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

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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://


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

  1. Wilberforce, because he lived his faith in the world and fought slavery. I love Julian of Norwich though and I often use some of her words as part of contemplative prayer.

  2. I read both accounts quite carefully and was expecting to vote for Julian--her devotion to the mystery of suffering as a way to apprehend the Divine Nature, her sense that with God all things are possible spoke movingly to me. But as I read the collect William Wilberforce, it came over me that the slavery he fought so long and bravely to beat down (thinking of the Great Litany here) was a great historic victory, but slavery and human trafficking are still with us today, so the battle is ongoing. And while we are at it, we might acknowledge our need to be delivered from all kinds of slavery ourselves: our bondage to greed, to selfish passions, to our refusal to see brothers and sisters in those who don't look like us.

    1. Well said, John. I too found it a tough choice, as Lady Julian is such an example of deep spiritual understanding. In the end, I had to go with Mr. Wilberforce, who should be an exemplar to all politicians on how to make government a true instrument of right and good.

  3. I'm voting for William. Much as I love Julian's story, William's work is not yet completed, and I hope if he wins this round it will raise awareness of the evils of human trafficking that still permeate the world.

  4. All I knew of Julian of Norwich was the "all is well" sentiment, which I think of often. But, for a woman in the fourteenth century to have written a book in English is remarkable; for it to still be widely read, even more so. I find the concept that it is necessary to sin to find one's true self in God to be fascinating. Perhaps her "good works" was writing for the ages. Tough choice, but I'm going with Julian.

  5. Remember the sun never set in the British Empire during Wilberforce's lifetime. Working his entire life to end slavery was GLOBAL!

  6. Well. An easy one for me. I have the privilege of going each year to Norwich and stay at the Community of All Hallows Guest House next door to Lady Julian's shrine. I, like probably not a few of you, have worshipped in her cell and have walked along the River Wensum nearby. Her writing has been such an inspiration for me. [Plus, I'm a big Norwich City Canary fan-OTBC] How can I not vote for her?

    1. This was NOT easy for me. I, too, have visited Lady Julian's shrine in Norwich (my mother's hometown,) walked along the river, bought tea towels, books, and postcards in the church's shop, and so on. I love Lady Julian's feminine metaphors for Jesus, want to believe that "All shall be well" and have a small collection of books/commentaries on her writing. She has formed a huge part of my personal spirituality. But for the whole human world and the dignity of every human being, I had to vote for William Wilberforce.

  7. Both are very powerful choices,but I had to chose Julian, since her words sustained me when my son died 6 hours old. My daughter's middle name is Juliana.

  8. Wilberforce! Anti-slavery before it was cool!! Imagine how differently things could have gone in the US if someone had been able to convince slavers to release slaves through the force of reason and faith rather than a gun and a cannon. Go Wilberforce!!!

  9. Gosh, another tough choice. I am a huge admirer of Wilberforce, and am aware that his work on the abolition of slavery needs champions today more than ever. However, there have been so few women speaking to us about faith down the centuries that Julian's a voice to treasure. She was able to speak of Jesus as mother and draw on feminine language of conception, labour and nursing opening up new ways of relating to the Divine, so my vote goes to her today.

  10. For me it was Wilberforce without a second thought. Coming privilege and probably privilege that benefited from the horrible institution of slavery, he could have very easily continued to support that institution and done so in the name of Christ. But, he used his wealth and influence to help bring about and end to the trade and the institution in the UK. His work was so important that even John Wesley's last letter was one written to Wilberforce encouraging him to keep up the fight!

  11. Yesterday the Absalom Jones Committee met at our church (St Philip's, Laurel, MD) and agreed to continue awarding scholarships in his name, so I had to vote for Wilberforce. However, I was drawn to Julian of Norwich by her "all will be well" words. I like to believe these words meant that she was a universalist, which is very comforting in view of the fact that most of my long-gone relatives were not so-called "born again Christians." (Neither am I.) Willing to leave big questions up to God.

  12. William Wilberforce. We desperately need a William Wilberforce today to combat present-day slavery, to champion the rights of the working poor, and to bring civility to the political process. A wealthy man who dedicated himself and his wealth to furtherance of the kingdom of God.

    1. Agreed. As inspired and comforted as I am personally by the words of Julian, I just have to go with Wilberforce for his courageous and forward-thinking example of faith in action.

  13. While I think Julian was influential I have to go with William Wilberforce because he did so much to free men, women, and children from slavery. I also think that while salvation is "Universal" you have to accept it. You are not saved just because you live.

  14. People often write about how the current events of our day influence their vote.....Surely in 206 in this country, we need an example of someone who worked for the enslaved, oppressed, and those who had no voice...."I Can't Breathe" Wilberforce is a great Christian hero.

  15. Very tough choice today. Dame Julian' s description of Christ as mother is so appealing, as well as "all shall be well", and my beloved sister is named Juli. But William Wilberforce' s work to abolish slavery in the British Empire is too compelling for me.

  16. After some internal wrestling, I voted for Wilberforce whose work in the field of the dignity of all is still being fought today.

  17. I'm happy to learn about William Wilberforce, but I'm going with Julian on this one. For one reason, being one of the earliest English-language woman writers is admirable. For another, I've been fascinated with the mystics of that era. However, the main reason is that I think she'll have better kitsch in the Saintly Kitsch round. It IS Lent Madness after all.

  18. Voted for Wilberforce. As a Christian and politician he stands in stark contrast, and as a shining example, to the current political debacle where faith is used as a cudgel and badge of hubris.

  19. I had to go with Julian. Several years ago I was the Lay Rector of a Cursillo weekend. For some reason I forget, I had chosen Julian to be our saint for the weekend. On the second day, we got word that three people most of us knew had died unexpectedly the night before. One of them had called me earlier that afternoon to wish me well. It was devastating for every one, and I wasn't sure I could get it together. But then I kept hearing "All Will be Well" over and over and I knew she would help all of us in faith.

  20. The writings of Julian are what caused me to know my belovedness as a child of God. I knew it in my heard, but Julian moved the knowledge into my heart. She has saved me time and again from fear and despair. I couldn't not vote for her.

  21. I'm voting for William Wilberforce for a comeback. He worked his whole life for de-slaving people.

  22. Having just completed Dame Julian's Revelations of Divine Love, I must vote for her. The messages regarding God's love, sin and salvation, and overall comfort are very thought provoking. To read the showings in entirety, for me, was very different than reading the bits and pieces, I have over the years.

  23. I thought I would vote for Wilberforce because he is such an incredible example. It was my daughter who introduced me to him, getting me to watch the movie "Amazing Grace." However, in this season of Lent, I am reminded of how important it is to start with prayer. Not to take anything away from the actions of Wilberforce, as I believe they were rooted in prayer, but because I wanted to emphasize for myself the need for prayer and for God's mercy. I so appreciate the message that Julian brought to so many.

    I would say I think it is unfair to say that Julian was not a "doer". She did what she was called to do in sharing the message given to her. There are different gifts, but the same Lord...

  24. Wilberforce's life story and passionate effort to end slavery is impressive, but Julian's vision of a universal path to salvation resonates with me as do her words: all shall be well. Justification by faith and a vote for Julian.