Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Merton Essays: A book that ‘will change minds’

By REVIEWED BY VICTOR A. KRAMER Special to the Bulletin | Published July 4, 2013
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and prolific writer, died in 1968. His writings continue to be studied and to inspire followers of Christ.

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and prolific writer, died in 1968. His writings continue to be studied and to inspire followers of Christ.

THE SELECTED ESSAYS OF THOMAS MERTON, edited by Patrick F. O’Connell, (Orbis Press, 2013), 493 pp. with index, appendix, and bibliography, $50.

This excellent book, certainly the most valuable essays of Thomas Merton, will be read carefully, and not just by specialists. It is a valuable selection which also demonstrates that its seasoned editor has chosen the best essays so ordinary readers can understand Merton’s diversity and impressive development as Catholic and as contemplative prophet.

Merton’s gift to the Church is immense. He published voluminously. The gift of this book is also superb.  Lovers of Merton, discussion groups, such as the Merton Reading Group in Atlanta (which meets at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Decatur, on the fourth Saturday each month, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), as well as spiritual seekers and scholars will profit from this very carefully edited grouping of 33 essays chosen from approximately 250.

Arranged chronologically, we can see how Merton’s wide interests developed. These pieces begin in 1958, well into his mature period, and continue to the final year of his life in 1968. The book has a valuable “Foreword” by Patrick Hart, probably the most important monk-scholar who helped to initiate “Merton Studies,” and a careful, thorough introduction by its editor, O’Connell, certainly the premier Merton scholar working today.

Careful judgment in choice, clear criteria, and meticulous notes make the book worth its price as a hardback. I am sure that a future paperback will be widely read, adopted for courses, etc.

It is not an exaggeration to state that when contemporary readers (Christian, non-believers, members of other religions) read this book it will change minds. First, a chance exists for a reader’s life to be changed if action follows from Merton’s thought, prayer, and encouragement. From subjects about conversion, to the need for a contemplative stance, and for world peace, Merton speaks wisely. Second, surely a careful reader’s opinions about Merton’s gifts as writer and guide will be enlarged.

Finally, these diverse and carefully crafted essays will challenge readers to see how clearly Merton celebrated his baptismal goal with Catholicism as the path to enhance love, hope and respect for all persons.

Buy it. Read the last five essays—all done in 1967 and 1968. You will know Merton remains a significant guide to wisdom. You will then cherish the entire book.

Victor A. Kramer, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of English at Georgia State University, co-founder of The Merton Annual, and editor of volume four of Thomas Merton’s journal, “Turning Toward the World: 1961-1963.”