The Complete Cloud of Unknowing
includes two classics of medieval Christian contemplative spirituality essential reading for anyone seeking to deepen their relationship with God through the practice of silent prayer. They are rich texts, full of nuanced wisdom that often gets lost in modern translations. Father John-Julian has captured the beauty, humor and literary elegance of the original versions, but also has supplemented his translation with detailed notes that convey the subtle spiritual insight that makes these works required reading. I'm excited about this book it's a title I will recommend both to beginners and to longstanding students of The Cloud
Carl McColman, author of Answering the Contemplative Call and The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader
"With his mastery of the subtleties of language and local idiom, Fr. John Julian reclaims a classic of spiritual literature to its rightful place in the 21st century. By rediscovering the nuances that the Unknown Author of The Cloud of Unknowing embedded into the spiritual fabric of his work, the reader is drawn into the contemplative life with the fullness of its 14th century origins while being fully relevant in the 21st century. I would highly recommend this spiritual classic restored and recast for a modern world."
Dr. Jeffrey P. Wincel, author of Climbing the Mountain of God: The Path to Mystical Discipleship
"In his translation of The Cloud of Unknowing, Fr. John-Julian presents us with an edition that is scholarly yet readable, learned yet spiritual. His lived experience as a monk combines with deep insight as a theologian to provide an approach to The Cloud that is contemplative in mind and soul. The book offers a rich introduction and enlightening, provocative notes that will satisfy both novice and veteran readers of the text. Fr. John-Julian's accessible version does not oversimplify the profundity of the text. This edition, with its wonderful resources, will keep the seeker journeying evermore back to the work, on both intellectual and practical roads."
Professor Frederick S. Roden, Department of English, University of Connecticut
"With his mastery of the subtleties of language and local idiom, Fr. John Julian reclaims a classic of spiritual literature to its rightful place in the 21st century. By rediscovering the nuances that the Unknown Author of The Cloud of Unknowing embedded into the spiritual fabric of his work, the reader is drawn into the contemplative life with the fullness of its 14th century origins while being fully relevant in the 21st century. I would highly recommend this spiritual classic restored and recast for a modern world." Dr. Jeffrey P. Wincel, author of Climbing the Mountain of God: The Path to Mystical Discipleship
In addition to commentary, The Complete Cloud of Unknowing contains translations of two documents: The Complete Cloud of Unknowing and The Letter of Privy Counsel, the authors of which are unknown.
The Christian mystical tradition has its roots in Holy Scripture but was enunciated most clearly by the late 5th century author writing under the name Dionysius the Areopagite. It was acquaintance with medieval version of his work which inspired the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing and led him to develop his insights and perceptions of the obscurity and unknowability of God. His understanding was that God was on an entirely different plane of existence from human beings indeed, so different that time-bound human language was inadequate to describe God exhaustively or accurately. Intellect and emotion both fail in seeking God, who can only be encountered by rejecting all common earthly means in a cloud of forgetting and the discovery of Godself in the dark cloud of unknowing which can be pierced only with a lance of longing love. This new translation is by Father John-Julian, OJN, an Episcopal priest and monk. He served parishes in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Connecticut and was the founding Dean of the Seminary of the Streets in New York City before founding the Wisconsin-based contemplative monastic Order of Julian of Norwich in 1985.
Father John-Julian OJN in the translators introduction to The Complete Cloud of Unknowing, addresses his readers:
Devout friend in God: When you open this book, you are opening the door on a profound mystery and on the deep struggle this devout author has undertaken to try to share that mystery with a younger, contemplative protégé. His efforts necessarily stretch and strain the language as he strives to explain what is virtually inexplicable and can only be known by being experienced but he provides hints, suggestions, and warnings that will serve any devout Christian sincerely committed to the development of a serious ascetical life of prayer.
This unknown monk is, preeminently and inescapably, a mystic. The world in which a mystic lives is for her or him alive with God, pulsing with divinity, and overflowing with spiritual reality. God is no mere abstract concept but is present in all dimensions of life in every breath, every movement, every object, every thought. A mystic is unwilling to live life at a level acceptable to most others not in derision of their commitments and concerns, but simply in dissatisfaction with less than the heart-stirrings of grace that press one into the heart of the Divine Mystery itself. Consequently, the mystic often moves along the knife-edge of metaphor, paradox, poetry, and enigma aware of the contradictions of theodicy, the ambiguity of biblical incongruities, and the challenges of theological conundrums, but recognizing a divine reality deeper and more profound than all these matters. It was once put simply that a mystic is one who lives as though God actually existed unsatisfied with anything less than Godself.
According to Father John-Julian in The Complete Cloud of Unknowing, although a true Christian mystic may be discovering dimensions of faith and reality not commonly or universally discerned, these intuitive insights are not secret or covert as were the teachings of the heretical Gnostics of the early centuries. They are not withheld from any Christian, but they often involve a deeper spiritual insight than most Christians take the trouble to seek, and also a dimension of vocation in which some are led by Gods grace to pursue a life of deeper contemplative prayer than others.
The four notable identities that tend to be characteristic of the mystical way are (a) the repudiation of literalism; (b) the development and practice of some form of contemplation; (c) engagement with apophatic theology, known as the via negative, focusing in what God is not rather than what God is; and (d) the goal of absolute identity and total union of the soul with God.
The final goal for a mystic is immersion in God the abandonment of ego in a perfect union of ones will in love. The operative human dynamic is neither intellect nor emotion, but the vision of the intuition and the action of the will which is the agent of love/charity.
In The Complete Cloud of Unknowing, the authors comprehension of the human process of understanding basically describes the imagination and sensuality (the action of the five senses) as producing the raw material that is, the senses give us information about the physical world around us, and the imagination produces information about what could be. Both of these feed into the reason/intellect, which in turn organizes the input from the imagination and the senses and passes it on to the mind, which then acts by way of the will to make choices and decisions. And the act of the will that is central to the authors purposes is the willful act of love the choice to love unsentimentally, unselfishly, and sacrificially.
In that act of love, one utterly choices God above and beyond all else and thus ones own will comes into union with the Divine Will. "The exercise of the will directed solely to God pleases God more than any other exercise." For the mystic this union may be brief even ephemeral occasional, and rare. It is the transient momentary experience on earth of the ultimate eternal union of heaven. This processes often referred to as divinization as the soul takes on itself a more and more celestial nature and shares more intimately with Gods very Self. It must be pointed out that a proper contemplatives practice may aim less high and may aspire to opening the self to God simply in order to be silently available and vulnerable to spiritual insights, intuitions, or discernments short of divinization and this less strenuous approach to contemplation is not to be discredited: it is entirely mystically vailid and spiritually beneficial.
Subtile yet accessible. The Complete Cloud of Unknowing is a fine new translation of a spiritual classic recast for the modern world. The rich introduction and enlightening notes provide deep insight. SitReadaLot