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Can I Trust Thomas Merton? (Part I of II)

January 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Can I Trust?, Dan Burke, PseudoSpirituality

Dear Dan, I read your post on the Holy See’s concerns about Anthony de Mello, and I wondered as well about Thomas Merton. Some of his writings are helpful to me, but some make me very uncomfortable. Do you recommend his spiritual writings?

Dear Friend, I am grateful to hear you are investing so much energy into your spiritual reading. You will find immeasurable rewards in your efforts to continually delve into the great wealth of spiritual sustenance provided within the pure expression of our tradition.

With respect to Thomas Merton, there has been no official concern specifically expressed about his writings that I am aware of. However, the Vatican has specifically addressed the exploration of the integration of Eastern and Western faith systems (in which Merton was wholeheartedly engaged during the latter part of his life) in the following documents (well worth reading):

As well, on this site, Bishop Gregory Mansour wrote a few posts for us on spiritual direction, and in one of them he quotes Merton. At that time, I was aware of concerns about Merton, particularly from Alice Von Hildebrand and others. That said, I had also heard from others I respect who held Merton in high regard.

Since then, along with reading Merton, I have done a bit of research and have found one resource that is particularly fair and insightful on Merton. It was written by Anthony E. Clark for This Rock Magazine and titled, Can You Trust Thomas Merton? Clark is a Catholic author and professor of Chinese History and is uniquely qualified to address the issues that surfaced in Merton’s later writings. The bottom line is that there are two periods in Merton’s life and writings as categorized by Clark below (my headings).


The Early Period

These works represent the early era of Merton’s monastic life, when his views were still quite orthodox. These books are beautifully written; they are what made Thomas Merton Thomas Merton (note that this is Clark’s opinion, not mine. I give mine at the end of the post).

  • The Seven Storey Mountain, 1948
  • The Tears of the Blind Lions, 1949
  • Waters of Siloe, 1949
  • Seeds of Contemplation, 1949
  • The Ascent to Truth, 1951
  • Bread in the Wilderness, 1953
  • The Sign of Jonas, 1953
  • The Last of the Fathers, 1954
  • No Man Is an Island, 1955
  • The Living Bread, 1956
  • The Silent Life, 1957
  • Thoughts in Solitude, 1958

The Slip Into the East (Read with Caution)

By 1966, Merton’s writings began to take an eastern turn toward Chinese and Japanese religious traditions. Starting with Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, his books begin to criticize the West and find answers in the East. Following are only a few examples of his more questionable works.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1966: Here Merton begins the part of his life that is critical of the West. While his criticisms of Western materialism and pragmatism ring loudly, especially in today’s world, one senses here a new interest in Eastern religion–and this is where his works become most problematic.

Mystics and Zen Masters, 1967: This is Merton’s first plunge into Eastern thought and religion. Its strength is its mostly cogent description of Chinese Daoism and Zen Buddhism, but one begins to discern Merton’s attitude shifting toward his later-developed notion that Eastern religion is a necessary supplement to Catholicism.

Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 1968: By now Merton is swimming in Zen–this work is a comparative consideration of Buddhism and Christianity. It’s beautifully expressed, but his overall goal is to erase the lines between two very distinct religious beliefs.

The Way of Chuang Tzu, 1969: This is one of Merton’s most problematic works. It valorizes the relativistic teachings of Zhuangzi, the Zhou dynasty Daoist. This is Merton’s final interweaving of Eastern and Western thought.

The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 1973: Here we find his final writings, and they are full of cathartic angst. At the end of this journal, one senses that Merton has knowingly wandered from clear Church teaching. While in Bankok, a Dutch abbot asked him to appear in a television interview, for “the good of the Church.” But Merton writes that, “It would be much ‘better for the Church’ if I refrained.”


My advice (Dan speaking now)? The Church is in no way lacking in solid and perfectly trustworthy writings on the spiritual life. I personally don’t know why anyone would want to carefully sift through this kind of literature when it is clear that Merton had serious moral issues even during the his “orthodox” period. It seems a bit like sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant. You will no doubt find much that is of nutritional value, he was indeed a talented writer, but why not just go take your seat at the table for the best and purest meals available? I would encourage you to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church. To name a few, the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales will more than meet your needs for spiritual guidance and you need not worry that you might be led down a path that leads away from the Heart of the Church.

PS: I recognize that many have found that, through Merton’s writings, they have grown to more fully love and serve Christ. My thoughts here don’t in any way deny that reality or possibility. My intent here is to answer the question asked by the reader. The fact that God uses many means and instruments, including very flawed instruments, to lead people to Himself is assumed and appreciated in a very personal way.


Editor’s Note: Part II can be found here: Can I Trust Thomas Merton? (Part II of II)

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, and the FireLight Student Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Just me

    Thank you!

  • Price Susan

    Thank you so much. I have been blessed by much of Thomas Merton’s writing, but the latter things disturbed me.

  • ThirstforTruth

    This was good clarification on the writings of Thomas Merton…separating the early from the later works helps enormously. Also it shows what can
    happen to “great minds” when they stray off the path of Real Truth. I am
    also grateful for the editional information given at the end quoting the
    television producer and Merton…even he realized the ways of his errors at the last it would seem…As always we need to pray for one another. Merton I pray led more people to God than away…perhaps none away …only into
    confusion. Thanks for the final encouraging words about where Truth is always to be found…the spiritual doctors of the Church.

  • TeresaBenedicta

    How does one who seemingly progressed so far in the spiritual life, go off the wayside?

    • Becky Ward

      This side of heaven there are many ways we can go astray even if one is very advanced in the spiritual life. This is why obedience to the Church is so very important…….which all the saints will tell you. I had a couple thoughts come to me regarding this issue:

      Fr. Corapi, when talking about Luther leaving the Church, says, “Luther wasn’t wrong when he saw bad things happening and said the Church needed to be reformed. Yet it wasn’t the Church itself (Catholic faith) that needed reform, but the men in it…..and that is still true today, as it has been since Jesus founded the Church.” (Not an exact quote)

      This is why we have more than 30,000 different denominations of Christianity……….people ‘listen to the spirit’, hear different things, (many that are not of divine origin), and go start their own church.

      While it chafes badly to hear we need to be ‘obedient’, especially in places where independence is so highly valued, there is GREAT protection and safety in submitting ourselves to the teaching of the Church.

      • LizEst

        The devil fears obedience most. Through it, Jesus won for us the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. He is the one that makes it possible to obey God. When we yoke to Christ, he actually does the work for us…and he is with us always. His burden is light and his yoke is sweet.

        “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior” Isaiah 12:2

        • $1650412

          Liz, I have not thought of this before- that the devil fears obedience most, but I think you are right. It is obedience that ‘undoes’, if you will, the sin of Adam and Eve- it is the counterpoint. In reading your response I thought of the verses from Philippians 2 about Jesus, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped after but humbled himself and became obedient unto death on a cross. And He has conquered sin and death by humility and obedience.
          I think the thing people struggle with most is obeying God when it costs, and there are times when it costs time, money, sleep, comfort, security, happiness, suffering and even sometimes our earthly lives. Maybe that is why spiritual direction is so necessary, with that help and guidance we can be most aware of the paths to take when we are daunted by the cost.  

      • Dan Burke

        Becky – I couldn’t agree more.

        • Christophercortes6

          I was briefly and just in a small talk kind of way introduced to TM by my deacon. I admire this deacon as a family and as a religious man. But, when listening to his homilies i often wandered of his overly emphasized sense of tolerance, never talks about any concept of hell, angels and the devil in general. Until, I came across TM autobiography and his later works as you mentioned here. Then it all made sense to me how my deacon puts things into perspective.
          Not sure you said this “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for everything.” So, this is sort of my humble opinion on TM. At first glance through his early works, it seemed as though he was wholeheartedly a Catholic until something else caught his attention and deep longing for “answers”. I believe TM is a danger to anyone who longs for self seeking ways to answer “What is the truth?” This is truly evident in our modern society. The Papacy in Rome aside for the great JPII has gotten more religious attention than personalities like TM.
          What are thoughts on these?
          Thank you and God bless. +JMJ+


          • ThirstforTruth

            ….You hit the nail on the head in this discussion when you spoke to the dangers to anyone seeking, longing for “answers”. Here in lies the danger for all those who demand “answers” and are unwilling to enter into the mystery of faith which demands obedience and seldom gives “answers”. Here is the root of all the evil we see in the rampant relativism in our world. It also excuses those who cling to tolerance rather than obedience to the Word. TM wanted
            answers more than anything else..from the beginning to the end and never understood or accepted that answers lie only at the end of the narrow way of which Jesus spoke. Here
            we see through a glass darkly and only at the end of our journey will we find answers that fully satisfy. When our
            spiritual quest leaves the well trod but narrow confines of established Truth we run the risk of becoming lost in the labyrinths of falsity lurking in our own darkened minds.

          • Dan Burke

            Dear Friend: There is a great deal of wisdom in your comment that I find reflects the truth about his approach and life. I will repeat it here in my own words: Often our longing for truth requires that we yield to it once we find it. Those who fail to yield to it once they find it will find themselves yielding to untruth and self which leads to spiritual destruction. As I write, I am aware of my own guilt…

          • Terese10

            Am I understanding correctly that you are saying that we must obey things that don’t make full sense to us? I ask because lately I was struggling with some catholic rules (missing mass on Sunday is a mortal sin and some others) that just don’t make logical sense to me if you are honoring God in other ways on a Sunday. I can get very confused over things like this and wonder does God really care that much over missing one single mass that you would go to hell over it? I lose my peace when I think this way but I can’t stop it at the time as I just keep trying to figure it out and it just doesn’t make sense to me.

          • Dan Burke

            If Christ established the Church and the Holy Spirit guides it, we can trust that all we are asked to do is in our best interest spiritually whether we perfectly understand it or not. The pricking of your conscience is a gift of the Holy Spirit to get you back on track. Given that this is the Year of Faith, have you ever considered a daily or weekly reading program in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? It really is a beautifully written document that I believe would shed light on many of the things you struggle with. I pray that you find peace and the presence of Christ such that you would see missing mass as missing an appointment with your best friend.

          • Terese10

            I wish I could trust like that. These doubts make me crazy some days.

          • Dan Burke

            Dear Terese – there is a path of peace and faith available to you. I pray you will embrace it.

          • Becky Ward

            Dear Terese,
            I can relate to what you’re going through. I’ve been through the same struggles myself. It even seemed that I was actually more prayerful and holy when I didn’t go to Mass regularly.

            It was ignorance. I hadn’t been taught why it is so important for us to attend Mass each week that the Church deems it “Grave matter”. The reason is simple. We are AT WAR – and we lack the ability to see the enemy at work unless/until we work to ensure that we are in a state of grace, where we then regain our spiritual vison….so to speak.

            YES! it matters to God very much that we come to Him each week for spiritual nourishment. The best part is that once we tell satan to get lost…we find that the ‘rules’ are not restrictive at all….but are liberating!!

            It’s true…..difficult, yes….but still true. Please send me an email if you’d like to chat about this more.

            I’ll be praying for you!

          • ThirstforTruth

            Yes,  I am saying just that Terese10…In this life we live the question(s) which will only be answered in the next life. The real
            question for us here is can we trust Jesus? Faith tells us that we can. In fact we must trust and follow his example of obedience if we are to be saved. I should put my trust not in princes and men of this world, like TM,  but in the God who is the rock of my salvation.
            How does that work if not by trust and obedience to His Word. How can I possibly understand any or all of this? I cannot in my finite and limited mind. I can only place my faith and trust in Him who said, “Follow me”…as He went to his death upon a Cross. Faith and trust are truly great gifts bestowed on us with limited natures. Natures too limited to grasp the Infinite God.
            To the question you pose about
            our weekly obligation at the Eucharist and why just doing your
            own thing is not enough to fulfill
            this obligation?That is simply placing trust in the wrong yourself alone.  It isn’t fitting and right for each one of us to decide what fulfills our obligation because again, we cannot trust our meager offerings as being rightfully sufficient. At the liturgy we can trust in the sure knowledge that His Sacrifice being offered is the only one truly right and just in the eyes of God. I could pray and sacrifice in my own fashion all day long and never, ever even come close to this
            Supreme Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. It is right and proper for the Church to make us aware of this obligation so we properlynot only give honor and glory to our Creator and Redeemer but also receive the graces He wants to give us. As we mature in our relationship with God, it is as Dan points out, no longer He alone hungering for our presence but our own longing that draws us to Sunday mass. To be united to Him who has given so much for us. You would not remain at home if the person you loved and who loves you beckoned you to come. God awaits you each Sunday. Go in haste and do no keep Him waiting
            Trust that you will receive from Him there more grace than you can imagine because of His Sacrifice
            that is truly right, fitting, and pleasing to God.

          • Terese10

             Thank you and the poster above for your replies. It is making me think. I certainly do not think I know better than God. But I’m not sure I trust the church in these legal-type matters. I do not mean disrespect but I cannot get out of my head people telling me that the catholic church made this rule to keep the churches full (just like they said they make you promise to raise children catholic so they keep the churches full).

            Also reading this made me think I do not really fully understand mass. I mean sometimes it is very spiritual and moving and I feel connected to God and other times, nothing. I do go, even on holy days. It is interesting that you say my own meager offerings cannot be trusted to be more honoring to God than going to mass. But how do you know GOD said to go to mass, not men? When scripture clearly says “keep the day holy” not “attend a mass”? Since I returned to church 3 years ago I only missed one day and I reasoned it was OK because I was traveling and could not figure out how to get there (I could have done it but it would have inconvenienced lots of people not just me. But there is this nagging doubt. I will reread these replies and try to let them sink in. Please pray for me. I need help–don’t we all. 🙂

          • $1650412

            Terese10, I think this is a more complicated issue than it seems on the surface. I do not want to sound harsh toward you so I hope this will not offend you, but the first thing I think we have to be aware of is a pervasive idolatry prevalent in our culture today- the idea that what seems untenable to me is probably also untenable to God. We remake Him in our image instead of conforming ourselves to His revealed Truth. And it happens ALOT among even very devout Christians. So first things first, what has God commanded? Ok let’s go back even a bit further- God is GOD. He is ALL-POWERFUL, ALL-HOLY, ALL-PERFECT, ALL-KNOWING, AND ALL-PRESENT. Without His engaged, personal, goodwill toward every single soul the covalent bonds in atoms would no longer hold together. Everything would disintegrate, evaporate, disappear. WE OWE HIM. everything. Our every breath, our every thought, our every obedience, really, if you want to know the real deal. So how do we give Him what we owe Him? Has He specified a preference for how we give Him what we owe Him? Of course He has, because He is crazy in love with us, and everything He requires of us is actually for our good, (not just because we owe Him, but often in spite of the fact that we owe Him.) So through the Church God has made very clear the pathway for fulfilling our duty toward Him expressed in the Commandment- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. We do this because this is the best thing for us to do- we receive that reality by faith, and we conform our lives to it, and that has a metaphysical effect and a physical effect in the scheme of redemption. It is not always immediately obvious, sometimes these things are small and slow like light breaking over darkness at dawn, slowly dispelling shadows in ever increasing degrees. 
            If it helps in the slowness of things- everything that Jesus has asked of me, even when I do not really understand why and sometimes even when I am really not sure this is necessary, I make it personal. You know, I go to Mass on Sunday because it is commanded, but also because it is a clandestine rendezvous with the lover of my soul- and He sometimes plays hide and seek with me there. Sometimes I have to concentrate to catch sight of Him in my unruly children, behind my distracting cantor, under my own fatigue or discomfiture, or within a boring homily—- when yesterday He was closer than my own skin in my morning meditation at the kitchen table. In the exercise of obedience, especially obedience that is refined because it is offered in the purity of faith, I find my love for God proven in the test, and more worthy to offer to Him as a valuable gift. This is the one thing I can give Him that He does not already have.

          • sequax

            Chesterton tells us that Buddhism is ultimately the religion of despair. He’s right. While I haven’t read a wide swath through Merton, I have read enough to recognize some patterns of behavior I saw over and over again in my pagan brothers and sisters, too. Why St Faustina did not fall in a similar way is that she was obedient– even when it hurt. Thus Our Lord and Savior reached out to her all the more.

          • Marmalade

            Buddhism is about despair as much as Christianity is about human sacrifice. You can read that sentence two ways, depending on your beliefs.

          • $17581978

            frankly, i’m offended deeply by the article and the subsequent comments. merton didn’t stray from orthodoxy. dom bede griffiths did, hugely. but not merton.

            it may come as something of a shock to you folks, but merton until the end preferred the Latin liturgy plus genuine gregorian chant.

            furthermore, he made it abundantly clear that you cannot merge christianity and buddhism. he said this clearly even in his later writings, such as in zen & the birds of appetite.

            but the article above is deeply disrespectful to one of the greatest spiritual giants of history. as such, he only succeeds in making himself look rediculous, and anyone who facilely agrees with him.

            apart from a few verbal statements merton made, he said in his diary that he remained a religious and a catholic in no uncertain terms and that he was looking forward to seeing his brother monks again.

            thomas merton’s life works resulted in scores and scores of genuine conversions. that he mined deep truths of wisdom from the east asian, specifically buddhist world, well what of it? so what? there is no proof above of anything heretical about thomas merton. he merely believed that the buddha was akin to one of the great prophets, and guatama siddhartha did prophesy, respectfully, about the coming christ, but merton knew full well he wasn’t equal to the Lord!

            why for instance did monk seraphim rose correspond so respectfully with merton in the 1960s? and no one thinks seraphim rose wasn’t orthodox: some are already canonizing rose! really, you only succeed in making this website look foolish. thomas merton could out-spiritualize anyone who here would like to facilely denigrate a genuine spiritual master.

            take one of merton’s maturer works on the wisdom of the desert. i have studied monasticism from its birth to its present malaise and i guarantee you that a finer understanding and harmony with the desert fathers cannot be found – anywhere.

            when amateurs try to denigrate a spiritual giant like thomas merton, they merely make themselves look ridiculous. even pope john xxiii and paul vi both regarded themselves as deep admirers of merton, to the point of sending him precious papal articles of liturgical dress.

            i could go on – i have years of study of the man, but if you take a little genuine enthusiasm merton had, and the misquotes of the famous pbs film on him and equate such with his mature works, well all i can say is – yours is the loss, not his!

          • Dan Burke

            Dear MacLeslie. Thank you for your comments. I am sincerely interested in what you found in the article that was “deeply disrespectful’? I would be grateful if you could be specific. Maybe we should modify it in some way.

      • Teófilo de Jesús

        Becky: I got an e-mail notification with your reply to me, but I can’t see the reply either here or my dashboard.

        To clarify: I agree with Dan Burke. In summary: Early Merton = GOOD. Late Merton = CAVEAT EMPTOR.


        • Becky Ward

          Theo, initial misunderstanding…….then insight……so I deleted the comment.

          God Bless!

    • Jesusbpraised

      Great insight, Teresa. This is why none of us on this spiritual journey should ever fall into presumption or complacency. Trust in the Lord always and keep up the good fight.

  • Daniela S

    It’s good to hear the good, clear truth. Thank you.

  • Elainne A. Thomas

    I am wondering too afte reading this about George Maloney, SJ.

    • LizEst

      George Maloney was Eastern Orthodox when he died in 2005.

  • Norah

    I have read that Merton publicly repudiated everything he wrote in the Seven Storey Mountain.

    • Woih Woihoi

      This is not accurate. He stated that he was somewhat embarrassed by it because of his amature writing abilities and views. He was, after all, an English professor before he entered Gethsemani Monastery.

  • Norah

    I have read that Merton repudiated everything he wrote in The Seven Storey Mountain.

    • $17581978

      that’s not correct. his sense of embarrassment at his spiritual naivety was somewhat vivid at the time, this is all and this is in his own words to be found in his forward to new seeds of contemplation. he did certainly not repudiate his faith in it….only the immaturity.

  • Sansan

    Thanks. I enjoyed reading this. I have friends that have many misgivings of Merton. I happen to like him very much. I’ve read his early and later work and I just see him deepening his Faith. I think his interest in eastern mysticism and prayer is a very natural outgrowth of his deepening spiritualiy. I’ve read also his Daoist writings and like them very much. Maybe I don’t understand spiritual writers as do theologians, but I found nothing in them that went against his Christianity. He was exploring inter-faith dialogue and I don’t think that is a bad thing if you are solid in your Faith. He made distinctions and knew there were similarities and differences in eastern and western practices of prayer. Having practiced a little Tai Chi and Chi Quong over the years, it is evident where the east and west can meet and be compatible, and where they part ways. I think Merton was wise enough to see this. Perhaps the real problem with Merton, for some, is his political views. He was in the communist party for a time, when he was much younger, and perhaps he returned to those sympathies later in life during the Vietnam war. Perhaps that is what really troubles people–and see that as an indication of his falling away from the faith. I don’t think questioning ever hurt anyone if done with authenticity. One’s Faith can only deepen if one honestly seeks the truth. Ultimately, it will lead to Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Merton wasn’t afraid to do that–nor should we. In fact, Merton helped me convert to the Catholic Faith.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Susan, I am grateful that God used Merton to bring you to the faith! I have no doubt that it is true. That said, I think if you read a bit into Merton’s history that his spirituality is more likened to a great artistic talent with a strong intellect but his spiritual depth is questionable. He struggled with (a nice way of saying he never truly embraced) obedience to the Rule and his superiors. In my mind he is far closer to Caravaggio than St. John of the Cross. His later life reveals a trajectory of problems from that began early on. You might look into Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s book, Catholics in the New Age. I think you would find it enlightening.

      • barbara golder

        Like all of us Merton had his demons; his were stronger than most, certainly stronger than mine.  On the other hand, so was his insight. He did struggle with obedience and the monastic life and he mastered them for the most part as long as he stayed in community. In my mind his struggle is an integral part of his work.  If he did not entirely embrace obedience in the way he ought, or the way we expect, because of his struggle, neither did he entirely repudiate it.  It was–as you say–truly a struggle in which he actively engaged. While I agree with you that Merton is not for everyone and that his later works stray, I hope you do not mean to suggest that his struggles and his problems somehow invalidate his work in an of themselves. For my part, I find it remarkable that in the face of such issues he wrote so much that was so good.  Not Thomas Aquinas good, perhaps, but ordinary man wrestling with the world good. There is room for both.

        • Dan Burke

          Barbara your comments are very insightful. I agree, his struggles do not invalidate the good insights he had – no doubt. He was also very open about many of his struggles which argues in his favor from an integrity standpoint.

    • $17581978

      this is well written and largely correct except for one thing. he certainly did not return to his earliest FABIAN socialist sympathy, which was temporary. i believe you may be confusing merton with his friend jim forest, who had a communist membership. merton had not communist sympathies but fabian socialist ones, but he never returned to them. proof of that is his correspondance with boris pasternak who he knew full well was suffering persecution by the communists. but have questions about the vietnam war? so did john kennedy before he was shot! he ordered that the 15,000 advisers return to the States, just before Dallas. but merton knew full well the futility of Marxism, let alone “communism.” he rebuked dan berrigan for having his stunt where he burned his draft card – merton saw through that and told them in no uncertain terms he didn’t agree with such publicity stunts. merton grew less political with time, though he remained skeptical of nuclear weapons to solve anything – well, so did the pope!

  • C


    Hi sorry to be off topic but can anyone advise the origins of the following:

    I heard a story about a Nun who received a vision of Jesus whilst the
    side of a lake. The story from memory goes as follows. Jesus asked her
    to fill a glass with water and after She had filled the glass with
    water to pour the water back into the lake which she did. Then Jesus
    disappeared a few weeks later the Nun was beside the same lake and
    Jesus appeared and said I want you to take a glass and fill it with
    the same water that you poured into the lake, the Nun said but Jesus I
    can’t and Jesus said do as I ask you and again the Nun said but Lord I
    cannot do it it is impossible. Jesus then said so imagine that the
    water that I asked you to fetch on our previous encounter signifies
    sin and when your poured the water back signifies confession of your
    sins the request that I made to refill the glass with the same water
    signifies that when you confess your sins with a contrite heart it is
    impossible for those sins to be rediscovered as the lake signifies
    Gods mercy which is limitless.

    Any help would be appreciated.


    • Just me

      Sorry I can’t be of help, but I wanted to thank you for sharing the story. 🙂

    • faithful123

      C; not sure what help you want. The story is a great analogy of the power of Sacrament of Reconciliation (sins confessed and absolved are ‘gone’ …no more… with Jesus and that’s that) The one who sincerely confessed all they know of sins in thier life, asking for forgiveness; as guided by Holy Spirit, is forgiven and restored to baptismal newness.

      All that is required is to ‘live the forgiveness’ each day to others we meet.

      Problem in the world, people are carrying their guilt for sins in them, not
      sorry about them and looking to attach their sin onto others (misery loves company) When sincerely confessed to Christ within Sacrament of Reconciliation… it stays with Christ and once confessed GONE and FORGOTTEN… no other need know of it. Beautiful GRACE.

  • Gerald

    “I am nobody’s answer, not even my own.” said TM in one of his journals. As one who benefitted much from the writings of TM, especially the early writings I would say your final conclusion is a good one. If one reads some of his later writings and finds them disturbing then that is a sign that you should not read them. Characteristic of TM was that he was a restless seeker and had much psychic, intellectual energy. To his credit he persevered in his commitment to his religious vows in the long run altho he had this need to deal with the sameness of the life and his restlessness by seeking answers in exotic places. He certainly was well versed in the monastic Fathers of the Church and had a gift for translating their wisdom into modern understandability; consequently, he did much in contributing to the needed reform in his Order as Vatican II mandated. However, his restlessness in his questioning and his compulsion to write (someone has said to the effect that TM never had a thought he did not record) was not appropriate for all to read. One must be well grounded in Church teaching and spiritual theology to be able to extract benefit from TM’s pondering and questionings. Reading some of this material is like sitting in the woods with him and listening to what he is struggling with or wondering about or enthusiastic about at the moment. But one must not just listen passively, but dialogue with him. Years ago I read a book while in high school that I think should be on every serious reader’s list – Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book”. One of Dr. Adler’s points was that one should read a book and be in dialogue with the author, questioning, sifting through what he has to say in light of what you know and what other writers have said, etc. If you are not willing to do that or not ready to do that in reading TM’s later books, don’t read. Read as you say what has been established as the perennial truth by the Church relative to spiritual theology. Another characteristic of TM is his inconsistency to which he freely admits. His authority figures tried to put a cap on him in that respect for a while, sometimes inappropriately, which he creatively got around by issuing what he called his “Cold War Letters” Perhaps that is the form his latest writings should have taken – not being available to everyone, only those who could dialogue with him. I think if TM would have lived he would have kept his thinking to himself in his ongoing dialogue with God or basically written only from the center of Wisdom, or he would have gone astray. I personally feel that in his heart and conscience he was moving back more into the center at the time of his death. One reader suggested that his electrocution was punishment for deviance. Along that way of thinking, perhaps it was God’s way of protecting him from falling away.

    • bill

      I am grateful that you allow TM his paradox and mystery as these as essential for an authentic spirituality to develope. This is what I believe, the doctors and fathers/mothers(abbas and ammas) taught so as to allow God who is mystery to be God. Merton has been one of my spiritual directors for over 50yrs, along with many others. Most of all, he challenges me to stay on the path of seeking the God who is always seeking me. in the darkness and paradox and mystery of living.
      now, here and this . In his early years, TM seems to have been more a “gate-keeper” and in his later years, became more like a’ bridge’. more inclusive of all who are seeking God. TM , as far as i can understand, affirmed his catholic identity and roots. while respecting others differences.

      • Dan Burke

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. The only comment I have is that “bridge building” is often lauded in our culture when “gate-keeping” is far more courageous. The key is, when building a bridge, you have to be careful what will be carried across. If we build a bridge of love, truth can pass over. However, if we build a bridge of “tolerance” and ambiguity, only poison passes from one person to the next. Heaven and hell are realities. Jesus really did say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.”

        • Becky Ward


  • LizEst

    Thanks for this post Dan. I agree with your advice to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church. You can’t go wrong. On the other hand, when you trying to forge another path, you can go very wrong believing in your own “insight.” A good spiritual director is a must when something else piques your interest…and, this site does much good in correcting false notions and promoting the good. Keep up the excellent work!

  • Guest

    Thank you, Dan. This comment wraps it all very accurately:

    “It seems a bit like sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant. You are likely to find much that is of nutritional value, but why not just go take your seat at the table for the best and purest meals available? I would encourage you to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church.”

    It is very wise to always seek Spiritual nourishement from the writings of the Doctors and Fathers of the Church….. that way you will never go wrong. It is dangerous to dab into writings whose orthodxy to the Catholic Teachings and the Magisterium is doubtful.

  • Srjuliana

    Excellent article! Thank you. I love your objectivity. (I especially liked the image of “sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant!”) I’ve only read Thomas Merton’s fine early works, so I don’t know exactly what happened with him later on, (we can judge his writings, but who can judge his soul before God?)
    I like Gerald’s hope that his sudden death protected him from falling away. (If he had already fallen away, he would not have said, “It would be much better for the Church if I refrained” from talking on TV.) (That sounds like someone unsure of himself.)
    I also appreciate ThirstforTruth’s comment: “As always we need to pray for one another. (We sure do!) Merton I pray led more people to God than away…perhaps none away …only into confusion.”

  • Roarsa

    I had started to read “No Man…” and “Seeds…” and when I contemplated Merton’s death, I think it is rather odd that when and where he died, attending an Eastern Religion conference. I can’t help but wonder if it was not a punishment from God for leaving his first love, Jesus. I think he may have betrayed Jesus and the Lord wiped out his life.

    • Traeumer

      Hi, I´m a god-seeker from Germany, and because I was originally protestant and became later a catholic, I am also seeking god and my true confession very intensive, like Thomas Merton did. Thomas Merton – a convertist from the anglican confession – was a very fascinating man, christ and monk, since I knew him and his works. His early medtitations and other works were highly helpful for me. But I also disagree with his way towards zen-buddhism. But to say, that his tragic death by an electric-accident in Bangkok, was a punishment by the Lord is – to my opinion – violating the ethic borders a christ should never cross over. We praise a Lord of love and not the punitive Lord of the old testament.

      God bless you – A dreamer from Germany

  • Smacarm

    Thanks for the clear information. It was very helpful.

  • MaryAnn

    Read w/caution?? are you saying that the Eastern religions do not take their religion seriously ? That is unfortuantely what has always turned me off about the
    catholic religion they feel their way is the only way I’m sorry but that doesn’t sound like my Jesus or very Christian
    i am unsubscribing Thank-You MaryAnn

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Friend – are you open dialogue or have you already wandered off?

    • johnny

      umm.. are you saying that the Catholic religion is not to be taken seriously? that is unfortunately what has turned me off about relativism. they feel all ways are true (except the catholic church coz they claim to be true)… I’m sorry but Jesus was not a relativist. the disciples get martyred for proclaiming relativity.

    • $19933969

       Mary Ann – if you are still around – Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father but by me.” Jesus also says “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel – baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. If God ordains a certain way for us to get to Heaven, isn’t it His perogative to do so, and wouldn’t we be wise to trust Him and follow Him on this?

  • Eklutna

    I can see that there is not much point in wasting my or your time here, but I stumbled across this post when, as a Sufi reading Thomas Merton and finding much genuine spiritual authenticity in the process, I decided to find out more about him.  As to what you say above, I will only point out that it is typical  of those who become greatly realized spiritual beings to open their understanding to a broader conceptual input.  Many tend to become very inclusive in their understanding, because they have learned to “read between the lines” and to perceive the deeper essence in what is being said.  The Dalai Llama and Thich Nhat Hanh (who wrote “Living Buddha, Living Christ”) are two examples besides Merton.  An authentic apprehension of the One reality tends to sweep away dogma and division.  How could it be otherwise?  Perhaps Merton found much to satisfy his own quest for God in Eastern thinking because it is far less divisive from the get-go.  And after all….Christianity IS an Eastern religion, and there is no exclusiveness OR divisiveness in the true being of Christ.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Friend, thank you for your note. We obviously disagree. The more one ascends to God, the more one becomes specifically like him and distinctively less fettered by those aspects of our being that do not reflect him. Even a shallow reading of Christ’s own words reflect the exact opposite of an inclusive universalism. Only a shallow understanding of Christ leads to the end that you propose as the heights of reality. Christ himself said that wide is the road that leads to destruction and narrow is the road that leads to life. With all due respect (and I do mean this sincerely), your worldview is a perfect reflection of a path that leads to destruction. No one can come to the Father but through him. He was either right or wrong. It really is very clear and simple.

      • Eklutna

        Perhaps there might be one thing we can agree on:  in the end, God breaks through it all.  But I’m sure you’ll have an answer for that, too.  

        • Dan Burke

          Well, there is no doubt that God is a God of mercy and compassion, full of kindness for all who call upon Him. In keeping with his gentleness, allowance for free will, and justice, He will not force His great love on anyone. Those who reject Him by choosing other “gods” and other other ways will be allowed to find the end of their rejection at the day of judgement.

        • LizEst

          “You shall seek the Lord, your God; and you shall indeed find him when you search after him with your whole heart and your whole soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

          “Those who love me I also love, and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17

          “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8a

          “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son [Jesus Christ]…who has made him known.” John 1:18

          “Whoever believes has eternal life…I am the bread of life…Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man [Jesus] and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Words of Jesus in John 6:47-48, 51ab

          God will meet you where you are. But, God isn’t going to leave you there. If you truly, truly seek him, God will provide you with the means to find God. That means is Jesus, who is both God and man. Don’t believe that? Well, that makes sense in a way because our human minds can’t even imagine a God who is both God and human, a God who is humble enough to stoop to our level. It is Jesus who has revealed God’s infinite and love and mercy to us. It would have been enough if he had just become human. But, he did much more than that. He taught us, gave his life for us and he rose from death, leaving us with the proof that he has the power to raise us, too, from the dead. He gave us his Body and Blood as food for the journey, food that brings us everlasting life with him. And, God has given us the Holy Spirit, who is with us always and guides us into all Truth. We human beings could never in a million years have come up with this scenario, our minds are not that capable. Jesus has revealed God and is God. It is, in fact, a great mystery. God has done the greatest thing for us. God wants to give us a share in God’s divine life…but God wants us to have faith and trust in God’s ultimate messenger: Jesus the Christ.

          Yes, God created everyone. And, God loves you too, very much. So, in the words of Jesus, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9.

          His words are Truth.

  • Sandy C. Leners

    I so appreciate this posting…so many people wonder about Merton, but I think individual perspective helps to define a person’s ability to open their minds and still consider how great God truly is and how His Son, Jesus is our true way to salvation no matter what other teachings say. The way people think is a gift…God gives us this gift and we must worship Him and stay grateful for the opportunity to embrace other cultures and help keep them clear as to who God is and His greatness – He is the I AM.

  • Lyndon A. Acosta

    is merton new age just like centering prayer? It would be better not to read him at all even in his’ early writings.I just bought and now reading  merton’s book about contemplation.The biggest difference between Catholicism and eastern mystery is Jesus. Eastern spirituality like yoga is some sort of quietism then nothing there so it’s dangerous, inviting the demons to fill the void. While we Catholics, Jesus is the center and we wait for God’s movements in contemplation.

  • Teófilo de Jesús

    This is a great answer and a good evaluation of Merton’s works. I’ve reached pretty much the same conclusions independently.

    I’ve read all of Merton’s personal journals. In them we still find a clear dedication to Christ as Lord and Savior despite his dabbling with Eastern mysticism found in his published works. I think he was more daring in public than in private and that’s problematic in itself, for it shows he was fractured. Still, he always was brutally honest, first and foremost about himself, good, bad, and ugly. I’ve learned from him to look at myself without rose-colored glasses.


  • Teófilo de Jesús


    I commented directly on this post on my blog, Vivificat, at the following URL:

    Thank you kindly for your words on Thomas Merton.


    • LizEst

      Revise algo de su escritura en sus otros sitios. Muy bueno! Me gusta que lo haces en ingles y en espanol. Gracias.

      (I checked out some of your writing on your other sites. Very good! I like that you post in both English and Spanish. Thank you.)

      • Teófilo de Jesús

        Thank you for your kind words. All Glory to God!


  • Michael King

    Herton’s The Seven Story Mountain was instrumental in getting me back to the Catholic Church. I had wandered and was still uncertain about various Catholic doctrines and practices, Merton, together with a Penguin History of the Early Church I read around the same time, helped me to see that true, historic and apostolic Christianity was to be found only in the Catholic or poosibly Orthodox Churches. Definitely not in the traditions that arose only 500 years ago without a direct relationship to the early Church. Further reading helped me to see the essential role played by Peter and his successors and narrowed things down to the RC Church. I will always be graeful to Merton for helping me on the path home and pray for his soul.

  • Florin S.

    Jan. 5, 2013, I have always loved Thomas Merton but when I read “The Seven Stories of Thomas Merton”, a book about him, I read that he had Joan Baez and other friends come to his hermitage and help him to get together with a Nurse he had met while in the hospital..and there were other disturbing things. Well, he said that he never considered himself a saint but what bothered me about getting people to help him cheat on his vocation and deceive his Abbot was the scandal it caused and perhaps a loss of faith for those who helped him to deceive…but I’m not sure if it was all true.

  • Florin S.

    Jan. 5th, I just posted a comment and I only want to know if those allegations about Thomas Merton are true or not…he is still like a brother to me and his writings have really helped me a lot…still do.

    • Dan Burke

      Follow the links in the post for more info.

  • 1DeaconTom12

    Merton was instrumental in my spiritual growth after my “reversion” to Catholicism. I made many visits to several Trappist monasteries during my discernment of God’s vocation for me. I will not pretend to be an expert on Merton, but he was a man of his times, which means he was influenced by the events around him. The argument could be made that he was one of the first to really explore “ecumenism” and the need for unity – not “sameness” – among religious believers. The natural consequence from this would then be respect for others as fellow human beings. Isn’t that really what God wants? Remember, they will be known by their love (John 13:35).
    Merton’s mistake was in assuming that he could find deeper ways of praying by looking to eastern traditions. The theology support this fills volumes. Suffice it to say that even eastern yoga masters have said that eastern spirituality does not work for westerners – regardless of the “benefits” of yoga. The Church also warns us about practicing such things as yoga and reiki.
    One last thing. The book “Contemplation In A World of Action” was not mentioned. In my humble opinion, I believe this is a good read – and bridge – for those who are contemplatives, but who are not satisfied without putting God’s Love for them into actions.

  • Chuck Holcomb

    It seems to me that there are those who love Merton and those who hate him. I believe Thomas Merton was so deep that most people misunderstand him, or just can’t comprehend what he was trying to say. And so it is common human nature to criticize what we don’t understand.

    • Dan Burke

      Well, there is no hate here – just a reasonable assessment. Forgive me for being direct but the “misunderstood” hypothesis rings hollow – feels like an attempt to sidestep the issues. It is not hard to understand a track record of serious difficulty maintaining ones vows. Beyond that, his writings are deep to some but not others. The challenges with his writings are not difficult to understand. I have no axe to grind other than to promote magisterium faithful authors and to help shed light on those that might be problematic. His later work is suspect and his earlier work also reveals issues that should concern us. You might want to follow this link for clear analysis of the situation.

      • ThirstforTruth

        Thanks Dan for reference to the Superflumina website regarding the
        issues raised here on the wrtings of Thomas Merton. We are supposed
        to be discussing those, not necessarily the *personal errors/choices” he
        made during his lifetime. We all have made errors in some of the choices we have made. Those bad choices are called sins…We are not called to
        comment on those bad choices he made here but rather his writings and the issue is can we trust his thoughts on paper are always consistent with teachings of the church. Some comments here seem to have twisted
        the issue into can we trust Merton’s writings as he made some really
        bad choices in life…..he was a sinner in other words. We need to separate
        out his writings from his life …and that is well done at this website you
        gave at Superflumina. His writings are subject to criticism…his life choices
        are not, as to do so brings us close to being judgmental regarding another sinner. We bring condemnation on ourselves by so doing. Exposing the
        errors in his writing is one thing while criticizing his life choices come close
        to detraction. He deserves our prayers, not our condemnation.

        • Dan Burke

          Dear Friend – please don’t cut and paste from MS word or other word processors – it plays havoc with our system – please just type directly in. I do agree with much of what you have said. However, the morality of the individual does play into proper evaluation. We shouldn’t require perfection but those who teach are held to a higher standard and it should be that way – including me. Why? Because I have seen people who’s borderline doctrine was embraced because of perceived holiness. In the end, they were exposed and thus the doctrines rejected.

          • ThirstforTruth

            Dan…not sure what you are saying. No cutting and pasting here…don’t know how.
            Yes, I agree that those who teach the faith have the responsibility to teach to truth and not to distill it or
            altar it by their own interpretations. A problem with
            Fr Louis often.

  • 1DeaconTom12

     One book not mentioned is “Contemplation In A World of Action.” I found this to be a good bridge for those who are more contemplative, but also who want to put the benefits of a deep prayer life to work for the betterment of God’s Kingdom.
    Merton was a man of his times, but also transcended his times. He had the foresight to see the human benefits of ecumenism, which does not mean “sameness,” or giving up one’s beliefs. Rather, through ecumenism, which is a major theme of the Second Vatican Council Decree on the subject – “Unitatis Redintegratio,” or “Restoration of Unity” (1964) – we can learn respect for each other as we are all sons and daughters of God. By that fact alone we should respect each other. This is no way means people should adopt practices counter to their own belief system.
    The mistake Merton made was in thinking that he could find spiritual benefits through eastern meditation techniques. This, and practices such as yoga and reiki, are not part of our belief system and should be avoided. But this should not detract from what Father Louis taught us about contemplative prayer within our own tradition.

    • Dan Burke

      Deacon – thoughtful insights. Thanks

  • Jack

    In the 1950’s some travelling Trappists stopped to visit an Episcopal monastery and were invited to the refectory. Something from Merton was being read, and the Trappists were puzzled. They went to the Episcopal superior and advised that they NOT read any more of Thomas Merton, as he was already in the 50’s suspect in the Trappist Order.

  • LizEst

    Why risk your soul on that which is not the Way, the Truth and the Life?

    Years ago, I read many different things by many different authors. As I grew closer to the Lord, I discovered that what I’d read wasn’t always true to Church teaching. Upon learning that, I did not pass the books on to someone else but promptly tossed them in the trash, glad to be rid of those influences.

    There is no need to be nostalgic for the past. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Just say no! Let go and let God!

    • Dan Burke

      Liz – you make a good point. It is very interesting. Some acknowledge the positive that Merton has had on their lives and then seem to be able to set it aside – they don’t have any attachment issues. On the other hand, you can tell when someone is in a bit of spiritual trouble when on an emotional level they are suffering as if personally attacked – a clear sign of disordered attachment. Regardless, most of the comments today seem pretty level headed on both sides.

  • Padraig Caughey

    I was a Cistercian monk for several years and had the opportuniy whilst there to read many of his works and t hear a little about him. I don’t know if you know much about the man himself. Towards the end of my stay in the monastery I discovered that whilst staying in the hermitage of his monastery he had an affairre with a lady there who became pregnant. As you can imagine this caused huge angst in his monastery and within the American Episcopate and a complete and successful coverup was untertaken which was successful until relatively recently.

    I at once stopped reading his books, I advise everyone else to so the same. Its not just whats in the books , its what was in the guy who wrote them

    • Dan Burke

      I agree with you Padraig, if I were at all interested in his writings, this would be a deal killer for me – particularly if this all happened without any formal discipline or period of penance and restoration etc.

    • $19933969

       According to Fr. Robert Barron this affair happened prior to his becoming a Catholic (Fr. Barron discusses Thomas Merton during his segment on Prayer in the DVD series Catholicism). Are you sure you have reliable facts on this? That being said, I have felt caution about Thomas Merton for many years and agree with one of Dan’s earliest statements: with Church sanctioned Masters on contemplative prayer such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, why go with someone who ended up where Thomas Merton apparently ended up – delving into non-Christian eastern mysticism?

      • Dan Burke

        In regards to his affair with the nurse “M.” 20 years his junior:

        “I feel I must fully surrender to it because it will change and heal my life in a way that I fear, but I think it is necessary – in a way that will force me first of all to receive an enormous amount of love (which to tell the truth I have often feared.)”

        “the deepest capacities for human love in me have never even been tapped, that I too can love with an awful completeness. Responding to her has opened up the depths of my life in ways I can’t begin to understand or analyze now.”

        “I do feel a deep emotional need for feminine companionship and love, and seeing that I must irrevocably live without it ended by tearing me up more than the operation itself.”

        “Her love and her heart are a revelation of a most perfectly tuned and fashioned personality, a lovely womanly nature, and an almost unbounded affection, all of which she has given to me. I can only regard this as a kind of miracle in my life.”

        –Merton’s diary Learning to Love. 1966-1967


        “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” — Quoted in “Recollections of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” by Bro. David Steindl-Rast, osb


        “It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in himself which is the will of God, of Krishna, of Providence, of Tao. These concepts do not exactly coincide, but have much in common. It is by remaining open to an infinite number of unexpected possibilities which transcend his own imagination and capacity to plan that man really fulfills his own need for freedom. The Gita, like the Gospels, teaches us to live in awareness of an inner truth that exceeds the grasp of our thought and cannot be subject to our own control.”

        “The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no ‘mystery.’ All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya … Everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination”

        — The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton

        • $19933969

           Well, this brings up a second area of concern then. Why does Fr. Barron speak so highly of him in Catholicism? When I heard that segment in Catholicism I was extremely disappointed. Fr. Barron also reference De Chardin – why? Why can’t folks who are speaking on such a wide scale for the Church just be orthodox?

          • Dan Burke

            I don’t know. This is also disturbing to me. In my mind, when someone of his stature quotes questionable sources/people, he gives them credibility and people then fall into error as they seek these sources. Sometimes scholars/educators etc. talk to others as if they understand that these authors should be taken with a grain of salt in the broader context of cultural awareness and evaluation. I read things I would NEVER recommend to others or even quote. I have a sense about the impact if I did. Sometimes folks in positions like Fr. Barron don’t seem to understand the impact they have and that though fervent Catholics are generally discerning, the broader population of Catholics are not.

          • $19933969

            Dan these concerns you state coupled with questionable statements Fr. Barron made about Adam and Eve not being literal figures (which ultimately seems to call into question the Church’s teaching on original sin) at about 5:53 caused me to back out of participating in a showing of the Catholicism series by my employer. So much in Catholicism seems good though – yet there is always the concern of turning someone to a person who may ultimately lead people astray – my concerns with both DeMello and Merton.

    • Andre

      Hi, I also have my reservations of Fr. Thomas Merton. I was some time in a Monastery of the order that Fr. Merton was in. Many brothers were there because of Fr. Merton but they were practicing Eastern meditation and some were devotees of a yogi/guru and others of the Eneagram and other New Age things. I was turned of by that and also because the library has all sorts of books. Christian, non-Christian, New Age, etc… I read about him and came to the conclusion that his writings of the last years of his life are dangerous, he practiced Sufism in his hermitage as well as Eastern meditation. (trancendental meditation). Merton inspired many to delve into the New Age, his experiments inspired Centering Prayer. And that he died by electrocussion raised many red flags, before he went to Thailand he stopped in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Merton attended a Buddist religious ceremony and the last thing he did before meeting his dead was to meditate and prostrate before a large statue of Budda. He exposed himself to spiritual danger and this might happen also when we read Mertons later writings when we are inspired to make the journey he made, when we dabble in the occult. And that he inspired many New Agers raised another red flag. And I agree with the statements by Padraig Caughey. Stick to the Saints for spiritual nourishment!

  • Benedictine Lutheran

    I tend to think that his interest in the spirituality of other religions was due to the deficiencies he saw in Western piety, and that if he had lived, he may have gone East – not to a separate Eastern religion, but Eastern Orthodoxy.  He has always struck me as someone more in tune with the Desert Fathers,  Palamas, and the monks of Mount Athos (Silouan the Athonite, for one) as opposed to the scholastic theology of the West. At any rate, any doubt I had about his orthodoxy late in life was dispelled once I read his Alaskan Journal written shortly before his death in the fall of 1968 – his continuing devotion to Christ is apparent.    

  • Connie Rossini

    Dan, thanks for this very clear direction on Thomas Merton. Too many people are willing, as you put it, to sift through error to find the good. It’s not worth risking your soul over. No doubt Merton was sincere, but got off track when he started delving into Eastern spirituality. What makes us think we will not be led astray by his writings in a similar manner? You can never go wrong by reading the saints’ works. There is also a growing number of solid contemporary authors who write about contemplation. I particularly like Fr. Jacques Philippe.

    • Becky Ward

      Sincerely misguided is a good description for many in the Church today. (I was one of them.)

  • Guest

    Very interesting post. I googled Merton and found this article. Also very interesting.

    • Dan Burke

      I actually link to this piece in the post…

  • Gonzalo Palacios

    The following story from Jewish folklore illustrates why we are losing
    America. It tells us about a person who spread a rumor concerning his neighbor.
    Soon, the whole community had heard the rumor. Later, he learned that the rumor
    was untrue. The person was very sorry and went to a wise elder of the community
    to seek advice; he wanted to repair the damage he had inflicted on his neighbor.
    The elder told the man, “Go to your home and take a feather pillow outside. Rip
    it open and scatter the feathers, then return to me tomorrow.”

    The man did as the elder
    had instructed. The next day, he visited the elder.

    The elder said, “Now, go
    and collect the feathers you scattered yesterday and bring them back to me.” The
    person went home and searched for the feathers, but the wind had carried them
    all away. The sad man returned to the elder and said, “I could find none of the
    feathers I scattered yesterday.”

    “You see,” said the
    elder, “it’s easy to scatter the feathers but impossible to get them back.” So
    it is with rumors; it doesn’t take much to spread hurtful words, but once you
    do, you can never completely undo the damage.” [1]


             These days, the feathers of the
    torn pillow are the e mails, tweet messages,, and radio and television comments.
    For the sake of restoring decency, love,
    union, freedom and justice to our country, DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN RUMORS OF ANY
    KIND. According to St. Thomas Aquinas (II-II,
    Q. liii, a. 1), scandal (rumor) is a word or action evil
    in itself, which occasions another’s spiritual ruin. What would Mr. Limbaugh call
    the Virgin Mary today?

    • Dan Burke

      Gonzalo: This is a great story with very important meaning. However, it doesn’t apply in this case. When someone positions themselves as a public teacher and sins publicly, or spreads false doctrine, or encourages others to error, the Church and the scriptures call on us to expose the error.

    • Becky Ward

      Nice story! Here’s what the Catholic Dictionary says about detraction:

      Revealing something about another that is true but harmful to that person’s reputation. It is forbidden to reveal another person’s secret faults or defects, unless there is proportionate good involved. The fact that something is true does not, of itself, justify its disclosure. Detraction is a sin against justice. It robes one of what most people consider more important than riches, since a person has a strict right to his or her reputation whether it is deserved or not. (Etym. Latin detractio, a withdrawal.)

      • charlesneeson52

        I’ve just read Brad Wilcox and gathered from the tone of his blog the usual judgemental approach of the finger wagging zealot. I am an orthodox Roman Catholic but find today that many Catholics have forgotten about charity when they  speak about others opinions or the manner in which they live their lives, whether the other be Christian or not. This approach does in no way encourage people outside the Church to want to enter it because of fear that they will not be able to live up to others expectations. Only God can judge what is in a man’s heart and not man, be he priest, pope or layperson. Everyone makes mistakes in their lives and continues to sin until the day they die. I’m sure the saints themselves if they could speak to us now would tell us that. So please Mr Wilcox, less of ‘putting the boot it’

        • Dan Burke

          Charles – It is clear that you have not spent much time here. We are an extraordinarily gracious community. This post is a bit heated because, as is normal with attachments to people and their writings, emotions flare (maybe yours in this case?). The post is fair. The combox is a bit tense but given the level of disagreement, rather amicable. With respect to Brad, what is your beef? That he has called us to pray for Merton? That he has pointed to the need for grace in our perspective? Or, is it that he disagrees with your assessment of Merton (though he isn’t overt about it) and this bothers you and thus he is “putting the boot it”? Maybe I am missing something.

  • Lee Gilbert

    Dan, Recently I wrote this to a young friend
    “Suppose I wanted to send you something by Thomas Merton. Simply in
    thinking of this various objections raise their heads, one of which is the very
    bad reputation he has in certain Catholic circles. In my view that
    derives mostly from an essay about him by Alice von Hildebrand in which- fine
    woman and philosopher though she may well be- she thoroughly disgraced herself.
     If there are real problems with Merton- and I don’t think there are- they
    come from the last years of his life. 1) When he was hospitalized, he fell in
    love with a nurse. Whatever delicts this may have led him into, he
    repented of them. He did not leave the monastery or abandon his vows;
    2) He developed a keen interest in Zen Buddhism. This is a
    sin? I have a keen interest in Judaism which in no way attenuates my
    Catholic faith, and a keen interest in the Carthusians, too, which does not
    mean that I am going to or want to abandon my wife and join them.
      Merton developed many contacts with Zen Buddhist monks, had a heavy
    correspondence with them, thoroughly explored the relationship between Catholic
    and Buddhist mysticism and monasticism. All of this is something that
    both the Church and his superiors wanted him to do. He died in Bangkok at a conference with Buddhist monks, but he was there at the
    behest of his superiors. For this he should be stripped of his Catholic
    reputation and drummed out of the Communion? You can see I get exercised
    about this. But in any case, if I were to send you anything by him, it
    would be from his earlier work, over which hangs no cloud. I wonder if
    you have ever read his The Seven Storey Mountain, which is the account of his conversion and entrance into the
    Cistercians. This book in turn inspired many men to enter the monastery,
    including yours truly, and unlike me, many of these men remain in the
    monastery. By their fruits you will know


    One reason I know that he was an obedient,
    faithful monk is that in 1974 I made trial of the life at Holy Cross Monastery
    in Berrysville, Virginia. There in the library,
    in binders,  were unpublished manuscripts
    of his writings against our involvement in Viet Nam, words that should have been written on asbestos. Had they been published, they would have
    inflamed the entire church in this country against the government. If he had left the monastery and published
    them, he would have been a wealthy man. 
    No, he chose to be obedient and faithful, to die to himself and his own
    opinions and to accept the censorship of his superiors. May God bless him and everyone like him, defend their reputations and humble their
    critics to the dust. 

    • Dan Burke

      Thanks – but how can I take you seriously when it is obvious you didn’t even read the post?
      Sent from my iPad

  • mrsoriordan

    Back in the 80’s we had a parish priest who was into Merton, de Mello, Kahil Gibran etc. As a result, a lot of my friends went into New Age stuff and those who didn’t are now in favour of married priests, women priests etc. He was constantly quoting Anthony de Mello and what really put the kibosh on it for me was that after Communion one day he quoted Gibran’s piece “…your children come through you not from you..” – this was so totally not what one should be contemplating after receiving, that I knew he could no longer be trusted. The damage done to my parish is still in evidence today – Rene

    • Jack

      mrsoriodan, you may not know that Kahil Gibran was a Maronite Catholilc. I’ve found his writings to be gibberish, so I’ve not read that much of them. I don’t presume to know their theologic content.

      I guess the Thomas Merton’s writings should be considered like Origen’s and Tertullian’s. As the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when they are good, they are very good, and when they are bad they are horrid.

      • Becky Ward

        Love That!!

  • DWDowney

    I once had an interesting conservation with the late Fr. Urban (John Francis) Snyder, a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky with Fr. Thomas Merton.  Fr. Snyder, a traditional priest had left the Abbey and had written a book about Merton but
    he did not want it published in his name.  I also know a Catholic journalist that was asked by Fr. Snyder if he could publish the book using his
    name as the author. The journalist refused.  

    Fr. Snyder, who held a Masters degree in history and a Law degree from Jefferson University, was three years older than Fr. Merton when he entered Gethsemani in 1942 at thirty years of age.  Fr. Merton entered the monastery as a novice also in 1942.  Fr. Snyder was ordained in 1947 and Fr. Merton was ordained in 1949.  After Fr. Snyder’s ordination he was made Retreat Master and then Novice Master. He would over the next few years hold every office in the Monastery except that of
    Abbot. He eventually transferred to the Cistercian monastery in Genesee, NY because of the progressive liberalism in Gethsemani but eventually left there as well when he worked with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the early seventies.

    He told me two things about Merton that I remember well.  The first is that there is a general opinion that
    Merton became progressively more liberal in his writings, and that before the end of his life he had seen the error of Eastern mysticism and was returning to a more traditional Catholic spirituality.  Fr. Snyder said that this was not true.  He said that Merton was always very liberal from the beginning but this was not as evident in his earlier writings because they were highly edited by his religious superiors.  What changed in the progress of
    his writings was that his superiors became more liberal and edited less of his material from his publications.

    The second thing he said regarded the death of Fr. Merton.  Fr. Merton kept a detailed journal and in that journal he had entered what he had done the day before his sudden and unexpected death.  The day before he died Merton wrote about his
    experience attending a pagan Buddhist ceremony from the perspective of an active participant with those conducting the pagan worship. 

    Fr. Snyder died in 1993 at 82 years of age.  To the charitable credit of the monks at Cistercian monastery in Genesee, NY, when Fr. Snyder, always a monk, returned to the monastery and was cared for during the last few years of his life.


    • LizEst

      Very interesting.

      • Kanga 13


        • Dan Burke

          What is gossip? – I meant to say, what are you designating as “gossip”?

          • Kanga 13

            Gossip, detraction, speculating that others have sinned, hearsay, harsh judgements of others as people (as opposed to an open-minded discussion of their ideas that respects the intelligence of your readers), attributing sinful intention to others, sitting in judgment in God’s place, and encouraging others to do the same. Mercy, mercy, mercy please.

          • Dan Burke

            Kanga – I appreciate your emphasis on mercy. My apologies. I should have been more specific. My desire to dialogue always seems to be hampered by having too much on my plate. What I was asking was, what specifically did someone say or did the article say that you would characterize as gossip?

          • Kanga 13

            I am fine with a discussion of early Merton, and late Merton, though I find his exploration of Eastern Spirituality to have been truncated by his early death.

            The way to engage Merton is in respectful discourse while respecting his authenticity. As another seeker. One who did not find the answers, but whose attempt was valuable none the less.

            Gossip? Where we fail doing just that. Detract. Underline our condemnation while saying we are not condemning. Reveal personal faults. Demeaning comparisons (garbage?). Pettiness. Act like the Pharisee condemning the Publican while patting himself on the back. Praising our own orthodoxy while looking down on the Pilgrim. Oh, yes.

            Lord, purify our words and witness so that we may be better instruments of your endless and bountiful grace.

          • Dan Burke

            Dear Kanga: Please hear the following as I would speak it to you in person – with a tone of respect and a sincere desire to understand. While your words speak of a desire for respectful dialogue with a charitable assumption, you have yet to honor my sincere question with a direct and honest answer. Without this willingness on your part to clarify your accusation regarding the sin of “gossip” the dialogue of respect you seem to seek is beginning to sound dishonest or at least hypocritical. If you wish to truly be honest, and really engage in a dialogue that honors God and Merton, then please do so by answering the question. Otherwise, we can assume this conversation will be limited to your instinct to be quick to place labels like “pharisee” and accusations like “gossip” without being specific as to what exactly you are referring to. When you make a grave accusation like calling something “gossip” it is important to be specific as to what I said or someone else said is “gossip.” I suspect if I took this tone in the article, you wouldn’t be happy. As well, your tone, seems to be the very tone that you are decrying. Again, I am happy to reverse my assessment if you would be specific and avoid generalizations and unsubstantiated attacks using inflamatory labels like “pharisee.”

          • Kanga 13

            Dan, why did you edit out a chunk of my response? My intention is not to use inflammatory labels, but to point to a lack of charity that you might not have noticed that is an obstacle to your message. And no, I don’t want to point the finger and get people all riled up. Just look at what has been written here with fresh eyes, and make your own examination of conscience. And you need not publish this to your thread.

          • Dan Burke

            Dear Kanga: The reason I edited it out is because you made an accusation and I asked you a question. You didn’t answer the question. If after consideration you feel like you shouldn’t have done that, I understand. But, to have respectful dialogue, please answer the question or feel free to opt out of further discussion. You have already pointed to my flaws and I am wide open. However, I can’t respond if you can’t be more specific. Either way, I do pray you have a blessed Advent and Christmas.

          • ThirstforTruth

            Kanga 13….Remember the original question to Dan
            was from a person wanting to know if Merton was
            a good source for spiritual reading as in some ways
            this person was *uncomfortable* with some of his
            writings. Dan and others were responding to that
            question. It was not being openly judgmental but
            I thought quite specific about how to distinguish
            between his earlier and later writings as Merton
            evolved into Eastern philosophies. That is vastly
            different from casting judgment on his personal
            life and disposition. After all, that is what reviewers
            do all the time in a professional capacity. No one
            meant to condemn or condone his personal behavior.
            The very essence of this blog is to provide spiritual

        • Dan Burke

          Fr. Kanga – let me address you as a priest and give this another shot. Gossip is sin. When a priest looks at me and says – you are sinning, this is a very serious issue. So, my desire is to understand and repent if I am wrong. Can you point to something in the post that is sinful? Or, are you pointing to something in this thread?

          • Kanga 13

            Fr. Dan, the original post was fine. Some of the discussion crossed the line, the one that I finally responded to as having been the one that caused the glass to overflow. I notice that I was not the only one to protest, as similar reactions can be seen further on down this thread. The problem with gossip is that it does create a “gag” response in the reader, and it can be encouraged or discouraged. A comment of “interesting” after a particularly mucky post is what I was flagging. You’re welcome. Fr. Kanga

          • Dan Burke

            Fr. Kanga, my wife is happy that I am not a priest but I do take it as a compliment. Thanks for the clarity.

          • Kanga 13

            We share the common priesthood of the baptised, Dan. At least that is how I take it.

    • Adrian Johnson

      I hope his manuscript survives and I pray at the right time the Holy Spirit will find the right publisher for it. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” of any confusion about what is orthodox in Merton’s writings.

    • Iera Mul

      Can someone please clarify for me that this account is based on a monk who worked closely with Marcel Lefebvre? Forgive me if I appear stupid but is this the same Marcel Lefebvre who thought the 2nd Vatican council was too progressive and caused the church considerable upset, sadness and damage by consecrating priests without church authority in the 70s?

  • Michael

    That would be St. Catherine of Siena.

    • Dan Burke

      Fixed thanks

  • Dr. Taylor Marshall

    Dear Dan Burke,

    This is a good post. Thank you for a clear and helpful analysis of Merton.

    • Dan Burke

      Than you Dr. Marshall and congratulations on your new job as Chancellor of Fisher More College.

    • LizEst

      Congratulations Dr. Marshall on your new job, as well. I enjoy your blog, too!

      • Thomas G. Marabella

        I also enjoy Dr. Marshall’s blog.

        • LizEst

          Yes, your name sounds familiar!

  • Florence101

    Thanks for the post and commeents on the writings of Thomas Merton. I recently learned more about him in our parish discussion group. His involvement with eastern relgion was a red flag for me and my gut feeling was to stay away from his writings. It appears from your post that my gut feeling was valid.

    • Eric Neubauer


      While I understand your concern about Merton – not all of his writings have an “Eastern Influence.”  Re-read Dan’s post and see Merton’s earliest works.  Quite good and you may be surprised.  He actually brings up some good things for any Catholic to consider.  

  • Eric Neubauer

    Thanks for the thoughtful commentary regarding Merton.  However, I would add that Merton brings into the conversation some interesting perspectives & questions that I believe are worth while for the Catholic disciple to consider.  While I agree that engaging the greats is a safe bet Merton gives our community someone in the 20th century that is at least thoughtful and challenges us to stir the cultural pot a bit – something we could use.  Finally, all our spiritual development ought to be centered in Sacred Scripture, CCC and Church Tradition with other spiritual writings as supplemental.  If we take time to know the basics it will be quite hard to “lose our way.”

    In Christ,
    Eric Neubauer

    • ThirstforTruth

      Excellent point. When reading any spiritual works of today’s authors, it is
      always good to have the CCC on hand as reference. Stops dead in its
      tracks any and all arguments is my experience.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Why not simply read the Bible for spiritual wisdom?

    • Dan Burke

      This is a protestant sensibility not shared by Catholics who recognize the inexhaustible wealth of the work of the Holy Spirit both within and outside of scripture in and through the lives of the saints and theologians of the ages.

      • MarcAlcan

        While I do agree that there is a wealth of insight that we can gain from the great saints, I think Paul has actually pinpointed a great poverty amongst Catholic – the rather palpable ignorance of the Bible.
        If one does Lectio Divina, faithfully, this will have a profound effect on the spiritual growth of the person, for here, we have God Himself guiding us, speaking to us. I love St Teresa of Avila and St Ignatius of Loyola but in the end we really need to immerse ourselves in Scripture but with the guidance of the Catechism.

        • Dan Burke

          Well said.

    • Shannon @ Sword&Stein

      Why bother coming to a website like this, if that is your view?

      • Dan Burke

        Ryan – have you ever seen a dog tilt its head after hearing a strange noise? This is my reaction to your comment. I don’t understand…

        • LizEst

          ; o))

      • sanfordandsons

        Often times you can get spirituality from a little old lady across the street who has never read the bible.

  • mrsoriordan

    Another thing about Thomas Merton (Lord rest his soul) that put me on alert was my love for the Lives of the Saints had grown – I found them to be particularly uplifting and most especially their death. Merton’s sudden death worried me! – Rene

  • steve syvan

    Gibran’s piece “…your children come through you not from you..” i am Byzantine Catholic and we have a different perspective on Scripture. Read the Philokalia and you will see it is light years ahead of Merton and Buddhism…i appreciate Gibran…i think Gibran meant your childrens behavior and values are from you…especially your unconscious values…if you are unknowingly a homosexual, your child may exhibit the behavior you repressed all your life, so as the child psychically  comes through you ,he or she emerges as what you may have repressed…just an Eastern Church view on Gibran…peace be with you… 

    • Becky Ward

      I think this simply means that our children come from God. They arrive on earth through their parents…..but they originate in God, just like everything else.

      • steve syvan

        yes. thank you…that makes perfect sense…i was maybe going deeper than necessary…

  • Aodhan Richardson

    I sent a rather long comment earlier today supporting Merton. Perhaps it didn’t fit here.

    • Dan Burke

      I dont’ recall the content only that it appeared that it had been cut and pasted from MS Word or some other application. This causes havoc with our combox system. Feel free to type it in.

  • Aodhan Richardson

    Sorry for the MS Word gobbledy gook. I usually write longer posts there and paste into smaller windows that make the text harder to see for me.  Hopefully, this one will work.

    I can say this of Thomas Merton: he helped (and continues to help) me down my own spiritual path like no one else. No other spiritual writers except, perhaps, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, have had such a profound impact on 20th and 21st century spirituality as has Thomas Merton, in my biased opinion. His book, “New Seeds of Contemplation” is, I think, the seminal work on modern spiritual growth and contemplative prayer.  I suspect that most conservative/orthodox Catholics who have a problem with Merton do so because they may be suspicious of anything that deviates from established Catholic doctrine. Merton’s very human, and forgivable failures–or at least they should be forgivable if we follow the words of Jesus, probably add to their suspicion.Merton, like all of us, was a flawed human being struggling to find his place in a most imperfect world. Perhaps his failures might make him even more appealing. Like Merton I can  find no harm of adding some Eastern spiritual practices if they lead us to deeper spiritual growth and ultimately draw ever closer to God, as was Merton’s sole intent. Merton’s pronouncements against war, nuclear weapons, greed, the denial of basic human rights, and the plea to love one another were taken directly from Christ’s soul. Human flaws and failures notwithstanding, Thomas Merton’s works stand the test of time, and should be on the eye-level bookshelf of any Christian (or even non-Christian) searching for a way to get closer to God and live out Christ’s message. Merton, rather than leading us astray from “the Heart of the Church,” will surely lead us more closely to it. I and everyone I know who is a devotee of Thomas Merton feel drawn closer to the Church. Indeed, I have a friend who was led to Catholicism because of Merton. Every day I reverently pray for Merton’s sainthood. I think we owe him a great debt.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Aodhan – thanks for your feedback. Of course, we don’t agree. Even so, I am grateful that the Lord used him to help you.

      • Aodhan Richardson

        Thank you, and I appreciated your column. I liked quite a bit of it, actually.

    • MarcAlcan

      So I have wandered into this article a year later.
      Aodhan, most conservative Catholics are rightly suspicious of anything that diverts from established Catholic doctrine. If a doctrine is established, then that means that the Holy Spirit has guided the establishment of that doctrine. If something contrary to that is being proposed, then one could hardly say that this new thing would be from the Holy Spirit for the HS could not possibly contradict Himself.
      Also, you used the phrase “modern spiritual growth”. That is a useless phrase for there is neither modern nor old fashioned spiritual growth – there is only spiritual growth. There is through true spiritual growth and the false one (in which case spiritual regression that masquerades as spiritual growth). True spiritual growth immerses us more and more into the life of the Trinity. We become more integrated into the Church and not separated from her. We come to fully appreciate her teaching.
      Which is why I think Dan’s and A.E.Clark’s assessment are spot on.
      There is also the question about Merton’s life. For someone who seeks and demanded to be allowed to live as a hermit, he had a never ending trail of people visiting. It seems that the adulation has gone to his head and spiritual pride has set in. He was sent to be assessed by a psychologist and it is interesting what the psychologist recommended.
      As someone had said earlier, his dalliance with his nurse seems to have been the starting point for this verge into questionable spirituality.
      And while we are all sinners, we would not want to follow a guide whose counsels stem precisely from this bad conduct and the angst that it brought.

  • bestyruss

    I have been immersed in Merton for almost a year and I love him.  I have listened to numerous conferences he gave to the novitiates at the Monastery and have read many of his books.  His conferences about the Desert Fathers caused me to learn more about these saints of the desert.  I listen to his Easter Sunday sermon when I need a spiritual lift.  I understand his poetry.  When I read his prayer, I realize how much God loves me… and everyone.  I cannot imagine life without Merton.  I, too, will pray for his sainthood.

  • rhsgirl

    Seventeen years ago ,Fr. John Harden had told me to burn a book I had by Anthony DeMello, because he was a heretic and Fr. said this way no one else could ever read that book. 

    • LizEst

      I tossed out a DeMello book as well. Did not pass it on to anyone else! God bless you rhsgirl.

    • ThirstforTruth

      DeMello is not as popular as Merton but in my experience he is even more
      dangerous. I found him cropping up in a Contemplative Prayer group
      I belonged to at my parish. We were given a chapter of his ( cannot recall)
      and something about it made a red flag go up in my mind. The facilitator
      had gotten it from a well known Spirituality (Catholic) Center in the Washington, DC area she frequently attended. She was a convert and really not aware
      that some of the points being made within the text were definitely not in
      keeping with the faith. It was then that I came across your article regarding
      Anthony DeMello. I brought this to the group’s attention. Some were quite
      receptive while others, like in the combox here, felt he had much to offer. I am also in a position to “shelve” donated books in our church free library. It is amazing to me
      the “stuff” we receive. DeMello, Merton, Pennington,even a catechism from the Presbyterian Church, you name it. I have a big bag to dump quitely in the trash monthly. I know it sounds like setting myself up as the arbitrator of truth and would be condemned by many parishioners as a book burner if they knew.  I have permission from our pastor to get rid of stuff not suitable for a Catholic Church library but I feel weird all the same. We have a public library that accepts used books for its annual book sale but i would not feel right placing
      these books there for others to be entrapped and mislead.
       It is a strange time in the Church, where so many seem to be on a
      different page…even within the leadership. We must be on our toes at all

      • LizEst

        Stay the course, Asydwy.

        You are right to keep those books from falling into the hands of those who don’t know better, are easily influenced and led astray. I believe in recycling because someone else can often make use of that which we no longer use. But, allowing those books to get in someone else’s hands is not recycling. It is setting the stage for entrapment of the soul.

        No, you are not being an arbitrator of truth. Your pastor has given his permission and obviously trusts your judgment. He is not the only pastor that approves of such or directs that it be done! And, if you ever have any doubt about a book, you can always come on this site and check. You are doing a great service to everyone in your parish. God bless you. Keep up the good work.

        • ThirstforTruth

          Thanks LizEst…I appreciate your support… gets a bit lonely
          out there feeling sometimes like we are shoveling sand against
          the tide. But then I think of those Christians who are battling for
          their very lives ( those living the life of terror in the Middle East)
          and it puts things in perspective. Truly we must be like soldiers
          for Christ as we learned when confirmed all those years ago.

          • Ctprenee

            I think the important issue here is that your library is a Catholic library and that others come there to find true Catholic spirituality. It would be different if you had a speaker with some questionable beliefs and the opportunity to confront and question him, but these books would go out as coming from a Catholic library and some might consider them the truth.

    • Samuel63

      I also am worried about books I find misleading being read by others. I remove the binding and try to recycle the paper.

  • Ina Magdalena Hecker

    burning books seems a little medieval for me… I like Merton, and as if why someone would prefer the food from the streets instead of boiled potatoes and meat…there is no need of explanation, someone does not only reads to be instructed, but for the pleasure of reading good written and spiritual readings that are full of sincerity…Merton does not pretend to  be orthodox, Merton is true to his evolution, to the work of God on his soul… I am not the one to judge, I love seen that process, even if by the end of his life he may have drifted some from orthodoxy…

  • BW

    We need to PRAY the Requiem… for the repose of the soul of Father Merton each and every time we discuss him.

    Imagine yourself standing on a compass rose showing you the 360 degrees around you. You intend to go along 1 degree’s path. But you errantly start off on the degree right next to it. No big deal, you tell yourself, once you begin walking. I’m only 1 degree off. I’ll be ok. You then walk 100 miles along your mistaken degree. 100 miles along a degree has taken you lamentably and gut-wrenchingly away from your original intended destination.

    The saints have told us many times that the mystery of an early death is that God in His mercy and wisdom is choosing to take us now, while our culpability is lower, relatively, than what it is terrifyingly poised to become. Merton was bowing to idols at the point of his death.

    I believe that Christ in His power and mercy can save the soul of any man who simply accepts His mercy at the particular judgment. Thus I have the Christian hope that at that said moment, Father Merton, well meaning yet having had been increasingly led astray, and, let us recall, through his writings, having had potentially led other souls astray, was saved by his Redeemer. Our Lord has no doubt saved worse! Though at what cost? Every drop, every last drop, of Blood on Calvary for each and every soul.

    I feel obligated to mention also that Our Lady is refuge, ultimate refuge, for her ordained sons. Ave Maria.

    • Dan Burke


  • Aodhan Richardson

    Burning books? Throwing books away? It sounds like the Catholic Church I was raised in in the 1950s. Vatican II changed all that. We’re allowed to read anything we like now, and Holy Mother Church has come to the conclusion, and so states it in the CCC, that when our consciences, hearts, minds, and spirits are in the right place the material can be helpful and used or unhelpful and ignored–by personal choice. I don’t think the Church wants us to be robots, but informed, loving Christians.

    • ThirstforTruth

      The Church not only requires us to be informed but also correctly
      informed. We ( those who point out the difference in early Merton
      and later writings of his ) do all a service by pointing out these
      discrepancies where they occur. I, for one, appreciate that knowledge as it saves me the time of wading through that which will not help me on my spiritual journey, and so that I might devote my time reading that which will be in keeping with what I believe are the truths of the Catholic Church.
      Any such materials have no place in a library formed for the purpose
      of instructing and informing the faithful on such teachings and truths.
      When coming to this library one should have the confidence that this
      willl be the case of any book(s) shelved there for one’s personal use. It would be dishonest and irresponsible to knowingly place books there that could lead astray readers expecting no less. To say “it sounds like
      the Catholic Church I was raised in the 1950’s” is to imply somehow
      the Church has changed its teachings since then while nothing could
      be further from the facts. You are mistaken that Vatican II changed
      *all that*. You do have the freedom ( Thanks be to God) to read anything you wish, even pornography, but that would not bea spiritually healthy thing to do anymore than shoving into your mouth anything that is referred to as *food* without first discerning. One does not need to consume arsenic to know it is not good for the body. Those
      who have gone before you have already discerned that and you would be wise to follow their advice. Need I say more regarding the vast
      field of spiritual writing other than the same wisdom applies there also.
      God bless you on your journey Aodhan.

      • LizEst

        You are absolutely right, asydwy. My mother used to say, “You don’t need to taste a rotten egg to know it is rotten. You can tell from the smell.” Likewise, bad fruit will cause one to be sick and even to die if ingested in the wrong circumstances or in large enough doses. So, too, does spiritual reading which is not according to the mind and the heart of the Church i.e. the mind and the heart of Christ cause spiritual illness and even spiritual demise. Why risk it? Why expose oneself to be led astray with questionable writings? Why spend one’s eternity in everlasting death?

        Thank you for writing this, asydwy. God bless you…and Happy Pentecost! Come, Holy Spirit and lead us into all Truth!

  • suzherbert

    Has anyone read or heard of the author Margaret Silf?  She is coming to my diocese and her bio is questionable.

    • LizEst

      Sorry, we didn’t get back to you earlier. In the link below, it says that she is a convert to Catholicism but goes on to say, “Today she calls herself a ‘boundary dweller’ no longer belonging to a particular Christian denomination, more at home outside the institutional church than within.” Hope that helps. Please keep us posted on what you find out. Thank you…and God bless you, suzherbert! Happy Pentecost!

  • sanfordandsons

    I agree that Merton’s early works fairly represents his core catholicism. His life as well as his writing seems to change after having an affair with his medical practitioner while in the hospital with stomach problems. I agree though that his later works should be scrutinized but not banned. After all his life was ended accidentally by electrocution attending a conference on Eastern and Western spirituality.

    • LizEst

      The fact that his life ended accidentally by electrocution does not excuse his later writings. We are all charged with living a life faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That means we are supposed to be ready for the Lord whenever he calls us. God is most merciful and we cannot pronounce on Merton’s judgment in the presence of the Most High. We can, however, judge Merton’s writings. God bless you, sanfordandsons… and Happy Pentecost!

  • It_lives

    I love how this post is growing and growing in the comments area. Your blog is receiving a second life – a little seed was born inside the tree. It creates life, it spreads truth and and joy. I really hope it will never stop. And to the East and West lovers of the truth, let us fight to allow this life to grow more and more. Let’s spread knowledge in the same way the wounds on our body heal: from inside to outside. Peace in Jesus, Buddha and that lady from the other side of the street.

  • Jaret Ornelas

    Hi Dan,

    We have a copy of Mystics and Zen Masters in our community. I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t really give an impression, but I did notice that on the publishing info page it has the nihil obstat and imprimatur seals on it. I was wondering why you object to it when the church authorities have decided it contains “nothing damaging to faith or morals?”

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Jaret, thanks for your question. It sounds like you may not understand the process or parameters of the N.O. and Imprimatur. These are not based on any broad Church authority but they indicate approval from one Bishop in a specific diocese. These are not infallible declarations and are only as orthodox as the Bishop that grants them. As you know, Church history is riddled with Bishops, priests and laity who are/were faithful and who are/were heretics. With respect to this book, I am not questioning the Bishop in this case. In fact, I only provided a brief description from a scholar in eastern studies. My argument is to stick with the doctors and Saints of the Church as the post points out.

      • Samuel63

        Great response! I have seen the N.O. and Imprimatur on some surprising works.

      • Charles Lewis

        Not every author seeks the N.O. and Imprimatur. But in the case here you could also assume the bishop who gave those stamps of approval to Merton read the material, and found it conformed to church teaching. Better to assume the Bishop was a good Catholic and not a heretic. I’ve read many of his works but decided not to read his views on Eastern traditions simply because I wasn’t interested. Merton did a lot for the Church. Many young men of his time read Seven Storey Mountain and decided to give their lives to the Lord. For myself, three books finally helped seal my conversion to the Church and Seven Storey Mountain was one of those three. (The others were Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness” and Fr. Richard Neuhaus’ “Death on a Friday Afternoon.) The man had flaws and he made mistakes. But when I read him I discovered a friend and so my love for him will always trump anything that he wrote that appeared to be misguided.

  • Pingback: | Catholic Spiritual Direction | Can I Trust? Series Catholic Spiritual Direction()

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  • marianne

    Hi Dan I read the Seven Storey Mountain and found it a bit troubling near the end of the book. I felt then that I would not read anymore of his works as he appeared not to be too clear in his thinking toward our Saviour Jesus Christ.

  • Gabby

    Thanks! I think the same: why should we read writings of those who lost their souls in a spiritual mess… it”s better to read those who have been faithfull to Christ all their lives 🙂

    • Gene

      What about St. Augustine and his former life?

      • LizEst

        We don’t follow anything of Augustine’s former life. We know of it because he wrote about it after his conversion…as a way of showing how God helped him in his ignorance and pride and gave him the graces for his conversion of heart, for which his mother St Monica prayer a great deal for, as a way of showing how we should not do the same, lest we not convert before we die. We follow what Augustine taught after his conversion, not before.

        Merton’s story is the other way around. His earliest writings were, mainly, on track with the Church. As he continued to live, he continued to veer away from what Christ taught.

        • NDaniels

          Error begets error; truth begets truth.

  • BellaTerra66

    It would appear that The Pope likes Thomas Merton very much. So what do you do with that, Mr. Burke.

    • LizEst

      I hope you have read this post carefully, BellaTerra66. This post lists his books from the early period (OK to read) to the ones from his slip into the East. You might want to look through the list. His early works have led many closer to Christ. His later works have led many away from Christ.

      Eastern religion works in a way that advances the annihilation of self so that ultimately one “becomes” God (in reality that will never happen, not now, not ever). We know that it is utterly ridiculous to think we are God. This is the first deception of man we see in the Garden of Eden, and a very old canard. This is the direction that these Eastern religions take a person to. And, that’s what Merton was into in his later years. The Avila Institute has a fabulous course on Christianity and Eastern Religions, taught by Dr Anthony Lilles. You might enjoy it the next time it is offered.

      Pope Francis didn’t distinguish the differences between Merton’s two phases, yet I doubt he is unaware of them. And, I doubt seriously that he would promote Merton’s later works. They are simply anti-Christian and they are nothing the Pope would go in for. Pope Francis wrote a book on humility before he was elected Pope: There is nothing more arrogant, no greater hubris, than to think oneself God, which is in the direction Merton’s later works “guide” people to.

      Hope this helps…and God bless you!

  • Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M.

    Thank you for this posting. I just wandered into it. It’s good and helpful.

    • LizEst

      Glad you found it or “wandered into it”! To God be the glory! Blessed Advent to you, Brother André Marie!

      • Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M.

        And a blessed Advent to you, too, LizEst!

        Non nobis domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam!

        • LizEst


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