Mystical Texts

Cloud of Unknowing: Final Words

Extracts from the last chapters of the classic mystical text The Cloud of Unknowing. Here our anonymous author explains who the book is for and offers some final words of encouragement to those called to the contemplative life:

Cloud 5

from Chapter 74: The author takes his leave

“Now if you think that this kind of prayer will not suit your physical or spiritual temperament, it will be no discredit to you to abandon it and adopt another method with a good spiritual director. In that case, I beg you to excuse me, because my only intention was to help you in this book with such simple knowledge as I possess. So read it over carefully two or three times; the more you read it, the better you will understand it. You may find that a sentence that you found difficult on the first or second reading becomes easy the next time.

Yes! I cannot believe that anybody who has adopted the contemplative life will not feel some sympathy for the outcome of this method when they read or speak about it, or hear it read or spoken of. So if it seems to do you good, thank God with all your heart and for the love of God pray for me.

Press on with this work, therefore. And I beg you, for the love of God, not to let anybody see this book unless you think that he is likely to profit from it, as the book describes when it says what kind of people should attempt contemplation and when they should begin. …

But I really do not want censorious and contentious people or those addicted to gossip to read this book. I had no intention of writing for them and so I would rather they heard nothing about it – nor those learned (or ignorant!) people who want knowledge for its own sake. Yes, I mean it; even if they are good men, well-employed in the active life, this book is not their business.”

from Chapter 75: A final encouragement

“Not all those people who read or hear the contents of this book read aloud or explained and like the sound of it or get a good feeling while they are reading it are called to contemplation. It could be that this feeling is merely inspired by natural curiosity rather than grace.

But if they want to test this feeling to see where it comes from, they can try it in this way, if they like. First, let them see if they have completed all the preliminaries, by purifying their conscience according to the decrees of Holy Church and the advice of their spiritual director. So far, so good. But if they want to examine themselves more closely, let them see if this method of prayer comes to mind more habitually than other spiritual exercises. If they realise that their conscience does not approve of their action, physical or spiritual, unless this hidden little impulse of love comes to the fore, then it is a sign that God is calling them to this kind of prayer, otherwise he is certainly not doing so. …

Whenever we lose a consciousness of grace, pride is the reason for it – not necessarily actual pride but the potential pride that could fill the soul if it were not sometimes deprived of the consolations of grace. And that is why some young fools think that God is their enemy, when he is really their best friend. …

Sometimes our Lord cleverly makes us wait, so as to increase it by this delay and make us value it more when we have found and experienced it again after its loss. And this is one of the chief and most trustworthy signs a soul can have that he is called to contemplation, if, after such a period when he has not been able to contemplate for a long time, it suddenly comes back without any effort on his part: he finds that he has a greater and more ardent desire and longing for contemplation than ever before. So much so, I have often believed, that he is more glad to have found it again than he was sorry to have lost it.

If this happens it is an infallible sign that God has called him to be a contemplative, whatever kind of person he is or has been in his past life.

For it is not what you are nor what you have been that God regards with his most merciful eyes, but what you would like to be. …

Farewell, spiritual friend, and may God’s blessing and mine be upon you! I pray almighty God that true peace, wise counsel and spiritual consolation with abundant grace be with you and with all of us who love God in this life for ever, Amen.”

Extracted from Karen Armstrong’s translation in The English Mystics of the Fourteenth Century.

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