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HERE BEGINNETH THE EIGHTEENTH CHAPTER

How that yet unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives as Martha did of Mary. Of the which complaining ignorance is the cause.

 unto this day all actives complain of contemplatives. For an there be a man or a woman in any company of this world, what company soever it be, religious or seculars—I out‑take none—the which man or woman, whichever that it be, feeleth him stirred through grace and by counsel to forsake all outward business, and for to set him fully for to live contemplative life after their cunning and their conscience, their counsel according; as fast, their own brethren and their sisters, and all their next friends, with many other that know not their stirrings nor that manner of living that they set them to, with a great complaining spirit shall rise upon them, and say sharply unto them that it is nought that they do. And as fast they will reckon up many false tales, and many true also, of falling of men and women that have given them to such life before: and never a good tale of them that stood.
I grant that many fall and have fallen of them that have in likeness forsaken the world. And where they should have become God’s servants and His contemplatives, because that they would not rule them by true ghostly counsel they have become the devil’s servants and his contemplatives; and turned either to hypocrites or to heretics, or fallen into frenzies and many other mischiefs, in slander of Holy Church. Of the which I leave to speak at this time, for troubling of our matter. But nevertheless here after when God vouchsafeth and if need be, men may see some of the conditions and the cause of their failings. And therefore no more of them at this time; but forth of our matter.

Cloud of Unknowing - Christian Classics Ethereal Library


The monk is a fourteenth century Roman Catholic.  A spirit of democracy is dimly and painfully beginning to emerge in Europe, and especially England.  The Moors have been in Spain 500 years and will be there another hundred.  The Inquisition has begun and will become stronger over the next 200 years.  Non-Roman Christians have been effectively marginalized, Islam and Judaism are of the devil, and the great religions east of the Indus are practically non-existent in the consciousness of Western Europe.  I rush over some of the monk's words for i consider it unhealthy for me to consider them.  This does not diminish the wisdom that is buried there.

The monk is writing specifically about contemplation.  His intended audience is a select few "singular" monks, perhaps only one.  (At least The Book of Privy Counsel is addressed to a single man.)  The vast majority of Christians, the majority of monks are not expected to see this.  I only worry that his opiinion of our "wretchedness" may not be based on dogma but on his own opinions and experiences.  It is a depressing view of humanity that once helped separate me from Christianity and continues to keep me separated.

A totally solitary life is an incomplete human life and even someone like myself who is by nature solitary will find that out after only a few days of isolation.  Even with God as his best and only friend, God thought that Adam needed Eve.

Almost all of us need more solitude; none of us need more loneliness.
Have i been called to a contemplative life?.  In my very loose definition of call, yes, i think i have.
Have i been called to a solitary life?  we may see later on, if and when i am alone.

I think of Brother Laurence.  Cooking for and cleaning up after a bunch of men is work, very hard work.
It is certainly "activity," perhaps not an active life by the monks  standard, but still  mor Marthaish than Maryish.  But he could continually practice the presence of the divine.  According to the mystics, the divine is always present to us.  Our only problem is being present to it.

Between the second and eleventh centuries, contemplative was an acknowledged role within Christianity; and after the fourth century Europe became more Christian and contemplation became a social role.  The trouble is that, as Europe became more Christian, Christianity became less contemplative.  Already our fourteenth century monk is fighting a rear guard defense of contemplation.  He could see its great power spiritually and its diminishing power socially.  He must defend the contemplative against the growing charge of uselessness.  But in a secular world contemplation is deemed useless unless it leads to action. and being alone is equated with loneliness.

Here the contemplative hermit nuns come to Church once a year so we can be aware of their existence and want to support them.  Time was we went to them for their advice, their counsel, their prayers, their closer proximity to the divine,  Outside the Catholic and Eastern Churches there is almost no awareness of them or what they are about.

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