Concerning Thomas Merton



I have something that has been troubling me. I have a special person in my life who is not a practising Catholic. But he has gone on retreats specifically for alcoholics in recovery that is run by the Jesuits. He has been given prayers and books written by Thomas Merton.
Now, there is something sketchy in my thoughts about Merton in his later years of life. By what I’ve read, he seems to have strayed from the Catholic Church. He always claimed his faith but it seems that he mixed it with Buddhism, Islam and others. Those religeons are not compatible with Catholicism. …One example is re-incarnation. The Churh teaches absolutely against re-incarnation.

But I think that type of thinking came into Mertons life in his later years (by the way, he died of an accidental electricution).

So I guess my question is…are his writings still in union with the Church? Were all his books written BEFORE he embraced the other religions? Does the Catholic Church still promote his writings? I’m just very confused about Merton and where he stands in the eyes of the Church. And I’m worried about my friend because I don’t want him to be led any more away from the Church than he already is.

Any knowledge on Merton and his writings, and my questions above would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you! :slight_smile:


I highly suggest Merton’s “New Seeds of Contemplation”.
It helped me through a tragic time in my life.

Go with Love, Go with God


i have read seeds of contemplation and there is nothing in it contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. that was recommended to me by a woman at the church who led the RCIA which I attended. Also, I was given seven storey mountain by the assistant priest at my parish, who is conservative. i have not read it yet but looking forward to getting round to it.


I read one or two of his books many years ago and don’t remember much about them. From comments I have read elsewhere his early books are very good. However, his later ones are questionable and at best ambiguous. At best they should only be read by someone with a firm grasp of their faith.


I was baptized this year at the same church where he was baptized, so we naturally talked about him quite a lot in RCIA. He never became a Buddhist or a Muslim. He was more interested in integrating their good spiritual practices into Christianity, which I disagree with, but isn’t contrary to Catholic teachings. His writings are fully approved as far as I know, and there is even a cause open for his canonization.


I love merton… but this should prove interesting as he had an affair with a nurse. Of course, that’s not to say he isn’t a saint, but I’m sure this cause will be controversial.

I had to bring it up before someone else did.


I have heard about the things that you’ve mentioned about Merton’s views in the later stages of his life. I was reading his “Seven Storey Mountain,” and it appears that at that stage in his life, he was still very much Catholic. Merton has always been a controversial - although very influential - figure. Personally, I don’t see any problems with dispensing his books to your friend, as long as they don’t hold any heretical teachings, which means they should probably be from his earlier writings. I actually found it kind of interesting that Jesuits would give out books written by a Trappist. As far as I know, his relationship with the Church was at times tumultuous, but I don’t believe that it went so far as defrocking him or anything like that - please correct me if I’m wrong.

In all honesty, though, I don’t really think books by Thomas Merton would help someone struggling with alcoholism, unless of course he feels called to the priesthood. But again, who am I to judge? I hope your friend will receive the help that he seeks from whomever is willing to lend a helping hand.


Thanks Joe, (AND EVERYONE ELSE WHO RESPONDED :slight_smile: )

That is what I’m afraid of because he does not have a firm grasp of his faith at all. But…as in many things, the best I can do in this situation, is give it to God, pray and have faith.



Thank you for your comments :slight_smile:

As far as his alcoholism, he has been sober in a 12 step program of recovery for 11 years now. He does not drink. But once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, so he goes on these retreats once a year (among MANY other things). This program of recovery is founded on a spiritual union with God. So I imagine Merton is popular on this retreat because he writes about prayer and meditation. Things that are essential for recovery, no matter what your religion.
The retreat is held at a Jesuit retreat center and there is Mass and Catholic Sacraments available but it is not only for Catholics alcoholics. It is for alcoholics of any faith who wish to increase their prayer life. …Just an FYI…sorry to go off subject…I guess I didn’t need to mention where he got the books from. I tend to babble. :o



Hi! My husband happens to be an officer in the International Thomas Merton Society, and well versed in all things Merton. He highly recommends Seven Storey Mountain, a wonderful story of a spiritual journey and conversion.


Good to hear that your friend is winning the battle against alcoholism. I think it’s cool that these kinds of retreats exist that are faith-based. As far as Thomas Merton is concerned, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to learn about prayer and meditation, under the guidance of Jesuit brothers. I’d like to think that there’re many ways to sainthood, and what Merton did worked for him. I’m sure your friend will find his own path to peace and holiness.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit