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Traherne, Thomas (1637–1674)

  1. Bruce V. Foltz

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc1403

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Foltz, B. V. 2011. Traherne, Thomas (1637–1674). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011


Thomas Traherne was an Anglican priest and theologian, considered to be the last of the English metaphysical poets, succeeding such illustrious figures as Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan. He was also a notable mystic and an original thinker, whose evocative reflections on the relations between God, nature, and humanity seem especially appealing in an age of environmental crisis. Born in Herefordshire, according to some accounts the son of a shoemaker, Traherne graduated with a BA from Brasenose College, Oxford in 1656, was ordained in 1660 after the Restoration, and in 1661 was awarded an MA at Oxford. He served as rector of a small parish church in Credenhill, near his native Hereford, beginning in 1657. He also served from 1669 to 1672 as private chaplain to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal for Charles II, with pastoral duties in the Teddington parish near London. He died in 1674, while in residence at the Bridgeman household, with a last will providing generously for the poor. During his short and quiet life, his literary work was largely unknown, his only publication being in 1673 a scholarly and polemical treatise, Roman Forgeries, which is critical of certain Roman Catholic theological claims. His Christian Ethicks: The Way to Blessedness was published posthumously in 1675. Here, Traherne first develops his understanding of his important theme of “felicity” or happiness, undertaking to correct Hobbes' “great mistake in that arrogant Leviathan,” which “imprisons” our love for ourselves by making it “inconsistent with charity towards others.” Traherne argues to the contrary that it is not the isolated self at all that we desire to preserve, but only the self in love with what is other than itself. Moreover, through the proper enjoyment of what we love, we can come to an “enjoyment of God by way of gratitude,” whose culmination is what he calls “godliness” or “godlikeness,” and which bears a certain resemblance to Eastern Orthodox teachings concerning theosis. His Thanksgivings was published anonymously in 1699 as A Serious and Pathetical Contemplation. But Traherne's current celebrity dates from the discovery by William Brooke, in the bargain bins of two London bookstores during the winter of 1896–1897, of Traherne's poems and, even more importantly, of his Centuries of Meditations, where themes treated in the Ethicks appear with great poetic and mystical power:


  • Traherne, Thomas (1637–1674);
  • anglican priest and theologian, english metaphysical poets;
  • Roman Forgeries, critical of Roman catholic claims