The Mystery of Thomas Merton

Posted on 10. Dec, 2015, in Christian Values, Church Teachings, Community, Eastern Spirituality, Education, Faith and Justice, Gospel Values, Vocation1 Comment


The monk and hermit Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is hard to define. He was a poet, prolific spiritual writer, diarist, jazz buff, pioneer of inter religious dialogue, advocate of radial social reform and precursor of liberation theology. His works were known worldwide. However despite all his productivity, he was a man of inner turmoil, who died in unknown circumstances. John Cooney, journalist and writer was always intrigued by Merton, describing him as “the hermit who never was”. In two articles originally published in Doctrine and Life and later in The Irish Times, he explores a complex man who could never quite cut himself off from the sensual pleasures of the world, in particular drink and women. He left England after impregnating one woman and was nearly forced to leave monastic life after having an affair with another. John explains to Miriam Gormally that he has good reason to believe that Merton’s died by suicide. He further believes that under Frances and especially in this year of Mercy, that the writing and teachings of Merton should be re-explored.

One response to “The Mystery of Thomas Merton”

  1. Dear John, You are entitled to your opinion, however off the mark it my be. And I believe it is. It may be more of a ‘projection’ than you realize, thinking that is what you would hazve done in his place (which you definitely are not. He had such an understanding and appreciation of the nature of the human person
    (made in God’s image)that suicide would have been a most inconsiderable option. He had made plans to give a retreat in Japan, visit his good friend Bob Lax in Greece, visit a Buddhist monastery in Scotland…and there were no doubt manu other places between Greece and Scotland he would have visited.
    The day he left here in late September, he came to the Bookkeeping office for the travel money for his pilgrimage. A Brother asked him if he was going over there “To stop the War?”,He immediately answered :”No, I am not going to touch it!” (No doubt the Abbot cautioned him about that.) Then he turned to me and said: “I am sorry I will not be here for your Ordination.” That was very thoughful of him and an affirmation for me, for i had been a Ly-Brother for 13 years.
    In during these 50 years I know of no one who knew him..thought that he had committed suicide. The theme makes for interesting, like print, like ‘who killed JFK’.
    (My parents came from County Mayo. Personally, today, I think Irish-Americans should “Boycott” Ireland.)
    fr Alan

    I am sorry I did not get to meet you while you were visiting the Abbey!