Emotions and the Spiritual Life


I’ve read in this forum where some have stated that emotions have no place in the spiritual life. I began to pray and reflect on this, and the Lord led me to; Thomas Mertons, “Thoughts In Solitude,”

the chapter on “Aspects of the Spirtual Life.” pages 13 and 14.

Here’s a piece of what he wrote;

It would be absurd to suppose that because emotion sometimes interferes with reason, that it therefore has no place in the spiritual life. Christianity is not stoicism. The Cross does not sanctify us by destroying human feeling. Detachment is not insensibility. Too many ascetics fail to become graint saints precisely because their rules and ascetic practices have merely deadened their humanity instead of setting it free to develop richly, in all its capacities, under the influence of grace.

Further one he wrote;

If we are without human feelings we cannot love God in the way in which we are meant to love Him-- as men. If we do not respond to human affection we cannot be loved by God in the way in which He has willed to love us–with the Heart of the Man, Jesus, Who is God, the son of God, and the annointed Christ.

Very profound and true words.

God Bless


In my opinion, seeking emotions and feelings in spirituality is superficial. Indeed, God gives us feeling; if it is His will that we experience it, then let it be… but spiritual pleasure should not be rashly sought after.

Some seek for this pleasure, but if the pleasure is not there, can they hold fast to their faith?


Is rejoicing an emotion?

Psalm 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it.:slight_smile:

And we all know who said “My soul REJOICES in God my Savior”:smiley:


True, but thats not what Thomas Merton is talking about here.



Thomas Merton, while writing many good things, is none-the-less an author that needs to be cautiously read - he does tread close to dangerous waters at times.

Look at the writings of the great Saints - such as Saint John of the Cross. He tells us that a great danger is trying to elicit those emotional consolations from God. That our faith is built upon how we ‘feel’.

Indeed, the constant theme from the time of the Gospels is that while emotions are good, and even useful, in the life of man (both our physical and spiritual lives) they must, like everything else, not be abused. And the discernment of the proper use and avoidance of abuse of the emotions is where proper spiritual guidance comes in handy.

It also seems to me that when reading the great spiritual writers, that is may seem like they are advocating a complete un-emotional state - but perhaps that is because we humans are in a general habit of abusing our emotions, constantly seeking consolations and pleasure as an end in itself.


I think the problem is that some allow emotions to dictate their spiritual life. If they have emotions, therefore they have faith. Feelings, emotions are not bad things but to allow them to dictate a person’s spiritual life is dangerous.

Faith does not equal feeling. Unfortunately, there are people who think faith=feeling so that if they have nice mushy feelings then they have faith. There are non-Catholic faiths that are centered or heavily focused on that view.

But are emotions, feelings something to be completely supressed or even destroyed? No. Balance, always balance as I am always reading in the reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict I receive to my blog. Feelings are nice, great even but they shouldn’t be dictating a person’s spiritual life or faith. They shouldn’t be the end all to be all of faith.


Emotions are gifts of God to human nature and thus are gifts and to be treasured and good stewardship exercised over them. They are a part of my human nature and Grace, it is said, builds on nature. However, at times they are not good guides to reality, rather they are often my own unique and personal reaction to reality.

Feelings have no morality, it is what I do with my feelings that introduces morality. They can tell me some things about myself and are a part of my own interior reality.

Jesus certainly had some very strong emotions at times and expressed them, hence I cannot see how emotions could have nothing to do with the spiritual life.

Blessings and regards…Barb:)


I don’t think that is true, and I don’t think posters who have warned about influence of emotions have said that. What classic spiritual writers have warned about is allowing the emotions to be the sole guide for discerning progress in the spiritual life.


For me, “holy” can almost be exchanged by “wholly”. I think holiness should make us more wholly and fully human through the workings of The Holy Spirit and Grace…in imitation of He who became fully and wholly human like us in all things except sin. Some spritual writers and those who interpret them do seem to subscribe to a spirituality that does regard God’s world as ‘against, standing against’ or at least non productive to an ardent spiritual life and that one should divorce onself from it in order to become ‘more spiritual’. Rather and especially as lay people we are called to be the leaven and salt in the world. “You are the salt of the earth and if salt looses its taste?” Jesus after all did not at all take Himself out of the world, rather He was a truly special sort of person indeed in the world of His time and in His own times. He was very much involved in the world. He was a man of His times and yet not of His times…he was the new, the revolutionary, the not known previsouly. He was the one who startled and challenged…as such He became totally suspect to the authorities of His own times, who eventually organized his execution hoping to see the end of his teachings and statements. They were very wrong. And in all this He was totally and fully the contemplative and His life and living flowed from that contemplation speaking to His times, His world…and indeed for all time to come.
I find it most difficult to insight the thinking that the world which God created - all of it - and which God found as good…can become something which works against becoming more holy. Rather, I think, it is our perspective and attitudes that can work against become truly more holy…and it is perspective and attitude that needs transforming through The Holy Spirit and Grace.

Thomas Merton wrote something else very profound - that contemplatives should share the fruits of their contemplation in the parlour. What this means is that contemplatives do have important things to share that flows from their contemplation and contemplative living. And if memory serves it was in “Contemplation in a World of Action”. Thomas Merton did become somewhat suspect in some of his writings…this does not mean that the baby is thrown out with the bathwater and to discount every single word he wrote as suspect. To my mind he had some important things to say and not at all suspect re what The Church teaches. He was an advisor to Vatican2 and hence up to that time not suspect, well at least I would think not.

Just my take!



Thomas Merton, while writing many good things, is none-the-less an author that needs to be cautiously read - he does tread close to dangerous waters at times.

This work as well as most of Thomas Merton’s writings, are approved by the Catholic Church with the Imprimatur. In fact, I think there is only one or two books, which do not have the Imprimatur, because they’re not on Catholic faith.

FYI I refuse to let this thread turn into trashing of Thomas Merton, which has happened in the past in this forum. If you don’t like him, please pass on participating in the thread.

Look at the writings of the great Saints - such as Saint John of the Cross. He tells us that a great danger is trying to elicit those emotional consolations from God. That our faith is built upon how we ‘feel’.

St. John of the Cross I am well familiar with and he in fact speaks of emotions in the spiritual life.

He speaks of the wounds of love given by the beloved,(Christ) and how this feeling drove him out to seek Him deeper. See the “Spiritual Canticle.”

Its not the emotion itself that we seek, but rather, the One who inflamed our hearts with emotions of love,–Jesus Christ

This is what Thomas Merton and St. John of the Cross speak about.



St. Teresa of Jesus, whom I am sure you are more familiar with than I, says that the spiritual life does not consist in consolations and emotions but rather in fortitude, humility, virtue, etc. Emotions have a role to play but she be never sought out - as Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus says that she never once asked for consolations. We are to seek Jesus. Now it is true that emotions perfect an act so the most perfect act is one where reason, will and sense are all ordered and directed perfectly but that is a very high perfection in grace I think. Generally we must seek Christ and accept what He gives to us because that will be most pleasing to Him.

Pax Christi tecum.


I think in this case Merton, who I agree is quite often dangerous, is right. We are to love God as full human beings. Yet because of our sinfulness, wretchedness and imperfection we often do not. We can’t worry if emotions and consolations are not ours and we can’t seek them for their own sake but at the same time, as Merton says, we cannot become stoics who reject well-ordered emotions when they are directed and imbued with Divine Grace.

Pax Christi tecum.


Actually St. Teresa does say that consolations are part of the spiritual life, but it is not what is sought after, but rather Christ.

Seek the God of consolation rather than the consolation’s of God.

Don’t place more value on the gift than the gift giver. However, don’t ignore the gift either, but be thankful for it.

I think you’re saying the same thing, but emotions are not excluded from the spiritual life, as Thomas Merton shows.

The Spiritual life is not stoic.



Maybe another way at look at this statement is that emotions are not eliminated or have no place . . . but that they are purified and made divine. St. John of the Cross speaks at great length about this in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel . . . it is a major part of his treatment on the active night of the spirit. Book 3, in particular, addresses how joy, hope, sorrow and fear are perfected through the dark fire of contemplation.



Yes, I agree.

Pax Christi tecum.



 Maybe another way at look at this statement is that emotions are not eliminated or have no place . . . but that they are *purified* and *made divine*. 

True, but the cause and effect is the result of divine love, given to the soul. Through grace given to us, we are transformed. God’s grace is love.



I don’t mean to denigrate Thomas Merton, but I am not shy about the fact that I believe some of his works to be questionable. I have no intention of “trashing” Thomas Merton. Of course, I also probably wouldn’t take as gospel those things in his writings that aren’t found in other spiritual writings (i.e., Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, etc.).

Isn’t that what I said? :confused:


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