Thomas Merton: Selected Essays

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"A useful compendium for those already familiar with the breadth and depth of Merton’s vision, and a splendid introduction for those encountering Thomas Merton for the first time."—Brother Patrick Hart

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who died in 1968, was one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century. His published works include a hundred volumes in many genres. But it was perhaps in the essay that he found his natural element. Especially in the last decade of his life, Merton showed in his essays an increasing willingness to dispense with pre-fabricated conclusions, bringing his deeply spiritual, profoundly Catholic sensibility to bear on matters beyond the usual religious and monastic milieu.

This volume is the first to provide a broad cross-section of Merton's work as an essayist, collecting pieces that reflect characteristic examples of his astonishing output and the fantastic breadth of his interests. The 33 essays collected here range from interreligious dialogue to racial justice, from the wisdom of the desert fathers to the novels of Faulkner and Camus, from the nuclear threat to the philosophy of solitude, and throughout, the centrality of the Christian mystery to authentic human identity.

Patrick F. O'Connell is professor in the departments of English and theology at Gannon University, Erie, Pennsylvania. A founding member and former president of the International Thomas Merton Society, he edits The Merton Seasonal and is co-author of The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia (Orbis, 2006).

Book Details

Thomas Merton
Selected Essays
Patrick F. O'Connell
Patrick O'Connell, among all of the many who have written about Merton, is uniquely qualified to take a judicious collection culled from the late monk's vast corpus.... He puts [Merton's] essays into historical order thus giving the reader some sense both of the maturing quality of Merton's style as well as an overview of the wide interests of the monk as he grew from his earlier concerns into the prophetic writings of the last years of his life.
What makes this a standout collection is the value added by the editor, and very useful headnotes preceding each essay [which are] models of textual criticism, setting out the provenance of the essays and the versions and reprints of each.
For Merton friends new and old, this volume gives the reader a broad understanding of the important issues which engaged his heart and mind.
...shows the vast breadth and scope of M.'s output as an essayist, and he admirably proves his point. To introduce each one of the essays, the editor has provided excellent headnotes, all of which I found informative and helpful.
The collection is a must-read for a student of the Merton canon, and a most welcome pedagogical aid to offer yet another generation of young scholars a profoundly illuminating experience of what goes on in the mind of a spiritual master - for the life of the world.
"A volume such as this offers both the new reader and the old hand much of interest and much that is thought-provoking."
" . . . this volume is a delight."
". . . clearly reveals both Merton's pervasive interest in contemplative life and how that life implies engagement in the world."
" . . . excellent. . . a valuable selection which also demonstrates that its seasoned editor has chosen the best essays so ordinary readers can understand Merton's diversity and impressive development as Catholic and as contemplative prophet."
"An expert on Merton, O'Connell (English and theology, Gannon U., Eire, PA) selects 33 essays, each of which is introduced briefly by the editor. Included are essays about a Christian perspective on Zen, religion and race, and the three authors who particularly resonated for Merton: Camus, Faulkner, and Pasternak. The late Thomas Merton, a religious writer, converted to Roman Catholicism and then became a Trappist monk and a priest. With his selection process, the editor wishes to display the diversity of Merton's interests and concerns, and to give the reader a comprehensive and representative anthology that reflects both the depth and breadth of Merton the essayist, whose range was from the personal to the critical and expository. The book is divided into two periods: 1947-58, and 1958-68. O'Connell targets those just discovering Merton and the experts. There is an appendix (a chronology of his essays), and bibliography."
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