Wednesday 20 June 2012

Thomas Traherne - the Anglican Saint?


I am inclined to think that Thomas Traherne (1636-74) is an Anglican Saint, perhaps the only Anglican Saint who was not a martyr?

This on the basis of his writings, which seem divinely inspired to a degree otherwise unaccountable other than that he lived in close-communion with God (which is, to be a Saint).


But Traherne died in obscurity and his work was lost for two centuries.
Supposing he is a Saint, this may mean that the failure to recognise him earlier was evidence that the Church of England had become corrupt or made a serious wrong turn in failing on principle to recognize the validity of modern Saints; and/or that Traherne was fortuitously recovered about a hundred years ago for our use in modern times.


Because Traherne is a mystic - and perhaps that is what we most need in an era when all branches of the church, even the most vital, are corrupted by (often misplaced) worldly concerns.

Traherne is also unsurpassed as an embodiment of the via positiva, the way of affirmation, the path of Christianity which lives by the glory of God in this world.


Traherne's re-discoverer and first editor - Bertram Dobell - wrote that in the Centuries of Meditations there was just a single significant 'blemish' - which was The First Century Number 48. Dobell found this 'entirely repellant, and entirely at variance with the general spirit of the work' - and he would prefer to have omitted it from his edition.

Let us, then, look at this 'blemish' in context:



47: To have blessings and to prize them is to be in Heaven; to have them and not to prize them is to be in Hell, I would say upon Earth: To prize them and not to have them, is to be in Hell. Which is evident by the effects. To prize blessings while we have them is to enjoy them, and the effect thereof is contentation, pleasure, thanksgiving, happiness. To prize them when they are gone, envy, covetousness, repining, ingratitude, vexation, misery. But it was no great mistake to say, that to have blessings and not to prize them is to be in Hell. For it maketh them ineffectual, as if they were absent. Yea, in some respect it is worse than to be in Hell. It is more vicious, and more irrational.

48: They that would not upon earth see their wants from all Eternity, shall in Hell see their treasures to all Eternity: Wants here may be seen and enjoyed, enjoyments there shall be seen, but wanted. Wants here may be blessings; there they shall be curses. Here they may be fountains of pleasure and thanksgiving, there they will be fountains of woe and blasphemy. No misery is greater than that of wanting in the midst of enjoyments, of seeing, and desiring yet never possessing. Of beholding others happy, being seen by them ourselves in misery. They that look into Hell here may avoid it hereafter. They that refuse to look into Hell upon earth, to consider the manner of the torments of the damned, shall be forced in Hell, to see all the earth, and remember the felicities which they had when they were living. Hell itself is a part of God's Kingdom, to wit His prison. It is fitly mentioned in the enjoyment of the world. And is itself by the happy enjoyed, as a part of the world.

49: The misery of them who have and prize not, differeth from others, who prize and have not. The one are more odious and, less sensible; more foolish, and more vicious: the senses of the other are exceeding keen and quick upon them; yet are they not so foolish and odious as the former. The one would be happy and cannot, the other may be happy and will not. The one are more vicious, the other more miserable. But how can that be? Is not he most miserable that is most vicious? Yes, that is true. But they that prize not what they have are dead; their senses are laid asleep, and when they come to Hell they wake: And then. they begin to feel their misery. He that is most odious is most miserable, and he that is most perverse is most odious.


Dobell's objection was based on an interpretation that Traherne was saying that "countless multitudes were suffering eternal torments would add to the enjoyment of the blessed (for I cannot see that his words will bear any other construction)".

I personally interpret the passage as being written from a divine perspective, in which everything that is, is Good (ultimately, all will be turned to Good) - and I see this as being a unifying theme in the Centuries.


On a different theme, look at the preceding passage:

To have blessings and to prize them is to be in Heaven; to have them and not to prize them is to be in Hell, I would say upon Earth: To prize them and not to have them, is to be in Hell.

To have blessings and not to prize them is to be in Hell - he means this is to reject God.

Not to prize one's blessings is sin.


If we find that we cannot prize our blessings, then this must be repented.

If circumstances, such as illness - perhaps melancholia, are such that we simply cannot prize our blessings; then we must not accept this as reflective of reality, we must not accept it as true - but must acknowledge that we have blessings, but repent that we cannot (try as we might) prize our blessings.


From this it may be seen that it is a great sin to subvert the ability of others to prize their blessings - to take-away their recognition and gratitude for blessedness; despite that so much (almost all) of modern 'art' and culture, political discourse and media, are aimed-at precisely that: inverting traditional virtue into hypocrisy, relabelling simple beauty as kitsch and plain truths as dangerously-simplified.


From First Century:

46: It was His wisdom made you need the Sun. It was His goodness made you need the sea. Be sensible of what you need, or enjoy neither. Consider how much you need them, for thence they derive their value.

Suppose the sun were extinguished: or the sea were dry. There would be no light, no beauty, no warmth, no fruits, no flowers, no pleasant gardens, feasts, or prospects, no wine, no oil, no bread, no life, no motion.

Would you not give all the gold and silver in the Indies for such a treasure?

Prize it now you have it, at that rate, and you shall be a grateful creature: Nay, you shall be a Divine and Heavenly person.

For they in Heaven do prize blessings when they have them. They in Earth when they have them prize them not, they in Hell prize them when they have them not.


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