By Thomas Traherne
Introduction by Michael Martin
About the Book
Thomas Traherne (c. 1636–1674) was an English poet, clergyman, theologian, and religious writer. The present volume, his best known work, was first published in 1908 after having been miraculously discovered in manuscript ten years earlier. Perhaps more than any spiritual writer of his age, Traherne is profoundly cognizant of the Glory of the Lord as it abides in Creation. His writing conveys an ardent, almost childlike love of God comparable to similar themes in the works of such later poets as William Blake, Walt Whitman, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. More than this, he frequently expresses his love for the natural world in a way that anticipates by two centuries the Romantic movement. In Traherne’s understanding, sin manifests itself primarily as the result of human ingratitude—in turn a result of not properly beholding the Creation—and he offers in its stead something far more healthy and far more biblical: the gift of transfigured vision. The clandestine Gnosticism that has haunted Christianity since the Apostolic Age—that which whispers “the Creation is not our real home”—finds no place in Traherne’s theology. The cumulative effect of Traherne’s work is to open to the reader the insight that true felicity appears when we learn to see the world as it is, as God sees it.
Centuries is almost certainly one of Traherne’s final works. The title “Centuries” is not one of his devising, for it was added to the manuscript following its discovery in 1896–97. Written in five groupings of one hundred relatively brief meditations, these centuries purvey messages of spiritual direction in the tradition of cura animarum, which has long precedent in Christian spirituality going back at least to Evagrios Ponticos (c. 346–399) and Maximos the Confessor (c. 580–662).