Tell me about Thomas Merton?


Thank you beforehand for any/all information that you can provide. There are several nuns at my parrish that have very high regard for Thomas Merton. They often refer to his prayers in various settings including Catholic schools and church. Is he on the road to Sainthood? Is it ok to have such high regard for his writings? Was he a solid catholic priest or monk? Thanks!


Maybe this will help:


First I ever heard of him was the lyrics used in a few songs by John Michael Talbot. I was enlightened by his insight on prayer. There is something very Buddhistic (is that even a word?) about him though, and I sometimes find this problematic. After having just read a bit on that site that was just given, I see that he was in Bankok and had a religious experience in front of a statue of Buddha. Interesting. I don’t think I ever knew that about him, but some of his writings definately have a hint of Buddhism there (what little I’ve read). Fascinating reading though - and very enlightening!


[right]JMJ + OBT[/right]

The following may be of help or interest to you:

The Several-Storied Thomas Merton

Three American Sophomores:
the Restlessness of Thomas Merton, J. D. Salinger & Jack Kerouac

In Christ.



After reviewing a few of these web sites I am even more concerned. Merton appeared to be a bit confused if he believed in “one truth” or if there are many truths. He wanted to know what it was like to be a buddist, had a “religious experience” when reflecting on Budda, ect… Why is this man so great? I’m not getting it?


As I understand it, Merton’s earlier writings are very good (i.e. Seven Storey Mountain) but he drifted from orthodoxy later in life as he began to be influenced by Buddhist and Eastern mysticism.


I have read most of Thomas Merton’s works. I do not believe he was diverting from Catholicism when he went to sojourn with the Buddhist monks. It was a natural extension from his own solitude You have to read Merton in sequence to see where his faith journey took him. I have. He wasn’t looking toward Buddhism as much as he was looking toward the Buddhists and focusing towards God. You have to read Merton from the beginning to understand him.


Merton appears to be unsure of the “certain ability to know God” , he appears to be for lack of a better term wishy washy. If Christ is the way, the light and the truth and the truth will set you free then how can one be set free if one is unable to know for certain who God is? Im I way off base? Should I be confident prayers and teachings by Merton are solid Catholic teachings and prayers.


He was an excellent writer, but I think he was a bit self-absorbed. He wasn’t very charitable to those of us who left the spiritual path for a different one either.


Read his book “Seven Story Mountain”. Excellent work! Once you have read this book you can move onto his other works and you will then realise why those nuns have a very high regard for him. He was a very deeply spiritual person. Also Henry Nouwen follows closely in Thomas Merton’s footsteps and his work is also very spiritual.

But to begin with, don’t read about him etc, read his book! It is about his life and his conversion!


I think we tend to forget that he was writing a very long autobiography about his journey, his personal journey. While it may seem at times he was drifting from orthodoxy, it may in fact be that he is simply trying to understand. His life was cut short, at least by our standards, and his journey was completed in a place we are not yet privy. Once I stopped attempting to see him as a theologian and began seeing him as a man on a journey, I was throughly surprised to see my own journey and experiences come to life in front of me.


I have read Thomas Merton’s works and enjoyed them very much.

Some of the members of my OCDS group say he had go astray from his Trappist Rule, but I could never get them to give me specifics. Things they said, were actually about his life before becoming a Catholic.

Anyway, today I enjoy Thomas Keating, who is also a Trappist Monk, and knew Thomas Merton very well.

Fr. Keating stays on Catholic Spiritual Direction, rather than getting off on social stuff that Merton sometimes got into.

Either way, Thomas Merton’s writings are right on as far as Catholic doctrine goes.


Thomas Merton’s story is an incredible one. His autobiography is called The Seven Story Mountain and is the story of his conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism. He then traces the call of God to his joining the Cistercian order and to being a priest. Many people consider his conversion process like that of Augustine’s. He spoke and wrote later in life about Eastern religions because he saw many similarities between their experiences of meditation and the early Desert Fathers of own own tradition. I’ve read most of what Thomas Merton has written and based on that I can tell you that he appreciated the truth found in Eastern thought and theology, but only in the light of his Catholic faith. All you have to do to find out about Merton is to read him. I would suggest (there are so many) The Seven Story Mountain, Thoughts in Solitude and New Seeds of Contemplation as a good beginning. Merton was rooted very solidly in Catholicism, so strongly that he was able to attempt to bridge the philosophical gap between east and west without comprimising his faith. If you want to understand the contemplative tradition and the life of silence that the Trappists espouse, I would recommend that you read some of Merton’s work. Almost every book store I’ve ever been in (even secular) has some of his work. God Bless.


the general rule is …

Early Merton: :thumbsup:
Late Merton: :confused:

I know a guy who had Merton as a spiritual director for several years and he seems to agree with the general rule


Hi Quasimodo
I don’t know where you get “your rule” from, but Merton throughout his life was Orthodox in his thinking. He was far advanced in his spirituality, but even when he read and wrote about Eastern philosophies and religions he never went against the beliefs of the church. He was very ecumenical in his thinking and wanted to find common threads that may link east and west. Merton was also a contemplative, which is the case with many eastern religious. He did find many links in philosophy, but he never compromised Catholic doctrine.
God Bless


I was a Benedictine Brother for a few years. One of the priests had been a Trappist for awhile and knew Merton personally. He said that the criticism about the man was unjustified. The priest that told me this was my confessor for a few years, very orthodox, and extremely holy, so I didn’t doubt his judgement.


I am a huge fan of The Seven Storey Mountain - this book genuinely changed my life.

I too have heard the “Early Merton/Late Merton” rule.

The rule I use? Look for the Imprimatur, and you shouldn’t go wrong. SSM has one, as does No Man is an Island.


Read anything that he wrote. In my opinion he will someday be made a Saint.



I have in fact read everything he ever, well, published, anyway, except the poetry, and most of his posthumously published letters and journals, as well as most of the secondary literature, and I also highly recommend him. However, I am going to stop here and not post further without the express permission of a moderator, because a very recent Merton thread attracted an unfortunate dialogue with people who wanted to do something other than find the good in him.

I hope and have to believe that he is happy with God in heaven, but in terms of canonization he is not by modern standards a likely candidate, a situation I will not elaborate on for the aforementioned reason. Anyone is welcome to pm me, for I love discussing Thomas Merton.

There is a current anthology of Catholic mystical writing that I found in the library the other day. I was frozen to pieces from having walked two miles from the car service center on the coldest day of the year in upstate New York, but when I get back I will check it out (I mean literally). It has many ancient classics, but also includes something from Merton’s modern classic “New Seeds of Contemplation.”


I love Thomas Merton! He was the modern day person who helped lead me into contemplative prayer. The Saint who sparked my interest was St. Francis of Assisi. Merton merely put the icing on the cake. St. John of the Cross lighted the candles.


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