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Cloud of Unknowing (Classics of Western Spirituality)

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  1,808 ratings  ·  82 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 (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
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
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
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
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.
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.

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
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
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,
Rob 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
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
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.
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
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.
Anna Elissa
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
Ellen Allerton
This book brought clarity to my own spirituality and had a profound on my life. I felt like i met a friend who saw things as i do.
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
Glen Grunau
Please see my review of "A New Translation" of this book by Carmen Acevedo Butcher. I must confess that I did experience an attraction to this original rendition in old English, and decided not to abandon it in the tough going and rather read it in its entirety, but in parallel with Butcher's new translation. I found certain terms somewhat endearing, such as the use of the fond term for God of "ghostly spouse". However, I expect that most people may find, as did I, that the translation by Butche ...more
Probably the best book on prayer that I have ever read. It is the most succinct, simplistic, and helpful explanation of apophatic prayer that I have come across. Though some of the later portions of the book are a bit redundant, the repetition can be helpful. Also some portions are outdated or somewhat silly (e.g. the section describing the mannerisms of hypocrites), yet none of these sections are necessary to the true goal of the book. I imagine I'll come back to this book again and again.
This book was written by an anonymous Christian monk in the 14th century. He is a Spiritual Director, who writes this book to Christians considering the contemplative life. In the book he talks about the active Christian and the contemplative Christian, citing as examples Martha and Mary. I found many wonderful nuggets for those who want to follow Christ and want a deeper prayer life, even if they won't ever reach the contemplative stage that is described in this book.
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“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
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.” 1 likes
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