The Cloud of Unknowing

Thanks to the Peck quote about humility, I’ve been reading a little from the 14th Century contemplative text, The Cloud of Unknowing [TCU]. Perhaps appropriately for a work written from the perspective of apophatic theology (the via negativa), the name of TCU’s author isn’t known today.

Some gems:

Go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.

Meekness in itself is nothing else than a true knowing and feeling of a man’s self as he is.

The active life is such that it begins and ends on earth. The contemplative life, however, may indeed begin on earth but it will continue without end into eternity.

If the phrasing doesn’t sound very medieval here, that’s because it isn’t: I’m looking at William Johnston’s translation (1973). There are older English translations including the Evelyn Underhill edition (1922), which is available online.

I’ve been looking for a new text to study in the same way I read two different translations of the Tao Te Ching devotionally 4 years ago. TCU might be it.


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