Thomas Merton

Thomas
Merton
1915
1968

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

Author Quotes

A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.

Anyone who regards love as a deal made on the basis of “needs” is in danger of falling into a purely quantitative ethic. If love is a deal, then who is to say that you should not make as many deals as possible?

But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!

A man who is not at peace with himself necessarily projects his interior fighting into the society of those he lives with, and spreads a contagion of conflict all around him. Even when he tries to do good to others his efforts are hopeless, since he does not know how to do good to himself. In moments of wildest idealism he may take it into his head to make other people happy: and in doing so he will overwhelm them with his own unhappiness. He seeks to find himself somehow in the work of making others happy. Therefore he throws himself into the work. As a result he gets out of the work all that he put into it: his own confusion, his own disintegration, his own unhappiness.

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God's love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.

A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

Art is not an end in itself. It introduces the soul into a higher spiritual order, which it expresses and in some sense explains.

But there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question.

A monk is a man who has given up everything in order to possess everything. He is one who has abandoned desire in order to achieve the highest fulfillment of all desire. He has renounced his liberty in order to become free. He goes to war because he has found a kind of war that is peace.

Ask me not where I live or what I like to eat . . . Ask me what I am living for and what I think is keeping me from living fully that.

But to love another as a person we must begin by granting him his own autonomy and identity as a person. We have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us. We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him. And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love which ‘transforms’ us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things a he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own. Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible. But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation ‘into the other’ while remaining ourselves, we are not yet capable of a fully human existence.

A purely mental life may be destructive if it leads us to substitute thought for life and ideas for actions. The activity proper to man is purely mental because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.

By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.

A superficial freedom to wander aimlessly here and there, to taste this or that, to make a choice of distractions (in Pascal's sense) 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.

Attachment to spiritual things is . . . just as much an attachment as inordinate love of anything else.

Churches and cities are the most wonderful solitudes.

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.

Bad book about the love of God remains a bad book.

Community is not built by man, it is built by God. It is God’s work and the basis of community is not just sociability but faith. This is what we need to see very clearly, because it is very important. … what really starts fighting is possessions. And people get into fights by preferring things to people. This is well developed in theology, and therefore, for us, the importance of detachment from things, the importance of poverty, is that we are supposed to be free from things we might prefer to people. You can extend that to any limits you like – wherever things become more important than people we are in trouble. That is the crux of the whole matter. Figure it out for yourself!

I send Love's name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.
Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes
Your Spirit played in Eden.
Zebras and antelopes and birds of paradise
Shine on the face of the abyss
And I am drunk with the great wilderness
Of the sixth day in Genesis.

But sound is never half so fair
As when that music turns to air
And the universe dies of excellence.

Sun, moon and stars
Fall from their heavenly towers.
Joys walk no longer down the blue world's shore.

Though fires loiter, lights still fly on the air of the gulf,
All fear another wind, another thunder:
Then one more voice
Snuffs all their flares in one gust.

And I go forth with no more wine and no more stars
And no more buds and no more Eden
And no more animals and no more sea:

While God sings by himself in acres of night
And walls fall down, that guarded Paradise.

Without our knowing it, we see reality through glasses colored by the subconscious memory of previous experiences.

The law of our life can be summed up in the axiom “be what you are.”

The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls.

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