Saturday, October 10, 2020

The year was 1674. We remember the poet Reverend Thomas Traherne. The reading is the Anglican collect for Traherne.

It is the 10th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1674.

Today we will remember the poet and priest Thomas Traherne, a curious story of a forgotten man whose 200-year-old lost manuscript would be called "almost the most beautiful book in English" by none other than C.S. Lewis. The 17th-century story in the West is one of religious warfare, colonial consolidation, and the opening salvos in the debate between Enlightenment utopians and Puritan reactionaries.

The story of 1674 is that of the Treaty of Westminster signed between the Dutch and English crowns. At this time, a betting person may well have suggested that the new world be divided between these two major sea powers. The Dutch had long shown their independent spirit and distaste for foreign powers such as the Spanish Habsburgs, the Portuguese, and the rulers of the Dano-Norwegian realm. The beginning of this century saw the Dutch open their East India Trading Company, and by mid-century, New Amsterdam was becoming a popular Dutch destination in the new world. On the other hand, the English had been involved in the 30 Years War, their own War of the Three Kingdoms, and the Civil War. The Dutch would sign the treaty of this year, not because they were intimidated by the English, but because they wanted to end the third Anglo-Dutch war to concentrate on the French. To appease Charles II, the Dutch gave up New Amsterdam, along with its capital New Orange. Both the more extensive territory and the city would be renamed New York.

Charles II, the son of the deposed and decapitated former King Charles I, might have learned from his father that the population of the British Isles took their religious affiliations very seriously. The Anglo-Dutch wars were unpopular amongst the people as they saw little reason to fight another Protestant power. Especially one that was also antagonistic to the Catholic French King. Many English people saw Charles II as too close to the French and not near enough with other Protestant nations. Of course, this is the parliament that will eventually call on the Dutch King William of Orange to wrest power from that suspiciously Catholic Chuck II.

In literature, this is often referred to as the Restoration Era. This because the monarch, which had disappeared under the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, had been "restored." The restoration itself wasn't so grand, but the literature that took the name of the period is some of the most famous in British lit, for instance, a trio of Johns, that is, Dryden, Bunyan, and Milton. And today, we remember a Restoration-era man of both literary capability and theological aptitude, the poet and priest, Thomas Traherne, who was buried on this the 10th of October in 1674.

Traherne's biography could be written on a cocktail napkin. We know that his parents died when he was young, and he and his brother lived with his uncle. Thomas attended Oxford and was ordained in 1660. By 1669 he had risen the Anglican church ranks as the official Chaplain to the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. By the way, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal was like the royal notary. Anything official had to pass through him. Anything the King or Queen wanted or decreed was filtered through him.

This was an excellent position for Traherne, but the bachelor priest kept a quiet but productive life until his death this year. He was unremarkable to the English public during his lifetime, but a chance find in a bookstall 200 years later would rocket Traherne into the realms of the top English poets of his day. His book, "Centuries of Meditation" (the one Lewis called almost the most beautiful book), had been lost except for a few dusty copies found in old estates. When a used bookstore was tossing old books in 1896, a book collector came across Traherne's work, without attribution, and believed it to be the work of poet Henry Vaughn.

Eventually, Traherne's authorship was discovered, and the book of meditations and poems became an instant hit. His work is something of a steppingstone between John Donne and William Blake. It is metaphysical poetry, in praise of both God and nature, mixed with significant confessional elements. For Traherne, felicity is the key to life. Satisfaction in the Creator and his creation is a central theme of his work. Since the 1897 discovery, more works have been rescued from obscurity and the Thomas Traherne Association today celebrates and promotes the work of the posthumously popular poet, the Reverend Thomas Traherne, who was buried at St. Mary's at Teddington on this, the 10th of October in 1674.

Today's reading comes from the Anglican church to which Traherne belonged and which remembers him today with this collect.

"Creator of wonder and majesty, you inspired your poet Thomas Traherne with mystical insight to see your glory in the natural world and in the faces of men and women around us: Help us to know you in your creation and in our neighbors, and to understand our obligations to both, that we may ever grow into the people you have created us to be; through our Savior Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in everlasting light. Amen."

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man who once worked at Sea World in the UK. He was the Keeper of the Great Seal, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.