What do you think of The Cloud of Unknowing?

So what do you all think of this 14th Century work? Is it orthodox enough or dangerous?

My own thought is that since it is referred to by both St. Joh of the Cross and St Bonaventure, Doctors of the Church, it is a valuable source of instruction and inspiration.

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I don’t think just because something is orthodox that it is not dangerous. Some people have taken this book in a wrong sort of way. For example the name Jesus is mentioned only a handful of times in the whole work, and some have taken it to mean that Jesus is incidental to the mystical life. On the other hand it’s very helpful to some because it helps us on the via negativa. I don’t particularly like it, but some very devout people I have met have liked it.

If you’re interested I’d jump in and see if it helps you!

It is a very useful form of meditation for those who are called to this. I have taught it in a Catholic literature class for many years and practice it myself.


I raise the question because many have expressed concern regarding apophatic spirituality.

I wonder what specific objections you have come across. It might help if we laid them out and discussed them. If you want of course. In my opinion it’s hard to imagine an informed Catholic having a complete reservation to apophatic spirituality. So many saints expressed some apophatic notion like “I know nothing.” Even Aquinas said all his work was straw at the end of his life. St John of the Cross said “To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing.”

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It’s an excellent work for those who are ready for it.

Those who aren’t ready, will get nothing out of it and some will be critical of it as it.

Let God guide you.

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I don’t use it but I think it is good tool for meditation. It also depends on how someone uses it.
Author supposed that those who will use it are already at some stage of spiritual life.
I don’t recommend for begginers but that’s just my opinion.

The main concern expressed is about the "emptiness’ or letting go of thought and how it can seem Buddhist or new age and open the mind to demonic influence. i do not believe this in the least but it seems to need to be discussed.

Oh okay. I find what @Inbonum said very helpful, that the author was imagining some development in the spiritual life already. In fact in one place the author talks about the priority of overcoming habitual sin.

I guess if I heard someone argue that it seemed Buddhist or New Age, I would ask what is wrong with the resemblance. Obviously there is some similarity. The problem would be if they were identical. So I would press for more information.

As far as opening the mind to demonic influence, you could test it out by observing the person’s fruits. After the fall, it was not only the human will that was tainted, but the intellect as well. That is why St John of the Cross urged obedience in all things, and stated that “obedience was the penance of reason”.

What are your thoughts?

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Yes because author says that openly. For the use of this work to be useful, one must reach a certain level of spiritual life and also possess some knowledge in order to use it properly. Otherwise there is confusion and distorted prayer as well as a misunderstanding of prayer and God. What is also mentioned is the negative theology used by the author. Negative theology as the foundation of the whole spiritual life cannot in itself be useful because God is clearly revealed and we see this best in Scripture. When negative theology is used as only one part of theology and in one part of the spiritual life then it can be useful. Because God revealed Himself to us (and still does it for every person in private) and we can know him, but at the same time God is unknown to us because we humans are limited. That is normal and we should accept that unknown part of Him.

The Cloud of Unknowing isn’t Buddhist and it isn’t New Age. It is Catholic. BUT many New Agers use it and develop some of their “prayer” methods on that book. That’s reason why someone complains on that work.

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Very good to point out the fall of the intellect as well as the will.
And yes also regarding spiritual development. I found an on-line pdf

As we said there, the first part consists of the good and honest physical works of mercy and charity. This is the first stage of the active life, as we have already said. The second part of these two lives consists of good spiritual meditations on our own wretchedness, on the sufferings of Christ, and on the joy of heaven.

The first part is good: the second is better, for it is the second stage of the active life and the first of the contemplative. In this part the contemplative and active lives are knit together in a spiritual relationship, and made sisters like Martha and Mary. To such a height of contemplation may an active come, yet no higher except on the rarest occasions, and then by special grace: to such a depth may
a contemplative descend towards the active life, but no lower, except on the rarest occasions, and in times of great need.

The third part of these two lives is caught up in this dark cloud of unknowing, and has many a secret act of love to God as he is. The first part is good, and second better, the third best of all. And this is Mary’s 'best part '.


I would add the St John of the Cross spoke of the devil having no access to us when we leave our thoughts behind as it is the thoughts that are most vulnerable.

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Wow, yes, do you know where he said that exactly? I too have often thought I rely on my reason too much, and that the Church would be better off if we weren’t so attached to our understanding.

You know I just wrote it down the other day and it is not with me now. but I believe especially in Living Flame of Love.

Or are you referring to Inbonum’s comment about tarnished intellect.

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Ah of course, thank you, that’s the one I never bothered to look at.

Let me get back to you later because I liked the translation I have.

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I was just looking at Pseudo-Dionysius Mystical Theology today and he speaks of the intellect as not so much tarnished as the limited in its knowledge, divine darkness, unknowing and all that.

I guess that’s what I meant by “tainted” with respect to the intellect.

I don’t know where but I recall medievals talking about our “bent” nature as a result of the fall.

And in chapter 8
It is for this reason that I say you are to suppress these insidious thoughts, and cover them up with a thick cloud of forgetting, even when they are holy and promise well to achieve your object. Why, love may reach up to God himself even in this life - but not knowledge. All the while the soul dwells in this corruptible body, the clarity of our spiritual understanding, especially of God, is touched with some sort of distortion, which causes our works to be imperfect, and which, apart from God’s wonderful grace, would be fruitful of much error.

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