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The Cloud of Unknowing: and The Book of Privy Counseling

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William Johnston--an authority on fourteenth century spirituality and specifically on the writings of this unknown author--provides a substantive and accessible introduction detailing what is known... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

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Less thinking + more loving = at-one-ment with God

My understanding and practice of contemplative prayer is that it cannot be forced or willed; it is God's gift. In this state, one transcends words, thoughts and images to enter a state of oneness with God. It silences the noises of daily life, revealing an awareness of God's love which both humbles and exalts. To that end, this 14th century book on the nature of apophatic (mystical) prayer also provides modern audiences with an understanding of the foundation of "centering prayer". As a practitioner of lectio divinia and contemplative prayer, I found that over time, *The Cloud* enriched my relationship with God. However, it took some time; I wasn't ready when I first tried to read and absorb it. But with daily prayer, a grounding in the works of others (eg; Desert Fathers, Augustine, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, T. Merton, etc.) and spiritual growth, it took root. This is just my experience, but one which echoes the comment of reviewer RKirkham, "Study without prayer is flat; prayer without study leads to error." If you're not sure this is the book for you, sample this excellent translation by Evelyn Underhill online @

Not for the Faint of Heart...

I've been told that brevity is golden so I'll keep this short. "The Cloud..." is among the greatest classics of Christian mysticism available. As a Novice Benedictine it was required reading; as one Professed it was Lectio Divina; and as a man before God it is a hope. I hope this helps. Be.

For those who love prayer...

If you are following a way of prayer, you really should read this book. It is considered foundational to much present-day teaching on Christian meditation and prayer. Although it was written for a monk in 14th-century England, this good translation by William Johnston makes it very accessible. Is this book for everybody? No, and the author starts right out by saying so. If you don't care about nurturing your relationship with God in deep prayer, if you have no experience of spending time in God's presence, and don't want to, then you should forget about this book! But, if you want to grow in prayer and experience God in your heart and yourself in God's heart, this is written especially for you. Review by Janet Knori, author of Awakening in God

Discerning the Cloud with a pricked heart

The theme of the writings:In short but instructive chapters, the mysterious Briton, who mastered the way of the mystics gave an admirable essay on Christian life and its development through contemplation. Prayer is in fact the core of Christian life, and the backbone of this marvelous work, where he explained conducting oneself with respect to examining and silencing the thoughts with humility. Love is the goal in which a faithful should abide through contemplation.His smaller work "the Book of Privy Counseling," is a more mature but moving treatise on attaining salvation by enlightenment through kenosis (self denial). What is left should only be consciousness of the presence of the Lord!Apophatic tradition of the Orientals:Eastern monastics started the root to mysticism, practicing the Macarian arrow prayer (K. Ware, in Study of Spirituality p176), carried to Europe as "The Jesus Prayer," through the Praktikos of Evagrius Ponticos.In chapter 38 of the Cloud, this holy English mystic speaks of a little prayer of one syllable Kyriya Elaison (Lord have mercy) that is powerful enough to pierce the heavens. Origen was the initiator of the Apophatic concept (commentary on song of Songs), carrying over from Philo, based on roots that go all the way to Asaph, Ps 73:21-24. But, the crystallization of the whole theology took final shape in the writings of a Syrian monk of early six century of pseudonym Dionysius the Areopagite (who was probably a student or companion of Severus of Antioch), taking to himself the name of St. Paul's Athenian disciple. The wave of Mystical Milieu:During 14th and 15th century Europe, a pilgrimage to the unknown God started by Eckhart and his fellow Dominicans Susa and Tauler based on spiritual poverty. In England, Rolle, Hilton, and Julian of Norwich took the same road. These were all disciples in the school of negation. The influence came through John Scotus who in the ninth century translated the corpus Dionysium into Latin, initiating a chain of commentaries from Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Gallus. The English Counselor translated Dionysius' Mystical Theology under the title" Hid Divinity"Rowan Williams, wrote in his book (The wound of knowledge); "The unknowing Englishman gave a brilliant little summary of the Dionysian ideas" Enjoying the way of UnknowingAfter reading the expert introduction by Wm. Johnston, helpful for a reader of some background on the subject, but the seal of the deal is reading his Privy Counselings. The less informed could attain a better appreciation after reading "The wound of knowledge". Many books on mysticism explain Apophaticism or the way of unknowing in elaboration.Companion readingThe Foundation of Mysticism, Bernard McGinn, The mysticism of Dionysius, pp 157- 182
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