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The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. by Evelyn Underhill, [1922], at




A short excusation of him that made this book teaching how all contemplatives should have all actives fully excused of their complaining words and deeds.


SOME might think that I do little worship to Martha, that special saint, for I liken her words of complaining of her sister unto these worldly men’s words, or theirs unto hers: and truly I mean no unworship to her nor to them. And God forbid that I should in this work say anything that might be taken in condemnation of any of the servants of God in any degree, and namely of His special saint. For me thinketh that she should be full well had excused of her plaint, taking regard to the time and the manner that she said it in. For that that she p. 138 said, her unknowing was the cause. And no wonder though she knew not at that time how Mary was occupied; for I trow that before she had little heard of such perfection. And also that she said, it was but courteously and in few words: and therefore she should always be had excused.

And so me thinketh that these worldly living men and women of active life should also full well be had excused of their complaining words touched before, although they say rudely that they say; having beholding to their ignorance. For why? Right as Martha wist full little what Mary her sister did when she complained of her to our Lord; right so on the same manner these folk nowadays wot full little, or else nought, what these young disciples of God mean, when they set them from the business of this world, and draw them to be God’s special servants in holiness and rightfulness of spirit. And if they wist truly, I daresay that they would neither do nor p. 139 say as they say. And therefore me thinketh always that they should be had excused: for why, they know no better living than is that they live in themselves. And also when I think on mine innumerable defaults, the which I have made myself before this time in words and deeds for default of knowing, me thinketh then if I would be had excused of God for mine ignorant defaults, that I should charitably and piteously have other men’s ignorant words and deeds always excused. And surely else, do I not to others as I would they did to me. p. 140

Next: Chapter 20: How Almighty God will goodly answer for all those that for the excusing of themselves list not leave their business about the love of Him