One Response to Remembering Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, American Catholic

Thursday, November 13, AD 2008

merton_woodsBy way of Carl Olson comes Can You Trust Thomas Merton? – an evaluation of the Trappist monk and contemplative Thomas Merton which appears in This Rock, by Dr. Anthony E. Clark.

As with most critical evaluations of Merton, Clark mentions some by-now-familiar pieces of controversy in Merton’s life — His fathering a child during his hedonistic and womanizing years in Cambridge, where to quote him directly, he “labored to enslave myself in the bonds of my own intolerable disgust” and his on-again, off-again relationship with his superior, abbot Dom James Fox.

But it is not so much Merton’s “sins of the flesh” which are perceived as a danger (something which even the greatest saints were certainly not immune — is it more than coincidence that Merton’s Hindu friend Brahmachari would recommend Augustine’s Confessions?) as his exploration of the world’s religions, particularly Buddhism, the character of which, according to Dr. Clark, “often appears more like replacement than rapprochement.”

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16 Responses to Thomas Merton, American Catholic

  • Nice post!

  • Very good.

    On the central coast of California, there is a garish hotel on Highway 101 that is famous for its, uh, men’s bathroom and themed rooms, among other things; the bizarre men’s bathroom attracts the curious attention of even women, and it’s a natural place to stop on your way up the highway – I have used the bathroom several times. I was astonished to discover that Thomas Merton stopped there during a trip through California in the late 1960’s. From the October 8th, 1968, entry in Thomas Merton’s Journal, Volume 7 (1967-68) titled “The Other Side of the Mountain”:

    “A feeling of over-saturation with talk, food, drink, movement,
    sensations. The Madonna Inn on the road (US 101) outside San Luis
    Obispo exemplifies the madness of it. A totally extravagant creation,
    a disneyland motel, impossible fairy caves, a waterfall that starts in
    the urinal when you piss on the beam of an electric eye, a hostess
    with a skirt so short her behind was almost showing.” (page 199)

  • Some of you younger folks were just twinkles in your parents’ eyes during 1968. You tought 2008 was crazy. 1968 was ca-ray-zee. Protests and acid rock (mostly pretty good I must say) and deep deep societal convulsions. Of course, the year poor Pope Paul VI was fried and parboiled for Humanae Vitae- a prophetic document if ever there was one. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4 of that year. Thomas Merton died six months and six days later. If ever any historic figures could trigger spasms of If Only They Had Lived, it would be these two major religious leaders who passed away during The Really Crazy Year. Merton made it easy for religious leaders to show weaknesses. To demonstrate that even saints wrestle with demons, past mistakes, deep fears. Clearly shown in the recently published memoirs of Mother Teresa. But look at his proteges. For Dr. King, the REV-rund JACK-sonnnnn. For Merton, all manner of religious dissidents and wackadoos. Maybe they could have shaped and developed those following them with effectiveness. Would coulda shoulda. Bad enough they both died during The Really Really Crazy Year.

  • Christopher,

    Fine post.

    I like this part from Thomas Merton, “I think, then, that in our eagerness to go out to modern man and meet him on his own ground, accepting him as he is, we must also be truly what we are.”

    We must be truly aware of who we are. I know too many Catholics that go to far in throwing out the best of being a Catholic just so they could retain “respect” with the modern man.

  • Had he lived longer, he would have become a traditionalist.

    When you read his works, sure, he explores Buddhism, Zen, the Sufis. He makes statements that were certainly regrtettable (though not in any way out-of-the ordinary in the sixties and, let’s face it, even at his worst he was more orthodox than most of our bihsops form then until the present).

    But Merton not only “said mass every day”, he said it in Latin, though the rule shad broken down by then and lots of experimentation was going on, even before the promulgation of the Novus Ordo. I think, when that came out, Merton would have resisted the change. In his last days he records how disturbed he was at the idea of saying mass in the vernacular.

  • Except for THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN I’ve never read anything by Merton. One does wonder what a person who so casually concludes that He was unorthodox would do with St Justin the Martyr: “Whatever all men have uttered aright is the property of us Christians.”

  • In his last days he records how disturbed he was at the idea of saying mass in the vernacular.

    There’s a caustic notation in one of his journals about a progressive priest who, surprised that his congregation still said the rosary, escorted them into the woods and had the parishioners bury them, “in the spirit of Vatican II.”

    It’s not clear whether Merton was speaking figuratively or referring to an actual incident that occurred. Given the horror stories of that era, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it actually happened.

  • I pray for the conversion of the Spirit of Vatican 2 crowd. We need them in our struggle with the secular world.

  • I pray for the conversion of the Spirit of Vatican 2 crowd. We need them in our struggle with the secular world.

    This is reactionary, ecclesial fortress thinking, foreign to the spirit of Catholicism. An authentic interpretation of VII does not see the “secular world” as something to fully embrace (as the priest in Blosser’s example) or to fully reject (as in the case of Tito Edwards).

    Read more De Lubac, Tito.

  • MI:

    I think there’s a difference between the “Spirit of Vatican II” crowd that Tito’s talking about, and those who, as you say, authentically interpret VII. The SoVII crowd are almost the mirror image of the SSPXII (lots of abbreviations tonight, I know) folk. Both have distorted the meaning of Vatican II in their own ways.

  • MI – I agree with crankycon. Tito is referring to Catholics who use Vatican II (or, more precisely, its ‘spirit,’ since the documents are tiresome to cite) as a license to create a new Catholicism in their own image. Pope Benedict XVI has frequently decried this approach. It generally begins by describing Vatican II as a radical break with traditional Catholicism, then casts about for ways to establish a ‘new’ and ‘relevant’ Catholicism.

  • MI,

    I like the Vatican II documents and truly believe in their implementation. I don’t like how they have been hijacked by well-meaning Catholics who projected on them what they ‘thought’ were the actual interpretations.

    What Crankycon & JH said.

  • Tito, John, CrankyCon,

    I realize the “Spirit of VII” types that Tito is apparently critiquing, and I agree with that critique. But I am concerned about his follow-up statement that “We need them in our struggle with the secular world,” which to me sounds like a repudiation of VII. Our struggle, as Catholics, is not against the “secular world.” We affirm grace and the presence of the Reign of God wherever we find it. Our struggle is against sin, against the anti-Reign, and against the culture of death.

  • Just and FYI…that picture that you put next to the Jim Forest quote is actually a photo of his former secretary – Br Patrick Hart, OCSO.

  • Thanks for the tip, Kristen — have amended my error.

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