Mysticism

The cloud of forgetting

One of my all-time favourite books is a 14th century Christian mystical work entitled “The Cloud of Unknowing”.

Should you not yet have read an old post of mine — No Man’s Land — then I would encourage you to do so now, before continuing further. Some things are best and most fully received in right order; this, I suggest, is such a thing.

It is not without some hesitation that I have chosen to quote from this chapter openly on the internet. For I am acutely cognisant of the wise warning given in the Prologue:

“… And over this I charge thee and I beseech thee by the authority of charity, that if any such shall read [this book], write it, or speak it, or else hear it be read or spoken, that thou charge him as I do thee, 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 standeth: 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 thyself and in all other, I pray thee for charity do as I say thee…”

And so, with the author’s sincere urging first passed on to you, and, I trust, the knowledge of my earlier post held in memory for context, “Here Beginneth The Three And Fortieth Chapter”:

“That all witting 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.

Look that nought work in thy wit nor in thy will but only God. And try for to fell all witting and feeling of ought under God, and tread all down full far under the cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt understand, that thou shalt not only in this work forget all other creatures than thyself, or their deeds or thine, but also thou shalt in this work forget both thyself and also thy deeds for God, as well as all other creatures and their deeds. For it is the condition of a perfect lover, not only to love that thing that he loveth more than himself; but also in manner for to hate himself for that thing that he loveth.

Thus shalt thou do with thyself: thou shalt loathe and be weary with all that thing that worketh in thy wit and in thy will unless it be only God. For why, surely else, whatsoever that it be, it is betwixt thee and thy God. And no wonder though thou loathe and hate for to think on thyself, when thou shalt always feel sin, a foul stinking lump thou wottest never what, betwixt thee and thy God: the which lump is none other thing than thyself. For thou shalt think it oned and congealed with the substance of thy being: yea, as it were without departing.

And therefore break down all witting and feeling of all manner of creatures; but most busily of thyself. For on the witting and the feeling of thyself hangeth all witting and feeling of all other creatures; for in the regard of it, all other creatures be lightly forgotten. For, an thou wilt busily set thee to the proof, thou shalt find when thou hast forgotten all other creatures and all their works — yea, and thereto all thine own works — that there shall live yet after, betwixt thee and thy God, a naked witting and a feeling of thine own being: the which witting and feeling behoveth always be destroyed, ere the time be that thou shalt feel soothfastly the perfection of this work.”

Read/download The Cloud of Unknowing here.

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