Centuries of Meditations

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Here are six extracts from Centuries of Meditations – a brief introduction to the 17th century divine Thomas Traherne. His love of nature and the natural world, and the childlike, accepting view of faith and religious revelation anticipates William Blake and Walt Whitman.

Thomas Traherne

Thomas Traherne lived his short life as a little-known Church of England clergyman. Very few of his poems and writings were discovered or published until two hundred years after his death. His style is strikingly down-to-earth, and his subject matter, while expressed within the conventions of the Anglican church, gives the clear impression of a man deeply touched by vision and revelation. Particularly striking is his emphasis on the divinity of the natural emotions, and his understanding of the illusory nature of time and space. The understanding throughout the book is that paradise is not there or then, but the present rediscovery of childlike innocence and love.

Centuries of Meditation is his best-known work. It consists of five sections called “centuries”, the first four each containing one hundred numbered paragraphs, the fifth ending after only ten, presumably because of his death from smallpox at the age of 38. The subject matter ranges across a wide landscape of topics, many still relevant today, as well as theological issues current in the tempestuous middle of the 17th century.

The Anglican church does not formally name saints, but has recognized Traherne’s divinity with an annual feast day.

from The First Century

Wants are the bands and cements between God and us. Had we not wanted we could never have been obliged. Whereas now we are infinitely obliged, because we want infinitely. From Eternity it was requisite that we should want. We could never else have enjoyed anything: Our own wants are treasures. And if want be a treasure, sure everything is so. Wants are the ligatures between God and us, the sinews that convey Senses from him into us, whereby we live in Him, and feel His enjoyments. For had we not been obliged by having our wants satisfied, we should not have been created to love Him. And had we not been created to love Him, we could never have enjoyed His eternal Blessedness.

from The Second Century

Where Love is the Lover, Love streaming from the Lover, is the Lover; the Lover streaming from himself, and existing in another Person.

Love is the true means by which the world is enjoyed: Our love to others, and others’ love to us. We ought therefore above all things to get acquainted with the nature of Love. For Love is the root and foundation of nature: Love is the Soul of Life and the Crown of Rewards. If we cannot be satisfied in the nature of Love we can never be satisfied at all. The very end for which God made the world, was that He might manifest His Love. Unless therefore we can be satisfied with His Love so manifested, we can never be satisfied.

from The Third Century

When I came into the country, and being seated among silent trees, and meads and hills, had all my time in mine own hands, I resolved to spend it all, whatever it cost me, in the search of happiness, and to satiate that burning thirst which nature had enkindled in me from my youth. In which I was so resolute, that I chose rather to live upon ten pounds a year, and to go in leather clothes, and feed upon bread and water, so I might have all my time clearly to myself, than to keep many thousands per annum in an estate of life where my time would be devoured in care and labour. And God was so pleased to accept of that desire, that from that time to this, I have had all things plentifully provided for me, without any care at all, my very study of Felicity making me more to prosper, than all the care in the whole world. So that through His blessing I live a free and kingly life as if the world were turned again into Eden, or much more, as it is at this day.

from The Fourth Century

The world is best enjoyed and most immediately when we converse blessedly and wisely with men. I am sure it were desirable that they could give and receive infinite treasures: and perhaps they can. For whomsoever I love as myself, to him I give myself, and all my happiness, which I think is infinite: and receive him and all his happiness. Yea, in him i receive God, for God delighteth me for being his blessedness: so that a man obligeth me infinitely that maketh himself happy: and by making himself happy, giveth me himself and all his happiness.

from The Fifth Century

Eternity is a mysterious absence of times and ages, an endless length of ages always present, and for ever always perfect. For as there is a an immovable space wherein all finite spaces are enclosed, and all motions carried on and performed; so is there an immovable duration, that contains and measures all moving durations.

These extracts were taken from https://archive.org/details/centuriesmedita01trahgoog, an online version of the original edition published by Bertram Dobell in 1903.


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