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The Cloud of Unknowing (Classics of Western Spirituality)

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,390 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
Widely considered a hallmark of Western literature and spirituality, The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous English monk’s sublime expression of what separates God from humanity. Originally written in the 14th century, now part of the HarperCollins Spiritual classics series,this beautiful contemplative resource, has been embraced for hundreds of years for its simple, engag ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by HarperSanFrancisco: HarperCollins Spiritual Classics (first published 1300)
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Catechism of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul IIStory of a Soul by Thérèse de LisieuxThe Confessions by Augustine of HippoThe New American Bible by AnonymousDark Night of the Soul by San Juan de la Cruz
Roman Catholic Reading
44th out of 378 books — 196 voters
Mere Christianity by C.S. LewisThe Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich BonhoefferThe Divine Comedy by Dante AlighieriConfessions by Augustine of HippoRevelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
25 Books Every Christian Should Read
8th out of 26 books — 12 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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David Sarkies
Jan 17, 2015 David Sarkies rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who really like this stuff
Recommended to David by: Found it hidden away in a second hand bookstore
Shelves: christian
An esoteric medieval Christian text
17 January 2015

Well, most authors that I know want as many people to read their book as possible, yet with this guy (whoever he was, though it is believed that he was a monk) opens, and closes, the book with who he doesn't want to read this book, which is basically anybody who does not have some intense spiritual epiphany. Okay, the version I read was a translation from the Middle English text, and I am told (in the introduction) that a lot of the beautiful an
Fleshly janglers, open praisers and blamers of themselves or of any other, tellers of trifles, ronners and tattlers of tales, and all manner of pinchers, cared I never that they saw this book.

This book was not meant for me, and it certainly was not meant for YOU. And so I do the devil’s work in summarizing and introducing it here. (After a short description of the work I will entertain you with a mangled version of text snippets).

The Cloud of Unknowing can be fairly seen as a philosophy of ignor
Reading any medieval Christian mystic is difficult, but this made Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross look easy. I think part of the trouble I had was with a poor translation that left lots of old English words in old English. That said, if you are into mystic writings then you ought to check this one out. I enjoy reading a chapter or so of such books each day. There are many nuggets in it that are water for the soul.

"For at the first time when thou dost it, thou findest but a darkness; and a
Olabode Ososami
Aug 19, 2009 Olabode Ososami rated it really liked it
Not a book for amateurs or spiritual tourists...only for serious readers with enough foundation to relate constructively to the message. Can be confusing at times ...I would recommend to someone with enough time for meditation and reflection (in solitude) and not to read on a vacation (especially with your family - your melancholic introspection may become annoying) or while waiting for your may miss your flight. Certainly a book to have on your shelf to go back to...
Mark Thomas
Jan 03, 2012 Mark Thomas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very liberating ideas about accessibility to God. The plan of establishing a "cloud of forgetting" between you and everything that was ever created. Then to work on piercing through a "cloud of unknowing" which separates from truly knowing God as He exists within Himself.

This theology is very appealing and quite extraordinary in coming from an author assumed to be a Catholic monk as the author describes the process as being a personal journey, "free from any intermediaries".

The author leads the
Jul 29, 2011 Tom rated it it was amazing
As I described under "The Way of The Pilgrim", The Jesus Prayer or "The Prayer" is a short, formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated within the Eastern Orthodox church:
“Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν.”

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The prayer has been widely taught and discussed throughout the history of the Eastern Churches. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use being an integral part of the eremi
Edvard Taylor
Jan 06, 2016 Edvard Taylor rated it it was amazing
This beautiful, extraordinary and timeless book by an anonymous 14th century author is one of the greatest mystical treatises of any time in any religion. It is to be most warmly recommended to all true and sincere students of mysticism. It radiates the warmth of St. Francis de Sales, touches in a uniquely loving and gentle way on the sufferings on the soul immersed in the dark night of the spirit, offers guidance on ways of contemplation and the attainment of true humility, which, as the author ...more
Laura Cowan
May 20, 2014 Laura Cowan rated it liked it
I have learned a lot of this by experience (maybe it is a confirmation that I didn't invent this pursuit and humbling as well as comforting to see people have been pursuing this kind of relationship with God for at least a thousand years, obviously more), but it is still a pretty wonderful and unique book. I am always suspect of people's definitions and theologies that split off the soul and other things into specific numbers of parts, but I guess it helps to have a framework to help you picture ...more
Oct 21, 2015 Jsavett1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm in the process of doing a little comparative reading in contemplative and mystical traditions. It's really quite amazing, to quote a close friend of mine, how so many of our faiths draw the same water from different wells. The important thing is that once you go deep enough, the water is all the same.

There are lines from this book which are repeated almost verbatim in books I've read on Chasidic mysticism and secular meditation.

I think there is a lot to be gained here for the lay reader and
Written by an anonymous author, presumably a 14th century monk, the Cloud of Unknowing is a unique manual for christian contemplation, which has been called by some the origin of centering prayer. The name of the book is a reference to the author's premise that God is hidden from man's complete intellectual understanding behind a cloud (see old testament reference) and must therefore be approached through the power of love. Knowing through unknowing. The book is full of seeming contradictions th ...more
Chris Elgood
Aug 11, 2013 Chris Elgood rated it it was ok
It is a significant book, but should be read only by people interested in the mystical tradition of 14th Century Christianity. It is the principal item in a collection of texts published under the same name. The writer is thought to be a monk, devoted to the "work" of contemplation and concerned to counsel a young follower. The core theme is that the work of contemplation requires eradication from the mind of all conscious thought (good or bad) and intense concentration on God - longing desperat ...more
Jan 01, 2015 IAO131 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mysticism
A classic of Christian mysticism, written as a letter from the anonymous author to a disciple. Its simplicity is matched by its concision. Thelemites will find many of our own doctrines about mysticism herein, with the extra added bonus that the author clearly speaks from the supreme confidence of direct experience. Recommended to anyone exploring the foundational literature of mysticism, regardless of religion.
Oct 06, 2015 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: prayer
It feels like cheating reading this book in contemporary English when it is not a work in translation. But the older edition was opaque to me and this was easier to rap my head around. This is a simple and influential description of mysticism from thirteenth Century England. It is anonymous. The author is orthodox but his Bible reading is a little shoddy in places. His understanding of mysticism and contemplation is more significant (he was likely a monk).

I liked the humble and practical tone o
Luke Langley
Apr 02, 2015 Luke Langley rated it really liked it
This book written in 1375 by an anonymous christian monk describes an approach to spirituality not dissimilar from the 'dark night.' As we approach God who is unknowable we go from active life into contemplation seeing the heap body and sin that we are and the infinite distance we are from God. We enter into faith, belief in the unknown, and hope, awaiting what is expected, but ultimately it is mystery, a cloud on unknowing. In this unknowing however we come to know one think, love, in in love G ...more
Apr 05, 2014 Malinda rated it really liked it
This is the oldest text on Contemplative Christianity written in English. There are several ancient copies in the British Museum, including three copies on velum. The anonymous author gives an outline for what we now refer to as centering prayer.
Dec 07, 2007 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very solid and interesting book. I definitely recommend it to anyone with any theological interest. You have to be dedicated and committed to reading it, but it without a doubt pays off and is an interesting and thought provoking read.
Oct 14, 2015 Annie rated it it was amazing
The translation of this book keeps some of the beauty and nuances of the Middle English that it was originally written in and it can be hard to read for long periods of time. I found it easier to understand in short reading sessions so the words wouldn’t start to run circles around me. The way it is written makes it sound more complicated than it is. The monk who wrote this seemed to put much effort into explaining it as clearly as he could though.

If you are serious about Christian mysticism, it
Feb 25, 2008 Larry rated it really liked it
a profound spiritual classic that reveals a depth of God rarely explored by modern believers
Jul 03, 2009 M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best things to quote back at people who quote Julian of Norwich at you.

Apr 27, 2016 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not recommended for people who haven't read other books that move into mysticism more slowly, and/or explain the basics and foundation of mystic thought and practice. Don't start with a 14th century text. Find a few books written in the last few decades, something you can relate to. Afterwards The Cloud of Unknowing will be more interesting; you'll be able glean the wisdom that speaks to you. Mystical texts aren't meant to be blockbusters, but if you find a few nuggets of helpful information it' ...more
Joshua Booher
I have now read three different versions of this classic text. This was by far the best version. It was recommended by a seminary professor, where I work. She said to skip the long introduction by the editor, which I did. What made this book so much better than the others was two primary things. First, it was "translated" into fairly current language which helped me understand it better. Second, the footnotes were very helpful towards understanding the text and how it related to similar texts.

Eric Nelson
Mar 14, 2015 Eric Nelson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, favorites
The Cloud of Unknowing is for three types of people: those whose prayer life is lacking, those whose humility is lacking, and those who need both. As I am in the third group, these words were a scalpel painfully cutting into my soul to return my life to Gods original purpose. Surprisingly accessible, this book can be not only recommended to Christian laity, a non-Christian who wants to explore traditional spirituality would find this a welcome manual as the monks tone and vocabulary are plainexa ...more
Michael Morris
Even the anonymous author of this book says that it should be read more than once, and that it isn't for everyone. I found myself often going between wonder and wandering of mind as I worked my way through.

I must confess that I did not read A Cloud of Unknowing correctly. First, I looked for something to enhance or encourage my prayer life. The book, I'm certain, can do this, but it seems to be about more. Second, I after reading a few chapters and getting used to the difficult Middle Ages vocab
Mason Wren
May 12, 2013 Mason Wren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
The cloud of unknowing..."Who is he that calls it nothing? It is surely our outward (physical) man, not our inward (spiritual). Our inward man calls it All, for because of it he is well taught to have understanding of all things bodily or spiritual, without any specific knowledge of any one thing in itself."

Fourteenth century English literary work written by an anonymous yet experienced Spiritual Director. This is basically a treatise on contemplative prayer, of what it means to know God purely,
Robbie Brown
May 23, 2014 Robbie Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all the different versions of 'The Cloud' i've 'lived with' this is still my favourite. It has a most informative and valuable introductory commentary by Ira Progoff which positions the text well into a religious, spiritual, mystical and psychological context - something which few of the other version achieve. Also the wonderful text itself, difficult in the original, is rendered in easily approachable and seemless good eEnglish.
Eric Marcy
Nov 03, 2014 Eric Marcy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a phenomenally thought provoking book by a Medieval mystic. His insights into pursuing God wholeheartedly above all else and entering a contented cloud of unknowing, being satisfied in the ultimate transcendent mystery and nature of God, are fascinating. Some great thoughts on prayer as well, on pursuing humility and God above all else, and keeping our finite sinful selves from polluting our view of his being. A bit dense, but fascinating stuff.
Peter Mottola
Jan 24, 2016 Peter Mottola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Middle English was easy enough to understand for this student of Latin who otherwise had no formal introduction to the language, so don't be too intimidated by the thought of trying to read it in the original. Just read out loud and take your time. The text itself gave me lots of food for thought, especially great meditations on how "Mary chose the better part."
Adam Stevenson
I am not a believer, more an interested party and this book gave me many interesting things to think and reflect on about the unknowability of God and the interactions between body and soul.

I found the notes very helpful and the translation to be warm and humble, directing from a point of weakness rather than striding on in arrogant strength.
Apr 23, 2016 Cameron rated it liked it
Maybe this is helpful to some as the author states was his intention, but not really with me. This being written from the perspective of a catholic mystic a few centuries ago doesn't help either. I gave it a try and couldn't find the point in dwelling in the cloud of unknowing. I think this is because I lean more toward the idea that the more one sees Christ, the more one treasures Him and we can do nothing to open our own eyes. To love and know God are gifts that are given freely and I find tha ...more
Alec Binyon
Feb 16, 2012 Alec Binyon rated it it was amazing
This is a manual to contemplative prayer written in simple language although its commentary and reflections are very profound. In the book the anonymous monk asks the reader to read the text completely before engaging in the practice. That seems to be essential. The 75 chapters of the book are each very short, but I found myself taking a long time to get through the text, because one paragraph would be so heavy that I would sit on it for a day or more. This is one of those books that needs to be ...more
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Books can be attributed to "Anonymous" for several reasons:

* They are officially published under that name
* They are traditional stories not attributed to a specific author
* They are religious texts not generally attributed to a specific author

Books whose authorship is merely uncertain should be attributed to Unknown.
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“For I tell you this: one loving, blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do.” 2 likes
The Cloud of Unknowing was written by someone who was exceedingly tough-minded in the sense in which William James used the phrase. He was most unsentimental, matter of fact, and down to earth; and he regarded this habit of mind as a prerequisite for the work in which he was engaged. He proceeded upon the belief that when an individual undertakes to bring his life into relation to God, he is embarking upon a serious and demanding task, a task that leaves no leeway for self-deception or illusion. It requires the most rigorous dedication and self-knowledge. The Cloud of Unknowing is therefore a book of strong and earnest thinking. It makes a realistic appraisal of the problems and weaknesses of individual human beings, for it regards man's imperfections as the raw material to be worked with in carrying out the discipline of spiritual development.” 2 likes
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