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Cloud of Unknowing (Classics of Western Spirituality)

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  2,099 ratings  ·  90 reviews
In fourteenth-century England an anonymous monk wrote an extraordinary text illuminating the life of contemplative devotion and the drama of the soul's union with God. Precariously heretical in its day, it became a classic of Christian mystical thought.

In an era that has seen science and rationalism triumph, one might not expect such a unique document to retain its meaning
Mass Market Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 28th 1983 by Dell-Laurel (first published 1300)
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David Sarkies
Jan 17, 2015 David Sarkies rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
Olabode Ososami
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...
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
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
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
Laura Cowan
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
Edvard Taylor
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
a profound spiritual classic that reveals a depth of God rarely explored by modern believers
One of the best things to quote back at people who quote Julian of Norwich at you.

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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Caroline Plowden
Professor Spearing retains the density and ambiguity of the original Middle English and understands and preserves the author's preoccupation with the vernacular as a medium of religious discourse. His introduction is very informative and introduces the reader to most of the Cloud-author's important arguments and ideas. His discussion of the Cloud-author's cup and wine metaphor is particularly interesting and highlights the work's complexity. Professor Spearing's translation is the best that I ha ...more
Joshua Booher
This is the second edition of this text that I have read this year. It is still a little opaque for me, but I am understanding it better. I am still curious about how mysticism sees itself fitting into tradition Christianity.
Yaholo H
This book a legend of mysticism in general, Christian or not. The core concepts of being vs. knowing, experiencing vs. defining, and connecting vs. understanding are all here in a profoundly old and timeless book. However, this book is on the opposite side of accessibility. Multiple revisits to this work throughout one's life will yield new breakthroughs every time. Nevertheless, it is truly at the heart, and a pillar, of mysticism in our global consciousness.
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Books can be attributed to "Anonymous" for several reasons:

* They are officially published under that name
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Books whose authorship is merely uncertain should be attributed to Unknown.
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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
“Let everyone beware lest he presume to take it upon himself to criticize and condemn other men's faults without his having been truly touched within by the Holy Spirit in his work. Otherwise he may very easily err in his judgments. Beware therefore. Judge yourself as seems right to you between yourself and your God, and let other men alone.” 1 likes
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