Wednesday, August 14, 2002

I've been putting off writing about this, but someone asked, so now I feel obliged to say something about it. From an e-mail I received today:

Could you please explain the parenthetical comment-- "(I know, I know....)" --after Thomas Mertons' link? I know he explored and wrote about Eastern religions in some of his works. Is that the reason for the reservations?

First of all, Thomas Merton is a great influence in my life. He was a genius who wrote profoundly and with a certain amount of rhetorical flair on matters of spirituality. I read many of his works in the early 1980s. I have about 15 of his books, plus some about him. His writings on eastern religion are not per se a problem for me.

However, he did have a propensity, esp. in his later private writings, to take an overly critical view of the official Church and its positions (e.g. contraception). He was overly influenced by what might be described as "liberal" or "progressive" Catholicism, although he was sometimes a voice of conservatism and tradition in that group. He was also tended to be sympathetic with some gnostic speculations about Sophia-wisdom. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, he had an affair with a student nurse a couple of years before he died. If this had been an indiscretion of his younger days from which he had clearly repented one might say it was growing pains, but this was AFTER he was a hermit and was giving all kinds of advice about advanced spiritual matters both Catholic and interfaith. So I think his work is a mixed bag, one that I will continue to learn from (esp., but not limited to his earlier writings), but he isn't as sure a guide as, say, John Paul II or Avery Cardinal Dulles. I still like him, though.

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