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The Cloud of Unknowing

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  3,070 ratings  ·  124 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, ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by HarperCollins (first published 1375)
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Edvard Taylor
Sep 20, 2013 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
David Sarkies
Jan 12, 2015 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
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
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
Gary Guinn
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous 14th-century monk, a master of the practice of Christian contemplation, explores both the philosophy/theology behind the practice and the method of practice itself. He writes particularly for an unidentified younger monk who is considering the call to a contemplative life. The little book (about 100 pages) is the first such work in the English language, and has become a classic, influencing such later masters as St. John of the Cross and Teilhard de ...more
Olabode Ososami
Aug 16, 2009 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...
Jul 29, 2011 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
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"If you can sit and do nothing, then you can do virtually anything." This is the heart of contemplation.
Bill Kupersmith
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a book of spiritual counsel by an anonymous 14th century spiritual director. In mediaeval English a spiritual director would have been called a "ghostly father" (or "ghostly mother" if a woman such as Julian of Norwich). The one being directed would be called a "ghostly friend." A "ghostly" reader such as myself never actually finishes such books because they have no plot—the "ghostly" realm is timeless. Actually what the author calls "unknowing" is what we Christians refer to as ...more
James  Proctor
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"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
Chris Elgood
Jul 27, 2013 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 ...more
Luke Langley
Apr 02, 2015 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 allowing us to see the heap of 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 the unity of ...more
Matthias Ovaries
I refuse to rate a spiritual treatise which demands multiple re-readings. Perhaps my favorite thing about this book, however, is the anonymous writer. What a funny guy! It is full of cheeky humble brags, genuine self-loathing, and oddly tender and sentimental moments. Well worth checking out if you give a s h i t about your spiritual life.
J.M. Hushour
"Cloud" is a mildly interesting 14th century text, probably written by a West Midlands country priest and reads like an instruction manual to a novice. I can break it down like this: it is a discussion of the impossibility of knowing God via the intellect, but rather through love. It is a devotional, in the full sense of the word, text, bizarrely similar to Sufi mystical rituals where the power of the name of God invoked and repeated incessantly put one into a kind of meditative trance.
Deacon Tom ✝️ Frankenfield
Very difficult to read
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
felt like i went back for one too many plates at golden corral ; oof
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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 ...more
Oct 21, 2015 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
Eric Nelson
May 17, 2010 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 plain ...more
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Much archaic language in the kindle edition, by Evelyn Underhill. But edifying. Archaic wording has a unique feel to it, if one takes the time.
I may reread this book in the fragile old paperback copy I have, by Ira Progoff, which seems to have more readily understood language.
There is some of the sad philosophy of human intrinsic evil in here, which I do not subscribe to, but that’s not surprising in the fourteenth century.
There is also much spiritual truth to contemplate.
Jan 01, 2015 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.
Apr 05, 2014 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.
Nov 08, 2008 rated it did not like it
I guess I'm not as into the contemplative life as I thought. Woof.
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not for beginners.
Start with Scrupoli and other texts focused on virtues and spiritual struggle.
You can't build a house from the roof.
Larry Taylor
Feb 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
a profound spiritual classic that reveals a depth of God rarely explored by modern believers
Steve Watson
Lots of reactions to this book.

Big picture:
1) The teaching on adoring, worshiping, and being one with God in love - not in knowledge - is beautiful and refreshing and an important cornerstone in Christian apophatic spiritual practice, an important part of the spirituality that it has to offer.
2) Reading books from the 14th century can be a head trip. There's the whole section on the devil having only one nostril, for instance. O.K.
3) Spiritual writing under Plato's disembodied grip needs to be
Nathan Albright
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge2017
A great part of the appeal of this book to many people is trying to uncover the mystery of who wrote it. This book is certainly a good one, and there are simply very few people in 14th century England who had the right set of qualities to write it, but for now at least the book remains formally anonymous and so once one gets tired of playing guessing games about which Carthusian monk wrote this book, one has to get around to its contents. I have to say that I have remarkably mixed feelings about ...more
J. Alfred
Jan 23, 2017 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
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I finally finished the late-Medieval instruction manual about the contemplative way that is the main source of Thomas Keating's "Open Mind, Open Heart", which influenced me immensely during the period of my first adult steps in the faith.

It is an instruction manual of an "exercise" that is a form of prayer as well as a way of life, as simple and bottomless as only an act of love towards God can be. It is written in the style of an extended speech of a wise spiritual guide to a young student in
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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.
“The universes which are amenable to the intellect can never satisfy the instincts of the heart.” 12 likes
“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.” 7 likes
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