Sunday, December 2, 2007


I have written about Thomas Merton - the monk, author, poet, and social activist - on previous postings that briefly covered his life and his gravitation to a Catholic contemplative committal. I have always thought of him as someone enamored of God and passionate about His existence; and our obligation to love each other as instructed by Jesus Christ. In other blogs, however, I read a description of Thomas Merton that is vastly different from the perception I have of him. No exact details are mentioned to support their claims, but I've heard him referred to as a "heretic" and a "new age guru." Are we talking about the same Thomas Merton? I know he forged a dialogue between Catholic and Buddhist contemplatives that continues to this very day. I know he was appalled by the Vietnam War and the development, proliferation, and strategizing of nuclear weaponry. I know of his indignation over the racial inequities that plagued America during the tumultuous 1960's. But a heretic? Does his social activism and ecumenical conferencing make him a heathen? To my knowledge, Merton remained a faithful and observant Catholic throughout his stay in Gethsemane. It was not until the last few years of his life that he was given permission by his abbot to travel abroad. His works (the one's I've come across) are filled with beautiful spirituality that sees humanity as a marvellous creation, albeit fallen and oftentimes weak.

One thing I must mention, I read this derogatory characterization of Merton on a blog with an author who seems quasi-misanthropic and infuriated at anything and everything that is not to his liking. He focuses completely on what is wrong with the Church and never mentions - in a pleasant tone - some optimism over anything.

Maybe that's the problem. Merton wasn't enough of a Scrooge for this poor individual.

Let me know your thoughts on Thomas Merton. Perhaps there is something about him that I have failed to detect.


Adrienne said...

You have been tagged for a meme by

I'll be checking up on you:)

I'll get to Merton tomorrow - promise. It's complicated.

Jaimie said...

I have The Seven Storey Mountain on my TBR shelf and my husband said it was a terrific book. Very moving.

Adrienne said...

As Jaimie said, the Seven Storey Mountain is a truly inspiring rendition of the beginning of Merton’s conversion experience. I tried to read all of his writings in chronological order. It became apparent as his conversion experience progressed Merton became more and more immersed in the Eastern religions, in particular Buddhism.

Was he a “bad” Catholic? You’d have to find me a good one to compare him to first and that doesn’t exist. Toward the end he was, no doubt, in the right book but probably on the wrong page.

The problem with his later writings is that an un-catechized Catholic could be led down the wrong path.

The New Agers have latched on to some of his writings and used them to their own end. Thomas Merton cannot be held responsible for how others interpret or use his writings. I would be much more worried about the current rage for centering prayer in our church.

Tom in Vegas said...


I've been aware of Merton's interest in Eastern religions since I first heard his name. However, I don't believe those interests deluded his Catholicism or eroded even slightly his sacerdotal undertakings in anyway.

I am NOT a fan of new age quackery.


Anonymous said...

I, too, think Fr. Louis kept his stuff together totally, even if he explored. It is unbelievable how wide his following is, all these years later! He is utterly unique.

(btw, Tom, I couldn't recall from whence I had "borrowed" that sweet black-sheep graphic. When I saw it here, I said, "Aha.." and changed my avatar or whatever it is back to the blue morning glory, so I could come over here and say Hey --without guilt.)

I like your blog.