Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'It is not sufficient therefore for us to study the most excellent things unless we do it in the most excellent of manners'

10 October is Thomas Traherne Day, in my world.  I've posted lots of my favourite sections from Centuries of Meditations before, but I feel like C. S. Lewis did about this book - "I could go on quoting it forever".  So today I'll restrict myself to one extract, but also suggest that you go and listen to this reading of another superb passage.

Credenhill in Herefordshire, where Traherne was parish priest

Having been at the University, and received there the taste and tincture of another education, I saw that there were things in this world of which I never dreamed; glorious secrets, and glorious persons past imagination. There I saw that Logic, Ethics, Physics, Metaphysics, Geometry, Astronomy, Poesy, Medicine, Grammar, Music, Rhetoric, all kinds of Arts, Trades, and Mechanisms that adorned the world pertained to felicity; at least there I saw those things, which afterwards I knew to pertain unto it: and was delighted in it. There I saw into the nature of the Sea, the Heavens, the Sun, the Moon and Stars, the Elements, Minerals, and Vegetables. All which appeared like the King's Daughter, all glorious within; and those things which my nurses, and parents, should have talked of there were taught unto me.

Nevertheless some things were defective too. There was never a tutor that did professly teach Felicity, though that be the mistress of all other sciences. Nor did any of us study these things but as aliena, which we ought to have studied as our enjoyments. We studied to inform our knowledge, but knew not for what end we so studied. And for lack of aiming at a certain end we erred in the manner. Howbeit there we received all those seeds of knowledge that were afterwards improved; and our souls were awakened to a discerning of their faculties, and exercise of their powers.

The manner is in everything of greatest concernment. Whatever good thing we do, neither can we please God, unless we do it well: nor can He please us, what ever good He does, unless He do it well. Should He give us the most perfect things in Heaven and Earth to make us happy, and not give them to us in the best of all possible manners, He would but displease us; and it were impossible for Him to make us happy. It is not sufficient therefore for us to study the most excellent things unless we do it in the most excellent of manners. And what that is, it is impossible to find, till we are guided thereunto by the most excellent end, with a desire of which I flagrantly burned.

The best of all possible ends is the Glory of God, but happiness was that I thirsted after. And yet I did not err, for the Glory of God is to make us happy. Which can never be done but by giving us most excellent natures and satisfying those natures: by creating all treasures of infinite value, and giving them to us in an infinite manner, to wit, both in the best that to omnipotence was possible. This led me to enquire whether all things were excellent, and of perfect value, and whether they were mine in propriety?

It is the Glory of God to give all things to us in the best of all possible manners. To study things therefore under the double notion of interest and treasure, is to study all things in the best of all possible manners. Because in studying so we enquire after God's Glory, and our own happiness. And indeed enter into the way that leadeth to all contentments, joys, and satisfactions, to all praises triumphs and thanksgivings, to all virtues, beauties, adorations and graces, to all dominion, exaltation, wisdom, and glory, to all Holiness, Union, and Communication with God, to all patience, and courage and blessedness, which it is impossible to meet any other way. So that to study objects for ostentation, vain knowledge or curiosity is fruitless impertinence, tho' God Himself and Angels be the object. But to study that which will oblige us to love Him, and feed us with nobility and goodness toward men, that is blessed. And so is it to study that which will lead us to the Temple of Wisdom, and seat us in the Throne of Glory.

Many men study the same things which have not the taste of, nor delight in them. And their palates vary according to the ends at which they aim. He that studies polity, men and manners, merely that he may know how to behave himself, and get honour in this world, has not that delight in his studies as he that contemplates these things that he might see the ways of God among them, and walk in communion with Him. The attainments of the one are narrow, the other grows a celestial King of all Kingdoms. Kings minister unto him, temples are his own, thrones are his peculiar treasure. Governments, officers, magistrates and courts of judicature are his delights, in a way ineffable, and a manner inconceivable to the other's imagination. He that knows the secrets of nature with Albertus Magnus, or the motions of the heavens with Galileo, or the cosmography of the moon with Hevelius, or the body of man with Galen, or the nature of diseases with Hippocrates, or the harmonies in melody with Orpheus, or of poesy with Homer, or of Grammar with Lilly, or of whatever else with the greatest artist; he is nothing, if he knows them merely for talk or idle speculation, or transient and external use. But he that knows them for value, and knows them his own shall profit infinitely.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful stuff! Thank you for telling us about these treasures. :)

Clerk of Oxford said...

Well, getting comments like that makes it a joy :)

heliopause said...

and amen and amen, to what someone said above!

(I couldn't find where to post a comment on more recent posts -- has that facility been disabled? I really, really like your blog. I have commented before, but not for a while.)

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you. Yes, I had some technical problems with comments and then have been disabling them altogether on some recent posts. It was just easier - I got tired of only hearing from people who wanted to tell me what I was doing wrong! I'm always excited to get comments whether they agree with me or not, but life's too short to deal with drive-by chastisements from strangers on the internet...

heliopause said...

Yes, definitely, re life's too short. :)
I'm sorry that I'm not able to comment on more recent posts. Congratulations on your Ph. D. and heartfelt wishes for the next thing you do to be as wonderfully fruitful as that has been/is.

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you (again!)