Thomas Merton

Thomas
Merton
1915
1968

French-born Anglo-American Catholic Writer, Poet, Trappist Monk and Social Activist

Author Quotes

The things I thought were so important—because of the effort I put into them—have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered.

There are people one meets in books or in life whom one does not merely observe, meet, or know. A deep resonance of one's entire being is immediately set up with the entire being of the other (Cor ad cor loquitur)—heart speaks to heart in the wholeness of the language of music; true friendship is a kind of singing.

They [referring to participants in a walk from San Francisco to Moscow plagued with many difficulties] are all concerned about the fact that their own human failings and incompatibilities came out a bit. That is all right, though. It has to be that way. Another form of poverty that we have to accept. We have got to be instruments of God and realize at the same time that we are very poor and defective instruments. It is important to resist the feelings of resentment and impatience we get over our own failings because this makes us project our faults onto other people, instead of bearing their burdens along with our own.

To seek to solve the problem of God is to seek to see one's own eyes. One cannot see his own eyes because they are that with which he sees and God is the light by which we see-by which we see not a clearly defined object called God, but everything else in the invisible One.

We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are travelling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore in that sense we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!

We live in crisis, and perhaps we find it interesting to do so. Yet we also feel guilty about it, as if we ought not to be in crisis. As if we were so wise, so able, so kind, so reasonable, that crisis ought at all times to be unthinkable. It is doubtless this “ought,” this “should” that makes our era so interesting that it cannot possibly be a time of wisdom, or even of reason. We think we know what we ought to be doing, and we see ourselves move, with the inexorable deliberation of a machine that has gone wrong, to do the opposite.

What you should say--he told me--what you should say is that you want to be a saint.

Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.

The great danger is that under the pressure of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relaxation and new crisis, the people of the world will come to accept gradually the idea of war, the idea of submission to total power, and the abdication of reason, spirit and individual conscience. The great peril of the cold war is the progressive deadening of conscience.

The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!

The purpose of education is to show us how to define ourselves authentically and spontaneously in relation to our world—not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of ourselves as individuals.

The things on the surface are nothing, what is deep is the Real.

There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular- and too lazy to think of anything better.

They were in the world and not of it--not because they were saints, but in a different way: because they were artists. The integrity of an artist lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it.

Today the artist has inherited the combined functions of hermit, pilgrim, prophet, priest, shaman, sorcerer, soothsayer, alchemist.

We cannot avoid missing the point of almost everything we do. But what of it? Life is not a matter of getting something out of everything. Life itself is imperfect. All created beings begin to die as soon as they begin to live, and no one expects any one of them to become absolutely perfect, still less to stay that way. Each individual thing is only a sketch of the specific perfection planned for its kind. Why should we ask it to be anything more?

We live on the brink of disaster because we do not know how to let life alone. We do not respect the living and fruitful contradictions and paradoxes of which true life is full.

Wheels of fire, cosmic, rich, full-bodied honest victories over desperation.

You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right... The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important. In our age everything has to be a ‘problem.’ Ours is a time of anxiety because we have willed it to be so. Our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves. Sanctity in such an age means, no doubt, traveling from the area of anxiety to the area in which there is no anxiety or perhaps it may mean learning, from God, to be without anxiety in the midst of anxiety. Fundamentally, as Max Picard points out, it probably comes to this: living in a silence which so reconciles the contradictions within us that, although they remain within us, they cease to be a problem.

The great thing, and the only thing, is to adore and praise God.

The Lord did not create suffering. Pain and death came into the world with the fall of man. But after man had chosen suffering in preference to the joys of union with God, the Lord turned suffering itself into a way by which man could come to the perfect knowledge of God.

The purpose of education is to show us how to define ourselves authentically and spontaneously in relation to our world—not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of ourselves as individuals. The world is made up of the people who are fully alive in it: that is, of the people who can be themselves in it and can enter into a living and fruitful relationship with each other in it. The world is, therefore, more real in proportion as the people in it are able to be more fully and more humanly alive: that is to say, better able to make a lucid and conscious use of their freedom. Basically, this freedom must consist first of all in the capacity to choose their own lives, to find themselves on the deepest possible level. A superficial freedom to wander aimlessly here and there, to taste this or that, to make a choice of distractions … is simply a sham. It claims to be a freedom of choice when it has evaded the basic task of discovering who it is that chooses. It is not free because it is unwilling to face the risk of self-discovery. Freedom of choice is not, itself, the perfection of liberty. But it helps us take our first step toward freedom or slavery, spontaneity or compulsion. The free man is the one whose choices have given him the power to stand on his own feet and determine his own life according to the higher light and spirit that are in him. The slave, in the spiritual order, is the man whose choices have destroyed all spontaneity in him and have delivered him over, bound hand and foot, to his own compulsions, idiosyncrasies and illusions, so that he never does what he really wants to do, but only what he has to do.

The tighter you squeeze, the less you have.

There is a logic of language and a logic of mathematics. The former is supple and lifelike, it follows our experience. The latter is abstract and rigid, more ideal. The latter is perfectly necessary, perfectly reliable: the former is only sometimes reliable and hardly ever systematic. But the logic of mathematics achieves necessity at the expense of living truth, it is less real than the other, although more certain. It achieves certainty by a flight from the concrete into abstraction. Doubtless, to an idealist, this would seem to be a more perfect reality. I am not an idealist. The logic of the poet—that is, the logic of language or the experience itself—develops the way a living organism grows: it spreads out towards what it loves, and is heliotropic*, like a plant.(* turns toward the sun)

This act of total surrender is not merely a fantastic intellectual and mystical gamble; it is something much more serious. It is an act of love for this unseen person, who, in the very gift of love by which we surrender ourselves to his reality also makes his presence known to us.

Author Picture
First Name
Thomas
Last Name
Merton
Birth Date
1915
Death Date
1968
Bio

French-born Anglo-American Catholic Writer, Poet, Trappist Monk and Social Activist