THE Mysdcism of the Cloud Unknowing by William Johnston (Anthony Clarke Books £3).
Christianity, especially in its Catholic version, is able to reach all sorts and conditions of men and has always done so.
Jesus was a worker, a healer, a prophet, an outspoken critic of the authorities, religious and political, of his time, a teacher of truth and a witness to it by his life and death, above all a servant of the Lord.
Was he a mystic? The quesdon is not easily answered. We are told that he prayed and prayed much, that he taught prayer and taught that it be constantly practised; moreover, that his life was an integrated unity of prayer and action. If a mystic is one who experiences an ultimate and special union with God, then evidently he was one. Mystics, however, are defined variously and commonly believed to be beyond the range of adequate definition.
William Johnston explores the writings of the unknown 14th century Englishman who produced the work of mysticism called "The Cloud of Unknowing" and relates it to the mystical tradition of Christianity and, with due caution, to Eastern, non-Christian sources.
He looks first at the question of the knowledge of God special to the mystic. This presents an immediate problem seeing that it Is not possible for anyone to know God as He really is.
The matter is argued at length and in detail to make it quite clear that no form of human knowledge is adequate to conceive God. How then can the mystics (or anyone else) hope to be in communication with Him?
Johnston takes up the answer: love, given that it is founded on "naked faith" reaches out to God. This love, says the author of "The Cloud", is a "blind stirring of love". It is the only way to be aware of God and it is the most important thing in life.
Its effect is to transform, albeit gradually, the whole human psyche, both the conscious and the sub-conscious. It counters sin and the roots of sin, where concupiscence originates.
Certain problems arise: are we speaking here of the traditional charity? Does the fact that it is blind make it irrational? Does It In fact bring about some kind of knowledge of God?
Johnston investigates all these at length. His principal point Is that the author or "The Cloud" teaches a kind of prayer that is simply "an intensification of the ordinary Christian life". In that case why are there not more mystics? Or maybe we are Just not able to decry them?