Tag Archives: The Cloud of Unknowing

A 14th century view of God

I managed to finish reading the other day ‘The Cloud of unknowing and other works’, and one of the ‘…other works’ is entitled ‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’. This has nothing to do with the Dionysius of classical Greek mythology, but it is thought that he was a 6th century AD Christian writer from Syria. However, the work mentioned here dates from the 14th century, and is written by an unknown author referred to as “Pseudo-Dionysius” due to his similarity in style and teachings, and I have decided to quote in full the fifth and final chapter of this short work. In it, the author puts forward his belief about God and how he is truelly unknowable (and within a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’), which I find to be highly perceptive and quite near to the mark with my own views.

God who is the cause of them all is none of the things we can understand.

And so we who have begun our denials and removals by reaching the ‘highest’ of the things we can understand say that God is neither soul nor angel; he has no imagination or opinion or reason or understanding; nor is he reason or understanding; nor can he be described or understood. Moreover, and here we are moving from high things to low, he has no number, order, greatness, smallness, equality, likeness, unlikeness; he neither stands still nor moves, keeps silence nor speaks. And if we turn back to the highest matters to end our denyings there, we assert that he has no virtue, nor is he virtue or light; he is not life or substance or age or time; we can understand nothing about him, nor is he knowledge or truth or kingdom or wisdom or singularity or unity or Godhead or goodness. Nor in the sense that we understand ‘spirit’ is he spirit; there is no sonship or fatherhood, nor anything else that is known by us or by anyone else. He is none of the things that have no being, none of the things that have being. None of the things that are known know him for what he is. Nor does he know the things that exist for what they are in themselves, but only for what they are in him. Nor is there any way by which we can reach him through reason or understanding: he has no name; we cannot know him; he is neither darkness or light, error nor truth. Speaking generally there is no affirmation we can make of him, nothing we can deny of him. When we attribute something  to him, or deny any or all of the things which he is not, we do not describe him or abolish him, nor in any way that we can understand do we affirm him or deny him. For the perfect and unique cause of all it is necessary beyond compare with the highest of  all imaginative heights, whether by affirmation or denial. And this surpassing non-understandability is ‘un-ununderstandably’ above every affirmation and denial.

‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’, in ‘TCoUaow’ pp 217-218

 

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Reading update

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, but in this time I have managed to procure some new reading matter, and have made progress with another book. However, I haven’t started the Kafka book I said I would read next. This will be digested in due course. Anyhoo- my new books can be seen below:

photo

Incase the titles are a tad difficult to read, here they are from left to right, along with the price that I paid for them:

  • Lewis Carroll- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (two volumes)  10p each (yes- really!)
  • Ian Fleming- Diamonds are Forever  50p
  • John Ruskin- On Art and Life (Penguin Great Ideas No. 15)  50p
  • Penelope Lively- Heat Wave  25p
  • Carol Ann Duffy- The World’s Wife  25p
  • Rudyard Kipling-  Just So Stories  £1.49
  • Thomas More- Utopia  £1.49
  • Seamus Heaney- North  £1.49
  • Martin Amis- Money  £1.49

I have currently been distracted away from the Kafka collection by another Penguin Classics book titled The Cloud of Unknowing and other works, which is a decent-sized volume of 14th century Christian teachings about the sheer impossibility of actually perceiving and understanding God, which I have recently learnt is actually a way of thinking that is taken up by the Eastern Churches, but not so much in the West. In the West the view is generally more along the lines of God being a friendly, approachable father-figure, whereas in the East, he is a powerful and unreachable being who cannot be represented in human terms and who can never be fully understood by simple mortals weighed down by sin and their perception of the body. To truly know God, The Cloud teaches that a person must become a contemplative, and be able to stop perceiving and thinking about his own existence to focus solely on God. The …other works of the title are shorter pieces believed to have been written by the same anonymous author upon similar themes, and it is in fact quite a good read. A tad heavy going at times, but it certainly gives food for thought and has provided me with a few new ways to look at both myself, my faith, and my perception of God. Also, the whole idea of a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ is a great metaphor and image to use in my poetry…

tcou

Once I’ve finished this, I plan to read the Heaney and Duffy poetry collections, and then the two Lewis Carroll books, before finally getting to the Kafka. I promise to provide opinions etc. when I finish these.

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