Tag Archives: Thomas Traherne

15 July: An energetic life.

A kneeler at Aberdaron church, Wales, where the poet RS Thomas was parish priest.

In another age, in another life, Thomas Traherne might have made a monk. In another age, in another life, another Thomas found his vocation as a Cistercian monk and writer. That’s how it was beginning to look in 1947 when Merton wrote the following journal entry. The message of the kneeler above contrasts with Traherne’s message in the last two days, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed’; at least superficially. But Traherne was also counselling the practice of meditation which begins with stillness. How that is achieved depends on the individual to a great extent; the fact that I came to stillness when cutting the grass was not appreciated by all my superiors… Over to Merton, who had chosen, been called to, a life of silence but not necessarily one of stillness.

The Cistercian life is energetic. There are tides of vitality running through the whole community that generate energy even in people who are lazy… We go out to work like a college football team taking the field.

Trappists believe that everything that costs them is God’s will. Anything that makes you suffer is God’s will. If it makes you sweat, it is God’s will. But we have serious doubts about the things which demand no expense of physical energy. Are they really the will of God? Hardly! …

If we want something, we can easily persuade ourselves that what we want is God’s will just as long as it turns out to be difficult to obtain.

Reading the two Thomases together, I wonder that any of us ever find any stillness in modern life. I no longer have access to a big, noisy, green, ride-on mower. But I do have the garden to turn to: news from there tomorrow.

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13 July: Traherne XLV, Visited with heavenly influences.

Having once studied these principles you are eternally to practise them. 
You are to warm yourselves at these fires, 
and to have recourse to them every day. 
When you think not of these things you are in the dark. 
And if you would walk in the light of them, 
you must frequently meditate. 

These principles are like seed in the ground, 
they must continually be visited with heavenly influences, 
or else your life will be a barren field.

The principles Traherne was putting before us (see post of 6 July) are: ‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I repeat the prayer from that post.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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4 May: To die for one’s beloved (English Martyrs), Traherne XLII.

Saint Edmund Campion, English Jesuit Martyr, Holy Name, Manchester.


That a man is beloved of God, should melt him all into esteem and holy veneration. It should make him so courageous as an angel of God. It should make him delight in calamities and distresses for God’s sake. By giving me all things else, He hath made even afflictions themselves my treasures. The sharpest trials, are the finest furbishing. The most tempestuous weather is the best seed-time. A Christian is an oak flourishing in winter.

God hath so magnified and glorified His servant, and exalted him so highly in His eternal bosom, that no other joy should be able to move us but that alone. All sorrows should appear but shadows, beside that of His absence, and all the greatness of riches and estates swallowed up in the light of His favour. Incredible Goodness lies in His Love. And it should be joy enough to us to contemplate and possess it. He is poor whom God hates: ‘tis a true proverb. And besides that, we should so love Him, that the joy alone of approving ourselves to Him, and making ourselves amiable and beautiful before Him should be a continual feast, were we starving. A beloved cannot feel hunger in the presence of his beloved.

Where martyrdom is pleasant, what can be distasteful. To fight, to famish, to die for one’s beloved, especially with one’s beloved, and in his excellent company, unless it be for his trouble, is truly delightful. God is always present, and always seeth us.

Notice how the all-seeing God is, for Traherne, a cause for rejoicing, not a threat from an angry, fearsome avenger of sin, such as many were led to believe. Would martyrdom have been possible or honourable if you believed in a god who hated his own creation?

Tudor times were wintry for men and women of conscience who dissented from whichever variety of Christianity was politically expedient at any time, yet they accepted the sharpest trials even unto death, out of loyalty to God’s love.

We can rejoice in all English and Welsh martyrs, not just the Catholic ones, and may we all meet merrily in heaven, as Thomas More said.

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2 May: the most beautiful, Traherne XLI.

The first appearance did amaze us.

This reflection of Thomas Traherne follows well on WH Davies’ poetic heels, this May morning.

When Amasis the King of Egypt sent to the wise men of Greece, to know, Quid Pulcherrimum?* upon due and mature consideration they answered, The World. The world certainly being so beautiful that nothing visible is capable of more. Were we to see it only once, the first appearance would amaze us. But being daily seen, we observe it not.

Ancient philosophers have thought God to be the Soul of the World. Since therefore this visible World is the body of God, not His natural body, but which He hath assumed; let us see how glorious His wisdom is in manifesting Himself thereby. It hath not only represented His infinity and eternity which we thought impossible to be represented by a body, but His beauty also, His wisdom, goodness, power, life and glory; His righteousness, love, and blessedness: all which as out of a plentiful treasury, may be taken and collected out of this world.

* What is the most beautiful?

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30 April: Make me wise, Traherne XL.

Traherne is addressing Christ directly in this passage, acknowledging and rejoicing in his closeness to Christ, accepting that suffering unites Men – he of course means men and women – and Christ, now suffering on the cross for me.

What shall I do for Thee, O Thou preserver of Men?

Live, Love, and Admire; and learn to become such unto Thee as Thou unto me. O Glorious Soul; whose comprehensive
understanding at once contains all Kingdoms and Ages! O Glorious Mind! Whose love extendeth to all creatures! O miraculous and eternal Godhead, now suffering on the cross for me: As Abraham saw thy Day and was glad, so didst Thou see me and this Day from all Eternity, and seeing me wast Gracious and Compassionate towards me. (All transient things are permanent in God.) Thou settest me before Thy face forever. O let me this day see Thee, and be united to Thee in Thy Holy Sufferings. Let me learn, O God, such lessons from Thee, as may make me wise, and blessed as an Angel of GOD!

First Century 62.

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29 April: Our Jacob’s ladder, Traherne XXXIX

More Eastertide reflections from Thomas Traherne, Who makes the bold claim, ‘he was the son of God as you are’, but he was heir of the whole world’, meaning the whole of creation. As with all of Traherne, the passage repays slow, repeated reading.

The Cross of Christ is the Jacob’s ladder by which we ascend into the highest heavens.

There we see joyful Patriarchs, expecting Saints, Prophets ministering, Apostles publishing, and Doctors teaching, all Nations concentering, and Angels praising. That Cross is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that Illuminateth all the world. The flame is Love: the Love in His bosom who died on it. In the light of which we see how to possess all the things in Heaven and Earth after His similitude. For He that suffered on it was the Son of God as you are: tho’ He seemed only a mortal man. He had acquaintance and relations as you have, but He was a lover of Men and Angels. Was he not the Son of God; and Heir of the whole world?


To this poor, bleeding, naked Man did all the corn and wine, and oil, and gold and silver in the world minister in an invisible manner, even as He was exposed lying and dying upon the Cross.

See also Francis Thompson on Jacob’s ladder.

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28 April: The gate of Heaven,Traherne XXXVIII, Gates XIII.

The Cross is the abyss of wonders, 
the centre of desires, 
the school of virtues, 
the house of wisdom, 
the throne of love, 
the theatre of joys, 
and the place of sorrows; 
It is the root of happiness, 
and the gate of Heaven.

The weathervane on the former Holy Cross church in Canterbury shows the Cross as the gate to heaven.

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27 April: Into endless spaces, Traherne XXXVII

Thomas Traherne invites us to live eternal life now through reading the Bible and regarding all of creation with all our faculties, including the imagination, a faculty, he would argue, of the soul.

The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. It can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. O what glorious creatures should we be could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies! When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch*, and see his translation, I am transported with him.

The present age is too little to contain [my soul]. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place. I can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom.

No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it! But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God.

* Enoch ‘walked with God’ and was taken, or translated, into heaven and seen no more on earth, see Genesis 5:21-24.

+ Ark from Shrewsbury Cathedral, Margaret Rope. = The Tree of Life: Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.

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16 April: Traherne XXXVI: you must enjoy His goodness!

He willed the redemption of mankind, and therefore is His Son Jesus Christ an infinite treasure. Unless you will it too, He will be no treasure to you. Verily you ought to will these things so ardently that God Himself should be therefore
your joy because He willed them. Your will ought to be united to His in all places of His dominion.

Were you not born to have communion with Him? And that cannot be without this heavenly union. Which when it is what it ought is Divine and Infinite. You are God’s joy for willing what He willeth. He loves to see you good and blessed.

And will not you love to see Him good? Verily, if ever you would enjoy God, you must enjoy His goodness: All His goodness to all His hosts in Heaven and Earth. And when you do so, you are the universal heir of God and all things. God is yours and the whole world.

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15 April, Traherne XXXV: A World of Evidences.

His power is evident by upholding it all. But how shall His life appear in that which
is dead? Life is the root of activity and motion: Did I see a man sitting in a chair, as long as
he was quiet, I could not tell but his body was inanimate: but if he stirred, if he moved his
legs, or stretched forth his arms, if he breathed or twinkled with his eyes, I could easily tell
he had a soul within him. Motion being a far greater evidence of life, than all lineaments
whatsoever. Colours and features may be in a dead picture, but motion is always attended
with life. What shall I think therefore when the winds blow, the seas roar, the waters flow,
the vapours ascend, the clouds fly, the drops of rain fall, the stars march forth in armies, the
sun runneth swiftly round about the world? Can all these things move so without a life, or
spring of motion? But the wheels in watches move, and so doth the hand that pointeth out
the figures: this being a motion of dead things. Therefore hath God created living ones: that
by lively motions, and sensible desires, we might be sensible of a Deity. They breathe, they
see, they feel, they grow, they flourish, they know, they love. O what a world of evidences!

We are lost in abysses, we now are absorpt in wonders, and swallowed up of demonstrations.
Beasts, fowls, and fishes teaching and evidencing the glory of their creator.

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