The Tragedy of Thomas


One of the popularisers of Silent Contemplative Prayer in the last century was the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. His early books are a delight; his last, not so much.

Thomas Merton is one man who began well, but did not finish strong. In his spiritual hunger he veered toward the East, and in so doing accepted and advocated for some spiritual perspectives and practices that are foreign to Christianity.

Thomas Merton.

Truth be told, they were more than foreign, they were antithetical to the faith we hold so dear. In his last book he puts Zen Buddhism and Christianity on an equal footing as paths to God. This, of course, is heresy. God in His mercy chose to take Thomas home. He took him home before his errors put him outside the faith completely. He also took him home before he could do further damage to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Merton's Own Words

In a talk given just before his fateful trip to Asia, Merton said

"What I want to do today is to give you some kind of account of the mischief I expect to get into in Asia".

As he was leaving he wrote in his journal,

"Joy. We left the ground—I with Christian mantras and a great sense of destiny, of being at last on my true way after years of waiting and wondering and fooling around. . . . May I not come back without having settled the great affair. And found also the great compassion, mahakaruna . . . I am going home, to the home where I have never been in this body. (Asian Journal, 4)

He was embracing and advocating for a conflation of Christianity and Buddhism.

Wires Crossed

It is rather ironical, if not poetic that Thomas, who was spiritually getting his wires crossed while trying to introduce a breath of fresh air into monastic and contemplative Christianity, would come to his untimely end because of faulty wiring in an electric fan. He was attending a Christian-Buddhist Monastic conference and was electrocuted in his bathtub. He died 27 years to the day after his entrance into the Abbey of Gethsemanii in 1941. His life and death are a tragic cautionary tale.


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