrumental in the creation and passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which abolished slavery and emancipated all slaves in the British Empire.

Wilberforce died three days before Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act but was assured before his death that it would be ratified. Wilberforce died in London on July 29, 1833, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Collect for William Wilberforce
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— Neva Rae Fox

Julian of Norwich vs. William Wilberforce

  • Julian of Norwich (52%, 4,539 Votes)
  • William Wilberforce (48%, 4,180 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,719

Loading ... Loading ...

Julian of Norwich: Statue of Julian of Norwich by David
Holgate, west front, Norwich Cathedral. Image by
Poliphilo (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons


William Wilberforce: “William Wilberforce Rousseau”
by H. Rousseau - http://www.pro-medienmagazin.de/
fileadmin/pro_pdf/PRO_2012_05.pdf. Licensed under
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://


* indicates required

Recent Posts



310 comments on “Julian of Norwich vs. William Wilberforce”

  1. Such a difficult choice. Exemplars of the contemplative vs. the active ways of faithfulness. Either would have gone far, were they not matched against one another. being snowed in and in a more contemplative mood this morning, I'll cast my vote for Julian.

    1. No contest Julian it is! Or so I thought on first seeing the pairing. I searched for info on William and learned that while in this country for 2 1/2 months he encouraged the clergy to take better care of their congregations and was concerned about the plight of both slaves and Native Americans. But the tipping point in my decision to vote for him is that he founded the first lending libraries - where, presumably, one can find Julian's book!

      1. I disagree; this is a big contest. I voted for William; because I value doers over speakers. The doers are often forgotten because they don't leave an autobiography behind and after many years the changes a doer effected become the status qua and their contribution is forgotten.

        1. A bit on the mystical side. A woman who trusted God enough to rely on her faith as the ultimate resource and a cat too? There was a choice? I don't think so. It's. Julian all the way!

        2. I was going to suggest the same thing. The movie "Amazing Grace" is a wonderful look at Wilberforce, John Newton, and William Pitt and their efforts in legislating the slave trade. Also, Ioan Gruffudd is terrific in the role of Wilberforce!

        3. Jen:
          It certainly is a difficult comparison, as each was a force in their own time and own place. Both were "doers" in their own ways, and both were called by their deeply spiritual connection with God. This is one of those brackets where I will be happy with either saint advancing.

        4. Indeed there is no contest when a contemppative is matched against a doer. The vote has to go to Wilberforce!

    2. Julian gets my vote for time and place in history impact. Comparing "saints" 450 years apart lends new meaning to the term "cultural relativity"

      1. Yes, this was a really tough one. I was sorry to vote against Wilberforce. Both of these saints' teachings seem so needed at this moment in history, too.

    3. This one was hard for me, being female (WomanPower) and Black (BlackPower). I was torn
      Julian served through her faith and courage and with the intelligence and grace of a great Lady.
      William was a, loaded, wealthy , entitled, politician.
      And it's REALLY hard to think of ANY politician as a Saint.
      But he was an Abolitionist!
      Gotta LOVE a Brother who fights for the brothers.
      I voted for William!☺️

        1. Why, brothers have always fought brothers. Such a noble concept!

          Of course, it's kind of bizarre having a spoiled rich guy from the 1899s beating up on a mystical woman of centuries before -- Oh, I spoke too soon! Here come Saints Xena and Gabrielle to kick butt...

      1. In fact, many of us have ancestors who were slaves and not black. Look up the origin of the word "slavery". Let's not ruin this with gender and/or racial politics. Please.

    4. Agreed, two admirable examples, a difficult choice; but havin been fortunate enough to have visited St Julian's of Norwich, I vote for her.

    5. I too voted for Julian because her message and words are so moving and important. Though it was a very difficult choice because William's actions show just how important it is for Christians to be counter-cultural.

    6. William Wilberforce was an amazing man. Not only was he a fighter against slavery, but began the humane treatment of animals - helped found SPCA in Britain and advocated better treatment of the poor - he saw them as poor because of circumstances, not because God did not favor them, a radical idea at the time. Everyone should read Amazing Grace: the Life of William Wilberforce by Eric Metaxas. He was truly heroic, in the best sense. He must win!

  2. Wow! This is an even tougher pairing that Absolom Jones and Matthias! Ultimately I went with Lady Julian because I think her message that "all will be well" is something I need to keep repeating to myself and honestly I thought she was going to turn out to be the underdog (I don't look at the results until after I vote.) I was completely off on that prediction.

    1. the way it works on my computer, I can't see the results until I vote, ut I can read the comments.

  3. As much I love the work done by William Wilberforce, I was so touched by the words of Julian of Norwich. As one of those people who have sinned and feel only now that I'm beginning to understand the love of God, I was so moved by her assurance. So, it's a vote for Julian of Norwich. And yes, I'm going to look up her writings.

    1. I too will be voting for Julian. While William's work is to be commended and followed by all Christians when they see injustice and to be counter-cultural, I feel that Julian's message and words are equally important if not more so, for she teaches to not worry and take things as they came and that in the end God will take care.

    2. I had not realized that she had this marvelous view of sin and growth. A wise woman, for sure, and I have no doubt that Will would agree.

  4. I voted Julian because she had an illness and visions and she wears a scarf on her head.

    1. Thank you Oliver. I agree with you, and I also am thankful that Saint Julian wrote down what she saw and felt in her visions.

      1. I agree- It seems that Julian was quite a remarkable figure, but while her message is beautiful, Wilburforce gave his life for a cause that is so relevant in today's society, and for that reason I had to give him my vote as well.

        1. Wilberforce did a lot of good for society, but he died of poor health at the age of 74. Not quite the same as giving one's life for a cause. He did spend his entire life focused on bettering the lives of beleaguered people. A good vote.

          1. Oh I don't know...he could have stayed at home and rested and not stressed his health with political activities...but he didn't do that.

    1. Working to abolish slavery got my vote. I have always admired William Wilburforce so was glad to be able to vote for him.

  5. I too found this Monday vote a tough one. But, I find myself often quoting Lady Julian's "All will be well" statement, one which has comforted me and increased my faith.

    1. Yes indeed! This was a very tough choice....Air vs. Blood. I chose Julian because of the influence that her revelations has had on theological construction and consequent actions. Her action in writing opened the pathway to actions in liberation and sociological largess. Rambling on...

  6. With race issues and modern day slavery still so much with us, I today pray for a champion like Wilberforce to lead us. Therefore, to my great surprise, I voted for William Wilberforce. I am a long time follower of Julian.

    1. As did I although it was a tough decision...but we certainly need a champion like Wiberforce in this day and age.

    2. Ellen, I had the same thoughts. While I love our Julian, the day so needs a Wilberforce. He got our vote today.

    3. Those were my thoughts, too, and I trust that though voting for Wilberforce because of his early leadership on race, Julian would understand and all shall be well.

  7. Julian of Norwich talked the talk, but William Wilburforce walked the walk. We are called to serve with justice and love faithfully. He did that effectively. My vote goes to Wilburforce.

  8. We need both the word and the deed. Lady Julian has inspired people for hundreds of years, but I voted for the worldly salvation of those freed from slavery. Slavery is an institution that is in many ways more damaging to the soul of the slave holder than the slave. Freedom from slavery is freedom for both parties.

    1. Deeds are good, but only when driven by noble ideas. Without ideas, the deeds you get are -- well, we got a great example of that in the mid-twentieth century.

      And slavery is still very much with us. We just have a new name. It is now WORKERS, and the folks in congress think that's just fine. We need another company of Wiberforces to stamp out the current vermin who would gladly strip all workers of all rights.

  9. I expect each pairing to be a difficult choice. Each have merits that define their sainthood. Today, I voted for William Wilberforce because of his dedication to abolishing the inhuman treatment of slavery. Though in many ways slavery still exists today in the treatment of migrant workers and their children.

    1. I, too, voted for William as his faith was carried out in his works against the abomination of slavery. But Susan, slavery and racial injustice are enormously rampant in American culture today way beyond the treatment of migrant workers and their children. It's in the practice of incarcerating young Black men. We've been reading The New Jim Crow in our church and also Just Mercy--these are really opening my eyes to the "new" version of racial injustice in our times.

  10. This is a real stumper unlike this year's election. Each one representing an important piece of a healthy life-spirituality and good works. Today I'm inspired just a tad more by boots on the ground so my vote goes to Wilberforce however contemplation that keeps one's boots pointed in the direction that serves God and builds His kingdom is just as important so I'm going to meditate on Julian of Norwich. How's that for morning waffles!

  11. Tough choice, for sure. As much as I love Lady Julian, my heart is with William Wilberforce. His tenacity in his continual fight for the poor and downtrodden has always been close to my heart. In many ways he sets the example and the bar for the fight we must continue today for those less fortunate.

  12. This was a tough one for me. But I have often used Julian's quote in my life to get me through tough times. So I have to go with Julian today.

  13. Having frequently relied on "All will be well," I have to support Julian of Norwich. Her feminine spirituality resonates for me.

  14. This is the most cruel match-up ever. How to not vote for a man who did so much to end the evil of slavery. But Julian of Norwich's calming phrase has gotten me through many a rocky place. I just had to go with her. Fie on the Supreme Executive Committee for putting us in such a tough spot.

  15. All will be well but without people like Wilberforce thousands of people caught up in human trafficking will have little hope

  16. This was a tough one for me. But I have often used Julian’s quote in my life to get me through tough times. So I have to go with Julian today.

    1. Her quote is a good one, but when I am having trouble with something my favorite is from Philippians Chapter 4, Verse13 "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

  17. She is the author of the earliest record of a woman in the English language, and we only know her by where she hung out!? All shall be well, and Julian gets my vote.

  18. I am both a mystic and a music-lover so I assumed this would be easy. But thinking about the horrors of slavery for those who lived them and the aftershocks that affect the lives and politics of all races in this country still today, I had to go with Wilberforce, who dedicated his life to eradicating that evil (although, alas, not its pernicious effects) and who, like Moses, after the arduous journey, never reached the Promised Land.

  19. This was a very difficult choice! Ultimately went for the one who had the biggest impact in his or her world--William Wilberforce. Loved Julian too though. Unlucky draw for them both!

  20. Forgive me Dame Julian. You know I have loved you these many, many years. But this one time I must go with your contender. After all, dedicating one's life for the freedom of so many - William has my vote.

    1. I, too, am taking my cue from Pope Francis. I just read his book to begin my Lenten contemplation, and he calls for action -- for showing mercy. I think Julian probably represents the Spiritual Acts of Mercy in some ways, but Wilberforce certainly manifests both Corporeal and Spiritual.

  21. This is difficult on so many levels. Like Julian of Norwich I am a mystic of sorts (too many distractions to imitate her in every way). Like William Wilberforce I too try to live my baptismal vows of respecting the dignity of every human being. In this political year, I could only hope those politicians who wear their Christianity on their sleeves would take a page from William Wilberforce's life. A little humility and perseverance would go a long way to calming down the anger and move toward real results. It took William Wilberforce years to achieve his goal of abolishing the slave trade. That is inspiring to all those who would fight "city hall" in an attempt to make life better for those on the margins.

  22. Admitting my ignorance, I saw the two names and thought what a shoe in for Julian, a saintly hero for so many. I knew the name, William Wilberforce, but had no idea who he was. I find it fascinating that, even though I am reasonably well read, etc., that I should be so clueless about such a hero. I wonder why that is? I know that when I was in school eons ago, the study of history was generally centered around wars, generals, and leaders. Maybe this is an example of why that approach is so scewed. Billy Boy gets my vote