A BOOK OF CONTEMPLATION
                                              THE WHICH IS CALLED
       THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING,
                                             IN THE WHICH A SOUL IS
                                                       ONED WITH GOD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                          Anonymous (14th. c. English)

                                 Rights: Public Domain, vid. www.ccel.org

                              Edited from the British Museum MS. Harl. 674

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                  With an Introduction

                                                                BY

                                                 EVELYN UNDERHILL

                                                   SECOND EDITION

 

 

 

                                           London:   JOHN M. WATKINS

                                       21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road

                                                                1922

                                  Language updated by Ted Hildebrandt 2010


 

                      INTRODUCTION

 

 

   THE little family of mystical treatises which is known to students as

   "the Cloud of Unknowing group," deserves more attention than it has

   hitherto received from English lovers of mysticism: for it represents

   the first expression in our own tongue of that great mystic tradition

   of the Christian Neoplatonists which gathered up, remade, and "salted

   with Christ's salt" all that was best in the spiritual wisdom of the

   ancient world.

 

   That wisdom made its definite entrance into the Catholic fold about

   A.D. 500, in the writings of the profound and nameless mystic who chose

   to call himself "Dionysius the Areopagite." Three hundred and fifty

   years later, those writings were translated into Latin by John Scotus

   Erigena, a scholar at the court of Charlemagne, and so became available

   to the ecclesiastical world of the West. Another five hundred years

   elapsed, during which their influence was felt, and felt strongly, by

   the mystics of every European country: by St. Bernard, the Victorines,

   St. Bonaventura, St. Thomas Aquinas. Every reader of Dante knows the

   part which they play in the Paradiso. Then, about the middle of the

   14th century, England--at that time in the height of her great mystical

   period--led the way with the first translation into the vernacular of

   the Areopagite's work. In Dionise Hid Divinite, a version of the

   Mystica Theologia, this spiritual treasure-house was first made

   accessible to those outside the professionally religious class. Surely

   this is a fact which all lovers of mysticism, all "spiritual patriots,"

   should be concerned to hold in remembrance.

 

   It is supposed by most scholars that Dionise Hid Divinite,

   which--appearing as it did in an epoch of great spiritual

   vitality--quickly attained to a considerable circulation, is by the

   same hand which wrote the Cloud of Unknowing and its companion books;

   and that this hand also produced an English paraphrase of Richard of

   St. Victor's Benjamin Minor, another work of much authority on the

   contemplative life. Certainly the influence of Richard is only second

   to that of Dionysius in this unknown mystic's own work--work, however,

   which owes as much to the deep personal experience, and extraordinary

   psychological gifts of its writer, as to the tradition that he

   inherited from the past.

 


 

   Nothing is known of him; beyond the fact, which seems clear from his

   writings, that he was a cloistered monk devoted to the contemplative

   life. It has been thought that he was a Carehusian. But the rule of

   that austere order, whose members live in hermit-like seclusion, and

   scarcely meet except for the purpose of divine worship, can hardly have

   afforded him opportunity of observing and enduring all those tiresome

   tricks and absurd mannerisms of which he gives so amusing and realistic

   a description in the lighter passages of the Cloud. These passages

   betray the half-humorous exasperation of the temperamental recluse,

   nervous, fastidious, and hypersensitive, loving silence and peace, but

   compelled to a daily and hourly companionship with persons of a less

   contemplative type: some finding in extravagant and meaningless

   gestures an outlet for suppressed vitality; others overflowing with a

   terrible cheerfulness like "giggling girls and nice japing jugglers";

   others so lacking in repose that they "can neither sit still, stand

   still, nor lie still, unless they be either wagging with their feet or

   else somewhat doing with their hands." Though he cannot go to the

   length of condemning these habits as mortal sins, the author of the

   Cloud leaves us in no doubt as to the irritation with which they

   inspired him, or the distrust with which he regards the spiritual

   claims of those who fidget.

 

   The attempt to identify this mysterious writer with Walter Hilton, the

   author of The Scale of Perfection, has completely failed: though

   Hilton's work--especially the exquisite fragment called the Song of

   Angels--certainly betrays his influence. The works attributed to him,

   if we exclude the translations from Dionysius and Richard of St.

   Victor, are only five in number. They are, first, The Cloud of

   Unknowing--the longest and most complete exposition of its author's

   peculiar doctrine--and, depending from it, four short tracts or

   letters: The Epistle of Prayer, The Epistle of Discretion in the

   Stirrings of the Soul, The Epistle of Privy Counsel, and The Treatise

   of Discerning of Spirits. Some critics have even disputed the claim of

   the writer of the Cloud to the authorship of these little works,

   regarding them as the production of a group or school of contemplatives

   devoted to the study and practice of the Dionysian mystical theology;

   but the unity of thought and style found in them makes this hypothesis

   at least improbable. Everything points rather to their being the work

   of an original mystical genius, of strongly marked character and great

   literary ability: who, whilst he took the framework of his philosophy

   from Dionysius the Areopagite, and of his psychology from Richard of

   St. Victor, yet is in no sense a mere imitator of these masters, but

   introduced a genuinely new element into mediaeval religious literature.

 

   What, then, were his special characteristics? Whence came the fresh

   color which he gave to the old Platonic theory of mystical experience?

   First, I think, from the combination of high spiritual gifts with a

   vivid sense of humor, keen powers of observation, a robust

   commonsense: a balance of qualities not indeed rare amongst the

   mystics, but here presented to us in an extreme form. In his eager

   gazing on divinity this contemplative never loses touch with humanity,

   never forgets the sovereign purpose of his writings; which is not a

   declaration of the spiritual favors he has received, but a helping of

   his fellowmen to share them. Next, he has a great simplicity of

   outlook, which enables him to present the result of his highest

   experiences and intuitions in the most direct and homely language. So

   actual, and so much a part of his normal existence, are his

   apprehensions of spiritual reality, that he can give them to us in the

   plain words of daily life: and thus he is one of the most realistic of

   mystical writers. He abounds in vivid little phrases--"Call sin a

   lump": "Short prayer pierces heaven": "Nowhere bodily, is everywhere

   ghostly": "Who that will not go the strait way to heaven, . . . shall

   go the soft way to hell." His range of experience is a wide one. He

   does not disdain to take a hint from the wizards and necromancers on

   the right way to treat the devil; he draws his illustrations of divine

   mercy from the homeliest incidents of friendship and partntal love. A

   skilled theologian, quoting St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and using

   with ease the language of scholasticism, he is able, on the other hand,

   to express the deepest speculations of mystical philosophy without

   resorting to academic terminology: as for instance where he describes

   the spiritual heaven as a "state" rather than a "place":

 

   "For heaven ghostly is as nigh down as up, and up as down: behind as

   before, before as behind, on one side as other. Insomuch, that whoso

   had a true desire for to be at heaven, then that same time he were in

   heaven ghostly. For the high and the next way thither is run by

   desires, and not by paces of feet."

 

   His writings, though they touch on many subjects, are chiefly concerned

   with the are of contemplative prayer; that "blind intent stretching to

   God" which, if it be wholly set on Him, cannot fail to reach its goal.

   A peculiar talent for the description and discrimination of spiritual

   states has enabled him to discern and set before us, with astonishing

   precision and vividness, not only the strange sensations, the confusion

   and bewilderment of the beginner in the early stages of

   contemplation--the struggle with distracting thoughts, the silence, the

   dark--and the unfortunate state of those theoretical mystics who,

   "swollen with pride and with curiosity of much clergy and letterly

   cunning as in clerks," miss that treasure which is "never got by study

   but all only by grace"; but also the happiness of those whose "sharp

   dare of longing love" has not "failed of the prick, the which is God."

 

   A great simplicity characterizes his doctrine of the soul's attainment

   of the Absolute. For him there is but one central necessity: the

   perfect and passionate setting of the will upon the Divine, so that it

   is "your love and your meaning, the choice and point of your heart." Not

   by deliberate ascetic practices, not by refusal of the world, not by

   intellectual striving, but by actively loving and choosing, by that

   which a modern psychologist has called "the synthesis of love and will"

   does the spirit of man achieve its goal. "For silence is not God," he

   says in the Epistle of Discretion, "nor speaking is not God; fasting is

   not God, nor eating is not God; loneliness is not God, nor company is

   not God; nor yet any of all the other two such contraries. He is hid

   betexpect them, and may not be found by any work of your soul, but all

   only by love of your heart. He may not be known by reason, He may not

   be gotten by thought, nor concluded by understanding; but He may be

   loved and chosen with the true lovely will of your heart. . . . Such a

   blind shot with the sharp dare of longing love may never fail of the

   prick, the which is God."

 

   To him who has so loved and chosen, and "in a true will and by an whole

   intent does purpose him to be a perfect follower of Christ, not only in

   active living, but in the sovereignest point of contemplative living,

   the which is possible by grace for to be come to in this present life,"

   these writings are addressed. In the prologue of the Cloud of Unknowing

   we find the warning, so often prefixed to mediaeval mystical works,

   that it shall on no account be lent, given, or read to other men: who

   could not understand, and might misunderstand in a dangerous sense, its

   peculiar message. Nor was this warning a mere expression of literary

   vanity. If we may judge by the examples of possible misunderstanding

   against which he is careful to guard himself, the almost tiresome

   reminders that all his remarks are "ghostly, not bodily meant," the

   standard of intelligence which the author expected from his readers was

   not a high one. He even fears that some "young presumptuous ghostly

   disciples" may understand the injunction to "lift up the heart" in a

   merely physical manner; and either "stare in the stars as if they would

   be above the moon," or "travail their fleshly hearts outrageously in

   their breasts" in the effort to make literal "ascensions" to God.

   Eccentricities of this kind he finds not only foolish but dangerous;

   they outrage nature, destroy sanity and health, and "hurt full sore the

   silly soul, and make it fester in fantasy feigned of fiends." He

   observes with a touch of arrogance that his book is not intended for

   these undisciplined seekers after the abnormal and the marvelous, nor

   yet for "fleshly janglers, flatterers and blamers, . . . nor none of

   these curious, lettered, nor unlearned men." It is to those who feel

   themselves called to the true prayer of contemplation, to the search

   for God, whether in the cloister or the world--whose "little secret

   love" is at once the energizing cause of all action, and the hidden

   sweet savor of life--that he addresses himself. These he instructs in

   that simple yet difficult are of recollection, the necessary

   preliminary of any true communion with the spiritual order, in which

   all sensual images, all memories and thoughts, are as he says, "trodden

   down under the cloud of forgetting" until "nothing lives in the working

   mind but a naked intent stretching to God." This "intent

   stretching"--this loving and vigorous determination of the will--he

   regards as the central fact of the mystical life; the very heart of

   effective prayer. Only by its exercise can the spirit, freed from the

   distractions of memory and sense, focus itself upon Reality and ascend

   with "a privy love pressed" to that "Cloud of Unknowing"--the Divine

   Ignorance of the Neoplatonists--wherein is "knit up the ghostly knot of

   burning love betwixt you and your God, in ghostly onehead and according

   of will."

 

   There is in this doctrine something which should be peculiarly

   congenial to the activistic tendencies of modern thought. Here is no

   taint of quietism, no invitation to a spiritual limpness. From first to

   last glad and deliberate work is demanded of the initiate: an all-round

   wholeness of experience is insisted on. "A man may not be fully active,

   but if he be in part contemplative; nor yet fully contemplative, as it

   may be here, but if he be in part active." Over and over again, the

   emphasis is laid on this active aspect of all true spirituality--always

   a favorite theme of the great English mystics. "Love cannot be lazy,"

   said Richard Rolle. So too for the author of the Cloud energy is the

   mark of true affection. "Do forth ever, more and more, so that you be

   ever doing. . . . Do on then fast; let see how you bears you. Sees

   you not how He stands and abides you?"

 

   True, the will alone, however ardent and industrious, cannot of itself

   set up communion with the supernal world: this is "the work of only

   God, specially wrought in what soul that Him likes." But man can and

   must do his part. First, there are the virtues to be acquired: those

   "ornaments of the Spiritual Marriage" with which no mystic can

   dispense. Since we can but behold that which we are, his character must

   be set in order, his mind and heart made beautiful and pure, before he

   can look on the triple star of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, which is

   God. Every great spiritual teacher has spoken in the same sense: of the

   need for that which Rolle calls the "mending of life"--regeneration,

   the rebuilding of character--as the preparation of the contemplative

   act.

 

   For the author of the Cloud all human virtue is comprised in the twin

   qualities of Humility and Charity. He who has these, has all. Humility,

   in accordance with the doctrine of Richard of St. Victor, he identifies

   with self-knowledge; the terrible vision of the soul as it is, which

   induces first self-abasement and then self-purification--the beginning

   of all spiritual growth, and the necessary antecedent of all knowledge

   of God. "Therefore toil and sweat in all that you canst and may,

   for to get you a true knowing and a feeling of yourself as you are;

   and then I suppose that soon after that, you shall have a true knowing

   and a feeling of God as He is."

 

   As all man's feeling and thought of himself and his relation to God is

   comprehended in Humility, so all his feeling and thought of God in

   Himself is comprehended in Charity; the self-giving love of Divine

   Perfection "in Himself and for Himself" which Hilton calls "the

   sovereign and the essential joy." Together these two virtues should

   embrace the sum of his responses to the Universe; they should govern

   his attitude to man as well as his attitude to God. "Charity is nothing

   else . . . but love of God for Himself above all creatures, and of man

   for God even as yourself."

 

   Charity and Humility, then, together with the ardent and industrious

   will, are the necessary possessions of each soul set upon this

   adventure. Their presence it is which marks out the true from the false

   mystic: and it would seem, from the detailed, vivid, and often amusing

   descriptions of the sanctimonious, the hypocritical, the

   self-sufficient, and the self-deceived in their "diverse and wonderful

   variations," that such a test was as greatly needed in the "Ages of

   Faith" as it is at the present day. Sham spirituality flourished in the

   mediaeval cloister, and offered a constant opportunity of error to

   those young enthusiasts who were not yet aware that the true freedom of

   eternity "cometh not with observation." Affectations of sanctity,

   pretense to rare mystical experiences, were a favorite means of

   advertisement. Psychic phenomena, too, seem to have been common:

   ecstasies, visions, voices, the scent of strange perfumes, the hearing

   of sweet sounds. For these supposed indications of Divine favor, the

   author of the Cloud has no more respect than the modern psychologist:

   and here, of course, he is in agreement with all the greatest writers

   on mysticism, who are unanimous in their dislike and distrust of all

   visionary and auditive experience. Such things, he considers, are most

   often hallucination: and, where they are not, should be regarded as the

   accidents rather than the substance of the contemplative life--the

   harsh rind of sense, which covers the sweet nut of "pure ghostliness."

   Were we truly spiritual, we should not need them; for our communion

   with Reality would then be the direct and ineffable intercourse of like

   with like.

 

   Moreover, these automatism are amongst the most dangerous instruments

   of self-deception. "Oft-times," he says of those who deliberately seek

   for revelations, "the devil feigns quaint sounds in their ears,

   quaint lights and shining in their eyes, and wonderful smells in their

   noses: and all is but falsehood." Hence it often happens to those who

   give themselves up to such experiences, that "fast after such a false

   feeling, cometh a false knowing in the Fiend's school: . . . for I tell

   you truly, that the devil has his contemplatives, as God has His."

   Real spiritual illumination, he thinks, seldom comes by way of these

   psycho-sensual automatism "into the body by the windows of our wits."

   It springs up within the soul in "abundance of ghostly gladness." With

   so great an authority it comes, bringing with it such wonder and such

   love, that "he that feels it may not have it suspect." But all other

   abnormal experiences--"comforts, sounds and gladness, and sweetness,

   that come from without suddenly"--should be set aside, as more often

   resulting in frenzies and feebleness of spirit than in genuine increase

   of "ghostly strength."

 

   This healyour and manly view of the mystical life, as a growth towards

   God, a right employment of the will, rather than a short cut to hidden

   knowledge or supersensual experience, is one of the strongest

   characteristics of the writer of the Cloud; and constitutes perhaps his

   greatest claim on our respect. "Mean only God," he says again and

   again; "Press upon Him with longing love"; "A good will is the

   substance of all perfection." To those who have this good will, he

   offers his teaching: pointing out the dangers in their way, the errors

   of mood and of conduct into which they may fall. They are to set about

   this spiritual work not only with energy, but with courtesy: not

   "snatching as it were a greedy greyhound" at spiritual satisfactions,

   but gently and joyously pressing towards Him Whom Julian of Norwich

   called "our most courteous Lord." A glad spirit of dalliance is more

   becoming to them than the grim determination of the fanatic.

 

   "Shall I, a gnat which dances in your ray,

   Dare to be reverent."

 

   Further, he communicates to them certain "ghostly devices" by which

   they may overcome the inevitable difficulties encountered by beginners

   in contemplation: the distracting thoughts and memories which torment

   the self that is struggling to focus all its attention upon the

   spiritual sphere. The stern repression of such thoughts, however

   spiritual, he knows to be essential to success: even sin, once it is

   repented of, must be forgotten in order that Perfect Goodness may be

   known. The "little word God," and "the little word Love," are the only

   ideas which may dwell in the contemplative's mind. Anything else splits

   his attention, and soon proceeds by mental association to lead him

   further and further from the consideration of that supersensual Reality

   which he seeks.

 

   The primal need of the purified soul, then, is the power of

   Concentration. His whole being must be set towards the Object of his

   craving if he is to attain to it: "Look that nothing live in your

   working mind, but a naked intent stretching into God." Any thought of

   Him is inadequate, and for that reason defeats its own end--a doctrine,

   of course, directly traceable to the "Mystical Theology" of Dionysius

   the Areopagite. "Of God Himself can no man think," says the writer of

   the Cloud, "And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can

   think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. "The

   universes which are amenable to the intellect can never satisfy the

   instincts of the heart."

 

   Further, there is to be no willful choosing of method: no fussy activity

   of the surface intelligence. The mystic who seeks the divine Cloud of

   Unknowing is to be surrendered to the direction of his deeper mind, his

   transcendental consciousness: that "spark of the soul" which is in

   touch with eternal realities. "Meddle you not therewith, as you

   would help it, for dread lest you spill all. Be you but the tree,

   and let it be the wright: be you but the house, and let it be the

   husbandman dwelling therein."

 

   In the Epistle of Privy Counsel there is a passage which expresses with

   singular completeness the author's theory of this contemplative

   are--this silent yet ardent encounter of the soul with God. Prayer,

   said Mechthild of Magdeburg, brings together two lovers, God and the

   soul, in a narrow room where they speak much of love: and here the

   rules which govern that meeting are laid down by a master's hand. "When

   you comes by yourself," he says, "think not before what you shall do

   after, but forsake as well good thoughts as evil thoughts, and pray not

   with your mouth but list you right well. And then if you aught shall

   say, look not how much nor how little that it be, nor weigh not what it

   is nor what it bemeans . . . and look that nothing live in your

   working mind but a naked intent stretching into God, not clothed in any

   special thought of God in Himself. . . . This naked intent freely

   fastened and grounded in very belief shall be nothing else to your

   thought and to your feeling but a naked thought and a blind feeling of

   your own being: as if you said thus unto God, within in your

   meaning, That what I am, Lord, I offer unto You, without any looking

   to any quality of Your Being, but only that You are as You are,

   without any more.' That meek darkness be your mirror, and your whole

   remembrance. Think no further of yourself than I bid you do of your God,

   so that you be one with Him in spirit, as thus without departing and

   scattering, for He is your being, and in Him you are that you are; not

   only by cause and by being, but also, He is in you both your cause and

   your being. And therefore think on God in this work as you dost on

   yourself, and on yourself as you dost on God: that He is as He is and

   you are as you are, and that your thought be not scattered nor

   departed, but proved in Him that is All."

 

   The conception of reality which underlies this profound and beautiful

   passage, has much in common with that found in the work of many other

   mystics; since it is ultimately derived from the great Neoplatonic

   philosophy of the contemplative life. But the writer invests it, I

   think, with a deeper and wider meaning than it is made to bear in the

   writings even of Ruysbroeck, St. Teresa, or St. John of the Cross. "For

   He is your being, and in Him you are that you are; not only by cause

   and by being, but also, He is in you both your cause and your being." It

   was a deep thinker as well as a great lover who wrote this: one who

   joined hands with the philosophers, as well as with the saints.

 

   "That meek darkness be your mirror." What is this darkness? It is the

   "night of the intellect" into which we are plunged when we attain to a

   state of consciousness which is above thought; enter on a plane of

   spiritual experience with which the intellect cannot deal. This is the

   "Divine Darkness"--the Cloud of Unknowing, or of Ignorance, "dark with

   excess of light"--preached by Dionysius the Areopagite, and eagerly

   accepted by his English interpreter. "When I say darkness, I mean a

   lacking of knowing . . . and for this reason it is not called a cloud

   of the air, but a cloud of unknowing that is betwixt you and your God."

   It is "a dark mist," he says again, "which seems to be betexpect you

   and the light you aspire to." This dimness and lostness of mind is a

   paradoxical proof of attainment. Reason is in the dark, because love

   has entered "the mysterious radiance of the Divine Dark, the

   inaccessible light wherein the Lord is said to dwell, and to which

   thought with all its struggles cannot attain."

 

   "Lovers," said Patmore, "put out the candles and draw the curtains,

   when they wish to see the god and the goddess; and, in the higher

   communion, the night of thought is the light of perception." These

   statements cannot be explained: they can only be proved in the

   experience of the individual soul. "Whoso deserves to see and know God

   rests therein," says Dionysius of that darkness, "and, by the very fact

   that he neither sees nor knows, is truly in that which surpasses all

   truth and all knowledge."

 

   "Then," says the writer of the Cloud--whispering as it were to the

   bewildered neophyte the dearest secret of his love--"then will He

   sometimes peradventure send out a beam of ghostly light, piercing this

   cloud of unknowing that is betwixt you and Him; and show you some of

   His privity, the which man may not, nor cannot speak."

 

   Numerous copies of the Cloud of Unknowing and the other works

   attributed to its writer are in existence. Six manuscripts of the Cloud

   are in the British Museum: four on vellum (Harl. 674, Harl. 959, Harl.

   2373, and Royal 17 C. xxvii.), all of the 15th century; and two on

   paper (Royal 17 C. xxvii. of the 16th century, and Royal 17 D. v. late

   15th century). All these agree fairly closely; except for the facts

   that Harl. 2373 is incomplete, several pages having disappeared, and

   that Harl. 959 gives the substance of the whole work in a slightly

   shortened form. The present edition is based upon Harl. 674; which has

   been transcribed and collated with Royal 17 C. xxvi., and in the case

   of specially obscure passages with Royal 17 C. xxvii., Royal 17 D. v.,

   and Harl. 2373. Obvious errors and omissions have been corrected, and

   several obscure readings elucidated, from these sources.

 

   The Cloud of Unknowing was known, and read, by English Catholics as

   late as the middle or end of the 17th century. It was much used by the

   celebrated Benedictine ascetic, the Venerable Augustine Baker

   (1575-1641), who wrote a long exposition of the doctrine which it

   contains. Two manuscripts of this treatise exist in the Benedictine

   College of St. Laurence at Ampleforth; together with a transcript of

   the Cloud of Unknowing dated 1677. Many references to it will also be

   found in the volume called Holy Wisdom, which contains the substances

   of Augustine Baker's writings on the inner life. The Cloud has only

   once been printed: in 1871, by the Rev. Henry Collins, under the title

   of The Divine Cloud, with a preface and notes attributed to Augustine

   Baker and probably taken from the treatise mentioned above. This

   edition is now out of print. The MS. from which it was made is unknown

   to us. It differs widely, both in the matter of additions and of

   omissions, from all the texts in the British Museum, and represents a

   distinctly inferior recension of the work. A mangled rendering of the

   sublime Epistle of Privy Counsel is prefixed to it. Throughout, the

   prior sayings of the original are either misquoted, or expanded into

   conventional and flavourless sentences. Numerous explanatory phrases

   for which our manuscripts give no authority have been incorporated into

   the text. All the quaint and humorous turns of speech are omitted or

   toned down. The responsibility for these crimes against scholarship

   cannot now be determined; but it seems likely that the text from which

   Father Collins' edition was--in his own words--"mostly taken" was a

   17th?century paraphrase, made rather in the interests of edification

   than of accuracy; and that it represents the form in which the work was

   known and used by Augustine Baker and his contemporaries.

 

   The other works attributed to the author of the Cloud have fared better

   than this. Dionise Hid Divinite still remains in MS.: but the Epistle

   of Prayer, the Epistle of Discretion, and the Treatise of Discerning of

   Spirits, together with the paraphrase of the Benjamin Minor of Richard

   of St. Victor which is supposed to be by the same hand, were included

   by Henry Pepwell, in 1521, in a little volume of seven mystical tracts.

   These are now accessible to the general reader; having been reprinted

   in the "New Medieval Library" (1910) under the title of The Cell of

   Self-knowledge, with an admirable introduction and notes by Mr. Edmund

   Gardner. Mr. Gardner has collated Pepwell's text with that contained in

   the British Museum manuscript Harl. 674; the same volume which has

   provided the base manuscript for the present edition of the Cloud.

 

   This edition is intended, not for the student of Middle English, nor

   for the specialist in mediaeval literature; but for the general reader

   and lover of mysticism. My object has been to produce a readable text,

   free from learned and critical apparatus. The spelling has therefore

   been modernised throughout: and except in a few instances, where

   phrases of a special charm or quaintness, or the alliterative passages

   so characteristic of the author's style, demanded their retention,

   obsolete words have been replaced by their nearest modern equivalents.

   One such word, however, which occurs constantly has generally been

   retained, on account of its importance and the difficulty of finding an

   exact substitute for it in current English. This is the verb "to list,"

   with its adjective and adverb "listy" and "listily," and the

   substantive "list," derived from it. "List" is best understood by

   comparison with its opposite, "listless." It implies a glad and eager

   activity, or sometimes an energetic desire or craving: the wish and the

   will to do something. The noun often stands for pleasure or delight,

   the adverb for the willing and joyous performance of an action: the

   "putting of one's heart into one's work." The modern "lust," from the

   same root, suggests a violence which was expressly excluded from the

   Middle English meaning of "list."

 

   My heartiest thanks are due to Mr. David Inward, who transcribed the

   manuscript on which this version is based, and throughout has given me

   skilled and untiring assistance in solving many of the problems which

   arose in connection with it; and to Mr. J. A. Herbert, Assistant keeper

   of Manuscripts in the British Museum, who has read the proofs, and also

   dated the manuscripts of the Cloud for the purposes of the present

   edition, and to whose expert knowledge and unfailing kindness I owe a

   deep debt of gratitude.

 

   EVELYN UNDERHILL.


 

                    Here begins a book of contemplation, the which is called the
                               CLOUD OF UNKNOWING,
                                       in the which a soul is oned with GOD.

 

PROLOGUE

 

Here Begins the Prayer on the Prologue

 

   GOD, unto whom all hearts be open, and unto whom all will speaks, and

   unto whom no privy thing is hid. I beseech you so for to cleanse the

   intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Your grace, that I may

   perfectly love You, and worthily praise You. Amen.

 

 

  Here Begins the Prologue

 

   IN the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! I

   charge you and I beseech you, with as much power and virtue as the

   bond of charity is sufficient to suffer, whatsoever you be that this

   book shall have in possession, either by property, either by keeping,

   by bearing as messenger, or else by borrowing, that in as much as in

   you is by will and advisement, neither you read it, nor write it, nor

   speak it, nor yet suffer it be read, written, or spoken, of any or to

   any but if it be of such one, or to such one, that has by your

   supposing in a true will and by an whole intent purposed him to be a

   perfect follower of Christ not only in active living, but in the

   sovereignest point of contemplative living the which is possible by

   grace for to be come to in this present life of a perfect soul yet

   abiding in this deadly body; and thereto that does that in him is, and

   by your supposing has done long time before, for to able him to

   contemplative living by the virtuous means of active living. For else

   it accords nothing to him. And over this I charge you and I beseech

   you by the authority of charity, that if any such shall read it, write

   it, or speak it, or else hear it be read or spoken, that you charge

   him as I do you, for to take him time to read it, speak it, write it,

   or hear it, all over. For peradventure there is some matter therein in

   the beginning or in the middle, the which is hanging, and not fully

   declared where it stands: and if it be not there, it is soon after,

   or else in the end. Wherefore if a man saw one matter and not another,

   peradventure he might lightly be led into error; and therefore in

   eschewing of this error, both in yourself and in all other, I pray you

   for charity do as I say you.

 

   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. For mine

   intent was never to write such thing unto them, and therefore I would

   that they meddle not therewith; neither they, nor any of these curious,

   lettered, or unlearned men. Yea, although that they be full good men of

   active living, yet this matter accords nothing to them. But if it be

   to those men, the which although they stand in activity by outward form

   of living, nevertheless yet by inward stirring after the privy spirit

   of God, whose dooms be hid, they be full graciously disposed, not

   continually as it is proper to very contemplatives, but now and then to

   be perceivers in the highest point of this contemplative act; if such

   men might see it, they should by the grace of God be greatly comforted

   thereby.

 

   This book is distinguished in seventy chapters and five. Of the which

   chapters, the last chapter of all teaches some certain tokens by the

   which a soul may verily prove whether he be called of God to be a

   worker in this work or none.




 

                                   TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

THE FIRST CHAPTER

                  Of four degrees of Christian men's living; and of the course of his

                  calling that this book was made unto

 

THE SECOND CHAPTER

                  A short stirring to meekness, and to the work of this book

 

THE THIRD CHAPTER

                  How the work of this book shall be wrought, and of the woryourss of it

                  before all other works

 

THE FOURTH CHAPTER

                  Of the shortness of this work, and how it may not be come to by the

                  curiosity of wit, nor by imagination

 

THE FIFTH CHAPTER

                  That in the time of this work all the creatures that ever have been, be

                  now, or ever shall be, and all the works of those same creatures,

                  should be hid under the cloud of forgetting

 

THE SIXTH CHAPTER

                  A short conceit of the work of this book, treated by question

 

THE SEVENTH CHAPTER

                  How a man shall have him in this work against all thoughts, and

                  specially against all those that arise of his own curiosity, of

                  cunning, and of natural wit

 

THE EIGHTH CHAPTER

                  A good declaring of certain doubts that may fall in this work, treated

                  by question, in destroying of a man's own curiosity, of cunning, and of

                  natural wit, and in distinguishing of the degrees and the parts of

                  active living and contemplative

 

THE NINTH CHAPTER

                  That in the time of this work the remembrance of the holiest creature

                  that ever God made lets more than it profits

 

THE TENTH CHAPTER

                  How a man shall know when his thought is no sin; and if it be sin, when

                  it is deadly and when it is venial

 

THE ELEVENTH CHAPTER

                  That a man should weigh each thought and each stirring after that it

                  is, and always eschew recklessness in venial sin

 

THE TWELFTH CHAPTER

                  That by virtue of this work sin is not only destroyed, but also virtues

                  begotten

 

THE THIRTEENTH CHAPTER

                  What meekness is in itself, and when it is perfect and when it is

                  imperfect

 

THE FOURTEENTH CHAPTER

                  That without imperfect meekness coming before, it is impossible for a

                  sinner to come to the perfect virtue of meekness in this life

 

THE FIFTEENTH CHAPTER

                  A short proof against their error that say that there is no perfecter

                  cause to be meeked under, than is the knowledge of a man's own

                  wretchedness

 

THE SIXTEENTH CHAPTER

               That by virtue of this work a sinner truly turned and called to

               contemplation cometh sooner to perfection than by any other work; and

               by it soonest may get of God forgiveness of sins

 

 

THE SEVENTEENTH CHAPTER

               That a very contemplative list not meddle him with active life, nor of

               anything that is done or spoken about him, nor yet to answer to his

               blamers in excusing of himself

 

THE EIGHTEENTH CHAPTER

               How that yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives as

               Mareha did of Mary. Of the which complaining ignorance is the cause

 

THE NINETEENTH CHAPTER

               A short excusation of him that made this book, teaching how all

               contemplatives should have all actives fully excused of their

               complaining words and deeds

 

THE TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               How Almighty God will goodly answer for all those that for the excusing

               of themselves list not leave their business about the love of Him

 

THE ONE AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               The true exposition of this gospel word, "Mary has chosen the best

               part"

 

THE TWO AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the wonderful love that Christ had to man in person of all sinners

               truly turned and called to the grace of contemplation

 

THE THREE AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               How God will answer and purvey for them in spirit, that for business

               about His love list not answer nor purvey for themselves

 

THE FOUR AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               What charity is in itself, and how it is truly and perfectly contained

               in the work of this book.

 

THE FIVE AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               That in the time of this work a perfect soul has no special beholding

               to any one man in this life

 

THE SIX AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               That without full special grace, or long use in common grace, the work

               of this book is right causing travail; and in this work, which is the work

               of the soul helped by grace, and which is the work of only God

 

THE SEVEN AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               Who should work in the gracious work of this book

 

THE EIGHT AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               That a man should not presume to work in this work before the time that

               he be lawfully cleansed in conscience of all his special deeds of sin

 

THE NINE AND TWENTIETH CHAPTER

               That a man should bidingly travail in this work, and suffer the pain

               thereof, and judge no man

 

THE THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               Who should blame and condemn other men's defaults

 

THE ONE AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               How a man should have him in beginning of this work against all

               thoughts and stirrings of sin

 

THE TWO AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               Of two ghostly devices that be helpful to a ghostly beginner in the

               work of this book

 

THE THREE AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               That in this work a soul is cleansed both of his special sins and of

               the pain of them, and yet how there is no perfect rest in this life

 

THE FOUR AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               That God gives this grace freely without any means, and that it may

               not be come to with means

 

THE FIVE AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               Of three means in the which a contemplative prentice should be

               occupied; in reading, thinking, and praying

 

THE SIX AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the meditations of them that continually travail in the work of this

               book

 

THE SEVEN AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the special prayers of them that be continual workers in the work of

               this book

 

THE EIGHT AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               How and why that short prayer pierces heaven

 

THE NINE AND THIRTIETH CHAPTER

               How a perfect worker shall pray, and what prayer is in itself; and, if

               a man shall pray in words, which words accord them most to the property

               of prayer

 

THE FORTIETH CHAPTER

               That in the time of this work a soul has no special beholding to any

               vice in itself nor to any virtue in itself

 

THE ONE AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               That in all other works beneath this, men should keep discretion; but

               in this none

THE TWO AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               That by indiscretion in this, men shall keep discretion in all other

               things; and surely else never

 

THE THREE AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               That all writing and feeling of a man's own being must needs be lost if

               the perfection of this work shall verily be felt in any soul in this

               life

 

THE FOUR AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               How a soul shall dispose it on its own part, for to destroy all witting

               and feeling of its own being

 

THE FIVE AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               A good declaring of some certain deceits that may befall in this work

 

THE SIX AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               A good teaching how a man shall flee these deceits, and work more with

               a listiness of spirit, than with any boisterousness of body

 

THE SEVEN AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               A slight teaching of this work in purity of spirit; declaring how that

               on one manner a soul should show his desire unto God, and on ye

               contrary, unto man

 

THE EIGHT AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               How God will be served both with body and with soul, and reward men in

               both; and how men shall know when all those sounds and sweetness that

               fall into the body in time of prayer be both good and evil

 

THE NINE AND FORTIETH CHAPTER

               The substance of all perfection is nothing else but a good will; and how

               that all sounds and comforts and sweetness that may befall in this life

               be to it but as it were accidents

 

THE FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               Which is chaste love; and how in some creatures such sensible comforts

               be but seldom, and in some right oft

 

THE ONE AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               That men should have great wariness so that they understand not bodily

               a thing that is meant ghostly; and specially it is good to be wary in

               understanding of this word in, and of this word up

 

THE TWO AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               How these young presumptuous disciples misunderstand this word in, and

               of the deceits that follow thereon

 

THE THREE AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               Of divers unseemly practices that follow them that lack the work of

               this book

 

THE FOUR AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               How that by virtue of this work a man is governed full wisely, and made

               full seemly as well in body as in soul

 

THE FIVE AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               How they be deceived that follow the fervor of spirit in condemning of

               some without discretion

 

THE SIX AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               How they be deceived that lean more to the curiosity of natural wit,

               and of clergy learned in the school of men than to the common doctrine

               and counsel of Holy Church

 

THE SEVEN AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               How these young presumptuous disciples misunderstand this other word

               up; and of the deceits that follow thereon

 

THE EIGHT AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               That a man shall not take ensample of Saint Marein and of Saint

               Stephen, for to strain his imagination bodily upwards in the time of

               his prayer

 

THE NINE AND FIFTIETH CHAPTER

               That a man shall not take ensample at the bodily ascension of Christ,

               for to strain his imagination upwards bodily in the time of prayer: and

               that time, place, and body, these three should be forgotten in all

               ghostly working

 

THE SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               That the high and the next way to heaven is run by desires, and not by

               paces of feet

 

THE ONE AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               That all bodily thing is subject unto ghostly thing, and is ruled

               thereafter by the course of nature, and not contrariwise

 

THE TWO AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               How a man may wit when his ghostly work is beneath him or without him

               and when it is even with him or within him, and when it is above him

                and under his God

 

THE THREE AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the powers of a soul in general, and how Memory in special is a

               principal power comprehending in it all the other powers and all those

               things in the which they work

 

THE FOUR AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the other two principal powers, Reason and Will, and of the work of

               them before sin and after

 

THE FIVE AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the first secondary power, Imagination by name; and of the works and

               of the obedience of it unto Reason, before sin and after

 

THE SIX AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               Of the other secondary power, Sensuality by name; and of the works and

               of the obedience of it unto Will, before sin and after

 

THE SEVEN AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               That whoso knows not the powers of a soul and the manner of her

               working, may lightly be deceived in understanding of ghostly words and

               of ghostly working; and how a soul is made a God in grace

 

THE EIGHT AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               That nowhere bodily, is everywhere ghostly; and how our outer man

               calls the work of this book nothing

 

THE NINE AND SIXTIETH CHAPTER

               How that a man's affection is marvelously changed in ghostly feeling of

               this nothing, when it is nowhere wrought

 

THE SEVENTIETH CHAPTER

               That right as by the failing of our bodily wits we begin more readily

               to come to knowing of ghostly things, so by the failing of our

               ghostly wits we begin most readily to come to the knowledge of God,

               such as is possible by grace to be had here

 

THE ONE AND SEVENTIETH CHAPTER

               That some may not come to feel the perfection of this work but in time

               of ravishing, and some may have it when they will, in the common state

               of man's soul

 

THE TWO AND SEVENTIETH CHAPTER

               That a worker in this work should not deem nor think of another worker

               as he feels in himself

 

THE THREE AND SEVENTIETH CHAPTER

               How that after the likeness of Moses, of Bezaleel and of Aaron meddling

               them about the Ark of the Testament, we profit on three manners in this

               grace of contemplation, for this grace is figured in that Ark

 

THE FOUR AND SEVENTIETH CHAPTER

               How that the matter of this book is never more read or spoken, nor

               heard read or spoken, of a soul disposed thereto without feeling of a

               very accordance to the effect of the same work: and of rehearsing of

               the same charge that is written in the prologue

 

THE FIVE AND SEVENTIETH CHAPTER

               Of some certain tokens by the which a man may prove whether he be

               called of God to work in this work

 

             AND HERE ENDETH THE TABLE OF THE CHAPTERS

 

 

 

 

GHOSTLY FRIEND IN GOD, I pray you and I beseech you that you will

   have a busy beholding to the course and the manner of your calling. And

   thank God heartily so that you may through help of His grace stand

   stiffly in the state, in the degree, and in the form of living that

   you hast entirely purposed against all the subtle assailing of your

   bodily and ghostly enemies, and win to the crown of life that evermore

   lasts. Amen.

 

 


 

                      HERE BEGINS THE FIRST CHAPTER

 

   Of four degrees of Christian men's living; and of the course of his

   calling that this book was made unto.

 

 

   GHOSTLY friend in God, you shall well understand that I find, in my

   boisterous beholding, four degrees and forms of Christian men's living:

   and they be these, Common, Special, Singular, and Perfect. Three of

   these may be begun and ended in this life; and the fourth may by grace

   be begun here, but it shall ever last without end in the bliss of

   Heaven. And right as you see how they be set here in order each one

   after other; first Common, then Special, after Singular, and last

   Perfect, right so I think that in the same order and in the same

   course our Lord has of His great mercy called you and led you unto

   Him by the desire of your heart. For first you know well that when

   you were living in the common degree of Christian men's living in

   company of your worldly friends, it seems to me that the everlasting

   love of His Godhead, through the which He made you and wrought you

   when you were nothing, and since bought you with the price of His

   precious blood when you were lost in Adam, might not suffer you to be

   so far from Him in form and degree of living. And therefore He kindled

   your desire full graciously, and fastened by it a leash of longing, and

   led you by it into a more special state and form of living, to be a

   servant among the special servants of His; where you might learn to

   live more specially and more ghostly in His service than you didst, or

   might do, in the common degree of living before. And what more?

 

   Yet it seems that He would not leave you thus lightly, for love of

   His heart, the which He has evermore had unto you since you were

   aught: but what did He? See you nothing how Mistily and how

   graciously He has privily pulled you to the third degree and manner

   of living, the which is called Singular? In the which solitary form and

   manner of living, you may learn to lift up the foot of your love;

   and step towards that state and degree of living that is perfect, and

   the last state of all.


 

                 HERE BEGINS THE SECOND CHAPTER

 

 

   A short stirring to meekness, and to the work of this book.

 

   LOOK up now, weak wretch, and see what you are. What are you, and

   what have you merited, thus to be called of our Lord? What weary

   wretched hear, and sleeping in sloth, is that, the which is not

   wakened with the draught of this love and the voice of this calling!

   Beware, you wretch, in this while with your enemy; and hold you

   never the holier nor the better, for the woryourss of this calling and

   for the singular form of living that you are in. But the more wretched

   and cursed, unless you do that in you is goodly, by grace and by

   counsel, to live after your calling. And insomuch you should be more

   meek and loving to your ghostly spouse, that He that is the Almighty

   God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would meek Him so low unto you,

   and amongst all the flock of His sheep so graciously would choose you

   to be one of His specials, and since set you in the place of pasture,

   where you may be fed with the sweetness of His love, in earnest of

   your heritage the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

   Do on then, I pray you, fast. Look now forwards and let be backwards;

   and see what you fails, and not what you hast, for that is the

   readiest getting and keeping of meekness. All your life now behooves

   altogether to stand in desire, if you shall profit in degree of

   perfection. This desire behooves altogether be wrought in your will, by

   the hand of Almighty God and your consent. But one thing I tell you. He

   is a jealous lover and suffers no fellowship, and Him list not work

   in your will but if He be only with you by Himself. He asks none

   help, but only yourself. He wills, you do but look on Him and let Him

   alone. And keep you the windows and the door, for flies and enemies

   assailing. And if you be willing to do this, you needs but meekly

   press upon him with prayer, and soon will He help you. Press on then,

   let see how you bear you. He is full ready, and does but abides

   you. But what shall you do, and how shall you press?

 


 

                         HERE BEGINS THE THIRD CHAPTER

 

 

   How the work of this book shall be wrought, and of the woryourss of it

   before all other works.

 

 

   LIFT up your heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean

   Himself, and none of His goods. And thereto, look the loath to think on

   aught but Himself. So that nothing work in your wit, nor in your will, but

   only Himself. And do that in you is to forget all the creatures that

   ever God made and the works of them; so that your thought nor your desire

   be not directed nor stretched to any of them, neither in general nor in

   special, but let them be, and take no heed to them. This is the work of

   the soul that most pleases God. All saints and angels have joy of this

   work, and hasten them to help it in all their might. All fiends be

   furious when you thus dost, and try for to defeat it in all that they

   can. All men living in earth be wonderfully holpen of this work, you

   know not how. Yea, the souls in purgatory be eased of their pain by

   virtue of this work. Yourself are cleansed and made virtuous by no work

   so much. And yet it is the lightest work of all, when a soul is helped

   with grace in sensible list, and soonest done. But else it is hard, and

   wonderful to you for to do.

 

   Let not, therefore, but travail therein till you feel list. For at the

   first time when you dost it, you find but a darkness; and as it

   were a cloud of unknowing, you know not what, saving that you

   feel in your will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this

   cloud is, howsoever you dost, betwixt you and your God, and let

   you that you may neither see Him clearly by light of understanding

   in your reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in your affection.

 

   And therefore shape you to bide in this darkness as long as you

   may, evermore crying after Him that you love. For if ever you

   shall feel Him or see Him, as it may be here, it behooves always to be

   in this cloud in this darkness. And if you will busily travail as I

   bid you, I trust in His mercy that you shall come thereto.


 

                    HERE BEGINS THE FOURTH CHAPTER

 

   Of the shortness of this word, and how it may not be come to by

   curiosity of wit, nor by imagination.

 

   BUT for this, that you shall not err in this working and hope that it

   be otherwise than it is, I shall tell you a little more thereof, as me

   thinks.

 

   This work asks no long time or it be once truly done, as some men

   hope; for it is the shortest work of all that man may imagine. It is

   never longer, nor shorter, than is an atom: the which atom, by the

   definition of true philosophers in the science of astronomy, is the

   least part of time. And it is so little that for the littleness of it,

   it is indivisible and nearly incomprehensible. This is that time of the

   which it is written: All time that is given to you, it shall be asked

   of you, how you hast dispended it. And reasonable thing it is that

   you give account of it: for it is neither longer nor shorter, but even

   according to one only stirring that is within the principal working

   might of your soul, the which is your will. For even so many willings or

   desirings, and no more nor no fewer, may be and are in one hour in your

   will, as are atoms in one hour. And if you were reformed by grace to

   the first state of man's soul, as it was before sin, then you

   should evermore by help of that grace be lord of that stirring or of

   those stirrings. So that none went near, but all they should stretch

   into the sovereign desirable, and into the highest willable thing: the

   which is God. For He is even meet to our soul by measuring of His

   Godhead; and our soul even meet unto Him by woryourss of our creation

   to His image and to His likeness. And He by Himself without more, and

   none but He, is sufficient to the full and much more to fulfill the will

   and the desire of our soul. And our soul by virtue of this reforming

   grace is made sufficient to the full to comprehend all Him by love, the

   which is incomprehensible to all created knowledgeable powers, as is

   angel, or man's soul; I mean, by their knowing, and not by their

   loving. And therefore I call them in this case knowledgeable powers.

   But yet all reasonable creatures, angel and man, have in them each one

   by himself, one principal working power, the which is called a

   knowledgeable power, and another principal working power, the which is

   called a loving power. Of the which two powers, to the first, the which

   is a knowledgeable power, God that is the maker of them is evermore

   incomprehensible; and to the second, the which is the loving power, in

   each one diversely He is all comprehensible to the full. Insomuch that

   a loving soul alone in itself, by virtue of love should comprehend in

   itself Him that is sufficient to the full--and much more, without

   comparison--to fill all the souls and angels that ever may be. And this

   is the endless marvelous miracle of love; the working of which shall

   never take end, forever shall He do it, and never shall He cease for

   to do it. See who by grace see may, for the feeling of this is endless

   bliss, and the contrary is endless pain.

 

   And therefore whoso were reformed by grace thus to continue in keeping

   of the stirrings of his will, should never be in this life--as he may

   not be without these stirrings in nature--without some taste of the

   endless sweetness, and in the bliss of heaven without the full food.

   And therefore have no wonder though I stir you to this work. For this

   is the work, as you shall hear afterward, in the which man should have

   continued if he never had sinned: and to the which working man was

   made, and all things for man, to help him and further him thereto, and

   by the which working a man shall be repaired again. And for the

   failing of this working, a man falls evermore deeper and deeper in

   sin, and further and further from God. And by keeping and continual

   working in this work only without more, a man evermore rises higher

   and higher from sin, and nearer and nearer unto God.

 

   And therefore take good heed unto time, how that you expend it:

   for nothing is more precious than time. In one little time, as little

   as it is, may heaven be won and lost. A token it is that time is

   precious: for God, that is given of time, gives never two times

   together, but each one after other. And this He does, for He will not

   reverse the order or the ordinal course in the cause of His creation.

   For time is made for man, and not man for time. And therefore God, that

   is the ruler of nature, will not in His giving of time go before the

   stirring of nature in man's soul; the which is even according to one

   time only. So that man shall have none accusation against God in the

   Doom, and at the giving of account of dispending of time, saying, "You

   give two times at once, and I have but one stirring at once."

 

   But sorrowfully you say now, "How shall I do? and since this is thus

   that you say, how shall I give account of each time severally; I

   that have unto this day, now of four and twenty years age, never took

   heed of time? If I would now amend it, you know well, by very

   reason of your words written before, it may not be after the course of

   nature, nor of common grace, that I should now heed or else make

   satisfaction, for any more times than for those that be for to come.

   Yea, and moreover well I know by very proof, that of those that be to

   come I shall on no wise, for abundance of frailty and slowness of

   spirits, be able to observe one of an hundred. So that I am verily

   concluded in these reasons. Help me now for the love of JESUS!"

 

   Right well hast you said, for the love of JESUS. For in the love of

   JESUS; there shall be your help. Love is such a power, that it makes

   all thing common. Love therefore JESUS; and all thing that He has, it

   is yours. He by His Godhead is maker and giver of time. He by His

   manhood is the very keeper of time. And He by His Godhead and His

   manhood together, is the truest Doomsman, and the asker of account of

   dispensing of time. Knit you therefore to Him, by love and by belief,

   and then by virtue of that knot you shall be common perceiver with

   Him, and with all that by love so be knitted unto Him: that is to say,

   with our Lady Saint Mary that full was of all grace in keeping of time,

   with all the angels of heaven that never may lose time, and with all

   the saints in heaven and in earth, that by the grace of JESUS heed time

   full justly in virtue of love. Lo! here lies comfort; construe you

   clearly, and pick you some profit. But of one thing I warn you

   amongst all other. I cannot see who may truly challenge community thus

   with JESUS and His just Mother, His high angels and also with His

   saints; but if he be such an one, that does that in him is with helping

   of grace in keeping of time. So that he be seen to be a profiter on his

   part, so little as is, unto the community; as each one of them does on

   his.

 

   And therefore take heed to this work, and to the marvelous manner of

   it within in your soul. For if it be truly conceived, it is but a sudden

   stirring, and as it were unadvised, speedily springing unto God as a

   sparkle from the coal. And it is marvelous to number the stirrings

   that may be in one hour wrought in a soul that is disposed to this

   work. And yet in one stirring of all these, he may have suddenly and

   perfectly forgotten all created thing. But fast after each stirring,

   for corruption of the flesh, it falls down again to some thought or

   to some done or undone deed. But what thereof? For fast after, it

   rises again as suddenly as it did before.

 

   And here may men shortly conceive the manner of this working, and

   clearly know that it is far from any fantasy, or any false imagination

   or quaint opinion: the which be brought in, not by such a devout and a

   meek blind stirring of love, but by a proud, curious, and an

   imaginative wit. Such a proud, curious wit behooves always be borne

   down and stiffly trodden down under foot, if this work shall truly be

   conceived in purity of spirit. For whoso hears this work either be

   read or spoken of, and expects that it may, or should, be come to by

   travail in their wits, and therefore they sit and seek in their wits

   how that it may be, and in this curiosity they travail their

   imagination peradventure against the course of nature, and they feign a

   manner of working the which is neither bodily nor ghostly--truly this

   man, whatsoever he be, is perilously deceived. Insomuch, that unless

   God of His great goodness show His merciful miracle, and make him soon

   to leave work, and meek him to counsel of proved workers, he shall fall

   either into frenzies, or else into other great mischiefs of ghostly

   sins and devils' deceits; through the which he may lightly be lost,

   both life and soul, without any end. And therefore for God's love be

   wary in this work, and travail not in your wits nor in your imagination

   on nowise: for I tell you truly, it may not be come to by travail in

   them, and therefore leave them and work not with them.

 

   And expect not, for I call it a darkness or a cloud, that it be any cloud

   congealed of the humors that flee in the air, nor yet any darkness

   such as is in your house on nights when the candle is out. For such a

   darkness and such a cloud may you imagine with curiosity of wit,

   for to bear before your eyes in the lightest day of summer: and also

   contrariwise in the darkest night of winter, you may imagine a

   clear shining light. Let be such falsehood. I mean not thus. For when I

   say darkness, I mean a lacking of knowing: as all that thing that you

   know not, or else that you hast forgotten, it is dark to you; for

   you see it not with your ghostly eye. And for this reason it is not

   called a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing, that is betwixt

   you and your God.


 

                    HERE BEGINS THE FIFTH CHAPTER

 

   That in the time of this word all the creatures that ever have been, be

   now, or ever shall be, and all the works of those same creatures,

   should be hid under the cloud of forgetting.

 

   AND if ever you shall come to this cloud and dwell and work therein as

   I bid you, you behooves as this cloud of unknowing is above you,

   betwixt you and your God, right so put a cloud of forgetting beneath

   you; betwixt you and all the creatures that ever be made. You

   thinks, peradventure, that you are full far from God because that

   this cloud of unknowing is betwixt you and your God: but surely, an it

   be well conceived, you are well further from Him when you hast no

   cloud of forgetting betwixt you and all the creatures that ever be

   made. As oft as I say, all the creatures that ever be made, as oft I

   mean not only the creatures themselves, but also all the works and the

   conditions of the same creatures. I take out not one creature, whether

   they be bodily creatures or ghostly, nor yet any condition or work of

   any creature, whether they be good or evil: but shortly to say, all

   should be hid under the cloud of forgetting in this case.

 

   For although it be full profitable sometime to think of certain

   conditions and deeds of some certain special creatures, nevertheless

   yet in this work it profits little or nothing. For why? Memory or

   thinking of any creature that ever God made, or of any of their deeds

   either, it is a manner of ghostly light: for the eye of your soul is

   opened on it and even fixed thereupon, as the eye of a shooter is upon

   the prick that he shoots to. And one thing I tell you, that all

   thing that you thinks upon, it is above you for the time, and

   betwixt you and your God: and insomuch you are the further from God,

   that aught is in your mind but only God.

 

   Yea! and, if it be courteous and seemly to say, in this work it

   profits little or nothing to think of the kindness or the woryourss

   of God, nor on our Lady, nor on the saints or angels in heaven, nor yet

   on the joys in heaven: that is to say, with a special beholding to

   them, as you would by that beholding feed and increase your purpose.

   I suppose that on nowise it should help in this case and in this work. For

   although it be good to think upon the kindness of God, and to love Him

   and praise Him for it, yet it is far better to think upon the naked

   being of Him, and to love Him and praise Him for Himself.

                 HERE BEGINS THE SIXTH CHAPTER

 

   A short conceit of the work of this book, treated by question.

 

   BUT now you ask me and say, "How shall I think on Himself, and

   what is He?" and to this I cannot answer you but thus: "I know not."

 

   For you hast brought me with your question into that same darkness, and

   into that same cloud of unknowing, that I would you were in yourself.

   For of all other creatures and their works, yea, and of the works of

   God's self, may a man through grace have fullhead of knowing, and well

   he can think of them: but of God Himself can no man think. And

   therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to

   my love that thing that I cannot think. For why; He may well be loved,

   but not thought. By love may He be gotten and hold; but by thought

   never. And therefore, although it be good sometime to think of the

   kindness and the woryourss of God in special, and although it be a

   light and a part of contemplation: nevertheless yet in this work it

   shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you

   shall step above it stalwarely, but Mistily, with a devout and a

   pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above

   you. And smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dare of

   longing love; and go not thence for thing that befalls.


 

                 HERE BEGINS THE SEVENTH CHAPTER

 

   How a man shall have him in this work against all thoughts, and

   specially against all those that arise of his own curiosity, of

   cunning, and of natural wit.

 

   AND if any thought rise and will press continually above you betwixt

   you and that darkness, and ask you saying, "What seek you, and

   what would you have?" say you, that it is God that you would

   have. "Him I covet, Him I seek, and nothing but Him."

 

   And if he ask you, "What is that God?" say you, that it is God that

   made you and bought you, and that graciously has called you to your

   degree. "And in Him," say, "you hast no skill." And therefore say, "Go

   you down again," and tread him fast down with a stirring of love,

   although he seem to you right holy, and seem to you as he would help

   you to seek Him. For peradventure he will bring to your mind diverse

   full fair and wonderful points of His kindness, and say that He is full

   sweet, and full loving, full gracious, and full merciful. And if you

   will hear him, he covets no better; for at the last he will thus

   jangle ever more and more till he bring you lower, to the mind of His

   Passion.

 

   And there will he let you see the wonderful kindness of God, and if

   you hear him, he cares for nothing better. For soon after he will let

   you see your old wretched living, and peradventure in seeing and

   thinking thereof he will bring to your mind some place that you hast

   dwelt in before this time. So that at the last, or ever you wit, you

   shall be scattered you know not where. The cause of this scattering

   is, that you heard him first willfully, then answered him,

   received him, and let him alone.

 

   And yet, nevertheless, the thing that he said was both good and holy.

   Yea, and so holy, that what man or woman that supposes to come to

   contemplation without many such sweet meditations of their own

   wretchedness, the passion, the kindness, and the great goodness, and

   the woryourss of God coming before, surely he shall err and fail of

   his purpose. And yet, nevertheless, it behooves a man or a woman that

   has long time been used in these meditations, nevertheless to leave

   them, and put them and hold them far down under the cloud of

   forgetting, if ever he shall pierce the cloud of unknowing betwixt him

   and his God. Therefore what time that you purpose you to this work,

   and feel by grace that you are called of God, lift then up your

   heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean God that made

   you, and bought you, and that graciously has called you to your

   degree, and receive none other thought of God. And yet not all these,

   but if you list; for it suffices enough, a naked intent direct unto

   God without any other cause than Himself.

 

   And if you list have this intent lapped and folden in one word, for

   you should have better hold thereupon, take you but a little word

   of one syllable: for so it is better than of two, forever the shorter

   it is the better it accords with the work of the Spirit. And such a

   word is this word GOD or this word LOVE. Choose you whether you will,

   or another; as you list, which that you like best of one syllable.

   And fasten this word to your heart, so that it never go thence for

   thing that befalls.

 

   This word shall be your shield and your spear, whether you ride on

   peace or on war. With this word, you shall beat on this cloud and this

   darkness above you. With this word, you shall smite down all manner

   of thought under the cloud of forgetting. Insomuch, that if any thought

   press upon you to ask you what you would have, answer them with

   no more words but with this one word. And if he proffer you of his

   great clergy to expound you that word and to tell you the conditions

   of that word, say him: That you will have it all whole, and not broken

   nor undone. And if you will hold you fast on this purpose, be you

   sure, he will no while abide. And why? For that you will not let him

   feed him on such sweet meditations of God touched before.


 

                     HERE BEGINS THE EIGHTH CHAPTER

 

 

   A good declaring of certain doubts that may fall in this word treated

   by question, in destroying of a man's own curiosity, of cunning, and of

   natural wit, and in distinguishing of the degrees and the parts of

   active living and contemplative.

 

 

   BUT now you ask me, "What is he, this that thus presses upon me in

   this work; and whether it is a good thing or an evil? And if it be an

   evil thing, then have I marvel," you say, "why that he will

   increase a man's devotion so much. For sometimes me think that it is a

   passing comfort to listen after his tales. For he will sometime, me

   think, make me weep full heartily for pity of the Passion of Christ,

   sometime for my wretchedness, and for many other reasons, that me

   thinks be full holy, and that done me much good. And therefore me

   thinks that he should on nowise be evil; and if he be good, and with

   his sweet tales does me so much good withal, then I have great marvel

   why that you bid me put him down and away so far under the cloud

   of forgetting?"

 

   Now surely I think that this is a well moved question, and

   therefore I think to answer thereto so feebly as I can. First when you

   ask me what is he, this that presses so fast upon you in this

   work, proffering to help you in this work; I say that it is a sharp

   and a clear beholding of your natural wit, printed in your reason within

   in your soul. And where you ask me thereof whether it be good or

   evil, I say that it behooves always be good in its nature. For why, it

   is a beam of the likeness of God. But the use thereof may be both good

   and evil. Good, when it is opened by grace for to see your wretchedness,

   the passion, the kindness, and the wonderful works of God in His

   creatures bodily and ghostly. And then it is no wonder though it

   increase your devotion full much, as you say. But then is the use

   evil, when it is swollen with pride and with curiosity of much clergy

   and letterly cunning as in clerks; and make them press for to be

   held not meek scholars and masters of divinity or of devotion, but

   proud scholars of the devil and masters of vanity and of falsehood. And

   in other men or women whatso they be, religious or seculars, the use

   and the working of this natural wit is then evil, when it is swollen

   with proud and curious skills of worldly things, and fleshly conceits

   in coveting of worldly worships and having of riches and vain pleasantries

   and flatterings of others.

 

   And where that you ask me, why that you shall put it down under

   the cloud of forgetting, since it is so, that it is good in its nature,

   and thereto when it is well used it does you so much good and

   increased your devotion so much. To this I answer and say--That you

   shall well understand that there be two manner of lives in Holy Church.

   The one is active life, and the other is contemplative life. Active is

   the lower, and contemplative is the higher. Active life has two

   degrees, a higher and a lower: and also contemplative life has two

   degrees, a lower and a higher. Also, these two lives be so coupled

   together that although they be divers in some part, yet neither of them

   may be had fully without some part of the other. For why? That part

   that is the higher part of active life, that same part is the lower