Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Thomas Merton

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

"Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul."

"He who attempts to act and do things for others and for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give to others. He will communicate to them only the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, and his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas."

"If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for."

"Prayer and love are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone."

"The contemplative life has nothing to tell you except to reassure you and say that if you dare to penetrate your own silence and dare to advance without fear into the solitude of your own heart... you will truly recover the light and capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanation because it is too close to be explained."

"The more one seeks ‘the good’ outside oneself as something to be acquired, the more one is faced with the necessity of discussing, studying, understanding, analysing the nature of good. the more, therfore, one becomes involved in abstractions and in the confusion of divergent opinions. The more ‘the good’ is objectively analysed, the more it is treated as something to be attained by special virtuous techniques, the less real it becomes."

"There is no way under the sun of making a man worthy of love, except by loving him."

"To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name."

"We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us."

"What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous."

"A superficial freedom to wander aimlessly here or 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."

"Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war."

"Life is not a set of boundaries but a set of possibilities."

"Life is this simple: We are living in a transparent world and God shines through in every moment. This is not just a fable or a nice story, it is living truth. If we remember God, abandon ourselves to God, and forget ourselves, we may see this truth: God manifests everywhere, in everything. We cannot be without God. It's impossible. It's simply impossible."

"The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt."

"Violence is essentially wordless, and it can begin only where thought and rational communication have broken down."

"The least of the work of learning is done in the classrooms."

"The danger of education, I have found, is that it so easily confuses means with ends. Worse than that, it quite easily forgets both and devotes itself merely to the mass production of uneducated graduates - people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade which they and their contemporaries have conspired to call “life.”"

"“Liturgy” turns into “contemplation” as soon as our prayer ceases to be a search for God and turns into a celebration, by interior experience, of the fact that we have found Him."

"A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy… True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared."

"A holy person is one who is sanctified by the presence and action of God within him."

"Christian contemplation is not something esoteric and dangerous. It is simply the experience of god that is given to a soul purified by humility and faith."

"Contemplation is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life... It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source."

"Do not look for any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live."

"In order to find God, whom we can only find and through the depths of our own soul, we must therefore first find ourselves."

"Learning to live consists of learning what one has to offer the world and then learning how to make that offering."

"May God preserve me from the love of a friend who will never dare to rebuke me."

"May God prevent us from becoming “right-thinking” men – that is to say, men who agree perfectly with their own police."

"Music and art and poetry attune the soul to God because they induce a kind of contact with the Creator and Ruler of the Universe."

"My only task is to be what I am, a man seeking God in silence and solitude, with respect for the demands and realities of his own vocation, and fully aware that others too are seeking the truth in their own way."

"Power always protects the good of some at the expense of all the others."

"The danger of education, I have found, is that it so easily forgets both and devotes itself merely to the mass production of uneducated graduates - people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade which they and their contemporaries have conspired to call “life.”"

"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."

"The poet enters into himself in order to create; the contemplative enters into God in order to be created."

"The present world crisis... is a crisis of man’s spirit. It is a great religious and moral upheaval of the human race, and we do not really know half the causes of this upheaval."

"The saint… wants himself to be simply a window through which God’s mercy shines on the world. And for this he strives to be holy… in order that the goodness of God may never be obscured by any selfish act of his."

"The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness. But it does not matter much because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there."

"There is in all visible things… a hidden wholeness."

"There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God."

"To renounce life in disgust is not sacrifice."

"To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor."

"Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity."

"Truth, not in distinct and clear-cut definitions but in the limpid obscurity of a single intuition that unites all dogmas in one simple Light, shining into the soul directly from God’s eternity, without the medium of created concept, without the intervention of symbols or of language or the likeness of material things. Here the Truth is One Whom we not only know and possess but by Whom we are known and possessed. Here theology ceases to be a body of abstractions and becomes a Living Reality Who is God Himself."

"True happiness is not found in any other reward than that of being united with God."

"What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?"

"We are obliged to love one another. We are not strictly bound to 'like' one another. Love governs the will: 'liking' is a matter of sense and sensibility. Nevertheless, if we really love others it will not be too hard to like them also. If we wait for some people to become agreeable or attractive before we begin to love them, we will never begin. If we are content to give them a cold impersonal 'charity' that is merely a matter of obligation, we will not trouble to understand them or to sympathize with them at all. And in that case we will not really love them, because love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond. "

"When one has too many answers, and when on ejoins a chorus of others chanting the same slogans, there is, it seems to me, a danger that one is trying to evade the loneliness of a conscience that realizes itself to be in an inescapably evil situation. We are under judgment."

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

"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."