Thomas Merton: Any Objections



Wondering about Thomas Merton books, etc. Is there any thing wrong with them? Did he really go over the line with his interest with Eastern religions? Did he ever take drugs or advocate their use as a way to “expand the mind.”?

Someone made this hints, and I dont know if they are true?


His Seven Story Mountain is really interesting; that’s the best-selling account of his early life, conversion and vocation. I don’t think there’s anything in that one that even the most conservative Catholic would find fault with. He became atypical much later. Even among Trappists, he has his zealous defenders and rabid detractors.


Thomas Merton is revered by many, Catholics and non-Catholics. He was charismatic, he was wounded, he was humble but knew what he could achieve for and with other Christians. He made us - and all who came/come into contact with him - think.

Many on this Forum (I know because I have tested it) are not aware of the great Catholic writers who can expand our understandings of both faith and humanity: Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, de Chardin, among many others.

The Scriptures are not our only source of strength. They are strong only insofar as we see them reflected in the lives of those who live them and write about their understanding of them.

And that goes for Christians and non-Christians alike. Like Merton, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Gautama Buddha all tell us something of our faith.

There is no need to be timid: relish the chance to take on a spiritual quest that is far-ranging.

In Christ


:thumbsup: absolutely! Add Carlos Carretto to that list…


why not challenge the accusers to provide evidence in his actual writings of their charges? until that evidence is forthcoming, why not just ignore that detraction of the character of a man who is already dead and cannot speak for himself.


Thanks for all your replies. I had strong doubts about the allegations, and had found Merton himself denied the usefulness of drugtaking to expand the mind. I think they confused him with “Dr” Timothy Leary, who thought that was a good idea.
Now there is “Dr” Peter Singer, who wants to ban animal testing, but sees nothing wrong with killing severely born babies, and the severely handicapped. Did not apply this philosphy apparently to his mother, who was (is?) in a nursing home with Alzheimers.

I susspect for some absolutists, if you explore another religion for what insights it might contain, even while remaining faithful to your own, you are a heretic. I was dismayed at the allegations, but the glee with which they were put forth by “good” Catholics was even more dismaying. Seemed they were practically drooling with delight.

I don’t say Merton was perfect, but I dont think he was that bad.
I gonna drop participation in Traditional Catholic threads–it’s too stressful!




I am far from knowing that much about Catholic apologetics and the rest of it. However, I read Merton"s “Seven Story Mountain” (I hope I got the title right) decades ago and found it to be inspiring. I tried reading his other material but found it too obtuse for my intellect.



If by wrong you mean unfaithful to the teachings of the Church, then yes, at least as far as the later books go.

Did he really go over the line with his interest with Eastern religions?

Yes, in his later books. He seemed interested in developing a syncretism of Christianity and Buddhism, and/or doing away with orthodox, doctinal Christianity altogether.

Did he ever take drugs or advocate their use as a way to “expand the mind.”?

I never heard that, but it is fairly well established that he carried on an affair with a woman while he was at the monastery in Kentucky and even had a child with her. Which is probably worse.

Someone made this hints, and I dont know if they are true?

There was an article on him in a recent issue of The Rock which dealt with the charge that he dabbled in Eastern religions at the end of his life. It’s probably not available online yet, but maybe you can consult the paper issues? It appeared 3 or 4 months ago, if memory serves.


I think some of the “simple faithful” like me are preserved from flling into heresy by our inability to understand it!

Re: Merton and going to far… How far did he go and why was he wrong? Specifics, please! I don’t know!




As others have pointed out, Thomas Merton was human, complete with human frailities. I believe that is beside the point however.

Merton’s book “New Seeds of Contemplation” saved me when I was going through a very tragic period in my life. He gave me reason to hope. He suggested I “become the artist God intended me to be”. He invited me to “join in the general dance”.
He showed me life was indeed worth living despite the tragedies.

I have read “When the trees say nothing” - a collection of his personal writings on the nature he lived among. I love his reflection on his awarenes of God in the forest.

I have read “No Man is an Island”. “Thoughts in Solitude” and “Choosing to Love the World”. Each provides different insights that are important for me to reflect on at different times in my life.

And I have read “Zen and the Birds of Appetite”. I never once felt Merton was turning away from his Catholic beliefs.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road ahead of me…But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you … Therefore, I will trust in you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Thomas Merton ~ Thoughts in Solitude
Go with Love, Go with God


DarkKnight, thanks.

An honest critique was what I was looking for. Too often, on this and other threads, assertions are made, and you have to demand them to produce concrete proof. Like with most thiings, you take what’s good and leave the rest.

I am a faithful Catholic (Papist and proud of it! New bumper stick idea!). Insofar as there is a definite Church teaching, on something, I’ll go with that. Maybe not understand or agree, but go along.

Unfortunately, asking about Merton for some was teasing a lion with red meat. Similar reaction to asking about vernacular vs. Latin mass. People have definite opinions on it. And some are quite free about making accusations without ref’g the source thereof. Sounds like a smear to me.

Folks, if you’re going to make assertions, give us some ref to where you got it from. Esp. if it is negative.


Here’s some links that I found.

Scaling Merton’s Mountain



That’s an extremely serious allegation and you need to provide evidence if you really want to stand by it. This is not “fairly well established”–I have had enough conversations and read enough material about Merton that I’d have heard of it if it were. I think you are confusing two things:

  1. *Before *his conversion (much less his entrance into the monastery) Merton did have an illegitimate child. His abbot (weirdly, in my opinion) wouldn’t let him talk about this in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain.

  2. Late in life, while convalescing in a hospital, Merton developed an *emotional *relationship with a nurse. As far as I know there is no evidence whatever that Merton ever had a physical, sexual relationship with this woman (or with anyone else after his conversion and profession of monastic vows). That doesn’t let him off the hook–he seems to have behaved immaturely and inappropriately and to have flirted (literally!) with the idea of abandoning his vows. But I suspect that you have confused this incident with the genuinely established fact that he had an illegitimate child *before *his conversion.

Given Merton’s rather erratic (and rather self-indulgent in many ways) behavior in the later years of his life, I think it’s a fair bet that he will never be canonized. But that does not make him useless or unworthy of our attention. (At least of mine as a non-Catholic–Catholics, of course, can make up their own minds!)



some serious, scandalous accusations have been made here, without foundation, without source, without attribution, grave offenses against Christian charity, and if this poor person were still alive, grounds for possible lawsuits. Absolutely disgusting I am ashamed to participate. The long article cited on the ultra-conservative blog, DOES NOT quote from Merton’s writings, and makes an appearance of scholarship which is actually lacking.

You may NOT make accusations against someone, living or dead, without proof. Please do some research on the mortal sin of detraction before you post here.

I am neither a supporter nor a defender of the man, but I am a supporter of Christian charity, notably lacking on this thread.


I have read of people that came to religion due to reading Thomas Merton. On balance he has been a positive influence at least by my standards.



Sorry, you’re right – I was misinformed about that aspect of his life. I’ll talk to the moderator about editing or deleting my post. I didn’t intend to spread falsehoods about him.


The Catholic Church is the Church of Christ containing EVERYTHING you need for salvation and peace of mind on earth. There is no need to seek other religions for what they might have to offer if you already have the full Truth and believe in it. “It is just as though they pass up the spring to go after the brook and refusing the clear water, drink dirty water instead.” -St. Louis De Montfort
Any good you find in other religions or ideas are but tiny streams which spring from this fountain.

I have not read Mertons books. But there has been uneasiness in my mind when reading about what he spoke of and what he quoted as desiring to unite with the Eastern religions. So for me, I have no need to seek his words. But I won’t go so far as to say that all of his works were “bad”. I was told that most of his writing were written before he got into the Eastern religions. So if you take it with a grain of salt and hold fast the teachings of the true Church…then read on. The Church has not banned his books so they are free for us to read.

For me personally, the whole topic of Thomas Merton is very confusing. And for this reason, I personally will read inspirational books written by devout Catholics that bring me a spirit of peace and not one of confusion and contravercy. But again that is merely my own personal conviction.

Peace to you brother! May the Holy Spirit guide you…



I have read many of Merton’s books. The most revealing to me were the 7 volumes of his journals - ending only a day or so before his death. If you want to know what he thought, struggled with and believed, this is what you should read, IMO. He was a man looking for truth who struggled the same way we all do. He was thoughful, insightful and passionate. He was sincere. Was he perfect? Of course not. But I really enjoy his work - and he comments on his books in his journals which is very enlightening as in later life he wasn’t too fond of his earlier work because he had grown so much spiritualy and felt these earlier works were somewhat immature.

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