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The Cloud of Unknowing (Classics) Mass Market Paperback – 31 Aug 1978

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (31 Aug. 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140443851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140443851
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 805,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

The identity of the author of The Cloud of Unknowing is not known, but he was undoubtedly an English priest who lived during the latter half of the 14th century.

A. C. Spearing is Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He has published widely on medieval literature and has translated Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love for Penguin Classics.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
Timothy my friend, whenever by the stirring of divine grace you set yourself to undertake the active exercise of your blind contemplation, see that with strong, prudent and eager contrition you forsake your bodily senses (namely hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch), and also your spiritual senses, otherwise known as your intellectual activities; and all things that can be known outwardly by any of your five bodily senses; and all things that can be known inwardly by your spiritual senses; and all things that now exist or that have existed though they do not now exist; and all things that do not now exist, or that may exist in the future though they do not now exist. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 April 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The man who wrote this was a genius. He tells you how to avoid introspection and self-pity and how to proceed up the spiritual path.It is a book which should be read slowly and really enjoyed.A true classic.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Socrates on 3 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is probably the best translation of this book into modern English. It reads well and is still very true to the original. Underhill's earlier translation is even closer to the original, but sounds awkward in modern English, while Johnston's translation is further away from the original.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Robinson on 3 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
A profound set of works not to be approached lightly but to be savoured over a lifetime. The anonymous author of these works was thought to be a Carthusian monk. The most famous of the three works featured is 'The Cloud of Unknowing' -a work that is often cited in books about Christian mysticism. The ideas and concepts have relevance to every age but this is not an easy book to read nor to understand in one sitting (nor possibly a lifetime!). I have found that the meaning within 'the Cloud of Unknowing' becomes clearer when it is referred to in other books in a different context. However, if you wish to pursue the idea of an abstract transcendent God that cannot be understood then you need to gnaw on this book then leave it, contemplate the meaning over much time and yet empty yourself of all pre-conceived ideas of God. The contradictions are like Zen koans or Christian parables. All is paradox. One cannot as a human know the divine but if one works at practical contemplation then maybe, just maybe there will be a glimpse of what underlies our existence.

The language is that of medieval Christianity and can at times be unpalatable to the modern mind but it is worth suspending judgement and focusing in on the symbolism and transferring this symbolism to the modern day world.

A classic that every person seeking the meaning of life ought to read just to know what other writers are referring to when they speak of the 'cloud of unknowing'.

Fascinating, frustrating and fertile.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Glass Peter on 22 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a Christian spiritual classic, written in the fourteenth century, which sets out to capture in language the nature of God and the longed-for relationship of the contemplative soul with God. The author is unknown but thought to be a priest who was probably also a monk. He argues that essentially God is unknowable and indescribable and that therefore all words are inadequate and sometimes quite misleading, as in when He (for want of a better pronoun) is described as 'out there' or 'up there' or 'within'. This sort of language is not to be understood in a bodily or physically spatial sense but spiritually. We have to use words because we inhabit the physical world and have only those terms to describe what is essentially of the spirit and not describable in words at all. However, if we don't use words we have only silence which doesn't enable us to share wisdom and experience. Fortunately, the book is written in short chapters which enables the reader to digest and absorb (to use more physical terms) what is being put forward.
I have found the book really helpful at this particular stage of my own journey. It helps me to make sense of some of my own experiences because it deals with questions I have had and which had not been addressed to my satisfaction before. As there is a lot within the writing to take in it is the sort of guide to come back to from time to time, and specific chapters might be of particular help in particular life situations.
I would recommend this to anyone seeking, through setting aside a time of quiet, a closer relationship with God.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 6 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While I think this is an indispensable companion book, I strongly suggest you also download the freely available copy written in old English. Although it is not as easy to read, in some ways the old-english version transmits the concepts, which are truly not easy to transmit in words, better than the modern English version. Because the concepts in the cloude of unknowing are really so alien to modern life and properly a new language should be invented to discuss them, the use of old english in some way achieves this by using slightly unfamiliar versions of words that if written in the common language lose meaning simply because of how we are used to treating the word and the automatic sensations it brings up in us.
My practice is to read the old english first and then if a word stumps me use this book to "translate" it for myself.
I need to add that I have no religion whatsoever, however the concepts described by the 14th century anonymous mystic who wrote it are truly universal and I wonder if he didn't keep his name out of it to avoid being burned at the stake!

One last point, I don't know if others will relate to this, but this book might have been utterly incomprehensible to me had it not been for an event that completely re-wired my outlook on life. I had a sudden experience that flung me into what i can only describe an alternate reality based in love, and in it, all the common rules of the material world no longer apply, in fact, many of the normal ways we go about our lives could even be seen as wrong and liable to only bring misery to our lives instead of love and joy. This book, so far, is the only thing I have found that actually describes this alternate reality well. It has been helpful to me to understand when my faith has been weak.
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