It is not difficult to make connections between Thomas Traherne and cognitive therapy. Denise Inge, the foremost Traherne scholar, observed in a 2009 Book Depository interview (Inge interview) that Traherne’s “invitation to choose happiness is very much like what we now call cognitive therapy.” She points us to PJ Kavanagh, who claimed that, “Traherne was a psychotherapist before the word was invented.” (Kavanagh review)
That brings me to an author and fellow Traherne enthusiast whom I have been grateful to come across recently: Jules Evans. Mr. Evans has written a book, Philosophy for Life, which wisely and thoroughly traces cognitive therapy to the ancient Greeks and classic philosophers. He posted an insightful and valuable piece on his blog recently titled, “Why I love Thomas Traherne” (Jules Evans blog). He begins with some helpful personal notes about his personal journey and then launches into an exceptional introduction to Traherne. Here are some of his summary points that I believe are spot on:
- He emphasizes Traherne’s understanding and love of the great philosophers before him, namely the Greeks. Evans says, “First of all, like all Anglicans of that era, he really knows and loves Greek philosophy.” This begins with the Stoic wisdom and then extends to Plato, who viewed our desire, love, wanting, and yearning as good things.
- He highlights Traherne’s prophetic contribution to the current therapeutic discipline known as cognitive behavioral therapy. Evans goes as far as to suggest that “the entire Centuries is really a contemplative manual, a therapeutic course, to try and help us see aright, value aright, and enjoy aright.”
- Only after establishing Traherne’s deep philosophical roots does Evans highlight his likeness to the English metaphysical poets and the Romantics who were to follow.
- Evans then weaves in Traherne’s primary themes of infinite love, grace, and Jesus’ love.
Evans’ blog posting gives me hope that more writings will explore Traherne’s prophetic contribution to the valuable tools available through cognitive therapy. In the meantime, I look forward to enjoying Evans’ Philosophy for Life.
Thanks for this. Im doing a talk on Traherne in October in London, which you or others might enjoy. I’m not an expert in him in any sense, just trying to help him be better known, as he deserves to be! All best,
David, Interesting post linking Traherne’s writing and CBT. Insightful and creative. Thanks for the post!