Thursday, February 28, 2008

Reading Scripture

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. Thomas Merton

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Giving Glory To God

"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.
The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give him less glory.
For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self. Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please."
Thomas Merton

Monday, February 25, 2008


Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More or Less

The tighter you squeeze, the less you have.
Thomas Merton

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vladimir Soloviev

Vladimir Sergeyevich Soloview was born on January 16, 1853 in Moscow and was a Russian Philosopher and Mystic. My interest in him began many years ago after I had been reading about Sophia, which some mystics claim is Divine Wisdom or Wisdom personified. Divine Wisdom is mentioned in the books of Proverbs and Sirach among others. It should be noted that interest in Sophia is widespread but in some circles not without error. When one goes to a bookstore and finds in the Metaphysical section, books on Sophia most often it is not the pure mystical Sophia of Soloviev, but a New Age Feminist style built upon Gnostic principles. I have bought a few books over the years that are misleading and New Age. This is not the Sophia that I write about. I find Soloviev interesting because he is very articulate in defining who he considers her to be. He had three visions of Sophia. The first when he was nine years old. He wrote a beautiful poem on these mystic encounters called, "Three Meetings."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The REAL Tragedy of Thomas Merton-Part One

Here is a rebuttal to the spurious claims of Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand on her audio lecture entitled "The Tragedy of Thomas Merton." I have decided to do this because her lecture is filled with inaccuracies that would make any researcher, scholar and seeker of truth and goodness blush with shame. I have labeled my rebuttal "The REAL Tragedy of Thomas Merton" because her writing reflects on Merton and therefore she is his "REAL Tragedy!"
If you would care to verify my writing and compare it to Von Hildebrands Lecture, I have provided page numbers from Merton's Book, "The Seven Storey Mountain" and a way to find her remarks through minutes and seconds of her talk. This way you can hear what she actually said and you can see how inaccurate she was during this "lecture." You can download her talk from for $1, which to my mind is highly overpriced. The edition of the book that I am using is , "The Seven Story Mountain" the Fiftieth Anniversay Edition - A Harvest Book - Harcourt Brace and Company - copyright 1948. I will also be using the book "The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton" by Michael Mott - Copyright 1984.
Dr. Von Hildebrand made very many errors regarding her version of Merton's life which can be verified easily by reading the books above and listening to her lecture. Please keep in mind that if it were not for Thomas Merton's openness and candor in his writings all of this would be moot.

I will do this in chronological order from the lecture.
3:54 Von Hildebrand says, "And already we notice a trait in him which is going to remain apparent during his whole life. His tremendous difficulty of putting up with defeat or humiliations."
My only comment on the above is that she is talking about a young man - Merton. If we look at the definition of humiliations we see that it is to "make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, esp. publicly : you'll humiliate me in front of the whole school! | [as adj. ] ( humiliating) a humiliating election defeat."(New Oxford American Dictionary)
I do not think that I have met one person in my life who enjoys humiliations! Does Dr. Von Hildebrand? I frankly do not see the relevance of this as a possible problem in the character of Thomas Merton.

Then there is her total misreading and misunderstanding of the incident when Merton was a young student in the Oakham school in England. The description below casts a great shadow of doubt on Von Hildebrand's sincerity and scholarship.

5:10 Von Hildebrand says, "And in the Seven Storey Mountain he has one sentence which I am going to quote because it's particularly striking and remarkable, in which he criticizes the thought of religious training that he received as a child." And now she quotes Merton. "Christ had been scourged and beaten by soldiers in order that we might become gentlemen." This is amazing. She says "he has one sentence which I am going to quote," yet she does NOT quote him. What she says in this portion of the lecture defies any semblance of honesty which as a Christian you would have thought Dr. Hildebrand would strive for. This part of the book is of course a reflection of Merton when he is older, and it is the height of sloppy research to not inform her audience that she did NOT quote Merton accurately or in its entirety! Here is the quote the way it is actually written in "The Seven Storey Mountain" and you will see how Von Hildebrand takes what is a wonderful spiritual insight of Merton's and twists it in such a way that for her becomes an indictment of his immaturity. This is found on page 81-82 of SSM and was written to explain the inaccuracy of the school chaplain Buggy Jerwood's exegesis of 1 Cor 13. Jerwood substitutes the word gentleman for love and so Merton rightly continues his logic to its rightful conclusion.
"The boys listened tolerantly to these thoughts. But I think St. Peter and the twelve Apostles would have been rather surprised at the concept that Christ had been scourged and beaten by soldiers, cursed and crowned with thorns and subjected to unutterable contempt and finally nailed to the Cross and left to bleed to death in order that we might become gentlemen." So you can see that Dr. Von Hildebrand goes out of her way by misquoting Merton and then tries to say that Merton agreed with the statement! It was exactly the OPPOSITE! How can someone claim that they are quoting someone and then NOT quote them. How absurd!!!

15:45 Von Hildebrand talks about Merton's impulsivity. And this is partially true. Merton did appear to act impulsively at times. Of course this would mean that the element of space and time is fully developed in his Journals. In other words, he writes that he heard of something, then goes and explores it. This of course does not at all levels take into account personal reading on the subject, nor the element of time that may have elapsed. Sometimes it does appear chronologically, other times it is much more ambiguous. She complains that Merton got it into his head that he wanted to become a Catholic and in 6 weeks did become one. This of course leaves out much detail. There was time for reflection as he read the works of Gilson, Maritain and many others and of course he writes often about his thoughts and prayers regarding this. He did not come to the conclusion of being a Catholic overnight. Also, it does not say much about the priest of Corpus Christi who instructed him and baptized him. Yes, it did occur over a period of 6 weeks. Does Von Hildebrand think that Father Ford just allowed him to be Catholic as impulsively as Von Hildebrand thinks that Merton made this request? I think that Father Ford surely would have questioned him, found out what he was reading, asked about his prayer life and certainly got to know him during his course of study. Father Ford then came to the conclusion that Merton was ready for entrance into the faith - or he would not have allowed it! See pages 226+ of SSM. What right does Von Hildebrand have in asserting Merton's spiritual maturity as being somehow inadequate!

16:26 "You start saying to yourself - 6 weeks of instruction given to someone who knows NOTHING of the faith, was a risky business."
It is not true that Merton knew nothing of the faith. If you read the above section of the book you will see that he was doing much reading, praying and speaking to others about the fait, so it is untrue that Merton knew nothing of the faith! Think of what she is saying here, and then think of the missionaries since the time of the Apostles. Think of going into Greece or pagan Rome. These people were sometimes converted on the spot. The faith was explained to them, and then they were baptized. I think that you'll agree that Merton knew far more then a pagan in second century Rome. How about this passage from Chapter 2 of Acts, "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

16:38 "Because he was pressing and because he was anxious to become a Catholic, well the priest gave in and after 6 weeks he was baptized and entered the church" about assumptions. I would love to ask Dr. Von Hildebrand how she knows this. If she cannot back it up with a quote or some other manifestation of fact, she should admit that it is only her opinion and stop talking so dogmatically about something that she couldn't possibly know. Time and time again, she makes Merton out to be a regular bully who is up against people who just can't say no to him. This may be true in Von Hildebrand's mind, but I doubt its validity in the real world.

20:00 "And then he met the Baroness De Hueck, this Dutch woman who had opened a house for black people in Harlem."
This kind of statement makes it sound like Dr. Von Hildebrand was either not very careful in her research or perhaps didn't really even read the "Seven Storey Mountain." Perhaps she was impulsive about writing her lecture - or maybe she thought that it would make her famous.
It says on page 375 - "The Baroness was born a Russian. She had been a young girl at the time of the October Revolution. She had seen half her family shot, she had seen priests fall under the bullets of the Reds...." The Baroness was Russian - not Dutch.

21:29 "As a matter of fact surprisingly Danny Walsh this nice, friendly, shy, little man, had said to him, and to my mind rather unwisely, "Thomas, when I first met you I became convinced that you had a religious vocation.""
Let's see who was right about this. Dr. Von Hildebrand is convinced that Merton should not have even been baptized much less admit to having a religious vocation. Yet, Dan Walsh, a man very spiritually mature, a Thomist scholar who knew Merton well said that he saw in him this vocation. And let's not forget that Merton was a Trappist Monk for 27 years before his death. So....who was right?!

21:55 "And he went there and made an application and was temporarily accepted as a possible candidate to entering the Capuchin order."
Another example of very careless research. On page 324+ Merton writes about his conversation and possible candidacy, but it was not with the Capuchin order. Merton wanted to be a Franciscan. It is true that the Capuchins are an offshoot of the Franciscans, but they are 2 different orders. Von Hildebrands confusion comes into play because after Merton left Father Edmund, a Franciscan, he went over to Seventh Avenue to the Church of the Capuchins. All I can say is that if Von Hildebrand was one of my graduate students and handed in her lecture as a thesis, I would have to fail her due to all these inaccuracies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The REAL Tragedy of Thomas Merton-Part Two

37:00 Here, Dr. Von Hildebrand begins to quote the eminent psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Zilboorg who basically tore Merton to shreds, not in a loving nurturing way as most would do as a mental health professional, but as a personal attack. Some of the many things Dr. Zilboorg said were:
"You like to be famous, you want to be a big shot, you keep pushing your way out - into publicity - meglomania and narcissism are your big trends."
"Your hermit trend is pathological."
"You want a hermitage in Times Square with a large sign over it saying 'HERMIT.' many psychiatric sessions did Merton and Zilboorg have that allowed Zilboorg to come to these conclusions? None. According to Mott, "In New York, Zilboorg said he already analyzed Merton from his published writings. He felt confident he knew what the trouble was" (p. 291-292). You see, Merton was interested in psychoanalysis and was involved in the writing of a paper called "Neurosis in the Monastic Life." Dr. Zilboorg was not impressed with the paper and clearly expressed his agenda. Could he possibly have decided in advance to tear down a potential rival? After all, Zilboorg was just gaining popularity at the time, but Merton had an international reputation and would be read more quickly then Zilboorg. Mott says, "The psychologist was certainly out to quash the publication of "Neurosis in the Monastic Life." "....there was a good deal of the rival writer in Zilboorg's attitude" (Mott 291). From the book "Frightful Stages:From the Primitive to the Therapeutic" article by Alexander Smith called "Burnt Offereings to Prometheus: The Consultation Meetings Between Thomas Merton and Gregory Zilboorg." page 45 "At the very least, Zilboorg appears to have been disturbed by Merton's interest in the eremitical life, perhaps even envious of Merton's blend of monastic life and reputation as a writer and monk." "At the very least Zilboorg presumed to enter into a relationship to which Merton had not fully agreed nor about which he was fully informed. Zilboorg appears to have been a victim of his own grandiosity in that he communicated a highly patronizing and "infallible" presence to the conditions of the consultation." (Smith 50). According to Michael Mott, "There is plenty of evidence that Gregory Zilboorg was in no state of objectivity when he went to St. John's" (to meet Merton). "His first concern was to deal with somebody he regarded as a dangerous quack." p. 291-292. Imagine anyone thinking that they can psychoanalyze someone only through their writings! This is appalling and most bizarre. By reading someone's words you might gain some insights and map out a potential psychoanalytic strategy, but it is most necessary to meet the person, and most of all to wait until that time to draw apparently irreversible conclusions!! Even the publisher Robert Giroux "was concerned that Zilboorg seemed to have some preconceptions about Merton even before the meeting at St. John's" (p. 291). Zilboorg also did a few things that were highly unorthodox and very unprofessional. He spoke to others about Merton in a professional way before even meeting him, stating psychologically what he thought Merton's problems were. And at their second meeting, he began to slice and dice Merton in front of his Abbott! Alexander Smith writes, "He then goes a step further and devalues and humiliates Merton. We do not know his internal reasons for doing so, but it does seem quite plausible that Zilboorg was defending himself against admiration and/or envy. Zilboorg appears over-taken by his own aggression, overwhelmed, having lost his capacity for objectivity and professional distance. Instead he created a dominant/submissive relational tone which later shut down Merton to future contacts" (Smith 51) I know of no one in this world who would take too kindly to a well known psychiatrist expounding on what he considers your faults in front of your superiors. A first year psychology student would have that insight. That is where Merton lost it. Maybe it was a bit of immaturity, but perhaps it was a completely honest reaction to a most bizarre situation. Dr. Von Hildebrand describes this moment as one it which Merton “throws a tantrum and cries like a baby.” I suppose if she would like to see this as a “tantrum,” that is her business. He did lose his composure, and was embarrassed that his psychological state was being broadcast to another person in his presence. This does not sound like a "tantrum" to me, but of course Von Hildebrand appears to be looking for any kind of ammunition to have Merton emasculated. She enjoys using words that you would use with a child to convey her view of Merton's vulnerability. Her ability to empathize leaves much to be desired. Now that she has established that Merton "cried like a baby," it is very interesting to me that she ignores what Merton says about Zilboorg after the initial shock of Merton's "humiliations." If Merton were truly "humiliated" by Zilboorg, what are the chances that he would expound on the greatness of Zilboorg? You see, Merton was deeply affected by Zilboorg's and his crass analysis. But after the first meeting with Zilboorg, Merton writes, "As for my own peronal problems - clearly Zilboorg is the first one who has really shown conclusively that he knows exactly what is cooking....." (Mott 296). So, Merton allows Zilboorgs
words to filter through as it were and make them his own. Hardly someone who is trying to ignore Zilboorgs insights. How about Merton's reaction after the second interview where he was humiliated again by Zilboorg. Mott writes "Merton continues to express admiration for Zilboorg to others" (298).

40:46 "And had become a close friend of the psychoanalyst who had given him the keys to his office. And one day he made a rendezvous with a young girl in his office when the psychoanalyst was on call and he broke his vow of chastity."
There have been many allegations regarding this event and I'm not saying that Merton did not break his vow of chastity. I don't know, and unless Von Hildebrand comes up with incontrovertible evidence, I would think that as a Christian she would err on the side of caution. But Von Hildebrand never uses words of qualification in her lecture, but dogmatically states what she believes to be true, whether it is true or not. Here is the account as stated by Mott on page 444. After Wygal (Merton's psychiatrist) found out that Merton used his office to meet the young nurse, he rightly was upset. "This time there were no evasions or half-statements. Merton wrote an account on Sunday which made it quite clear he was in trouble with his vow, and he confirms this later. On Saturday, returning to Gethsemani, he went to find his confessor." Now, what is the definition of chastity: Chastity - the state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or esp. from all, sexual intercourse : vows of chastity. Once again, I'm NOT saying that Merton did not break his vow, but the words used by him and by others betray an absolute ruling on this. As he says above "made it quite clear he was in trouble with his vow." There is a big difference in saying "in trouble with his vow," and "broke his vow." Afterwards, Merton said of the situation that is was getting "potentially out of hand." Breaking your vow of Chastity is not "potentially out of hand," it IS out of hand. So, I'm not sure, perhaps he broke his vow, perhaps he came close. Either way to my mind, Merton flirted with absolute disaster! If anyone has concrete evidence that sexual intercourse took place with the young nurse I will stand corrected. Now, let's continue this with the assumption and the possiblity that he DID have sexual intercourse with the young lady. What was it that he immediately did? He confessed it! Yes, that power that was given to the apostles which confer on them and their successors the ability to forgive sins. If the confession was a valid one, and if Merton was truly repentant and contrite then he was forgiven. If God forgave him for the possibility of this very grave mortal sin, maybe we should try and do the same. My problem with Von Hildebrand is that she almost sounds ecstatic that this may have occurred and almost glows with delight that she could now consider him a sinner.

47:24 "And one very fine day, he just decided he had to go to the Orient truly get a sort of first hand idea of what Oriental spirituality was like. And he insisted and insisted until finally his Abbott gave him permission to travel."
Once again, Von Hildebrand wants to make it sound like it was an impetuous thing that Merton woke up one morning and decided to go to the Orient. As she herself states he had been interested in Oriental mysticism since his young adulthood. Also, Merton was well versed in the writings of the Orient and hardly needed to go there to "get a sort of first hand idea of what Oriental spirituality was like." He had been authoring books and was in contact with many mystics from the East. Von Hildebrand continually uses this same line of reasoning....that Merton insists and insists until he gets what he wants. This is of course partly can read this in many places in his journals. How do we know this? We know this because Merton is always brutally honest, and one can’t help but wonder what would be known about most people who spent as much time as Merton baring his soul in print? What would Dr. Von Hildebrand’s brutally honest journal say about her. And then, put that on bookshelves all over the world. Now, my problem with this is that does Von Hildebrand have any respect for Merton's superiors? If I were the Abbott and thought that something was wrong for one of my monks to do, he could ask a million times and the answer would be no. So, if Merton came to me as Abbott and I knew that going to the Orient would be a problem for Merton’s soul...the answer would be a firm no - everytime he asked. Even if Merton did pester his Abbott, is Von Hildebrand insinuating that the Abbott was so immature and spineless that he could not say no to Merton. I highly doubt it. Therefore Von Hildebrand is suggesting that Father Ford was wrong, the Abbot that accepted Merton as a novice was wrong, the Abbott that couldn't say no to Merton was wrong, Danny Walsh was wrong, the thousands of people who Merton has influenced are wrong.....but she is right.

53:11 "He became a teacher. He became so famous that hundreds of people came to him for advice, and all of a sudden he saw that he was capable of given spiritual advice not realizing that you can only give spiritual guidance when you yourself have worked on your own perfection."
I wish I knew what Von Hildebrand thinks is happening each and every day. People teach others. For them to wait for perfection first, would mean that no one would ever be a teacher and no one would dare to advise another for fear that he was "not perfect yet." Von Hildebrand is instructing us through this lecture. Is she the only one who is perfect enough to do this?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Goethe said of mysticism about its relationship to poetry and philosophy in the following quote.
"Poetry points to the riddles of nature and tries to solve them by means of the image. Philosophy directs itself to the riddles of reason, and attempts of solve them by means of the word. Mysticism considers the riddles of both nature and reason, and seeks to solve them through both word and image."
Johann Geothe

Monday, February 18, 2008

Man and Nature

"Separated from man, the world of nature lies dead; all apparent order dissolves into chaos. The plant has no enjoyment, the flowers cannot experience their beauty. Without man, even the diamond lies valueless in the earth. Everything in creation is united in the human being - in him alone can the wisdom, beauty, order of nature stand revealed, for man is the epitome of all creatures."
Vladimir Soloviev

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The First Meeting

Here is a description in a biography of Soloviev by Paul Allen of what occurred when he was 9 years old. It was Ascension day, May 1862.
"Young Vladimir is enraptured by the beauty and the solemnity of the Event taking place before him. A mystical devotion engulfs him like a mighty wave, sweeping away all traces of jealousy. Crossing himself, the boy is absorbed by the divine Drama....
Suddenly it is as if the walls, the ceiling of the church, have vanished; the Priest has disappeared, the Deacon also, and with them the Choir, the congregation....Vladimir is alone beneath the vault of heaven; an azure veil surrounds him, streams of golden radiance weaving through and through it. And in the radiance, penetrating into the very center of the boy's soul, stands a Figure, bearing a heavenly flower in her hands. Gently she smiles upon him, her gaze bathing him in an infinitely soothing tenderness. Then, as quietly, as mysteriously as she appeared, she slowly fades from his sight...