I’m not sure if this is the right forum or not, but I am interested in hearing how Catholics regard Henri Nouwen’s theology and spirituality? Like C.S. Lewis, Nouwen seems to be a religious figure who transcends denominational boundaries (he is really catholic) - I first heard about him from a Pentecostal university chaplain and he seems to be a popular author among Protestants with a charismatic bent. At the same time, he is often compared to Thomas Merton who, while writing some excellent early material such as No Man Is An Island, eventually slid into Eastern religion. Is Nouwen a popular author among Roman Catholics?
Actually, Nouwen was a Catholic priest, theologians and teacher. He wrote prolifically but did so in an understandable way. Your local library, or parish library may contain some of his books. They are often worth re-reading. Sometimes there are depths that one fails to get on first try.
no,merton did not “slide” into eastern religion
Thomas Merton did not slide into Eastern religion. He remained a Catholic until he died. He studied Eastern religion, and traveled there with the blessing of his abbot.
Then, in what was to be his final letter, he noted, “In my contacts with these new friends, I also feel a consolation in my own faith in Christ and in his dwelling presence. I hope and believe he may be present in the hearts of all of us.”
Any notion that he somehow left Catholicism or became a member of an Eastern religion is pure speculation. Charity would dictate that we assume the best.
As far as I know, Nouwen is a very popular Catholic spiritual writer. I like his writings, especially his “The Inner Voice of Love”. I like Merton’s beautiful writings too. They may have studied some Eastern religions (not sure if Nouwen did), but that would not take away the beauty of their authentic Catholic works.
I like Merton’s writings and find very important ideas and direction in them. My understanding of his study of Eastern religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, is that he was looking at commonalities of prayer. He and others in orders that use and teach meditative and contemplative prayer (I think Simon was another) found value in this collaboration. There was no indication that I know of that Merton was drawn away from his Faith. rather he had more courage in his journey supported by some very learned and developed underpinnings.
Merton’s poetic writings are beautiful. His perspective is profound. He said in* New Seeds of Contemplation* - that being isolated from the crowd does not necessarily accomplish contemplation. Entering the crowd is not to mingle with the noise but to build an authentic relationship with others and to have communion with God through loving others. (I am paraphrasing.)
Our Catholic faith contains the total truth. But other religion such as Zen of Buddhism does have truth in it, not total but partial. I personally don’t see a need of studying other religions. But why does it matter if the great philosophical mind of Merton studied Zen? It doesn’t.
Very well put! Isn’t it remarkable that a man who became a hermit came to love others profoundly as a way to be in communion with God. That love and compassion are also very present in Buddhism. It would be a nexus around which there could be dialogue between the religion of Christian Catholicism and the philosophy of Zen Buddhism.
I have mixed feelings about Nouwen. His writings have helped me immensely, but sometimes he wanders off into the high grass and I’m not sure why. For example, his book on the return of the prodigal son is a beautiful and helpful meditation. However in the last chapter he draws some off the wall conclusions about God’s gender, etc. So I just ignored those passages and savored the wisdom in the others. Some of this might have been peer pressure. The 80’s and 90’s were a time where it was required to expand the frontiers, to “re-image” God, sacred scripture, and tradition. Maybe his editor bugged him to include some of this hoo-hah. Who knows? But when Nouwen is good (and that’s most of the time), he’s VERY good.
I love Henri Nouwen. He seems to have a gift for preaching on a very fundamental “gut” level. His writings are Catholic through and through, although he does teach in the context of psychology somewhat. Nothing wrong with that.
Many people are not aware that there is a sermon of Nouwen’s available. As far as I know, this is the only outstanding recorded sermon of his available. It is just tremendous and passionate teaching. It is 8 parts starting here:
People of various denominations seem to appreciate his preaching, which is great, because if you listen to the middle part of the above sermon, it is passionately Eucharistic.
A great read of his is “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.
Thanks so much for posting that link! I too have read and enjoyed a lot of Nouwen. He sounds different than I expected, and very animated for that particular talk.
I did not mean to suggest Merton became a full-fledged Buddhist. However, I do know that he studied Eastern religion near the end of his life and was influenced by some of its ideas. I am basing this from a very helpful Catholic Answers article (catholic.com/magazine/articles/can-you-trust-thomas-merton)
Thank you for the responses, everyone. Merry Christmas!
A couple of things to bear in mind regarding Merton.
First, he was a Trappist monk who died a Trappist monk (27 years to the day he entered Gethsemani abbey in Kentucky).
Second, his interest in Buddhism arose because of its focus on practice, not because of any doctrinal interest on the part of Merton. Merton believed that Catholicism in his age had forsaken its roots in spirituality and mysticism to opt for a more modernist approach. He was actually looking to reconnect to a deeper experience of Catholicism than was offered in 1960s Catholicism.
And third, it’s important to remember that Merton died in 1968 in his early 50s. He’s “frozen” in that time for us. We don’t know where he would have gone in his Catholicism had he lived.
I end with a quote regarding his reflections on the Church from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”: We do not preach Christ, we preach our own modernity, our own cleverness, our liveliness, our fashionableness, and our charm; or (if we are conservatives) our unshakable security and unchangeable rightness, our inviolable respectability (and God knows that is no attraction for the youth of the world!). Again, it was the 60s
Henri Nouwen is my favorite author, I own & read most of his books. His writings always touch me and I can relate to it easily, somehow I feel as if he wrote those for me personally.
However, I don’t always agree with his view, for example allowing non Catholics to receive Holy Eucharist whenever He celebrated Mass.