Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thomas Merton: Prophet of Renewal

By John Eudes Bamberger, 132 pages Cistercian Publications.

The Cistercian John Eudes Bamberger worked closely with Thomas Merton at the monastery in Kentucky in looking after the novice monks. He therefore has an insider's account of the spiritual master.

Bamberger does us a service by setting the record straight: Thomas Merton was not a theological rebel, though Mertonists—usually post-Christian spiritualists with a need to ground their thinking in something substantial—usually are. The author sums up Merton quite nicely:

“In considering Merton's contribution to the Cistercian heritage in light of the signs of our modern times we find once again that his role was to disclose the relevance of its essential values for contemporary monks and Christians in general. Exposure to Oriental meditation and assimilation of much that he found pertinent in that tradition did not result in displacing the fundamental importance that had so much influenced St. Bernard, William of St. Thierry, and the early generation of Cistercians.”

1 comment:

  1. Hello Brian - I liked your review but thought you took a rather broad swipe at "Mertonists" and wonder what formed your opinion on this matter. Also, I certainly respect Fr. Bamberger and think he is quite right to place Merton in a more mainstream and traditional light, but this doesn't mean that some of Merton's prophetic views were always in harmony with the Church leadership of his day. Have you read "Peace in the Post-Christian Era" or heard about Merton's efforts to draw attention to the sinfulness of Christians signing off on nuclear warfare - he was indeed considered somewhat rebellious theologically on that matter, and was silenced. There were also some who questioned his strong writings on racism, war and other social justice issues...though his convictions were firmly rooted in the Gospel and indeed the Tradition of the Catholic Church (Peace in the Post Christian Era goes out of its way to reference every applicable pope and council). He often seemed to anticipate positions that later became more mainstream, but were kind of edgy at the time he articulated them.

    Anyway, I might be considered by some a "Mertonist" (though I am not a theologian) and naturally I wonder if that makes me 'a post-Christian spiritualist who needs to ground my thinking in something substantial.' I trust that Scripture counts as substantial!

    I do think that you do a service by reviewing Prophet of Renewal as well as Book of Hours, and I am hoping to spend more time reading your blog. Thank you for bringing attention to Thomas Merton. Blessings, Mike Brennan