An esoteric medieval Christian text

The Cloud of Unknowing - Anonymous

Well, most authors that I know want as many people to read their book as possible, yet with this guy (whoever he was, though it is believed that he was a monk) opens, and closes, the book with who he doesn't want to read this book, which is basically anybody who does not have some intense spiritual epiphany. Okay, the version I read was a translation from the Middle English text, and I am told (in the introduction) that a lot of the beautiful and flowery language has been lost in the translation (not surprisingly) so I am unable to really comment on the poetic form. However, I must say that I am probably one of those people that he didn't really want reading this book because, well, I didn't think all that much of it.

In a way, I am not surprised that it was written by a monk because the entire book is an exposition on God (that is the Christian god) and seems to be stuck entirely in the esoteric world. Personally, I really do not find any benefit from reading such books that have no connection to the world in which we live, not to say that I do not like esoteric writings – some of them can be quite good – but this seems to be clearly written by somebody who had no understanding of what the world was like outside the walls of his monastery.

The reason that I rate the book so low is because I find good Christian writers are able to actively engage in the world around them, and while I do not necessarily agree with what a lot of them write, I do know that the good ones live in the world and interact with real people, as opposed to the monks of the medieval world who shut themselves away to spend their lives contemplating the nature of God. It reminds me of the story of this guy back in Roman times who built himself a column and sat on top of it so that he could escape sin, yet it did not matter how high the column was he could not escape the world.

It is not that I have a thing against the monks of the medieval world though because they were active in preserving many of the texts that have been passed down to us from the classical world of the Greeks and Romans. Without these monks we would not have Homer or Cicero nor would have we have, surprisingly, Aristophanes (though it was suggested that as they transcribed his plays they would make comments about how dirty some of them were). As for this book though, while it may be short, it is probably one to give a miss because, beyond giving us an idea of how some monks spent their life contemplating God, there is not really all that much that I got out of it.