Whom I saw not in Shops, or Scholes or Trades. There I saw into the nature of the Sea, the Heavens. Much of what Traherne says regarding the practice of virtue is firmly within the AristotelianThomistic tradition: The self is conceived as a tabula rasa that acquires virtue and knowledge following a systematic education in traditional disciplines and continual moral conduct in the world. The practical-ethical regimen of the Centuries is the counterpart to the metaphysical and intellective regimen of the poetry: In both cases, virtuous and intellectual habits transform the speaker from potency to act, moving him closer to God.
I would suggest that one way Traherne mitigates some of the radical implications of ontologizing love as a first principle is by imagining that God himself is the subject of infinite desires, merely one of which is love. In doing so, Traherne achieves, in Lacanian terms, a filling of the very void of love that is ontologized in selected passages of the Centuries—as if Traherne ultimately realizes that it is better to theorize God as a subject of desires, however unsatisfiable those desires are, than to imagine God as mysteriously subjected to the ineluctable workings of love.
If His Eternity, that cannot by a body be represented. Neither is any sense able to judge of infinity or eternity. It excludeth nothing, and containeth all things, being a power that permitteth all objects to be, and is able to enjoy them. As we have seen, God is not the only concept or multiplicity to which Traherne attributes infinitude. It would also be incorrect to argue that Traherne imagines, along with the neo-Platonists, that each of these infinities is an emanation of the One.
To figure God as the infinite set of all infinite sets places God himself in such a set. Infinity seems to be a reified placeholder that situates God as one discrete element among others, as if infinity secretes its own excess beyond those elements, including God, which one might conceptualize as foundationally infinite in nature. Traherne treads dangerously close to ontologizing something other than or in excess of God as a first principle. Thomas himself diverged from the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius in not only allowing for positive attributions of God God as wisdom, goodness, or love, for example , but also in asserting that what is predicated of God is only analogically related to similar creaturely endowments.
God is wise, but He is wisdom in a sense transcending our exp-erience; he does not possess wisdom as an inhering quality or form. But this does not explain the infinitude that Traherne attaches to concepts and faculties like the human understanding. Traherne further compounds the problem of multiple infinities by attributing seemingly inscrutable desires to God: The Lord God of Israel, the Living and True God, was from all Eternity, and from all Eternity wanted like a God.
He wanted the communication of His divine essence, and persons to enjoy it.
He wanted, yet He wanted not, for He had them. This is very strange that God should want.
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For in Him is the fulness of all Blessedness: He overfloweth eternally. His wants are as glorious as infinite: perfective needs that are in His nature, and ever Blessed, because always satisfied. He is from eternity full of want, or else He would not be full of Treasure. Infinite want is the very ground and cause of infinite treasure. It is incredible, yet very plain. Want is the fountain of all His fulness.
Want in God is treasure in us. For had there been no need He would not have created the World, nor made us, nor manifested His wisdom, nor exercised His power, nor beautified Eternity, nor prepared the Joys of Heaven. I, 42, 29 —Traherne cannot avoid noting the oxymoronic nature of an all-sufficient God whose wants are endless. Traherne argues rather that God needs infinite treasures not because they signify his benevolence as such, but because they produce in his creatures analogously infinite desires to satisfy such wants.
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God is a Spirit and cannot feed on carcases: but He can be delighted with thanksgivings, and is infinitely pleased with the emanations of our joy, because Himself is admired and His works are esteemed. Because therefore God is love, and His measure infinite, He infinitely desires to be admired and beloved, and so our praises enter into the very secret of His Eternal Bosom, and mingle with Him who dwelleth in that light which is inaccessible. Returning to the earlier discussion of the excess of infinity over its principle bearer, God, we can see that the particular aspect of infinity that seems to elude God himself, or somehow forces his hand to create, is precisely the unsatisfiable nature of his desire.
The Desire Satisfied is a Tree of Life. Desire imports something absent: and a need of what is absent. God was never without this Tree of Life. He did desire infinitely, yet He was never without the fruits of this Tree, which are the joys it produced.
I must lead you out of this, into another World, to learn your Infinite Love and the Limits of Neo-Schol asticism wants. For till you find them you will never be happy: Wants themselves being Sacred Occasions and Means of Felicity. Of course, since God was never without the Tree of Life, his desires have never gone unsatisfied.
That yearning which creates all the goodness of the world preexisted superabundantly within the Good and did not allow it to remain without issue.
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It stirred him to use the abundance of his powers in the production of the world. He is indeed pure act, but act or existence without a substantial essence, as if his existence is in excess of his essence.
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What remains to be seen, however, is the extent to which, elsewhere in the Centuries, Traherne abandons the Thomistic framework entirely and gives much fuller expression to some of the radical implications of ontologizing love and infinity. For God is Love, and by loving He begot his Love. He is of Himself, and by loving He is what He is, infinite love. God is not a mixed and compounded being, so that His Love is one thing and Himself another: but the most pure and simple of all Beings, all Act and pure Love in the abstract.
If we accept that God does desire, we must assume that the nature of his desire is simply the act of love, or lovingness as such. Things are not so straightforward, however, because further into the Second Century, the precise nature of the relationship between God and love becomes murkier. And the more it suffers the more it is delighted, and the more it attempteth the more it is enriched. For it seems that all love is so mysterious that there is something in it which needs expression and can never be understood by any manifestation, of itself, in itself but only by mighty doings and sufferings.
This moved God the Father to create the world, and God the Son to die for it. Nor is this all.
There are many other ways whereby it manifests itself as well as these, there being still something infinite in it behind. Another way of saying this is that by the Fourth Century, love becomes so mystified and enlarged, even infinitized, that it transforms into a reified attribute or concept carrying its own causal efficacy. One of the limitations, we recall, of considering God in such a respect is that one has trouble imagining any being as a pure existent, as something that has existential force, but no predicative being.
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How, for example, can a pure existent like love effect any soteriological change among creatures or bring them closer to God by actualizing their potentiality? As eternally begotten by God, a different substance but the same person in keeping with Nicene doxology , God can, in some respect, give love to himself, add love to his existence, through the very process of giving it to another person with whom he shares, minimally, the same substance. Indeed, one can say of Christ unproblematically that his essence is pure love and pure act, if one considers that his person is pure act, but his substance is pure love.
God can somehow remake himself in Christ as pure love without thereby giving up his existential quantification. Lacanian theory can provide at least one explanation. The Lacanian interpretation is more malleable than it might seem and overlaps, in some respects, with the fundamental principles of Badiouian set theory. In elementary set theory, the void is included in every situation or structured set, yet it is not presented or counted; it therefore exists as an empty name, without any ontic substantiality.
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Through the means of an event, the void is disclosed or presented, after which authentic subjects are born, who in turn must remain faithful to the evental site that allows for the voided element to become represented. As a basic existent, love is only given content or represented through the incarnation of Christ. It is not so much the foundational Infinite Love and the Limits of Neo-Schol asticism element that is discovered via apophasis or cataphasis, but that which erupts through the very events of creation both the first creation, or eternal begetting of Christ, and the second creation of the world and which retroactively lends God a reified ontological unity.
It filleth the world, and exceeds what it filleth. Only retroactively, only after it is symbolized in the creaturely realm through the mediation of Christ, does it become a positive attribute of God, or metaphysically continuous with God. In this sense, Traherne has departed from unreconstructed Thomistic doctrine God does not instantiate perfect love to which his creatures can only approximate as well as any hint of Gnostic dualism love is not an eternal deity, ontologically separate from God.
Love is indeed some positive aspect of God, although it is not an attribute or predicate of an otherwise selfsame deity. As in the last chapter, in which we saw that Milton represents the constitutive self-division of God whereby God is continually subjectivized through the circumscription of chaos , so here we can see that Traherne represents an analogous process whereby God is eternally subjectivized by the ongoing event and very performance of infinite love.
What ultimately prevents Traherne from pursuing the radical implications that his metaphysics implies is that, paradoxically, he not only argues that subjects should transcend their merely predicative being but also, at least in the Centuries, anthropomorphizes God as a predicative being through and through, whose relationship to his creatures is purely instrumentalized he creates them in order to satisfy his infinite desires.