A selection of readings from Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne (Recording)
Thomas Traherne has been called a mystic of the Affirmative Way, and he is perhaps now best known for his prose work Centuries of Meditations. His short life encompassed the most turbulent periods of 17th century England. The Civil War, the execution of the King, the Commonwealth, the Protectorate, and the Restoration all occurred in his lifetime.
Traherne was probably born in Hereford in 1637. In 1653 he went up to Brasenose College Oxford, a Puritan college whose Principal had been recommended by Cromwell for his ‘zeale for Reformation’.
For much of his life Traherne was Rector of Credenhill near Hereford, but he also became domestic chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, at one time Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, who lived in Teddington, Middlesex.
Traherne wrote a considerable number of books, but only one was published in his lifetime. The manuscript of Centuries of Meditations was found on a bookstall in London in 1896 or 1897, and was first published in 1908. The book is so called because it consists of meditations arranged in four sections of one hundred meditations, and the first ten meditations of a fifth century. The meditations were evidently written for a friend, who had given him the blank notebook in which they were written.
The keynote of Traherne’s work is ecstatic rejoicing in the glory of God’s creation, and thanksgiving for it. The major themes of Centuries of Meditations are the innocence of childhood, the idea that every individual is heir to the whole world, and the concept of Felicity.
In the innocence of childhood, in its loss, and in the need to regain it, he saw a pattern repeated in every human life. The child is the symbol of the human race before the Fall, in complete harmony with his body and all things physical, and possessing an immediate relationship with the essence of every thing in Nature. It is therefore the symbol of the pristine innocence of the Soul.
Traherne’s poetry combined mysticism with a philosophical approach. He read the Divine Dialogues of Henry More, the Cambridge Platonist; the section on Platonism in Theophilus Gale’s The Court of the Gentiles; and parts of the works of Thomas Jackson, who is sometimes called the Oxford Platonist. It has been suggested that Centuries of Meditations as a whole is governed by the Platonic notion of contemplation, that the work is a Platonic devotion of ‘divine philosophy’, and that its arrangement is based on Renaissance syntheses of Plato.
Another considerable influence was that of the philosophical writings which go under the name of Hermes Trismegistus, and Traherne quotes from the Hermetic writings in the Centuries and elsewhere.
Traherne died in Sir Orlando Bridgeman’s house, and was buried, under the reading desk, at St Mary’s Church, Teddington, on 10th October 1674.
Selection of readings:-
1st Century: 1 2 3 8 11 12 13 17 27 28 29 30 31 38 39 41 45 52 72 73
2nd Century: 48 65 66 67 80 92 100
3rd Century: 1 2 3 5 16 27 36 37 46 52 53 57 59 60
4th Century: 1 8 13 81 95
5th Century: 10
Read by: Austin Bonner & Julia Cousins
Technical Production: Clare Barden
Runtime: 1 hour 11 minutes
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you…Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world…” (First Century)
Thomas Traherne belongs to that select group of writers which includes George Herbert and the Vaughan brothers, whose roots are in the borders of England and Wales, and who thus combine the respective essences of Anglo Saxon and Celtic spirituality. He is also within the tradition of seventeenth-century Anglican spirituality, represented by such writers as Herbert and Henry Vaughan again, and by John Donne, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, Nicholas Ferrar, and the Cambridge Platonists. He is one of that great communion of saints and sages who have endeavoured to propagate the truth throughout all ages.
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