The Cloud of Unknowing

Reading a Spiritual Classic: The Cloud of Unknowing
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Knowledge has its own important role to play, but it is ultimately ancillary to love, and in the end falls short before the mystery of faith in which our own hearts are set ablaze by God's love.

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The work thus becomes a spiritual exegesis on the words of St. Paul, "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies" 1. The phrase "cloud of unknowing" refers to the infinite barrier that will always exist between Creator and creature that can never be fully penetrated, but must nevertheless be attempted by the soul that would seek God.

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Book XVII:3 says of this cloud: " This one thing I tell you, there has never yet been a pure creature in this life, nor shall there ever be one so completely transported by contemplation and the love of the Godhead that there will not still remain a large and wonderful cloud of unknowing between him and his God. Nevertheless, by the power of love shared between God and the faithful heart, a sort of union is possible based on the mutual exchange of love, in which the believer constantly assents to God's will and God assumes the believer's heart into His own love in a way that is truly unitive yet maintains the distinction between Creator and creature.

The Cloud of Unknowing

Knowledge can get us only so far; it can teach us what we ought to love and how we ought to love, but the love itself that accomplishes this union is an act of grace. We have to be careful when approaching some of these medieval mystical works.


They were written in a time when the harmonious union of faith and reason crafted in the high middle ages was being torn asunder, and the relationship between knowledge and faith was fiercely debated. Often times mystical works of this era can stray into Pietism, Quietism, Fideism, or sometimes a quasi-pantheism.

Meister Eckhart is a good example of the latter, who said "the eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. Not so in the Cloud, for the meaning is clearly explained; there is no Quietism here. Though the work like all good mystical treatises is absorbed with talk on interior contemplation, it still exhorts the reader to "labor and sweat, therefore, in every way that you can" XIV: ii in seeking God, something a true Quietist would never say.

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But the labor is ultimately a labor of love. Speaking of Mary, the sister of Martha, the author of the Cloud says in the same place: " When our Lord spoke to Mary as representative of all sinners who are called to the contemplative life and said, "Thy sons be forgiven thee," it was not only because of her great sorrow, nor because of her remembering her sins, nor even because of the meekness with which she regarded her sinfulness. These cookies collect information that is used either in aggregate form to help us understand how our website is being used or how effective our marketing campaigns are, or to help us customize our website and application for you in order to enhance your experience. We also use different external services like Google Webfonts, Google Maps and external Video providers. Since these providers may collect personal data like your IP address we allow you to block them here.

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Categories: Audio , Featured. Description Description Written by an anonymous Christian mystic in medieval England, the Cloud of Unknowing provides profound advice and instruction for all persons on the contemplative path. Related products. View products. Cynthia Bourgeault.

The Cloud of Unknowing: a guide to prayer

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Daily Meditations. I find the answers, well-articulated in words from the credo of Dag Hammarskjold:. The second passage from Abhishiktananda is even more profound and describes, I believe, exactly how Jesus relates to the mono-syllable, the Way of the Cloud : The OM which our rishis heard resounding in their souls, when they descended to the greatest depths in themselves, deeper than their thoughts and deeper than all their desires, in the existential solitude of being, the OM which sounds in the rustling leaves shaken by the wind, the OM which howls in the storm and murmurs in the gentle breeze, the OM which roars in the rushing torment and the gentle murmur of the river flowing peacefully down to the sea, the OM of the spheres making their way across the sky, and the OM that throbs at the core of the atom. One of them had the function of performing the rite and meanwhile repeating the mantras … Another was in charge of chanting the hymns … The third invoked the devas … But the fourth one, the brahmana priest par excellence, was to remain silent, whispering as it were without any interruption an almost inarticulate OM. In Chapter Sixty-eight, a final negation of spatial direction, which we will discuss later at some length, invokes a bodily "nowhere" that is spiritually "everywhere," and is followed by an exhortation to let be the sensible everywhere and something in favor of a nowhere and a nothing.

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