Catholic Company / Magazine

Thomas Merton: Influential Catholic Writer

Nov 30, 2011 by

Thomas Merton

One of the most influential American Catholics of the Twentieth Century is without a doubt Thomas Merton. He has published and written some of the most powerful catholic books of the past few decades. Thomas Merton had an incredibly rough and challenging childhood as he moved continually between England, France, and the US with startling regularity. Furthermore, by the age of 16 he had lost both his parents. He eventually settled down in the US at the age of twenty while he was enrolled at Columbia University. Finally in 1938 at the age of 23 he entered the Catholic Church which would be the beginning of his new life.

In only two short years after entering the Church, he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery. There he began his life as a prolific writer as he wrote his most famous book The Seven Storey Mountain which was an autobiography. This book was written at the beginning of his career as he then wrote many books on contemplation, catholic spirituality, and, towards the end of his life, social justice and politics. His political writings were focused on non-violent resistance in order to combat the social, racial injustice of the 1960s. He was a preacher of peace as he was opposed to war and a staunch pacifist.

Thomas Merton also is remembered for having becoming very interested in Eastern Religions, especially Zen Buddhism, which led him to get involved in multiple interfaith dialogues. He died on a trip to Bangkok in 1968 of an accidental electrocution after only living 27 years as a monk. Despite his short period of writing he led to a great rise in spiritual exploration in the 70s and 80s through his own popular spiritual writings.

Interesting Facts About Thomas Merton

– While Merton was enrolled at Cambridge University he went through a period of heavy drinking and “womanizing” according to many of his friends

– His mind was opened to Catholicism for the first time through the book The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy

– He briefly joined the Young Communist League while at Columbia University but it failed to hold his interest.

– Merton once took the monastery jeep for a drive and ended up hitting multiple trees and ditches until finally flipping the jeep halfway over. Needless to say he never did learn how to drive.

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.

-Thomas Merton