RNS: New Thomas Merton Book Stirs Up Controversy

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The cloistered Merton burst into public view in 1948 with the publication of his memoir “The Seven Storey Mountain,” which detailed his journey from a young rogue who wallowed in “beer, bewilderment, and sorrow,” according to a friend, to a penitent novitiate in the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, the formal name of the Trappist order.

Merton went on to write a steady stream of spiritual books, essays and poems, and became one of the best known and well-loved Catholic writers of the 20th century. He died at age 53 in 1968 in a freak electrocution accident in Thailand.

Scholars and even casual Mertonites have long known of his affair with [Margie] Smith, especially since his seven-volume personal journals, in which he pins down passing emotions like a butterfly collector, were published in the 1990s. But some disagree about whether the affair was a regrettable interlude, or an emotional breakthrough for a man who had long struggled with his feelings toward women.

A new Merton biography, “Beneath the Mask of Holiness,” falls firmly in the latter camp. Author Mark Shaw paints a portrait of the monk as a tormented, “imposter of sorts,” who reluctantly played the part of the happy, contemplative guru. In reality, Shaw argues, Merton was haunted by his youthful indiscretions with women—including reportedly, the fathering of a child out of wedlock—and the chasm between his private past and public persona.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistorySpirituality/Prayer* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic

Posted December 31, 2009 at 12:29 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

I think the title of the book belies the agenda behind it. Yet another smear job from historians who love hypocrites and can’t stand the thought of heroes.

December 31, 3:25 pm | [comment link]
2. Nikolaus wrote:

Where ever do people get the idea that monks and nuns are hypocrites for struggling with their feelings towards the opposite (okay…even the same) sex?

December 31, 6:16 pm | [comment link]
3. Fr. Dale wrote:

Having read many of Thomas Merton’s books, I have an admiration for him. I believe he was spiritually brilliant and insightful. There are so few heroes that are able to run the good race to the very end. I am fortunate to have known a couple men and although they did not shine with his brightness, they died untarnished. They were not as articulate but lived the life he discussed in his writings and remain an inspiration for me.

January 2, 1:00 am | [comment link]
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