The Cloud of Unknowing

Guide: Reverend Dr. Emma Pennington, a Canon of Canterbury Cathedral.

Transcript Notes Further Resources


The Cloud of Unknowing – Episode Notes

About the Writer
  • Educated
  • Carthusian Order
  • Male
Carthusian Order
  • Solitary life within community
  • Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire
The big message
  • Structured medieval prayer life 
  • The young man who has hit a wall in his practice
  • Letting go of knowledge
  • Naked intent

‘It’s all about who God is, but it’s also about, as well, our inability as human beings to know God in Himself’

The Tradition
  • Origen
  • Macarius
  • Cappodocian Fathers
  • The trouble with out faculties
  • Pseudo-Dionysius
  • Apophatic and cataphatic theology
14th Century England
  • Vernacular writing
  • Plague
  • Hundred Years’ War
  • Peasants’ Revolt and Lollardy
English Mystics
  • Evelyn Underhill, 20th century mystic
  • Richard Rolle
  • Walter Hilton
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Margery Kempe
Differences between the Cloud author and Julian of Norwich
  • Apophatic vs. cataphatic
  • Emphasis on incarnation and God’s love for us vs. on unknowability of God and our love for him
Margery Kempe and ecstatic experiences
  • Margery Kempe’s intense experiences and displays
  • The misleading qualities of experience and imagination
  • The danger of inauthenticity
Who is the book for?
  • Exclusivity
  • Those in the contemplative life
Understanding the Injunction
  • Perspective of English literature
  • Perspective of a Priest
  • Perspective of a pragmatist
The Prayer Technique
  • Staying in the cloud of unknowing
  • The cloud of forgetting
  • Naked intent
  • Wrap it in a word like ‘love’
  • Changes your being
  • Superiority of the contemplative life
Union with God
  • Fleeting
  • A precursor of the next life
Dart of longing love
  • Returning the gift of God’s love in a focused point of attention
  • 20th century philosophy
  • Centering Prayer
  • Becoming better known in 17th century
  • More popular in 20th century
  • Seminal Middle English text
Graphic descriptions of the Devil
  • Medieval understanding of evil as an objective force in the world
  • Modern understanding of evil as something within ourselves
  • Fairford Church windows
  • Reading texts on their own terms
  • The Devil comes as an angel of light
  • Dangers of pride
  • Medieval understandings of sin
Recommended Reading
  • Darkness of God, Denys Turner
  • Games of Faith, Marion Glasscoe 
  • Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Richard Rolle
  • At the Foot of the Cross, Emma Pennington
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