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Cloud of Unknowing

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  2,382 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
A book of contemplations. Edited from the British Museum M.S. Harl. 674 with an introduction by Evelyn Underhill. "The little family of mystical treatises which is known to students as 'the Cloud of Unknowing group, ' deserves more attention that it has hitherto received from English lovers of mysticism: for it represents the first expression in our own tongue of that grea ...more
Published May 31st 1942 by Kessinger Publishing Co
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David Sarkies
Jan 12, 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
Jul 29, 2011 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 20, 2013 Edvard Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Olabode Ososami
Aug 16, 2009 Olabode Ososami rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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...
James Wayne Proctor
"I tell you this: it is more profitable to your soul's health, more worthwhile, more pleasing to God and the hosts of Heaven -yes, more helpful to your friends, natural and spiritual, dead or alive- that you should have this blind outreaching love to God, this secret love pressing upon the cloud of unknowing, that you should have this as your spiritual affection, than that you should contemplate and gaze on the angels and saints in heaven, and hear the happy music of the blessed.

Do not be surpri
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
Feb 20, 2017 Johannes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"If you can sit and do nothing, then you can do virtually anything." This is the heart of contemplation.
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
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
Eric Nelson
May 17, 2010 Eric Nelson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 God�s 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 monk�s tone and vocabulary are plain� ...more
Luke Langley
Apr 02, 2015 Luke Langley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 01, 2015 IAO131 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Feb 25, 2008 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a profound spiritual classic that reveals a depth of God rarely explored by modern believers
J. Alfred
Jan 23, 2017 J. Alfred rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
File this one under Pleasant Surprises. I went into this reading thinking that it would be interesting historically as an example of contemplative technique, and what I got was a pretty profound insight into human psychology, and what, depending on your metaphysics, might in fact be very practical analysis of the realities of prayer.
So: the Cloud of Unknowing is the thing which exists, as it were, above us all, hiding God from us. We can't get beyond it because human beings cannot handle very m
Jun 07, 2017 Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
NB: My review relates to a different edition of this work.
A potential five-star book with one star subtracted for what was an at times awkward translation, with inappropriately colloquial or even hokey word choices and phrasing. When the original wording was given in a note it was without fail better than the modern English version Butcher had opted for. A future project of mine will have to be to read the original Middle English version (edited by Gallacher, I believe).
Trey Rogge
Jun 17, 2017 Trey Rogge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Five years from now, ten years, however long I may live, I am confident I will look back and regard this book as one of the sharpest chisels in shaping who I am. The phrase "this book changed my life" has always seemed hyperbolic to me, so I will not make that claim. But I do believe this book has refined and will continue to define my life until its ending.
I have read the modernised version by Bernard Bangley. This book IS the bible for serious seekers of ALL faiths, not only Christians.
One may rightly arrive at and understand this book only after leading an ethical life, renouncing most of the sensual pleasures of life, and realising "Love for GOD" as the most important part of life with a "DO OR DIE" attitude.
This version is an easy read language-wise, yet not difficult to understand meaning-wise if one is serious, except for the application of
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
Sep 13, 2015 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mason Wren
May 07, 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,
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
Nov 25, 2016 Gabrielle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-a-copy
Mostly, this was a scholarly slog. I was so intrigued, however, by the anonymous 14th century monk who wrote it -- the voice rings more contemporary and more "woo-woo" than I would have expected. Not that I really knew what to expect, I guess.

I was barely able to get from page to page and then, at chapter 15 (short chapters) he starts talking about Mary -- the blessed and chosen one. It was like the writer tapped me on the shoulder and urged me to pay attention. There was also a chapter on praye
Alec Binyon
Jan 03, 2012 Alec Binyon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Anna O.P.
A beautiful treatise on medieval Christian mysticism! This book is not everyone's cup of tea; not because it is hard-rock theology with obscure ecclesial jargons, but [I believe] one needs to reach a certain level or depth in his spiritual life before attempting the contemplative life after The Cloud's style. Everything said in this book must be humbly, patiently, and silently fathomed... some parts are quite interesting and pose a challenge or two to our understanding of God and theology.

The Cl
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
Jacob Stubbs
So, I read a good portion of this work for my seminar - "Beyond the God Hypothesis" - where we investigated the apophatic tradition. Of interest, the author opens with an early form of the "Collect for Purity," which Anglicans pray at the beginning of each service. The clear instructions in how to pray and meditate upon the Lord were quite fascinating. As part of my seminar, I engaged in this type of prayer for a brief period. Overall, a fascinating work in many ways - one that shows the extent ...more
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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.” 3 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.” 3 likes
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