Read an Excerpt
The Cloud of Unknowing
The four degrees of the Christian life;
and how he for whom this book was
written advanced in his vocation.
My spiritual friend in God, you are to understand that, according to our rather crude reckoning, there are four degrees and forms of the Christian life. They are: ordinary, special, singular, and perfect.Three of these can be begun and ended in this life [laypeople, clerics, contemplatives -- ed.]; and one may begin the fourth by grace here below, which is to last without end in the happiness of heaven.These degrees are set out here in order, successively, first ordinary, then special, after that singular, and finally perfect. It is in this same way, I think, according to this very order and progress, that our Lord has, in his great mercy, called you and led you to him by the desire of your heart.
First, then, you are well aware that once you lived in the ordinary degree of the Christian life in the world with your friends. And I believe that the everlasting love of the Godhead, through which he made you and fashioned you when you were nothing and then bought you at the price of his precious blood when, in Adam, you were lost, would not allow you to be so far away from him in the manner and state of your living. And so with his great grace he kindled your desire and fastened to it a leash of longing, and with this he led you into a more special state and degree of life, to be a servant of the special servants of his, where you could learn to live in his service more particularly and more spiritually than you did before or could do in the ordinary way of life.What is more, it appeared that he was not going to leave you alone so easily, because of the love in his heart which he has always had for you since you first existed. What is it that he did? Do you not see with what love and with what grace he has called you up to the third degree and manner of life, which is called singular? And in this state and manner of life of the solitary you are to learn to lift up the foot of your love and step outwards toward that state and degree of life that is perfect, the last state of all.The Cloud of Unknowing. Copyright © by Lori HarperCollins Spiritual Classics. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.