The Cloud of Unknowing is a fourteenth-century work of Christian mysticism written by an anonymous author. It is a spiritual guide to contemplative prayer—the art of surrendering ego, mind, and expectations so that God may pierce the barrier, or cloud, that separates him from us.
Since this book’s entrance into religious circles more than 500 years ago, the question of authorship has been asked by many, including the Anglo-Catholic writer and mystic Evelyn Underhill, who penned the introduction to this important version of The Cloud. The writer’s identity may be a mystery, but the value of his writing is plain to all. Underhill praises the unidentified author’s vivid humor, robust common sense, and simple style, which helps readers share in the deeply spiritual experiences he has enjoyed. According to Underhill’s introduction, “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.”
Drawing upon Christian Neoplatonism, this matchless guide encourages readers to seek God truly and glimpse his divine beauty, wisdom, and love—to remove all thought, and work within the realm of the heart. Attempting to describe the indescribable, The Cloud of Unknowing is a key text for understanding contemplative prayer and the practices of Christian mysticism.
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“wakened with the draught of this love and the voice of this calling!” (Page 68)
“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.’” (Page 5)
“For the author of the Cloud all human virtue is comprised in the twin qualities of Humility and Charity.” (Pages 19–20)
“Mystica Theologia, this spiritual treasure-house was first made accessible to those outside the professionally religious class.” (Page 6)
“LIFT up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean Himself, and none of His goods.” (Page 71)
The Cloud of Unknowing, a masterpiece of simplicity that distills a complex mystical epistemology and discipline into engagingly readable prose, embodies a paradox. It offers a method by which the suitably disposed reader may practice an advanced and even austere form of contemplation—the divesting of the mind of all images and concepts through an encounter with a ‘nothing and a nowhere’ that leads to the mysterious and unfathomable being of God himself. Yet as the account of this exercise unfolds, the genial and hospitable tone of the author humanizes the austerity of the method and persuasively draws the reader into what Evelyn Underhill calls, ‘the loving discernment of Reality.’
—Patrick J. Gallacher, professor emeritus, University of New Mexico
The author truly believes that the contemplation he teaches is of the highest value. He presents a book of true counseling, more direct than is the accepted practice of today, but written with the conviction that comes from lifelong practice.
Evelyn Underhill (6 December 1875–15 June 1941) was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism. In the English-speaking world, she was one of the most widely read writers on such matters in the first half of the twentieth century.