Category Archives: The Cloud of Unknowing

Let this thing deal with you

God’s gift of contemplation is such that when it is present the soul can both practise it and know it is doing so. It is impossible to come by otherwise. Capacity for contemplation is one with contemplation itself, so that only he who feels he can contemplate is able to do so. No one else can. Without this prior working of God, a soul is as it were dead, unable to covet or desire it. Since you will it, and desire it, obviously you already have it, yet it is not your will or desire that moves you, but something you are completely ignorant of, stirring you to will and desire you know not what. Please do not worry if you never know more than this, but go on ever more and more, so that you will keep advancing.

In a word, let this thing deal with you, and lead you as it will. Let it be active, and you passive. Watch it if you like, but let it alone. Do not interfere with it, as though you would help, for fear that you should spoil it all. Be the tree: let it be the carpenter.

— The Cloud of Unknowing (tr. Wolters)

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Unknowing

Do not think that because I call it a ‘darkness’ or a ‘cloud’ it is the sort of cloud you see in the sky, or the kind of darkness you know at home when the light is out. That kind of darkness or cloud you can picture in your mind’s eye in the height of summer, just as in the depth of a winter’s night you can picture a clear and shining light. I do not mean this at all. By ‘darkness’ I mean ‘a lack of knowing’ – just as anything that you do not know or may have forgotten may be said to be ‘dark’ to you, for you cannot see it with your inward eye. For this reason it is called ‘a cloud’, not of the sky, of course, but ‘of unknowing’, a cloud of unknowing between you and your God.

The Cloud of Unknowing

Neti neti

Do not think that because I call it a ‘darkness’ or a ‘cloud’ it is the sort of cloud you see in the sky, or the kind of darkness you know at home when the light is out. That kind of darkness or cloud you can picture in your mind’s eye in the height of summer, just as in the depth of a winter’s night you can picture a clear and shining light. I do not mean this at all. By ‘darkness’ I mean ‘a lack of knowing’ — just as anything that you do not know or may have forgotten may be said to be ‘dark’ to you, for you cannot see it with your inward eye. For this reason it is called ‘a cloud’, not of the sky, of course, but ‘of unknowing’, a cloud of unknowing between you and your God.

The Cloud of Unknowing

That which is infinite is known only to itself. This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions — our very incapacity of fully grasping him affords us the idea of what he really is. He is presented to our minds in his transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown.

— Tertullian