The Cloud of Unknowing: With the Book of Privy Counsel
Carmen Acevedo Butcher
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
This anonymous fourteenth-century text is the glory of English mysticism, and one of the most practical and useful guides to finding union with God ever written. Carmen Acevedo Butcher’s new translation is the first to bring the text into a modern English idiom—while remaining strictly faithful to the meaning of the original Middle English.
The Cloud of Unknowing consists of a series of letters written by a monk to his student or disciple, instructing him (or her) in the way of Divine union. Its theology is presented in a way that is remarkably easy to understand, as well as practical, providing advice on prayer and contemplation that anyone can use. Previous translations of the Cloud have tended to veil its intimate, even friendly tone under medieval-sounding language. Carmen Butcher has boldly brought the text into language as appealing to modern ears as it was to its original readers more than five hundred years ago.
Also included in the volume is the companion work attributed to the same anonymous author, The Book of Privy Counsel, which contains further advice for approaching God in a way that emphasizes real experience rather than human knowledge.
what I’ve taught you and follow my teaching (or if you can find better instruction on this point, follow it). Avoid the devil’s deceptive, false way of thinking and undisciplined, excessive straining of body and soul. Why? Because then the source of your comfort is certain—it will be that devout stirring of love making its home in the pure heart, created by the hand of almighty God, without any intermediary. So it exists far from every illusion and untrustworthy opinion humans can hold. Right
and its objects are contained in the mind. Before sin, our sensuality was so obedient to the will—as if it were its servant—that it never led the will down the wrong path. Unwholesome excess was never suggested, inordinate feelings of affection or dislike weren’t possible, and all bogus spiritual experiences were unknown. For our spiritual enemy had no purchase on the soul then. But that’s not true anymore. If grace doesn’t rule the will, our sensuality never learns to suffer the consequences of
also means “activity” and “attention.” In other words, Martha’s “good” works, activities, or attention to worthy causes, also drew her “attention” away from God. See Gallacher, The Cloud of Unknowing, 51, line 943. Chapter 21 1. This “hangs” is hangeth. See Gallacher, The Cloud of Unknowing, 53, line 979. The author has once again chosen diction conveying multiple concepts. Because hangeth can also mean “is suspended,” this verb creates the image of a floating cloud and because it can mean
deaths. Either way, the image is not a pleasant one. 2. This remarkable passage is worth reading in the original: Som ben evermore smyling and leighing at iche other worde that thei speke, as thei weren gigelotes and nice japyng jogelers lackyng kontenaunce. If translated literally, it would read, “Some are always smiling and laughing at every other word that they speak, as if they were prostitutes and foolish, jesting clowns lacking all good manners.” See Gallacher, The Cloud of Unknowing,
you will come to be.” To attain this knowledge—to become a gnostic—is to know oneself, god, and everything. Or, in the words of the maxim from the ancient oracular center dedicated to Apollo at Delphi, Greece, a maxim cited frequently in the texts discussed here: gnothi sauton, “know yourself.” According to many of these sacred texts, to know oneself truly is to attain this mystical knowledge, and to attain this mystical knowledge is to know oneself truly. Gnostic knowledge, then, relies on lived