Thomas Traherne's "Centuries of meditations": the quality of liberation.

Stevens, David John (1986). Thomas Traherne's "Centuries of meditations": the quality of liberation. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f914

Abstract

The thesis commences with a study of selected meditations from the "Centuries", highlighting central ideas concerning liberation: the meaning of childhood innocence, the social implications of the liberation process, and the nature of Traherne's "Felicity ". Traherne's attitude towards the loss of innocence during adulthood and the possibilities of sinfulness arising from human freedom emerge as problems in interpretation crucial to a proper judgement of the quality of liberation.

The second section examines the spiritual and cultural context of Traherne's achievement. The special position of his work as related to both traditional scholasticism and the new learning is evident; awareness of this leads to a clearer understanding of his originality and dialectical method - "Highest Reason".

Next I look at the inspiration of Traherne's writing, uncovering in both form and content more evidence of his insistence on human freedom, both unconscious and conscious. I analyse the meaning of this freedom and its relationship to human desire - crucial to Traherne's thought.

The following section, in which I discuss Traherne's views on sin, suffering and guilt, contains a brief survey of relevant critical literature. I go on to analyse Traherne's treatment of the unpleasant aspects of existence in the light of such criticism, finding that he has a profound understanding based upon his insistence on the central position of human consciousness: the subject of liberation.

Comparison between Traherne's writings and those of two broadly contemporary thinkers - Henry Vaughan and Gerrard Winstanley - establishes further both Traherne's individuality and the extent of common ground. The robust and radical nature of his thought is further emphasised, although the socially radical element may well exist by implication rather than in explicit activity.

The final section attempts to tie together the various strands of thought I have outlined, and finds, in the Psalms of David, Traherne's avowed spiritual model of joyous celebration.

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