The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. by Evelyn Underhill, , at sacred-texts.com
Of four degrees of Christian men’s living; and of the course of his calling that this book was made unto.
GHOSTLY friend in God, thou shalt well understand that I find, in my boisterous beholding, four degrees and forms of Christian men’s living: and they be these, Common, Special, Singular, and Perfect. Three of these may be begun and ended in this life; and the fourth may by grace be begun here, but it shall ever last without end in the bliss of Heaven. And right as thou seest how they be set here in order each one after other; first Common, then Special, after Singular, and last Perfect, right so me thinketh that in the same order and in the same course our Lord hath of His great p. 66 mercy called thee and led thee unto Him by the desire of thine heart. For first thou wottest well that when thou wert living in the common degree of Christian men’s living in company of thy worldly friends, it seemeth to me that the everlasting love of His Godhead, through the which He made thee and wrought thee when thou wert nought, and sithen bought thee with the price of His precious blood when thou wert lost in Adam, might not suffer thee to be so far from Him in form and degree of living. And therefore He kindled thy desire full graciously, and fastened by it a leash of longing, and led thee by it into a more special state and form of living, to be a servant among the special servants of His; where thou mightest learn to live more specially and more ghostly in His service than thou didst, or mightest do, in the common degree of living before. And what more?
Yet it seemeth that He would not leave thee thus lightly, for love of His p. 67 heart, the which He hath evermore had unto thee since thou wert aught: but what did He? Seest thou nought how Mistily and how graciously He hath privily pulled thee to the third degree and manner of living, the which is called Singular? In the which solitary form and manner of living, thou mayest learn to lift up the foot of thy love; and step towards that state and degree of living that is perfect, and the last state of all. p. 68