The year is 1370. English mysticism is in full flower. At the same time the populous is being ravaged by the bubonic plague and Europe is suffering through The Hundred Years War. Social unrest is everywhere as modern nations are being painfully birthed. The Papacy is about to split, Medieval Christendom is finally at its ebb and if you stand on your tiptoes, you can see the Renaissance on the horizon.
In the midst of all this comes a deeply spiritual man, a priest or monk of the Anglican Church, probably from the Midlands of England who produces a profound work of spiritual insight called The Cloud Of Unknowing. The Cloud is without equal in all of Christian literature for its deep spiritual insight and profound understanding, and it came in the midst the greatest period of spiritual, political and religious upheaval that Western civilization has ever seen.
The author had an excellent mind and a flair for explaining complicated matters simply. And, like most mystics, he was convinced of the need for God to be at the center of our lives. It is also obvious from his writing that he deeply knew and appreciated the incredible joy of God’s love.
There is much that I could say about this work, but I will leave that to those of you who feel drawn to it. In the prologue the author actually admonishes people to not speak or write of the work, rather to allow others to be drawn to it. How’s that for social marketing, Facebook!
I would recommend that you not try and wrestle with the original text. Although there are dozens of web sites with free literal translations of the Old English, the task of reading Medieval text is daunting. Instead, purchase a modern translation. The best translation by far is by Fr. John Julian and is published by Paraclete Press. Clifton Wolters, also did a translation that is pretty good. It was published as a Penguin Classic in 1962. Unfortunately, it is getting a little hard to find. There are a couple of other modern translations, (Johnston’s is OK, I dislike Butcher’s. They both edit out material from the original text so as not to put off contemporary readers, but I find that this greatly diminishes the work).
The Cloud is not a book to be read. It is a work of contemplation. It is to be meditated on. Read a paragraph or two and then take a walk or meditate on what you have read. The insights you will gain are incredible!
The Church ofthe 14th century was not kind to the “wretches and sinners” who came to it for salvation, and then of course, there were its issues about women and its attribution to God as a male. I know these can be irritants, but if you can put them in their historical context and look beyond them, there is great wisdom to be found in this book. Today, almost 700 years later, the spiritual truth’s of this work still ring with impeccable clarity.
Some years after writing The Cloud, this same author produced The Epistle Of Privy Counsel, which is usually included in most translations. The Privy Counsel is ostensibly a direct communication between the author and God, that he shares with us.
By this time he has spent years in deep spiritual reflection and meditation, and this work reflects an even more profound spiritual understanding than is found in The Cloud. The still unknown author is struggling with issues surrounding the complete surrender of his soul to God, and we see reflected through him, the universal human dilemma. It is an incredibly powerful work of spiritual insight.
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