"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 13 January 2012


Thomas Merton's Life and Work

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

Thomas Merton was born in Prades, France. His New Zealand-born father, Owen Merton, and his American-born mother, Ruth Jenkins, were both artists. They had met at painting school in Paris, were married at St. Anne's Church, Soho, London and returned to the France where Thomas Merton was born on January 31st, 1915.

         After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism whilst at Columbia University and on December 10th, 1941 he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

         The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960's. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

         During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk's trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.


Brother Patrick Hart,. Merton's last secretary, and Thomas Merton.
Photography by Philip Stark. S.J.

1915 - January 31-born at Prades, France, son of Owen Merton (artist from New Zealand) and of Ruth Jenkins (artist from USA)
1916 - moved to USA, lived at Douglaston, L.I. (with his mother's family)
1921 - his mother dies-from cancer
1922 - in Bermuda with his father who went there to paint
1925 - to France with his father, lived at St. Antonin
1926 - entered Lycee Ingres, Montauban, France
1928 - to England-Ripley Court school, then to Oakham (1929)
1931 - his father dies of a brain tumor
1932 - at Oakham School he acquired a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge
1933 - visited Italy, spent summer in USA, entered Cambridge in the fall - study of modern languages (French and Italian)
1934 - left Cambridge and returned to USA
1935 - entered Columbia University
1937 - at Columbia - editor of the 1937 Yearbook and art editor of the Columbia Jester
1938 - graduated from Columbia, began work on M.A.
1938 - November 16 - received into the Catholic Church at Corpus Christi Church
1940 - 1941 - taught English at St. Bonaventure College
1941 - December 10-entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky.

[Note: January 31, 1915 to December 10, 1941-nearly 27 years before entering monastery. Dies on December 10, 1968-the 27th anniversary of his entering Gethsemani.]

1944 - March 19 - made simple vows, published Thirty Poems
1946 - A Man in the Divided Sea
1947 - March 19 - solemn vows, published Exile Ends in Glory
1948 - Publication of best-seller autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain and What Are These Wounds?
1949 - May 26 - ordained priest; Seeds of Contemplation; The Tears of the Blind Lions; The Waters of Siloe
1951 - 1955 - Master of Scholastics (students for priesthood)
1951 - The Ascent to Truth
1953 - The Sign of Jonas; Bread in the Wilderness
1954 - The Last of the Fathers
1955 - No Man Is an Island
1955 - 1965 - Master of Novices
1956 - The Living Bread
1957 - The Silent Life; The Strange Islands
1958 - Thoughts in Solitude
1959 - The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton; Selected Poems
1960 - Disputed Questions; The Wisdom of the Desert
1961 - The New Man; The Behavior of Titans
1961 - Emblems of a Season of Fury; Life and Holiness; 
1964 - Seeds of Destruction
1965 - Gandhi on Non-Violence; The Way of Chuang Tzu; Seasons of Celebration
1965 - 1968 - lived as a hermit on the grounds of the monastery
1966 - Raids on the Unspeakable; Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
1967 - Mystics and Zen Masters
1968 - Monks Pond; Cables to the Ace; Faith and Violence; Zen and the Birds of Appetite
1968 - December 10-died at Bangkok, Thailand, where he had spoken at a meeting of Asian Benedictines and Cistercians

Posthumous Publications: 

1969 - My Argument with the Gestapo; Contemplative Prayer; The Geography of Lograire
1971 - Contemplation in a World of Action
1973 - The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton; He Is Risen
1976 - Ishi Means Man
1977 - The Monastic Journey; The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
1979 - Love and Living
1980 - The Non-Violent Alternative
1981 - The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton; Day of a Stranger Introductions East and West: The Foreign Prefaces of Thomas Merton (reprinted in 1989 under title "Honorable Reader" Reflections on My Work)
1982 - Woods, Shore and Desert: A Notebook, May 1968
1985 - The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters on Religious Experience and Social Concerns (Letters, 1)
1988 - A Vow of Conversation: Journals 1964-1965; Thomas Merton in Alaska: The Alaskan Conferences, Journals and Letters
1989 - The Road to Joy: Letter to New and Old Friends (Letters, II)
1990 - The School of Charity: Letters on Religious Renewal and Spiritual Direction (Letters, III)
1993 - The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers (Letters, IV)
1994 - Witness to Freedom: Letters in Times of Crisis (Letters, V)
1995 - Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation (Journals, I: 1939-1941)
1996 - Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and Writer (Journals, II: 1941-1952); A Search for Solitude: Pursuing the Monk's True Life (Journals, III: 1952-1960); Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years (Journals, IV: 1960-1963)
1997 -Dancing in the Water of Life: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage (Journals, V: 1963- 1965); Learning to Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom(Journals VI: 1966-1967)
1998 -The Other Side of the Mountain: The End of the Journey (Journals VII: 1967-196
1999 -The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals
2001 - Dialogues with Silence.
2003 - The Inner Experience. Seeking Paradise: The Spirit of the Shakers.
2004 - Peace in a Post-Christian Era. 
2005 - In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton. Cassian and the Fathers. 
2006 - The Cold War Letters. Pre-Benedictine Monasticism. 
2008 - Introduction to Christian Mysticism.
2009 - The Rule of St. Benedict. Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Catherine De Hueck Doherty.
2010 - Monastic Observances.

Thomas Merton’s Mystical Vision in Louisville

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

A Letter to Thomas Merton, 1962
by Eugene [Fr. Seraphim] Rose

I am a young American convert to Russian Orthodoxy—not the vague "liberal" spirituality of too many modern Russian "religious thinkers," but the full ascetic and contemplative Orthodoxy of the Fathers and Saints—who have for some years been studying the spiritual "crisis" of our time, and am at present writing a book on the subject. [1] In the course of my study I have had occasion to read the works of a great number of Roman Catholic authors, some of which (those, for example, of Pieper, Picard, Gilson, P. Danielou, P. de Lubac) I have found quite helpful and not, after all, too distant from the Orthodox perspective, but others of which I have found quite disturbing in the light of what seems to me the plain teaching of the universal Church. I have read several of your works, and especially in some recent articles of yours I seem to find signs of one of the tendencies in contemporary Roman thought (it exists in Orthodoxy too, to be sure) that has most disturbed me. Since you are a Roman monk, I turn to you as to someone likely to clarify the ambiguities I have found in this trend of thought. What I would like to discuss chiefly concerns what might be called the "social mission" of the Church.

In an essay entitled Christian Action in World Crisis [2] you devote yourself especially to the question of "peace." In an age when war has become virtually "impossible," this is, of course, of central concern to any Christian, but your remarks particularly on this subject have left me troubled.

What, first of all, are the real antagonists of the spiritual warfare of our age? To say "Russia and America" is, of course, trivial; the enemy, as you say, "is in all of us." But you further say, "The enemy is war itself" and its roots, "hatred, fear, selfishness, lust."

Now I can quite agree with you that war today, at least "total war," is quite unjustifiable by any Christian standard, for the simple reason that its "unlimited" nature escapes measure of any sort. The point in your argument that disturbs me is your statement that the only alternative to such war is "peace."

The alternative to "total war" would seem to be "total peace;" but what does such a "peace" imply? You say, "we must try as best we can to work for the eventual abolition" of war; and that is indeed what "total peace" must be: abolition of war. Not the kind of peace men have known before this, but an entirely new and "permanent" peace.

Such a goal, of course, is quite comprehensible to the modern mentality; modern political idealism, Marxist and "democratic" alike has long cherished it. But what of Christianity?—and I mean full uncompromising Christianity, not the humanist idealism that calls itself Christian. Is not Christianity supremely hostile to all forms of idealism, to all reduction of its quite "realistic" end and means to mere lofty ideas? Is the ideal of the "abolition of war" really different in kind from such other lofty aims as the "abolition" of disease, of suffering, of sin, of death? All of these ideals have enlisted the enthusiasm of some modern idealist or other, but it is quite clear to the Christian that they are secularizations and so perversions of genuine Christian hopes. They can be realized only in Christ, only in His Kingdom that is not of this world; when faith in Christ and hope in His Kingdom are wanting, when the attempt is made to realize Christian "ideals" in this world—then there is idolatry, the spirit of Antichrist. Disease, suffering, sin, and death are an unavoidable part of the world we know as a result of the Fall. They can only be eliminated by a radical transformation of human nature, a transformation possible only in Christ and fully only after death.

I personally think that "total peace" is, at bottom, a utopian ideal; but the very fact that it seems practical today raises a profounder question. For, to my mind, the profoundest enemy of the Church today is not its obvious enemies—war, hatred, atheism, materialism, all the forces of the impersonal that lead to inhuman "collectivism," tyranny and misery—these have been with us since the Fall, though to be sure they take an extreme form today. But the apostasy that has led to this obvious and extreme worldliness seems to me but the prelude to something much worse; and this is the chief subject of my letter.

The hope for "peace" is a part of a larger context of renewed idealism that has come out of the Second World War and the tensions of the post-war world, an idealism that has, especially in the last five or ten years, captured the minds of men—particularly the young—all over the world, and inspired them with an enthusiasm that has expressed itself concretely—and, often, quite selflessly—in action. The hope that underlies this idealism is the hope that men can, after all, live together in peace and brotherhood in a just social order, and that this end can be realized through "non-violent" means that are not incompatible with that end. This goal seems like the virtual revelation of a "new world" to all those weary of the misery and chaos that have marked the end of the "old" world, that hollow "modern" world that seems now to have finally—or almost—played out its awful possibilities; and at the same time it seems like something quite attainable by moral means—something previous modern idealisms have not been.

You yourself, indeed, speak of a possible "birth agony of a new world," of the duty of Christians today "to perform the patient, heroic task of building a world that will thrive in unity and peace, " even, in this connection, of "Christ the Prince of Peace." The question that sorely troubles me about all this is, is it really Christianity, or is it still only idealism? And can it be both-is a "Christian idealism" possible?

You speak of "Christian action," "the Christian who manifests the truth of the Gospel in social action," "not only in prayer and penance, but also in his political commitments and in all his social responsibilities." Well, I certainly will say nothing against that; if Christian truth does not shine through in all that one does, to that extent one is failing to be a Christian, and if one is called to a political vocation, one's action in that area too must be Christian. But, if I am not mistaken, your words imply something more than that; namely, that now more than ever before we need Christians working in the social and political sphere, to realize there the truth of the Gospel. But why, if Christ's Kingdom is not of this world? Is there really a Christian "social message," or is not that rather a result of the one Christian activity—working out one's salvation with diligence? I by no means advocate a practice of Christianity in isolation; all Christianity—even that of the hermit—is a "social Christianity," but that is only as context, not as end. The Church is in society because men are in society, but the end of the Church is the transformation of men, not society. It is a good thing if a society and government profess genuine Christianity, if its institutions are informed by Christianity, because an example is given thereby to the men who are a part of that society; but a Christian society is not an end in itself, but simply a result of the fact that Christian men live in society.

I do not, of course, deny that there is such a thing as a Christian "social action"; what I question is its nature. When I feed my hungry brother, this is a Christian act and a preaching of the Kingdom that needs no words; it is done for the personal reason that my brother—he who stands before me at this moment—is hungry, and it is a Christian act because my brother is, in some sense, Christ. But if I generalize from this case and embark on a political crusade to abolish the "evil of hunger," that is something entirely different; though individuals who participate in such a crusade may act in a perfectly Christian way, the whole project—and precisely because it is a "project," a thing of human planning—has become wrapped in a kind of cloak of "idealism."

A few more examples: The efficiency of modern medicines adds nothing to the fulfillment of the commandment to comfort the sick; if they are available, fine—but it is not Christian to think our act is better because more "efficient" or because it benefits more people. That, again, is idealism. (I need hardly mention the fact that medicines can become, indeed, a substitute for Christian "comfort" when the mind of the practitioner becomes too engrossed in efficiency; and the research scientist searching for a "cure for cancer" is not doing anything specifically "Christian" at all, but something technical and "neutral."

"Brotherhood" is something that happens, right here and now, in whatever circumstances God places me, between me and my brother; but when I begin to preach the "ideal" of brotherhood and go out deliberately to practice it, I am in danger of losing it altogether. Even if—especially if—I make use of a seemingly Christian "non-violence" and "passive resistance" in this or any other cause, let me before I call it a Christian act—carefully ask myself whether its end is merely a lofty worldly ideal, or something greater. (St. Paul, to take a pretty clear example, did not tell slaves to revolt "non-violently;" he told them not to revolt at all, but to concern themselves with something much more important.)

The "Peace of Christ," being in the heart, does not necessarily, in our fallen world, bring about outward peace, and I would wonder if it has any connection at all with the ideal of the "abolition of war."

The difference between organized "charity" and Christian charity needs no comment. [3]

There may be—I would not have written this letter if I did not hope there was—a kind of true, though so to speak subterranean, "ecumenism" between separated Christians, especially in times of persecution; but that has nothing remotely to do with the activities of any "World Council of Churches." [4]

You may from these examples, I hope, understand the doubts I entertain about the resurgence of seemingly "Christian" ideals in our time. I say "doubts," for there is nothing intrinsically evil about any of these "crusades," and there are involved in them all quite sincere and fervent Christians who are really preaching the Gospel; but, as I say, there is a kind of cloak of "idealism" wrapped about them all, a cloak that seems to be drawing them into its own quite independent service (without thereby negating, of course, the personal Christian acts performed under their auspices). What "service" is this?—the placating of the modern sense of "idealism" by translating inward and Christian truths into outward and—at best—semi-Christian ideals. And we must be realistic enough to see that the general effect on the minds of people both inside and outside these movements, both inside and outside the Church, is precisely to place emphasis upon the realization of outward ideals, thus obscuring inward truths; and since this emphasis has been made, the path is all too short to the palpable falsehood that "doing good is the real purpose of Christianity anyway, and the only basis in which all Christians can unite, while dogma and liturgy and the like are purely personal matters which tend more to separate than unite." How many of those indeed, even Catholic and Orthodox, who are participating in the world of "social Christianity" today, do not believe that this is really a more "perfect" and even "inward" Christianity than a dogmatic, ascetic, and contemplative Christianity that doesn't get such obvious "results"?

I have, before this, been reproached by Catholics for lack of interest in the social mission of the Church, for holding to a one-sided "ascetic" and "apocalyptic" Christianity; and some Catholic philosophers and theologians have made such accusations against the Orthodox Church itself—accompanied, sometimes, if I am not mistaken, by a somewhat patronizing tone that assumes the Church is rather "backward" or "out-of-date" about such things, having always been "repressed" by the State and used to looking at the world through the all-too-unworldly eyes of the monk. Far be it from me to presume to speak for the Church; but I can at least speak of some of the things I think I have learned from Her.

You may legitimately ask me what, if I am sceptical of "social Christianity "—though of course I do not wish it abolished or given to the devil, I am merely pointing out its ambivalence—what I advocate as "Christian action" in the midst of the "crisis" of the age with its urgent alternatives.

First and foremost I radically question the emphasis upon "action" itself, upon "projects" and "planning," upon concern with the "social" and what man can do about it—all of which acts to the detriment of acceptance of the given, of what God gives us at this moment, as well as of allowing His will to be done, not ours. I do not propose a total withdrawal from politics and social work by all Christians; no arbitrary rule can govern that, it is up to the individual conscience. But in any case, if many may still be called to work for "justice," "peace," "unity," "brotherhood" in the world—and these are all, in this generalized, ideal form, external and worldly goals—is it not at least as good a thing to be called to the totally unequivocal work of the Kingdom, to challenge all worldly ideals and preach the only needful Gospel: repent, for the Kingdom is at hand? You yourself quite rightly say of America and Russia, "the enemy is not just on one side or the other.... The enemy is on both sides." Is it not possible to deepen this perception and apply it to those other seemingly ultimate alternatives, "war" and "peace"? Is one really any more possible for a Christian than the other, if the "peace" is a "total (i.e. idealistic) peace"? And does not the recognition of these two equally unacceptable alternatives lead us back to a genuine "third way"—one that will never be popular because it is not "new," not "modern," above all not "idealistic "—a Christianity that has as its end neither worldly "peace" nor "war," but a Kingdom not of this world?

This is nothing "new," as you say, and a world that imagines itself "post-Christian" is tired of it. It is true that when we, as Christians, speak to our brothers we often seem to be faced with a blank wall of unwillingness even to listen; and, being human, we may be made somewhat "desperate" by this lack of response. But what can be done about this? Shall we give up speaking about what our contemporaries do not want to hear, and join them in the pursuit of social goals which, since they are not specifically Christian, can be sought by non-Christians too? That seems to me an abdication of our responsibility as Christians. I think the central need of our time is not in the least different from what it has always been since Christ came; it lies, not in the area of "political commitments" and "social responsibilities," but precisely in "prayer and penance" and fasting and preaching of the true Kingdom. The only "social responsibility" of a Christian is to live, wherever and with whomever he may be, the life of faith, for his own salvation and as an example to others. If, in so doing, we help to ameliorate or abolish a social evil, that is a good thing—but that is not our goal. If we become desperate when our life and our words fail to convert others to the true Kingdom, that comes from lack of faith. If we would live our faith more deeply, we would need to speak of it less.

You speak of the necessity, not just to speak the truth of Christianity, but "to embody Christian truth in action." To me, this means precisely the life I have just described, a life infused with faith in Christ and hope in His Kingdom not of this world. But the life you seem to describe is one very much involved in the things of this world; I cannot help but regard it as an "outward" adaptation of true Christian inwardness.

Modern idealism, which is devoted to the realization of the idolatrous "Kingdom of Man," has long been making its influence felt in Christian circles; but only in quite recent years has this influence begun to bear real fruit within the womb of the Church itself. I think there can be no question but that we are witnessing the birth pangs of something that, to the true Christian, is indeed pregnant with frightful possibilities: a "new Christianity," a Christianity that claims to be "inward," but is entirely too concerned with outward result; a Christianity, even, that cannot really believe in "peace" and "brotherhood" unless it sees them generalized and universally applied, not in some seemingly remote "other world," but "here and now." This kind of Christianity says that "private virtue" is not enough—obviously relying on a Protestantized understanding of virtue, since everything the true Christian does is felt by all in the Mystical Body; nothing done in Christ is done for oneself alone—but not enough for what? The answer to that, I think, is clear: for the transformation of the world, the definitive "realization" of Christianity in the social and political order. And this is idolatry. The Kingdom is not of this world; to think or hope that Christianity can be outwardly "successful" in the world is a denial of all that Christ and His prophets have said of the future of the Church. Christianity can be "successful" on one condition: that of renouncing (or conveniently forgetting) the true Kingdom and seeking to build up a Kingdom in the world. The "Earthly Kingdom" is precisely the goal of the modern mentality; the building of it is the meaning of the modern age. It is not Christian; as Christians, we know whose Kingdom it is. And what so greatly troubles me is that today Christians—Catholic and Orthodox alike—are themselves joining, often quite unaware of the fact, often with the best possible intentions, in the building of this new Babel....

The modern idealism that hopes for "heaven on earth" hopes likewise for the vague "transformation" of man—the ideal of the "superman" (in diverse forms, conscious or not), which, however absurd, has a great appeal to a mentality that has been trained to believe in "evolution" and "progress." And let not contemporary despair make us think that hope in the worldly future is dead; despair over the future is only possible for someone who still wants to believe in it; and indeed, mingled with contemporary despair is a great sense of expectation, a will to believe, that the future ideal can, somehow, be realized.

The power of the impersonal and inhuman has ruled the first part of our century of "crisis"; a vague "existential" spirit, semi- or pseudo-religious, idealistic and practical at the same time (but never otherworldly), seems destined to rule the last part of this century. They are two stages of the same disease, modern "humanism," the disease caused by trusting in the world and in man, while ignoring Christ—except to borrow His name as a convenient "symbol" for men who, after all, cannot quite forget Him, as well as to seduce those who still wish to serve Him. Christianity become a "crusade," Christ become an "idea," both in the service of a world "transformed" by scientific and social techniques and a man virtually "deified" by the awakening of a "new consciousness": this lies before us. Communism, it seems clear, is nearing a transformation itself, a "humanizing," a "spiritualizing," and of this Boris Pasternak [5] is a sign given in advance; he does not reject the Revolution, he only wants it "humanized." The "democracies," by a different path, are approaching the same goal. Everywhere "prophets "—semi- or pseudo-Christians like Berdyaev and Tolstoy, more explicit pagans like D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Kazanzakis, as well as the legions of occultists, astrologers, spiritualists and millenialists—all herald the birth of a "new age." Protestants, and then more and more Catholics and Orthodox, are caught up in this enthusiasm and envisage their own age of ecumenical unity and harmony, some being so bold—and so blasphemous—as to call it a "third age" of the "descent of the Holy Spirit" (a la D. H. Lawrence, Berdyaev, and ultimately, Joachim of Floris).

An age of "peace" may come to weary, yet apocalyptically anxious, man; but what can the Christian say of such "peace"? It will not be the Peace of Christ; it is but fantasy to imagine a sudden, universal conversion of men to full Christian faith, and without such faith His Peace cannot come. And any human "peace" will only be the prelude to the outburst of the only and real "war" of our age, the war of Christ against all the powers of Satan, the war of Christians who look only for the Kingdom not of this world, against all those, pagan or pseudo-Christian, who look only for a worldly Kingdom, a Kingdom of Man.

+ + +
It was only after I had completed the preceding pages that I saw your article in Commonweal, "Nuclear War and Christian Responsibility." [6] There you bring up the topic to which I was planning to devote the rest of this letter: the Apocalypse.

There is, of course, nothing of which it is more dangerous to speak. Futile and overliteral speculation on apocalyptic events is an only too obvious cause of spiritual harm; and no less so, I think, is the facile way in which many of our contemporaries refer to the "apocalyptic" character of the times, and in so doing raise in others deep fears and hopes which their own vague pronouncements are far from satisfying. If a Christian is going to speak of the Apocalypse at all, it is quite clear that in this as in everything else his words must be sober, as precise as possible, and fully in accord with the universal teaching of the Church. In this case I can see no reason why Latin and Orthodox testimony should be substantially different. The prophetic texts are the possession alike of East and West; the commentaries and statements of the Fathers, both Greek and Latin, on these texts are explicit, detailed, and in mutual agreement; and the tradition of the Fathers has been affirmed, after the schism, by both the Orthodox and Latin Churches—in the latter most authoritatively, I would presume, in the person of Thomas Aquinas. [7] The recent book of Josef Pieper, The End of Time, basing itself almost entirely on Western sources, is, so far as I know, in no essential point at variance with Orthodox tradition. It is rather a shock, in fact, to read in Fr. D'Arcy's Meaning and Matter of History that "not all Christian scholars would accept such a literal acceptance" of apocalyptic literature. Perhaps not, indeed, but that is to say no more than that, just as many Jews did not recognize the Christ of their prophecies, so will many Christians fail to discern the signs of the times with regard to the Antichrist and the end of time. (Many Christians have departed so far from tradition as to believe that the Antichrist will be no actual man, but a vague "spirit" only, much as many modern Jews have transformed their messianic hope into belief in a mere "messianic age.")

But this failure of many Christians is itself part of the prophecies concerning the "falling away," even within the Church itself; as Blessed Jerome said, "Many esteemed as the Patriarch shall fall." For the Antichrist is a deceiver, and too few Christians are prepared for his deceptions. It is thus dangerous to speak of "apocalyptic" things without speaking of the Antichrist and his spirit. It is easy for the weakest understanding today to see something "apocalyptic" in the fantastic destructive powers man now possesses; but worldly power is only one aspect of the reign of the Antichrist—great deceptiveness, such as to deceive, if possible, even the elect, is another and less obvious one. You speak, like many today, of the possible "destruction of the human race"; is this not a rather strong phrase for a Christian to use? Does it not, again, place too much emphasis on the power of man? Does it not, above all, overlook the prophecies of what must come to pass before God (Who, of course, alone can "destroy the human race" He has created) calls men into His Kingdom?

In no uncertain words you affirm, once more, "War must be abolished. A world government must be established." Is not "must" a rather strong word? It is indeed a symptom of the apocalyptic character of the age that the only "practical" solution to the present crisis—the abolition of war—should at the same time be (as I think) totally idealistic. To some this situation gives rise to thoughts of a "new age" or a "new world"; to me, it suggests the possibility that we are, in actual fact, on the threshhold of the last days, when all courses of worldly action begin to become impossible.

A "new world"—this is a phrase, I have noticed, that you yourself use. In The Living Bread you even suggest that "we are witnessing the dawn of a light that has never before been seen.... We live, perhaps, on the threshhold of the greatest eucharistic era of the world—the era that may well witness the final union of mankind." You ask, to be sure (but without giving an answer), "Will this visible union be a political one?" And you even suggest that "perhaps the last age of all will be 'eucharistic' in the sense that the Church herself will give the glory and praise to God by being put to the Cross."

To Christians, who possess the word of Christ and His Prophets and Saints concerning the last days, I do not see how there can be any "perhaps" in the matter. The political union of mankind, however legitimate it may be as a political goal, can only end in the reign of Antichrist; the Church, beyond all doubt, will be crucified after a good many of the faithful have betrayed Her through the deceptions of the Antichrist.

I by no means preach an imminent "reign of Antichrist" and apocalypse that is possible, of course, and Christians at all times must be prepared for it; but no one knows the hour.... What I do wish to emphasize is the fact—I take it so—that, spiritually speaking, contemporary man in his despair of the present and still-present hope in the future, confronted with "ultimate" alternatives and seemingly "apocalyptic" social and scientific transformations (and evolutionary hope), has never been more receptive to the advent of a pseudo-Messiah, a supreme "problem-solver" and inspirer of the bright human "idealism."

In times like these, I think, the Christian should be wary of involving himself in the tangled web of political activity, lest in striving for too much he lose all; boldness in faith and in preaching the Kingdom (above all by the example of one's life), to be sure there is not nearly enough of that today—but caution in worldly "planning," of which we have a superfluity, even (in fact, most of all) in the interest of "high ideals."

Above all, the Christian in the contemporary world must show his brothers that all the "problems of the age" are of no consequence beside the single central "problem of man": death, and its answer, Christ. Despite what you have said about the "staleness" of Christianity to contemporary men, I think that Christians who speak of this problem, and in their lives show that they actually believe all that "superstition" about the "other world"—I think they have something "new" to say to contemporary man. It has been my own experience that serious young people are "tired" of Christianity precisely because they think it is an "idealism" that hypocritically doesn't live up to its "ideals"; of course, they don't believe in the other world either—but for all they know, neither do "Christians."

I think Christians have of late become entirely too "sophisticated," too anxious to feel at home in the world by accommodating their faith to passing fashions of thought; so contemporary Christians become "existential," speak of the "here and now" of faith and spiritual things. Well, that is fine, as far as it goes—but it doesn't go far enough. Our hope as Christians cannot be reduced to the abstract, but neither can it be reduced to the concrete; we believe and hope in a Kingdom no one living has ever seen, our faith and hope are totally impossible in the eyes of the world. Well then, let us tell the world that we believe the "impossible." It has been my experience that contemporary men want to believe, not little, but much; having abandoned Christian faith, nothing can seem too fantastic to them, nothing can seem too much to hope for—hence the "idealism" of today's youth. For myself, my own faith grew rather gradually, as a more or less "existential" thing, until the stunning experience of meeting a Christian (a young Russian monk) for whom nothing mattered but the Kingdom of the world to come. Let the contemporary sophisticate prattle of the childishness of seeking "future rewards" and all the rest—life after death is all that matters. And hope in it so fires the true believer—he who knows that the way to it is through the hard discipline of the Church, not through mere "enthusiasm"—that he is all the more in the present (both in himself and as an example) than the "existentialist" who renounces the future to live in the present.

The future Kingdom has not been abandoned by modern Christians, but it has been so "toned down" that one wonders how strong the faith of Christians is. Particularly all the involvement of Christians in the projects of social idealism, seems to me a way of saying: "You, the worldly, are right. Our Kingdom 'not of this world' is so distant and we can't seem to get it across to you; so we will join you in building something we can actually see, something better than Christ and His Kingdom—a reign of peace, justice, brotherhood on earth." This is a "new Christianity," a refinement, it seems to me, of the Christianity of the "Grand Inquisitor" of Dostoyevsky.

And what of the "old" Christianity of "private virtue"? Why has it become so stale? Because, I think, Christians have lost their faith. The outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of this loss of faith. What is needed is not more busyness but a deeper penetration within. Not less fasting, but more; not more action, but prayer and penance. If Christians really lived the Christian hope and the full path of unification that looks to its fulfillment, instead of the easy compromise that most laymen today think sufficient—and doesn't the "new Christianity" tell them that working for social ideals is really more important than following the Christian discipline?—; if Christians in their daily life were really on fire with love of God and zeal for His Kingdom not of this world—then everything else needful would follow of itself.

We can hardly hope that such a life will be too widespread in our time, or even, perhaps, that its example will make many converts—surely not as many as will the "new" Gospel; for social idealism is a part of the spirit of the age, while genuine Christian otherworldliness is most emphatically not. Too, it is more difficult and often less certain of itself—so weak is our faith; altogether, in short, an unappealing goal for outwardly-minded modern man. All of this is inconsequential: ours it is to live the full Christian life—the fruit of it is in God's hands.

Well, I have said what I wanted to say. I should be very grateful to receive a reply from you, if you think my remarks worth replying to. And if you do reply, I hope you will be as frank as I have tried to be. This is the only kind of ecumenical "dialogue" of which I am capable; and if it seems more like a challenge to "combat," I hope that will not deter you. My criticisms, I am sure you know, are directed not at you but at your words (or at what I have made of them).

Yours in Christ,

Eugene Rose

1. The Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God.

2. First published in Black Friars, June, 1962, pp. 266-268. Republished in Thomas Merton on Peace, McCall Publishing, 1971.

3. See Part III above. [This Letter was Part IV of a larger work that is not on this website—webmaster].

4. Eugene here alludes to an idea articulated in a work that highly influenced him at this time: A Short History of Antichrist by Vladimir Soloviev. Although this work clearly contains some un-Orthodox teachings, it is valuable in that it presents a striking contrast between the true unity of catacomb Christians in the last times and the false unity of the "official" church under Antichrist. For a more qualified and thorough discussion of what Eugene hints at, see Before the Face of Antichrist by Archimandrite Constantine in The Orthodox Word, no. 121.

5. Merton had recently written an article entitled Pasternak and the People with Watch Chains (published in Jubilee, July, 1959). In response to this article, Eugene wrote to Merton:

"The 'religion' of Pasternak, the author of Dr. Zhivago, is that 'new spirituality' that wants something more than the 'small' and 'limited' Christ the Church worships, rather a 'new' Christ more in keeping with the 'free human spirit' of the age. This is the spirit of the man-god, the superman, no longer crude as in Nietzsche, but refined, spiritualized, made plausible as the logical and historical continuation, even the messianic successor, of the bankrupt 'humanist' tradition: a 'new humanism.' This spirit is no friend of true Christianity, but its mortal enemy.

"The language you use in describing the 'spirituality' of Pasternak, though it might seem to have the excuse of being addressed to a 'popular' audience, cannot but cause sorrow to an Orthodox reader. To speak of a 'liturgical and sacramental character' that has little or nothing to do with 'established ritual form' or 'ritualistic routine,' but instead 'unstrained by formal or hieratic rigidities'; of the 'world of God-manhood' and 'the transfigured cosmos' as seen by someone whom you admit to be rather 'pagan' and perhaps 'agnostic,' and who is only in the vaguest sense 'Christian'; of a 'symbolic richness' akin to that of the Greek Fathers, yet 'without their dogmatic and ascetic preoccupations'; of a 'freedom' and 'life' totally outside the Church—none of this can make any sense to a right-believing Orthodox (nor, I should think to a Catholic); at best vague and rather 'Protestant,' it too easily lends itself to the service of the 'new Christianity,' born of Protestantism, Humanism, and natural human idealism, that is now sweeping over the world. My own faith has been nurtured precisely by the spirituality that has emerged from the fires of Soviet persecution; but this spirituality is by no means the 'simple,' 'primitive,' and romantic 'spontaneity' you find in Pasternak....

"The faith of Pasternak is a vague and impotent faith that will not accept Christ, that believes only in 'life,' in the world, dressed up (no doubt from a quite genuine aesthetic interest) in some shreds of the outward garb of Orthodoxy, and hoping, against hope that its idealism can be realized in this world...."

6. Commonweal, vol. 75, Feb. 9, 1962.

7. In the manuscript notes of Eugene's letter to Merton are found other comments relating to Thomas Aquinas, and more particularly to the results of his philosophy. When Eugene commented on "realism" in modern Roman Catholic thought, this was in a context different from the Christian realism mentioned in Part II above [This Letter was Part IV of a larger work that is not on this website—webmaster].. "Thomist philosophy and Catholic realism in general," he wrote, "inspires us [i.e. , Orthodox Christians—ed.] with a certain uneasiness. Why? In a word, because it is too much concerned with the things of this world. It overestimates the worth of the 'natural' in underestimating the corruption of the natural order and of the human intellect, by the Fall; the 'natural' we know is no longer fully natural. But more essential than this, it aspires to a knowledge and 'wisdom' that are 'heavy' with all the weight of the 'world,' that act as though—for all practical purposes—the world is eternal. The time of the Kingdom has come: in the light of this truth, which is central to Christianity, all the worldly preoccupations of Catholic realism seem almost a mockery. Does not this 'realism' say: Let man fulfill his 'natural' self, let him seek worldly knowledge and happiness and temporal improvement, and then look to the knowledge and happiness that lie above these, proceeding from what is humbler and more accessible to what is nobler and more hidden. But if the time of the Kingdom has come, is it not too late to be pursuing these worldly aims? And is it not inevitable that many who begin with the humble will never leave it? Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. The imperative to Christians seems all too obvious: put away all worldly things, and seek the Kingdom. The Kingdom has been 'delayed'; do we then return to our original path, that worldly wisdom to which Christ's message is folly? Alas, with 'Christian philosophy,' and how much more so with modern 'science,' we do just that. Christ is our wisdom, not the world; and in the end these two cannot be reconciled. A 'natural wisdom' subordinated to Christian Truth; a 'natural science' devoted to Christian uses (horror of horrors!)—these, in a 'normal' time, might be legitimate. But the fact that Christ has come marks our time as an extraordinary time, a time in which 'normal' concerns, wisdom and worldly knowledge, must be put aside, and we too must be crucified and made a scandal and folly to the world. Christianity stands opposed to the world. True, there is too the 'world' that is to be saved—but not by descending to its level. Christianity must teach art to paint Christ, not to paint the world in a Christian 'spirit'; science must place Christ in the center of the universe, though it crucify all its formulas to do so (it is in that case that the formulas, not Christ, are wanting)"

On the same theme of Catholic "realism," Fr. Seraphim stated: "It is not surprising that many modern Catholic 'realists' find the traditional teaching of the reign of Antichrist shocking—too 'literal' at any rate. For one cannot believe that everything 'natural' is good and at the same time see a reign of evil as its historical outcome."

by Dom David Bird

It is important to point out that the differences between Thomas Merton and Fr Seraphim do not indicate a radical difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.   The points that Fr Seraphim made are also made by Catholic critics.   Fr Seraphim would agree wholeheartedly with the criticisms of a certain kind of Catholicism made by Peter Kreeft (click name), "They turn politics into a religion and religion into politics."   The real question is whether Thomas Merton is guilty as charged.  To answer that question, I must acknowledge that there are historical and cultural differences between East and West which often cause misunderstanding.

There are two differences between the cultures of East and West, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, that make it difficult to understand one another.   One is historical and has to do with the Byzantine Empire which functioned well in the East and did not function at all in the West.   The other is what de Caussade called the "Sacrament of the Present Moment", which, while it certainly has its equivalent in the East, is not so extensively applied as a spiritual idea as it is in Catholicism.

The Legend of King Arthur and the Round Table is about a time when the Roman Empire had retired its troops from Britain, leaving the country defenceless against the invading Barbarians, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.   King Arthur and his men, it is guessed, were Roman-trained, Celtic cavalry which the Empire left behind as a token defence against the enemies of an ever-weaker Empire.

Over the centuries, in what are called the Dark Ages, this situation was replicated.  The West was part of an Empire unable to defend its frontiers, keep order in its streets or, in any way, to contribute to the common good.   The only organisation that existed that could unite and organise society so that it functioned was the Church.   Poor old St Gregory the Great wanted nothing better than to retire to his monastery and pray; but his family connections and his personal gifts as an administrator, joined to his position as Bishop of Rome made him the only one that could treat with invading barbarians, guard frontiers, and keep order.   Unwittingly, his efforts sowed the seeds of what would later be the Papal States.

What motivated St Gregory the Great and many others in the same sort of situation was love of neighbour in the concrete situation in which they lived.   They organised where chaos reigned because ordinary people were starving and dying unprotected.   They stepped in where emissaries of the Empire were too weak to tread.   Meanwhile, the Orthodox East had no such problems because the Empire was working as well as could be expected

The notion of the "sacrament of the present moment" is based on a fact believed in by both East and West.   The fact is that there is no person or group of persons, no event or situation in which God is absent.   God is present everywhere and with everyone, keeping all  in existence..   De Caussade writes:
“The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee” (Luke i, 35), said the angel to Mary. This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment. These are, in fact, but shadows like those in the order of nature which, like a veil, cover sensible objects and hide them from us. Therefore in the moral and supernatural order the duties of each moment conceal, under the semblance of dark shadows, the truth of their divine character which alone should rivet the attention. It was in this light that Mary beheld them. Also these shadows diffused over her faculties, far from creating illusion, did but increase her faith in Him who is unchanging and unchangeable. The archangel may depart. He has delivered his message, and his moment has passed. Mary advances without ceasing, and is already far beyond him. The Holy Spirit, who comes to take possession of her under the shadow of the angel’s words, will never abandon her.....But what a divine nourishment Mary and Joseph received from this daily bread for the strengthening of their faith! It is like a sacrament to sanctify all their moments. What treasures of grace lie concealed in these moments filled, apparently, by the most ordinary events. That which is visible might happen to anyone, but the invisible, discerned by faith, is no less than God operating very great things. O Bread of Angels! heavenly manna! pearl of the Gospel! Sacrament of the present moment! thou givest God under as lowly a form as the manger, the hay, or the straw. And to whom dost thou give Him? “Esurientes implevit bonis” (Luke i, 53). God reveals Himself to the humble under the most lowly forms, but the proud, attaching themselves entirely to that which is extrinsic, do not discover Him hidden beneath, and are sent empty away..The soul, enlightened by faith, judges of things in a very different way to those who, having only the standard of the senses by which to measure them, ignore the inestimable treasure they contain. He who knows that a certain person in disguise is the king, behaves towards him very differently to another who, only perceiving an ordinary man, treats him accordingly. In the same way the soul that recognises the will of God in every smallest event, and also in those that are most distressing and direful, receives all with an equal joy, pleasure and respect. It throws open all its doors to receive with honour what others fear and fly from with horror. The outward appearance may be mean and contemptible, but beneath this abject garb the heart discovers and honours the majesty of the king. The deeper the abasement of his entry in such a guise and in secret the more does the heart become filled with love. I cannot describe what the heart feels when it accepts the divine will in such humble, poor, and mean disguises. Ah! how the sight of God, poor and humble, lodged in a stable, lying on straw, weeping and trembling, pierced the loving heart of Mary! Ask the inhabitants of Bethlehem what they thought of the Child. You know what answer they gave, and how they would have paid court to Him had He been lodged in a palace surrounded by the state due to princes....
Thus, it is not in the kind of activity that I undertake that matters but whether it is God's will that I undertake it.   Moreover, its value lies not in its earthly importance but the degree to which I permit God to live and work in me and through me.   Thus, it is probable that St Martin de Porres sweeping the cloister was doing something of greater Christian value than the Prior of the Lima Dominicans when he preached to the viceroy.

Two characteristics of the Church in modern times, found in Vatican II and clearly shown in saints and other holy people, both before and after Vatican II, are strict orthodoxy and all-embracing charity.   They are found in Charles de Foucauld whose devotion to the Sacred Heart, to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady went very deep.   There was nothing half-hearted about his Catholicism.   Yet he dedicated his life to living the life of Nazareth among Moslems whom he loved and whose life he shared.   They are found in Dorothy Day and the Daily Worker Movement and Catherine de Hueck Doherty in Harlam; both ladies very observant Catholics heavily influenced by the Byzantine tradition and the Desert Fathers, yet totally dedicated to the welfare of the poor, irrespective of their religion.   They are found in Mother Teresa whose straight-down-line Catholicism and her universal charity were seen, even by the world, as a single whole.   They loved all and saw Christ in all, and were thus ready to receive Christ in all and through all; and the key of their understanding was the Incarnation

.   This is also the Catholicism of Assisi when Catholics, including the Pope, pray in one place for peace with people of all rekigions.   They do not say together the same prayers; nor do they believe that all religions are the same; but they acknowledge that all other religions are made up of human beings, and that Christ shares the human nature of all and of every human being: no one is a human being alone by his or her self.  We are all human beings with Christ, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not; and this is going to seep through into our religions and into our civil life, however disguised or covered up.  In this hidden work of God, we the Church have a special role because we are the body of Christ, the physical presence of Christ among men.

In Britain, there is a prejudice that any kind of orthodoxy is divisive and leads to hatred and tribalism; and there is much in history to support that view; but this modern combination of orthodoxy and all-embracing charity, as taught by Vatican II and exemplified in the holy lives of many Christians, has led Fr Damian of Molokai to his lepers, Mother Teresa to the sick and abandoned, Catherine de Hueck Doherty to her soup kitchens and Dorothy Day in her all-round love of all: it runs totally contrary to that prejudice, because it is evident that their all-embracing love proceeds from their strict orthodoxy and is its most startling fruit.   As is said in "The Diary of a Country Priest", "Grace is everywhere," because God's love is everywhere..

Thus, we must keep two things in mind:  first, that it became a historical necessity for the Church in the West to do tasks which  were undertaken exclusively by the Empire in the East; and, secondly, that there is no human activity that cannot become a means of sanctification if it is what God wants us to do.   We can now turn to the letter of the holy monk Fr Seraphim and answer his objections, understanding the words of Thomas Merton in the light of his Louisville experience and of his letter to Jim Forrest.

Thomas Merton,s Catholicism in his maturity was the fruit of his spiritual experience living as a Trappist monk.   An experience that burst the boundaries of his thinking and of hi openness to Grace is the one he had in Louisville..   "I have the immense joy of being a member of the race in which God himself became incarnate."   He celebrated Mass with great regularity right up to the time of his death; and he was known in Gethsemane Abbey for the time he spent before the tabernacle.   At the same time, he completely identified himself with humanity, even with Buddhists; and, because he was not afraid of them, felt no need to put up barriers against them, he was ready to learn from them, share with them, recognise the Truth from them when he heard it, because Christ took on their human nature and does not stand aside idle.

In the same spirit, he identified with the Peace Movement; but, as with Buddhism, he did so in a peculiarly Christian way.   Firstly, he had a Christian, not a secular way, to participate in the movement.   As a contemplative monk, prayer and being in God's presence were a more fruitful means of participating than his writing; and actual campaigning would have distracted from his real role.   For Jim Forrest who was campaigning, his advice was:
 All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
Whether we succeed or whether we fail is not important in itself.   If we are in God's hands, then he may lead us to success or failure.   If failure, then he will turn the failure to good, even if we don't know how.   Thomas Merton wrote:
 When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
Father Seraphim Rose, speaking of the total abolition of war, says that it is a goal worthy of secular man.

   But what of Christianity?—and I mean full uncompromising Christianity, not the humanist idealism that calls itself Christian. Is not Christianity supremely hostile to all forms of idealism, to all reduction of its quite "realistic" end and means to mere lofty ideas? Is the ideal of the "abolition of war" really different in kind from such other lofty aims as the "abolition" of disease, of suffering, of sin, of death? All of these ideals have enlisted the enthusiasm of some modern idealist or other, but it is quite clear to the Christian that they are secularizations and so perversions of genuine Christian hopes.
When England was divided into various kingdoms, war between them was a very real possibility.   Then England became one kingdom, and what had been an ideal - peace among the various regions of England - became a concrete fact.   The abolition of nuclear weapons is an ideal: but we wish to turn it into a concrete fact.   The world is now very different from when Thomas Merton and Seraphim Rose were living in it.   The Cold War is over.   Third World countries are climbing the economic ladder while our economies stagnate.    The struggle to turn peace  from an ideal into a concrete fact, in a world where anybody is only the click of a mouse distance from anyone else, is a task that should have the wholehearted support of Christians.   It is not "idealistic" to try. 

  However, as Fr Seraphim implies, such a peace is not "the peace that the world cannot give" and which comes from Jesus Christ.   To let the peace sought by political struggle  take the place of the peace that Christ bestows would be near idolatry; but Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton were in no danger of falling into that trap.   As Thomas Merton wrote:
The great thing after all is to live, not to pour our your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ's truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments..
We join in solidarity with the Peace Movement because, as believers in the Incarnation, we know we are one with all sharers in the human nature, and the nearer to Christ we are, the nearer to all human beings.   However, as Christians, we participate in a Christian way.   We know that our contribution will be successful only to the degree that, through prayer, we make our own the words of the Blessed Virgin, "I am the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word," so that the Holy Spirit can work in and through us.   Every other consideration is secondary.    Part of our work is to practise the presence of God and to see Christ in all.   The more we see Christ in others, the more they will see Christ in us.  In this way we will avoid the danger that Fr Seraphim and Thomas Merton allude to, of turning "peace" into a myth that enslaves rather than as a pointer to an even more profound peace that is a gift from Jesus Christ.

Letter from Thomas Merton to James Forest

I like this blog the most when I think of it as a little clearing house for noteworthy items gleaned from the internet and from the physical world--I feel especially useful when I type up something not readily available on the internet, as in the case of the following letter. It is a letter from Thomas Merton to James Forest, the latter of whom is a Catholic activist and founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship:

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right.

...[T]he big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour our your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ's truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments...

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand...

Enough of this...it is at least a gesture...I will keep you in my prayers.

All the best in Christ,

Meeting Thomas Merton
(a talk given in Prades, France, May 2006, in the course of a pilgrimage organized by the Thomas Merton Society of Canada)

by Jim Forest

Each of us has a memory of Merton’s entrance into our lives. Usually it has to do with coming upon one of his books. It is the same for me.

I recall being an eighteen-year-old boy waiting for a bus in Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. It was 1959 and I was on leave from my Navy job at the U.S. Weather Bureau. Christmas was a few days away. I was en route to a monastery for a week-long stay. Until that moment, the closest I had come to monastic life was seeing a film called “The Nun’s Story” starring Audrey Hepburn. With a little time on my hands, I was browsing a carousel full of paperback books that was off to one side of the waiting room’s newsstand and came upon a book with the odd title, “The Seven Storey Mountain” by someone named Thomas Merton. The author’s name meant nothing to me. It was, the jacket announced, “the autobiography of a young man who led a full and worldly life and then, at the age of 26, entered a Trappist monastery.” There was a quotation from Evelyn Waugh, who said this book “may well prove to be of permanent interest in the history of religious experience.” Another writer compared it to Augustine’s Confessions.

It proved to be a can’t-put-it-down read for me. In the bus going up the Hudson Valley, I can recall occasionally looking up from the text to gaze out the window at the heavy snow that was falling that night. Merton’s story has ever since been linked in my mind with the silent ballet of snow flakes swirling under street lights.

In 1948, the year The Seven Storey Mountain was published, Merton was only 33. His book had been in the shops eleven years when, in its umpteenth printing, it reached my hands.

Had I known it, the book’s author was now quite a different person than the Merton I envisioned on my first reading of his autobiography. The Thomas Merton I imagined had found his true home on the 10th of December 1941, the day he came to stay at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and was as firmly and peacefully rooted there as an oak tree in a national park. He was that blessed man who finds not only faith but the place to live that faith, and though accidentally made famous by a book, was living happily in medieval obscurity in rural Kentucky.

I would later discover that the actual Thomas Merton, far from being happily rooted, was in fact eager to transplant himself. It wasn’t something he mentioned in “The Seven Storey Mountain,” but he had found sleeping in a crowded Trappist dormitory hard going and often found his monastery factory-like. He had dreams of becoming a hermit, but there was no tradition of solitary life in his order.

As it happens, 1959 was the year he made a major effort to get permission to move. His idea was to become a hermit associated with a more privative monastery somewhere in Latin America, with Mexico the leading contender. On the 17th of December 1959, just a few days before I began reading The Seven Storey Mountain, he had been on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament opening a letter from Rome that told him, though his request was viewed with sympathy, permission could not be given for him to leave the Abbey of Gethsemani. “They were very sorry,” he noted in his journal later that day. “They wanted the right words to pour balm in certain wounds. But my departure would certainly upset too many people in the Order as well as outside it. They agreed with my superiors that I did not have an ermitical vocation. Therefore what they asked of me was to stay in the monastery where God had put me, and I would find interior solitude.” [The Intimate Merton, p 146] Two cardinals had signed the letter.

And yet the Merton I imagined was not altogether different than the actual Merton. He read the letter with detachment, without anger, resentment or the temptation to disobey. In his journal he commented: “The letter was too obvious. It could only be accepted. My first reaction was one of relief that at last the problem had been settled.” He found himself surprised that he wasn’t at all upset and felt no disappointment but rather “only joy and emptiness and liberty.” He saw the letter as bearing news of God’s will, which more than anything else was what he was desperate to know. “I accept it fully,” he wrote. “So then what? Nothing. Trees, hills, rain. Prayer much lighter, much freer, more unconcerned. A mountain lifted off my shoulders — a Mexican mountain I myself had chosen.”

Yet even that day he had in mind the importance of replying to the letter, if only to explain what he understood the hermit’s vocation to be and what drew him in that direction. If he was not to be allowed to become a hermit at another monastery, then perhaps the day might come when there would be a place for hermits within the Trappist context.

It was thanks to Dorothy Day, leader of the Catholic Worker movement, that I came in closer contact with Merton. I first met Dorothy a few days before Christmas in 1960, just a year after reading The Seven Storey Mountain. Once again I was on leave from my Navy job in Washington, D.C. My first few days were spent at Saint Joseph’s House in Manhattan, but one day I went to the Catholic Worker’s rural outpost on the southern tip of Staten Island, the Peter Maurin Farm. In the large, faded dining room of an old farmhouse, I found half a dozen people gathered around a pot of tea and a pile of mail at one end of a large table. Dorothy Day was reading letters aloud.

The only letter I still recall from that day’s reading was one from Thomas Merton. It amazed me that they were in correspondence. The Merton I had met in the pages of The Seven Storey Mountain had withdrawn from “the world” with a slam of the door that was heard around the world, while Dorothy Day was as much in the world as the mayor of New York. Also I recalled Merton’s description of the strict limits Trappists placed on correspondence. I had assumed he wrote to no one outside his family. Yet here he was exchanging letters with one of America’s more controversial figures.

Merton told Dorothy that he was deeply touched by her witness for peace, which had several times resulted in arrest and imprisonment. “You are right going along the lines of satyagraha [Gandhi’s term for nonviolent action; literally the power of truth]. I see no other way…. Nowadays it is no longer a question of who is right but who is at least not criminal …. It has never been more true than now that the world is lost in its own falsity and cannot see true values.”

In this letter, and many similar “Cold War letters,” Merton would write during the last decade of his life, one met a Merton who at first seemed quite different from than the Merton of The Seven Storey Mountain, yet in fact the reader looking for a more socially engaged, war-resisting Merton will find much evidence of him in the autobiography.

It was in The Seven Storey Mountain, after all, that he explained why he had decided not to fight in World War II, though he was prepared for noncombatant service as an Army medic. In a passage which must have startled many readers of the autobiography, appearing as it did just after the war, he explained:

[God] was not asking me to judge all the nations of the world, or to elucidate all the moral and political motives behind their actions. He was not demanding that I pass some critical decision defining the innocence and guilt of all those concerned in the war. He was asking me to make a choice that amounted to an act of love for His truth, His goodness, His charity, His Gospel…. He was asking me to do, to the best of my knowledge, what I thought Christ would do…. After all, Christ did say, “Whatsoever you have done to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” [SSM, 311-12]

In the same book, Merton had recorded the experience of being a volunteer at a house of hospitality on 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem in the months that proceeded his choosing the monastic life. He described Harlem as a

divine indictment against New York City and the people who live downtown and make their money downtown.… Here in this huge, dark, steaming slum, hundreds of thousands of Negroes are herded together like cattle, most of them with little to eat and nothing to do. All the senses and imagination and sensibilities and emotions and sorrows and desires and hopes and ideas of a race with vivid feelings and deep emotional reactions are forced in upon themselves, bound inward by an iron ring of frustration: the prejudice that hems them in with its four insurmountable walls. In this huge cauldron inestimable natural gifts, wisdom, love, music, science, poetry, are stamped down and left to boil … and thousands upon thousands of souls are destroyed. [SSM, 345]

It’s an easy leap from these sentences to his essays about racism written in sixties.

Anguish and rage warm many pages in The Seven Storey Mountain. The distress with structures of violence and social cruelty that is a major theme of his later writings is evident in the younger Merton as well. If there is a difference in later life, it is simply that the older Merton no longer regarded monastic life as a short cut to heaven. Rather he saw it as a place to which some are called, but in no way a “higher” vocation than any other state in life to which God calls His children. The question is thus not to seek a “best” vocation but rather to seek God’s will in the particular context of one’s own temperament and circumstances. The challenge God gives each of us is to become a saint.

After receiving my discharge from the Navy in the early summer of 1961, I joined the Catholic Worker community in New York City. I thought it might be a stopping point on the way to a monastery.

Dorothy knew of my interest in Merton’s book and the attraction I felt for monastic life. She shared Merton’s letters with me. Then one day she gave me a letter of his to answer. He had sent her a poem about Auschwitz and the Holocaust that he had written during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, “Chant to Be Used Around a Site for Furnaces.” In his letter to Dorothy, Merton described it as a “gruesome” work. I wrote to tell Merton of our appreciation of the poem and our plans to publish it. It would serve, I commented, as The Catholic Worker’s response to the Eichmann trial.

Not many days later I had a response from Merton in which he noted that we live in a time of war and the need “to shut up and be humble and stay put and trust in God and hope for a peace that we can use for the good of our souls.” A letter to me from Thomas Merton! I could not have felt more elated had I received the map revealing the location of pirate gold.

Though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, that single sentence revealed a great deal about the long-term struggles in which Merton was engaged. I thought what he said was aimed at me (how apt the advice was!), but, as was so often the case in his letters, he was addressing himself as well. He had enormous difficulty shutting up, feared he was lacking in humility, and often resisted staying put.

Though by now I had read several of his books, my own idea of Merton was still two-dimensional. I could not imagine he had problems being humble and staying put.

In December 1961, Merton suggested that perhaps I would like to come to the monastery for a visit. There was never any question in my mind about accepting though there was an issue of The Catholic Worker to get ready for publication and a night class in English Literature to finish at Hunter College. I was able to leave for Kentucky early in February 1962.

I had no money for such a journey — at the Catholic Worker one received room and board plus small change for minor expenses, subway rides and the like. I never dared ask even for a penny, preferring to sell The Catholic Worker on street corners in Greenwich Village, keeping a small portion of the proceeds for my incidental expenses and giving the rest to the community. A companion on the Catholic Worker staff, Bob Kaye, joined me. With our nearly empty wallets, we had no alternative but to travel by thumb. Before sunrise one damp winter morning we loaded up on Italian bread still warm from the oven of the Spring Street bakery and set off. I can still recall standing in nighttime sleet at the side of a highway somewhere in Pennsylvania watching cars and trucks rush past, many of them with colorful plastic statues of an open-armed Jesus on the dashboard. The image of Christ’s hospitality seemed to have little influence on the drivers. It took us two exhausting days to travel the thousand miles to the Abbey of Gethsemani.

But at last we reached the monastery. After the Guest Master showed us our rooms, my first stop was the monastery church. There was a balcony in the church that was connected to the guest house. Surviving such a trip, a prayer of thanksgiving came easily, but my prayer was cut short by the sound of distant laughter so intense and pervasive that I couldn’t resist looking for its source. I hadn’t expected laughter at a penitential Trappist monastery.

The origin, I discovered, was Bob Kaye’s room. As I opened the door the laughter was still going on, a kind of gale of joy. The major source was the red-faced man lying on the floor, wearing black and white robes and a broad leather belt, his knees in the air, hands clutching his belly. Though the monk was more well-fed than the fast-chastened Trappist monk I had imagined, I realized instantly that the man on the floor laughing with such abandon was Thomas Merton. His face reminded me of David Duncan’s photos of Pablo Picasso, not so much in details but a similar mobility of expression. And the inspiration for the laughter? It proved to be the heady smell of feet kept in shoes all the way from the Lower East Side to Gethsemani — the perfume of the Catholic Worker.

After that week-long stay at Gethsemani, The Seven Storey Mountain became a new and different book. No wonder the films of Charlie Chaplin were twice mentioned in The Seven Storey Mountain! Not only did I become aware that Merton was someone capable of hurricanes of laughter, but I learned that he was far from the only monk who knew how to laugh, though few of them exhibited the trait quite so readily as Merton.

The abbot, Dom James, though a hospitable man, was not initially quite so positive about a visitation of young Catholic Workers. In those days most American men had frequent haircuts, but haircuts seemed to Bob and me a massive waste of money. The next day Merton apologetically explained that our shaggy hair did not please the abbot. If we were to stay on at the abbey, Dom James insisted we have our hair trimmed. Merton hoped we wouldn’t object. A little while later I was sitting in a chair in the basement room where the novices changed into their work clothes; the room also served as a kind of barber shop. While the novices stood in a circle laughing, my hair fell to the concrete floor. Going from one extreme to the other, I was suddenly as bald as Yul Brinner.

After the haircut Merton took me to the abbot’s office. I can no longer recall what we talked about — it may well have been about Dorothy Day and community life at the Catholic Worker — but I will never forget the solemn blessing Dom James gave me at the end of our conversation. I knelt on the floor near his desk while he gripped my skull with intensity while praying over me. He had a steel grip. There was no doubt in my mind I had been seriously blessed. I have ever since had a warm spot in my heart for Dom James, a man who has occasionally been maligned by Merton biographers.

I recall another monk at the monastery who had much less sympathy for me and still less, it seemed, for Thomas Merton — or Father Louis, as Merton was known within the community. This was the abbey’s other noted author, Father Raymond, whose books were well known to Catholics at the time though they had never reached the broad audience Merton’s books had. Merton and I were walking down a basement corridor that linked the guest house kitchen to the basement of the main monastery building. There was a point in the corridor where it made a leftward turn and standing there, next to a large garbage container, was an older monk who was not so much reading as glaring at the latest Catholic Worker, which he held open at arm’s length as if the paper had an unpleasant smell. There was an article of Merton’s in it, one of his essays about the urgency of taking steps to prevent nuclear war. Father Raymond looked up, saw us coming his way, balled the paper up in his fist, hurled into the garbage container, and strode away without a word leaving a trail of smoke.

Once again, Merton’s response was laughter. Then he explained that Father Raymond had never had a high opinion of Merton’s writings and often denounced him at the community’s chapter meetings. “In the early days Father Raymond said I was too detached from the world, and now he thinks I’m not detached enough.” Merton laughed once again.

During that visit I had my first glimpse of Merton’s openness to non-Catholics and, more striking, non-Christians. It happened the first evening I was there. There was a hurried knock on the door of my room in the guest house. Merton was standing there, but in a rush as he was late for Vespers. He wanted me to have the pile of papers in his hands, a collection of Jewish Hasidic stories that a rabbi had left with him a few days before. “Read these — these are great!” And off he hurried to Vespers without further explanation, leaving me with a collection of amazing tales of mystical rabbis in Poland generations before the Holocaust.

I recall another evening a day or two later when Merton was not in a hurry. He was in good time for Vespers and already had on the white woolen choir robe the monks wore during winter months while in church. It was an impressive garment, all the more so at close range. I reached out to feel it thickness and density. In a flash Merton slid out of it and placed it over my head. I was astonished at how heavy it was! Once again, Merton laughed. The robe met a practical need, he explained. It was hardly warmer in the church than it was outside. If you wore only the black and white garments that were standard attire, you would freeze to death.

The guest master, a monk named Father Francis, knew I was at the monastery at Merton’s invitation and thought I might be able to answer a question which puzzled him and no doubt many of the monks: “How did Father Louis write all those books?” I had no idea, no more than he. But I got a glimpse of an answer before my stay was over. A friend at the Catholic Worker had sent a letter to Merton in my care. He urged Merton to leave the monastery and do something “more relevant,” such as join a Catholic Worker community. (Over the years Merton received quite a few letters telling him that he was in the wrong place.) What is memorable to me about this particular letter was the experience of watching Merton write. He had a small office just outside the classroom where he taught the novices. On his desk was a large grey typewriter. He inserted a piece of monastery stationery and wrote a reply at what seemed to me the speed of light. I had never seen anyone write so quickly. You will sometimes see a skilled stenographer type at such speed when copying a text, but even in a city news room one doesn’t often see actual writing at a similar pace. I only wish I had made a copy of his response. I recall that he readily admitted that there was much to reform in monasteries and that monastic life was not a vocation to which God often called His children, yet he gave an explanation of why he thought the monastic life was nonetheless an authentic Christian vocation and how crucial it was for him to remain faithful to what God had called him to. It was a very solid, carefully reasoned letter filling one side of a sheet of paper and was written in just a few minutes.

When I first met Merton, more than two years had passed since the Vatican’s denial of his request to move to another monastery where he might live in greater solitude. In March 1960, nearly a year before my visit, Merton had been given his own small cell in the monastery and soon after plans were made for the construction of a small cinder block building — in principle a conference center where Merton could meet with non-Catholic visitors, but Merton called it his hermitage — on the edge of the woods about a mile north of the monastery. Merton had lit the first fire in the fireplace several months before, on December 2nd. There was a small bedroom behind the main room. Merton occasionally had permission to stay overnight, but it would not be until the summer of 1965 that it became his full-time home. At that point he became the first Trappist hermit/

By the time I came to visit, it already had a lived-in look. It was winter so there was no sitting on the porch. We were inside, regularly adding wood to the blaze in the fireplace. I recall a Japanese calendar on the wall with a Zen brush drawing for every month of the year, also one of his friend Ad Reinhart’s black-on-black paintings. Of course there was a bookcase and, next to it, a long table that served as a desk placed on the inside of the hermitage’s one large window. There was a view of fields and hills. A large timber cross had been built on the lawn. On the table was a sleek Swiss-made Hermes typewriter. Off to one side of the hermitage was an outhouse which Merton shared with a black snake, a harmless but impressive creature.

What Merton took the most pleasure in when he showed me the hermitage was a sheet of parchment-like paper tacked to the inside of the closet door in his bedroom — a colorful baroque document such as one finds in shops near the Vatican: a portrait of the pope at the top in an oval with a Latin text below and many decorative swirls. In this case it was made out to “the Hermit Thomas Merton” and was signed by Paul VI.

The week ended abruptly. A telegram for me came from New York with the news that President Kennedy had announced the resumption of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, thus another escalation of the Cold War and yet another indication that nuclear war might occur in the coming years. Anticipating such a decision, I was part of a group of New Yorkers who had planned to take part in an act of civil disobedience, a sit-in at the entrance to the Manhattan office of the Atomic Energy Commission, the federal agency responsible for making and testing nuclear weapons. The abbey provided money for our return to New York by bus rather than thumb. Not many days later, now with a slight stubble of hair, I was in a New York City jail known locally as “The Tombs.”

Merton had a part even in that event. I recall a letter from him, sent care of the Catholic Worker, being hand delivered to me during the hour or two that we sat on the pavement awaiting arrest. (My monastic haircut made me interesting enough to be featured on the front page of one New York’s daily newspapers the following morning.)

I was to meet with Merton face to face only one more time. The next occasion was a small retreat at the monastery on the spiritual roots of protest in November 1964. Would that we had time to talk about that as well! But from the summer of 1961 until his death in 1968, we carried on a busy correspondence. (Most of his side of it is published in The Hidden Ground of Love.) On average there was a letter or note from him nearly every month. There were also many envelopes containing copies of essays he had written and sometimes larger works, such as the manuscript of Peace in the Post-Christian Era, and Cold War Letters, a collection of letters on topics of the day. (Peace in the Post-Christian Era was at last published in 2004; Cold War Letters is due out this year.)

I didn’t know the phrase in those days, but, looking back, I realize he became for me what in the Orthodox Church we call a “spiritual father” — someone to whom you open your soul and who in turn can help you stay on the path of the Gospel and help you find your way back to that path when you stray, as I certainly did time and again. If I had understood spiritual fatherhood better, perhaps I would have made better use of his readiness to help me see the way forward and would have made fewer false steps, but even so it was a extraordinarily fruitful relationship. I was one of Merton’s adopted children. (In actual fact, as I would later realize, I was about the right age to be one of his children. I was born in November 1941, just five weeks before he left his teaching post at St. Bonaventure’s to make his way to the monastery. Merton was then 26.)

What keeps Merton so fresh all these years after his death? Why is he still such a helpful presence in so many lives? Mine too! He is a long time dead yet remains quite a lively presence in my life.

In Thomas Merton we meet a man who spent the greater part of his life trying with all his being to find the truth and to live a truthful life. Though he chose a celibate vocation in an enclosed monastic environment, he nonetheless, mainly thanks to his several abbots, had a voice which reached far beyond the abbey’s borders. With tremendous candor, he exposed through his writings his own on-going struggles and the fact that he was like the rest of us, often wracked with uncertainties, and was no stranger to the temptations each of us faces. At a time when their was little inter-religious contact, he challenged his readers to find God not only within their particular community but across national as well as cultural and religious borders. He did this while giving an example of how one could at the same time remain deeply rooted in Christian belief and faith. He was a man of dialogue, as we see in the hundreds of letters he wrote to an astonishing variety of people in all parts of the world, including Soviet Russia. We also see in him one of the healers of Christian divisions. He did this not by renouncing anything a Catholic Christian would normally believe, but by allowing himself to become aware of anything of value in other parts of the Christian community, whether something as big and deeply rooted as the Orthodox Church or as small as the Shaker movement whose craftsmen made chairs fit for angels to sit on.

We see in him a pilgrim. As pilgrims tend to do, he crossed many borders, but the greater part of that journey was lived in a small corner of Kentucky. During his 26 years as a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, he rarely traveled further than Louisville. For all his temptations to move elsewhere, he remained a member of his particular monastic community until his dying day. He is a model of uncomfortable stability. His pilgrimage was one that didn’t require hiking boots.

Merton gives us a model of someone with an unshakable love not only of Christ but of Christ’s mother and grandmother. Whenever he had a building in need of a dedication such as his hermitage or other shelters of solitude, it was either to Mary or Anne. In the communion of saints, they were his permanent patrons. Everything he did or represents is rooted, in part, in his devotion to them.

Sometimes I am asked: Is Thomas Merton a saint? I know him too well to say a glib “yes,” but also too well to say “no.” Certainly he was not a perfect person. But the same is true of other saints. With the possible exception of Christ’s mother, there are no perfect persons in the calendar of saints. In Merton’s case we know his imperfections because he made a point of writing them down for us to read.

Yet I think the answer is yes. Few people have done so much to help so many find their way toward Christ and a deeper faith. Few people have drawn so many toward the mercy of God.

* * *


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Jim and Nancy Forest said...

A feast of Merton material! Re the letter of Seraphim Rose to Merton: I doubt it was ever actually mailed -- it's not among letters to Merton preserved at the Merton Center. Perhaps it was something Rose was working on before his final illness? It was only published years after Rose's death. A pity Merton didn't get it as it he probably would have responded at some length. I've sometimes thought if writing a response to the Rose letter but never gotten around to it.

Jim and Nancy Forest said...

A feast of Merton material! Re the letter of Seraphim Rose to Merton: I doubt it was ever actually mailed -- it's not among letters to Merton preserved at the Merton Center. Perhaps it was something Rose was working on before his final illness? It was only published years after Rose's death. A pity Merton didn't get it as it he probably would have responded at some length. I've sometimes thought if writing a response to the Rose letter but never gotten around to it.

Augie said...

Thank you for this testament to Merton. He was trying to change the earth, as prophet and monk. Please, a current blog written by a scholar and wanderer and urban monk, http://wrestlinggypsies.blogspot.com
Please, if you feel the words are important in here, the insights invaluable, spread the site far and wide.

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