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The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. by Evelyn Underhill, [1922], at




That by Virtue of this work a sinner truly turned and called to contemplation cometh sooner to perfection than by any other work; and by it soonest may get of God forgiveness of sins.


LOOK that no man think it presumption, that he that is the wretchedest sinner of this life dare take upon him after the time be that he have lawfully amended him, and after that he have felt him stirred to that life that is called contemplative, by the assent of his counsel and his conscience for to profer a meek stirring of love to his God, privily pressing upon the cloud of unknowing betwixt him and his God. When our Lord said to Mary, in person of all sinners that be called to contemplative life, “Thy sins be p. 127 forgiven thee,” it was not for her great sorrow, nor for the remembering of her sins, nor yet for her meekness that she had in the beholding of her wretchedness only. But why then? Surely because she loved much.

Lo! here may men see what a privy pressing of love may purchase of our Lord, before all other works that man may think. And yet I grant well, that she had full much sorrow, and wept full sore for her sins, and full much she was meeked in remembrance of her wretchedness. And so should we do, that have been wretches and accustomed sinners; all our lifetime make hideous and wonderful sorrow for our sins, and full much be meeked in remembrance of our wretchedness.

But how? Surely as Mary did. She, although she might not feel the deep hearty sorrow of her sins—for why, all her lifetime she had them with her whereso she went, as it were in a burthen bounden together and laid up full privily in the hole of her p. 128 heart, in manner never to be forgotten—nevertheless yet, it may be said and affirmed by Scripture, that she had a more hearty sorrow, a more doleful desire, and a more deep sighing, and more she languished, yea! almost to the death, for lacking of love, although she had full much love (and have no wonder thereof, for it is the condition of a true lover that ever the more he loveth, the more he longeth for to love), than she had for any remembrance of her sins.

And yet she wist well, and felt well in herself in a sad soothfastness, that she was a wretch most foul of all other, and that her sins had made a division betwixt her and her God that she loved so much: and also that they were in great part cause of her languishing sickness for lacking of love. But what thereof? Came she therefore down from the height of desire into the deepness of her sinful life, and searched in the foul stinking fen and dunghill of her sins; searching p. 129 them up, by one and by one, with all the circumstances of them, and sorrowed and wept so upon them each one by itself? Nay, surely she did not so. And why? Because God let her wit by His grace within in her soul, that she should never so bring it about. For so might she sooner have raised in herself an ableness to have oft sinned, than to have purchased by that work any plain forgiveness of all her sins.

And therefore she hung up her love and her longing desire in this cloud of unknowing, and learned her to love a thing the which she might not see clearly in this life, by light of understanding in her reason, nor yet verily feel in sweetness of love in her affection. Insomuch, that she had ofttimes little special remembrance, whether that ever she had been a sinner or none. Yea, and full ofttimes I hope that she was so deeply disposed to the love of His Godhead that she had but right little special beholding p. 130 unto the beauty of His precious and His blessed body, in the which He sat full lovely speaking and preaching before her; nor yet to anything else, bodily or ghostly. That this be sooth, it seemeth by the gospel. p. 131

Next: Chapter 17: That a very contemplative list not meddle him with active life, nor of anything that is done or spoken about him, nor yet to answer to his blamers in excusing of himself