The first work of its kind to be written in the English language, The Cloud of Unknowing is a spiritual guide to contemplation from an anonymous English monk of the 14th century. It has inspired spiritual teachers from St. John of the Cross in the 16th century to such contemporary teachers of prayer as Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating. The author explains that ordinary thoughts and earthly concepts must be buried beneath a “cloud of forgetting” while our love must rise toward a God hidden in the “cloud of unknowing.” While this medieval masterpiece has been translated many times, this edition is especially accessible to the modern reader and listener. William Johnston—an authority on 14th century spirituality and specifically on the writings of this unknown author—provides a substantive and accessible introduction detailing what is known about the history of this text and its relevance throughout the ages. Also included here is the author’s other principal work, The Book of Privy Counseling—a short and moving text on the way to enlightenment through a total loss of self and consciousness only of the divine.
WILLIAM JOHNSTON, S.J., an authority on 14th-century mysticism and spirituality, has translated several works from the contemplative traditions of both East and West. A prolific writer, born in Ireland and living in Asia, his most recent work is Mystical Journey: An Autobiography. HUSTON SMITH, author of The World’s Religion’s, is widely regarded as the most eloquent and accessible contemporary authority on the history of religions.