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




A good declaring of some certain deceits that may befall in this work.


BUT one thing I tell thee, that in this work may a young disciple that hath not yet been well used and proved in ghostly working, full lightly be deceived; and, but he be soon wary, and have grace to leave off and meek him to counsel, peradventure be destroyed in his bodily powers and fall into fantasy in his ghostly wits. And all this is along of pride, and of fleshliness and curiosity of wit.

And on this manner may this deceit befall. A young man or a woman new set to the school of devotion heareth this sorrow and this desire be read and spoken: how that a man p. 215 shall lift up his heart unto God, and unceasingly desire for to feel the love of his God. And as fast in a curiosity of wit they conceive these words not ghostly as they be meant, but fleshly and bodily; and travail their fleshly hearts outrageously in their breasts. And what for lacking of grace and pride and curiosity in themselves, they strain their veins and their bodily powers so beastly and so rudely, that within short time they fall either into frenzies, weariness, and a manner of unlisty feebleness in body and in soul, the which maketh them to wend out of themselves and seek some false and some vain fleshly and bodily comfort without, as it were for recreation of body and of spirit: or else, if they fall not in this, else they merit for ghostly blindness, and for fleshly chafing of their nature in their bodily breasts in the time of this feigned beastly and not ghostly working, for to have their breasts either enflamed with an unkindly heat of nature p. 216 caused of misruling of their bodies or of this feigned working, or else they conceive a false heat wrought by the Fiend, their ghostly enemy, caused of their pride and of their fleshliness and their curiosity of wit. And yet peradventure they ween it be the fire of love, gotten and kindled by the grace and the goodness of the Holy Ghost. Truly, of this deceit, and of the branches thereof, spring many mischiefs: much hypocrisy, much heresy, and much error. For as fast after such a false feeling cometh a false knowing in the Fiend’s school, right as after a true feeling cometh a true knowing in God’s school. For I tell thee truly, that the devil hath his contemplatives as God hath His.

This deceit of false feeling, and of false knowing following thereon, hath diverse and wonderful variations, after the diversity of states and the subtle conditions of them that be deceived: as hath the true feeling and knowing p. 217 of them that be saved. But I set no more deceits here but those with the which I trow thou shalt be assailed if ever thou purpose thee to work in this work. For what should it profit to thee to wit how these great clerks, and men and women of other degrees than thou art, be deceived? Surely right nought; and therefore I tell thee no more but those that fall unto thee if thou travail in this work. And therefore I tell thee this, for thou shalt be wary therewith in thy working, if thou be assailed therewith. p. 218

Next: Chapter 46: A good teaching how a man shall flee these deceits, and work more with a listiness of spirit than with any boisterousness of body