(If you’re in a hurry, just skip the story of Thomas Merton's life, and scroll down to Thomas Merton Quotes.)
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) U.S. Trappist monk, poet, author, social activist and pioneer of interfaith understanding
I find Thomas Merton’s story inspiring. He was a regular guy who followed his higher calling. And when he became a man of the cloth, he never lost touch with the realities of the world.
Thomas was born on January 31, 1915 in Prades, France. His New Zealander father, Owen Merton, and his American mother, Ruth Jenkins, a Quaker, were both artists who met at painting school in Paris. As his father desired, Thomas was baptized in the Church of England.
In his unsettled childhood and youth, Thomas lived in the U.S., Bermuda, France and England. Not quite three years after giving birth to her second son, Thomas’s mother died of stomach cancer when he was just 6. Then his father died of a brain tumour when Thomas was 16.
During a trip to Europe by himself at 18, Merton felt drawn to Rome's magnificent Byzantine churches. He also visited a Trappist monastery.
On a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, Merton studied French and Italian, and, by some reports, spent too much money and over-indulged in sex and alcohol. (As I said, a regular guy!) In 1934 he left Cambridge and returned to the U.S., where he entered Manhattan’s Columbia University in 1935.
Merton joined a student picket to protest Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. He also joined the local peace movement, in accord with "the Oxford Pledge" to not support any government in any war.
As well as studying, and being editor of the 1937 Yearbook and art editor of the Columbia Jester, Merton read about Catholicism and mysticism at Columbia. In January 1938 he graduated with a B.A. in English. By now he was also experimenting with prayer and began attending Catholic Mass. In November that year, Merton officially converted to Roman Catholicism.
In 1939, Merton received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. He decided to go for a Ph.D. there. But one night, when Merton invited friends back to sleep at his place in Greenwich Village after a long night at a jazz club, over breakfast, he revealed the calling he felt to become a priest.
Denied entry to New York’s monastery of St. Francis of Assisi when he was honest about his past, Merton needed a job. He got a post teaching English at the Franciscan St. Bonaventure University, a private Catholic university. He became highly selective in his reading, reduced his alcohol drinking to very little, quit cigarettes and stopped going to movies. And he went deeper and deeper into prayer.
On December 10, 1941, 26-year-old Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in rural Kentucky. (Trappists are the most contemplative and ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.)
Gethsemani and Beyond
Merton’s experience at Gethsemani, where he did become a priest, brought about profound changes in his self-understanding.
Fortunately (for everyone), the Abbot recognized and encouraged Merton’s talent for writing. Merton applied himself to writing with the same ardent fervour he’d previously directed to farm work. The young monk who started out passionately inward-looking, developed into a contemplative writer and poet who brought strong spirituality to his essays, reviews and more than 70 books.
Merton became known as the conscience of the 1960s peace movement. Recognizing race and peace as the two most urgent issues of the time, he strongly supported the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." He also brought his intensity to bear on the proliferation of nuclear arms.
His social activism brought Merton severe criticism, from both Catholics and non-Catholics, who called his political writings unbecoming of a monk.
Merton studied Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism throughout his adult life. He was deeply interested in the Eastern mystic view of life and the human experience, which he felt Christianity had lost for the most part.
After several meetings with Merton during his trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dalai Lama praised Merton’s understanding of Buddhism as more profound than any Christian he knew. In Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Merton had a spiritual awakening while contemplating enormous statues of Gautama Buddha.
In Bangkok, Thailand, during this trip (where he attended and spoke at an international conference on Christian and Buddhist monasticism) Merton stepped out of his bath and touched a poorly grounded electric fan. He was electrocuted. The fatal accident happened on December 10, 1968—exactly 27 years to the day after he entered Gethsemani, where his body now lies.
THOMAS MERTON QUOTES
Thomas Merton Quotes on the Arts
- Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
- 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.
Thomas Merton Quotes on Buddhism
- Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. (On contemplating statues of Gautama Buddha)
Very Long Thomas Merton Quotes on Buddhism
- I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika,* of sunyata,** that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything—without refutation—without establishing some other argument. (* the middle way; ** the impermanent nature of form)
- The thing about this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no "mystery." All problems are resolved and everything is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya*… everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely with Mahabalipuram** and Polonnaruwa** my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise. (* the eternal nature of life; ** ancient towns in India and Sri Lanka, respectively)
Thomas Merton Quotes on Business
- Advertising treats all products with the reverence and the seriousness due to sacraments.
- Businesses, are, in reality, quasi-religious sects. When you go to work in one, you embrace A New Faith. And if they are really big businesses, you progress from faith to a kind of mystique. Belief in the product, preaching the product, in the end the product becomes the focus of a transcendental experience. Through “the product” one communes with the vast forces of life, nature, and history that are expressed in business.
Short Thomas Merton Quote on Christianity
- All Christian life is meant to be at the same time profoundly contemplative and rich in active work.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes on Christianity
- It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives. In doing this, we act as co-workers with God. We take our place in the great work of mankind, since in effect the creation of our own destiny, in God, is impossible in pure isolation.
- Each one of us works out his own destiny in inseparable union with all those others with whom God has willed us to live. We share with one another the creative work of living in the world. And it is through our struggle with material reality, with nature, that we help one another create at the same time our own destiny and a new world for our descendants.
- An ethic of barely disguised selfishness is no longer a Christian ethic. Nor can we afford to raise this to the national level and assume that the world will adjust itself if every nation seeks its own advantage before everything else. On the contrary, we are obliged to widen our horizons and to recognize our responsibility to build an international community in which the right of all nations and other groups will be respected and guaranteed.
- We have to recognize that a spirit of individualism and confusion has reduced us to an ethic of “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.” This ethic, unfortunately sometimes consecrated by Christian formulas, is nothing but the secular ethic of the affluent society, based on the false assumption that if everyone is bent on making money for himself the common good will automatically follow, due to the operation of economic laws.
- Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quotes on Christianity
- What is the place of the Christian in all this? Is he simply to fold his hands and resign himself to the worst, accepting it as the inescapable will of God and preparing himself to enter heaven with a sigh of relief? Should he open up the apocalypse and run out into the street to give everyone his idea of what is happening? Or worse still, should he take a hard-headed and "practical" attitude about it and join in the madness of the warmakers, calculating how by a "first strike," the glorious Christian West can eliminate atheistic communism for all time and usher in the millennium? … I am no prophet and no seer but it seems to me that this last position may very well be the most diabolical of illusions, the great and not even subtle temptation of a Christianity that has grown rich and comfortable, and is satisfied with its riches. What are we to do? The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, hope in Christ, and love for God and man, to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for total abolition of war.
- It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is, and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action. To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as an other self, we resort to the impersonal "law" and to abstract "nature." That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, it demands. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused. To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights and his integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as similarly accused along with him... and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved. Then, instead of pushing him down, trying to climb out by using his head as a stepping-stone for ourselves, we help ourselves to rise by helping him to rise. For when we extend our hand to the enemy who is sinking in the abyss, God reaches out to both of us, for it is He first of all who extends our hand to the enemy. It is He who "saves himself" in the enemy, who makes use of us to recover the lost groat which is His image in our enemy.
Thomas Merton Quote about Compassion
- The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
Thomas Merton Quotes on Destiny
- Gratitude and confidence and freedom from ourselves: these are signs that we have found our vocation and are living up to it even though everything else may seem to have gone wrong. They give us peace in any suffering. They teach us to laugh at despair.
- Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on Education
- The least of learning is done in the classrooms.
- If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.
Longer Thomas Merton Quotes on Education
- If a university concentrates on producing successful people, it is lamentably failing in its obligation to society and to the students themselves.
- 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.
Long Thomas Merton Quote on Education
- 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.”
Thomas Merton Quotes on Evil
- The moral evil in the world is due to man’s alienation from the deepest truth, from the springs of spiritual life within himself.
- There are crimes that no one would commit as an individual which he willingly and bravely commits when acting in the name of his society, because he has been (too easily) convinced that evil is entirely different when it is done “for the common good.” As an example, one might point to the way in which racial hatreds and even persecution are admitted by people who consider themselves, and perhaps in some sense are, kind, tolerant, civilized and even humane. But they have acquired a special deformity of conscience as a result of their identification with their group, their immersion in their particular society.
Thomas Merton Quote about Faith
- One might compare the journey of the soul to mystical union, by way of pure faith, to the journey of a car on a dark highway. The only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights. So in the mystical life, reason has its function. The way of faith is necessarily obscure. We drive by night. Nevertheless our reason penetrates the darkness enough to show us a little of the road ahead. It is by the light of reason that we interpret the signposts and make out the landmarks along our way.
Thomas Merton Quote about Fantasy
- Is there any man who has ever gone through a whole lifetime without dressing himself up, in his fancy, in the habit of a monk and enclosing himself in a cell where he sits magnificent in heroic austerity and solitude, while all the young ladies who hitherto were cool to his affections in the world come and beat on the gates of the monastery crying, "Come out, come out!"
Thomas Merton Quote about Fear
- Fear narrows the little entrance of our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves.
Thomas Merton Quote about Freedom
- 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.
- 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.
Thomas Merton Quote about Friendship
- 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.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on God
- God is encountered in the nakedness of pure trust.
- Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about 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.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quote on God
- My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton Quote about Heaven
- The gate of heaven is everywhere.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes about Himself
Check out this video reading of A Thomas Merton poem about his life at the monastery. (It's not Merton's voice.)
- The very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me.
- In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear.
Longer Thomas Merton Quotes about Himself
- 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.
- If what most people take for granted were really true—if all you needed to be happy was to grab everything and see everything and investigate every experience and then talk about it, I should have been a very happy person, a spiritual millionaire, from the cradle even until now.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes about Himself
- It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of and protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole human race and the world with it. By my monastic life and vows I am saying NO to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socioeconomic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favour of peace.
- My own personal task is not simply that of poet and writer (still less commentator, pseudo-prophet); it is basically to praise God out of an inner centre of silence, gratitude, and “awareness.” This can be realized in a life that apparently accomplishes nothing. Without centring on accomplishment or non-accomplishment, my task is simply the breathing of this gratitude from day to day, in simplicity, and for the rest turning my hand to whatever comes, work being part of praise, whether splitting logs or writing poems, or best of all simple notes.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on being Human
- The biggest human temptation is… to settle for too little.
- If I insist on giving you my truth, and never stop to receive your truth in return, then there can be no truth between us.
Longer Thomas Merton Quotes on being Human
- The fact that our being necessarily demands to be expressed in action should not lead us to believe that as soon as we stop acting we cease to exist.
- 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.
- We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes on being Human
- It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race.
- There is in us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for a liberation of creative power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force that really changes our lives from within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves.
- People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centred on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world. They try to become real by imposing themselves on other people, by appropriating for themselves some share of the limited supply of created goods and thus emphasizing the difference between themselves and the other men who have less than they, or nothing at all.
- We must begin by frankly admitting that the first place in which to go looking for the world is not outside us but in ourselves. We are the world. In the deepest ground of our being we remain in metaphysical contact with the whole of that creation in which we are only small parts. Through our senses and our minds, our loves, needs, and desires, we are implicated, without possibility of evasion, in this world of matter and of men, of things and of persons, which not only affect us and change our lives but are also affected and changed by us.
- 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.
- We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us—whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need. Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the “one thing necessary” may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quote on being Human
- Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labours is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time.
Thomas Merton Quotes on Humility
- Humility is the surest sign of strength.
- Humility contains in itself the answer to all the great problems of the life of the soul. It is the only key to faith, with which the spiritual life begins: for faith and humility are inseparable.
- It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of true humility and its power in the spiritual life. For the beginning of humility is the beginning of blessedness and the consummation of humility is the perfection of all joy.
- A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection, because he is no longer concerned about incidentals like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on Life
- Life is not a matter of getting something out of everything.
- Wherever things become more important than people we are in trouble.
- Your life is shaped by the ends you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.
- Every moment and every event of every man's life on Earth plants something in his soul.
Longer Thomas Merton Quotes on Life
- Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought, in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.
- 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.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes on Life
- We do not live merely in order to “do something”—no matter what. Activity is just one of the normal expressions of life, and the life it expresses is all the more perfect when it sustains itself with an ordered economy of action. This order demands a wise alternation of activity and rest.
- We do not live more fully merely by doing more, seeing more, tasting more, and experiencing more than we ever have before. On the contrary, some of us need to discover that we will not begin to live more fully until we have the courage to do and see and taste and experience much less than usual.
- Life consists in learning to live on one’s own, spontaneous, freewheeling: to do this one must recognize what is one’s own—be familiar and at home with oneself. This means basically learning who one is, and learning what one has to offer to the contemporary world, and then learning how to make that offering valid.
- If every society were ideal, then every society would help its members only to a fruitful and productive self-transcendence. But in fact societies tend to lift a man above himself only far enough to make him a useful and submissive instrument in whom the aspirations, lusts and needs of the group can function unhindered by too delicate a personal conscience.
- Our real journey in life is interior; It is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary to respond to that action.
- 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.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quote on Life
- Let us frankly face the fact that our culture is one which is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. We live in a state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: we are not quite “thinking,” not entirely responding, but we are more or less there. We are not fully present and not entirely absent; not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available. It cannot be said that we are really participating in anything and we may, in fact, be half conscious of our alienation and resentment. Yet we derive a certain comfort from the vague sense that we are “part of” something—although we are not quite able to define what that something is—and probably wouldn’t want to define it even if we could. We just float along in the general noise. Resigned and indifferent, we share semiconsciously in the mindless mind of Muzak and radio commercials which passes for “reality.”
Thomas Merton Quote about Logic
- 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)
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on Love
- We are creatures of Love.
- Concentrate on the love that is in you, that is in us all.
- Love is the revelation of our deepest personal meaning, value, and identity.
- Persons are not known by intellect alone, not by principles alone, but only by love.
- Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.
Longer Thomas Merton Quotes on Love
- Where there is a deep, simple, all-embracing love of man, of the created world of living and inanimate things, then there will be respect for life, for freedom, for truth, for justice.
- The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
- Anyone who regards love as a deal made on the basis of “needs” is in danger of falling into a purely quantative ethic. If love is a deal, then who is to say that you should not make as many deals as possible?
- Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbours worthy if anything can.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes on Love
- There is no way under the sun to make a man worthy of love except by loving him. As soon as he realizes himself loved—if he is not so weak that he can no longer bear to be loved—he will feel himself instantly becoming worthy of love. He will respond by drawing a mysterious spiritual value out of his own depths, a new identity called into being by the love that is addressed to him.
- Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never be fully real until we let ourselves fall in love–either with another human person or with God.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quote on Love
- 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 as 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.
Thomas Merton Quotes on Nature
- In the woods I can think of nothing except God.
- No writing on the solitary, meditative dimensions of life can say anything that has not already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.
Thomas Merton Quotes about being Open-minded
- The dread of being open to the ideas of others generally comes from our hidden insecurity about our own convictions. We fear that we may be "converted"—or perverted—by a pernicious doctrine.
- If we are mature and objective in our open-mindedness, we may find that viewing things from a basically different perspective—that of our adversary—we discover our own truth in a new light and are able to understand our own ideal more realistically.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on Peace
- Life is stronger than the death instinct and love is stronger than hate.
- Peace is not, after all, something you work for, or “fight for.” It is indeed “fighting for peace” that starts all the wars.
Longer Thomas Merton Quotes on Peace
- If you are yourself at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world. Then share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace.
- You cannot save the world merely with a system. You cannot have peace without charity. You cannot have social order without saints, mystics, and prophets.
- There remains always the hope that man will finally, after many mistakes and even disasters, learn to disarm and to make peace, recognizing that he must live at peace with his brother.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes on Peace
- If the salvation of society depends, in the long run, on the moral and spiritual health of individuals, the subject of contemplation becomes a vastly important one, since contemplation is one of the indications of spiritual maturity.
- We cannot expect a peaceful world society to emerge all by itself from the turmoil of a ruthless power struggle—we have to work, sacrifice and cooperate to lay the foundations on which future generations may build a stable and peaceful international community.
- Where there is no love of man, no love of life, then make all the laws you want, all the edicts and treaties, issue all the anathemas; set up all the safeguards and inspections, fill the air with spying satellites, and hang cameras on the moon. As long as you see your fellow man being essentially to be feared, mistrusted, hated, and destroyed, there cannot be peace on Earth.
Thomas Merton Quote about Politics
- Unless political decisions rest on a foundation of something better and higher than politics, they can never do any real good for men.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on Prayer
- It is when we pray truly that we really are. Our being is brought to a high perfection by this.
- There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed.
- This new language of prayer has to come out of something that transcends all our traditions, and comes out of the immediacy of love.
- Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart has turned to stone.
Long Thomas Merton Quote on Prayer
- Help us to be masters of the weapons that threaten to master us. Help us to use our science for peace and plenty, not for war and destruction. Save us from the compulsion to follow our adversaries in all that we most hate, confirming them in their hatred and suspicion of us.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quote on Prayer
- O God, we are one with You. You have made us one with You. You have taught us that if we are open to one another, You dwell in us. Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts. Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection. O God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You, and we thank You, and we adore You, and we love You with our whole being, because our being is Your being, our spirit is rooted in Your spirit. Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world, and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen.
Thomas Merton Quotes on Reality
- The things on the surface are nothing, what is deep is the Real.
- Reality is to be sought not in division but in unity, for we are “members one of another.”
- The way to find the real “world” is not merely to measure and observe what is outside us, but to discover our own inner ground. For that is where the world is, first of all: in my deepest self.
- The more I am able to affirm others, to say “yes” to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone.
- The world is… 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.
Thomas Merton Quotes on Spirituality
- Attachment to spiritual things is… just as much an attachment as inordinate love of anything else.
- At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth.
- Mere sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves.
Thomas Merton Quote about Suffering
- 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.
Thomas Merton Quote about Technology
- Technology is not in itself opposed to spirituality and to religion. But it presents a great temptation.
Short Thomas Merton Quotes on True Self
- It takes heroic humility to be yourself.
- Hell is alienation from the true self, which is of God.
- If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you?
- How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else's life?
Long Thomas Merton Quote on True Self
- If I do not know who I am, it is because I think I am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. Perhaps I have never asked myself whether I really wanted to become what everybody else seems to want to become. Perhaps if I only realized that I do not admire what everyone seems to admire, I would really begin to live after all. I would be liberated from the painful duty of saying what I really do not think and of acting in a way that betrays God’s truth and the integrity of my own soul.
Thomas Merton Quote about Understanding
- I do not have to stop the flow of events in order to understand them. On the contrary, I must move with them or else what I think I understand will be no more than an image in my own mind.
Thomas Merton Quotes about the United States of America
- It seems to me that policies that are content to create an “image” of a benevolent and peace-loving America are valueless, because they lack the depth and the seriousness of motivation that are absolutely necessary for constructive action in a world crisis. Confronted with the difficult task of “assuming world leadership” in a world from which it has remained traditionally and by preference isolated, America seems to have reacted with adolescent panic and truculence.
- Faced by the supercilious contempt of friends as well as the hatred of our avowed enemies, and wondering what there is in us to hate, we have considered ourselves and found ourselves quite decent, harmless and easygoing people who only ask to be left alone to make money and have a good time. The keystone of our admittedly nebulous optimism is that if everyone is left alone to take care of his own interests, the laws of economics will benignly take care of the needs of all, and anyone who is not a slacker can get rich. But this philosophy of life is questioned, and when it is questioned we also are forced to examine our beliefs. And when we examine them we find we are not too sure just what they are.
Short Thomas Merton Quote on War
- Man is like an alcoholic who knows that drink will destroy him but who always has a reason for drinking. So with war.
Long Thomas Merton Quotes on War
- Men of the earth would not talk of peace so much if they did not secretly believe it possible, with one more war, to annihilate their enemies forever. Always, "after just one more war" it will dawn, the new era of love: but first everybody who is hated must be eliminated. For hate, you see, is the mother of their kind of love.
- When a country has to be rebuilt after war, the passions and energies of war are no longer enough. There must be a new force, the power of love, the power of understanding and human compassion, the strength of selflessness and cooperation, and the creative dynamism of the will to live and to build, and the will to forgive. The will for reconciliation.
- Prayers and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people.
- In an evolved society there are no innocent victims of propaganda. Propaganda succeeds because men want it to succeed. It works on minds because those minds want to be worked on. Its conclusions bring apparent light and satisfaction because that is the kind of satisfaction that people are longing for. It leads them to actions for which they are already half prepared: all they ask is that these actions be justified. If war propaganda succeeds it is because people want war, and only need a few good reasons to justify their own desire.
Very Long Thomas Merton Quotes on War
- Hatred is sterile; it breeds nothing but the image of its own empty fury, its own nothingness. Love cannot come of emptiness. It is full of reality. Hatred destroys the real being of man in fighting the fiction that it calls "the enemy." For man is concrete and alive, but "the enemy" is a subjective abstraction. A society that kills real men in order to deliver itself from the phantasm of a paranoid delusion is already possessed by the demon of destructiveness because it has made itself incapable of love. It refuses, a priori, to love. It is dedicated not to concrete relations of man with man, but only to abstractions about politics, economics, psychology, and even, sometimes, religion.
- Though he now has the capacity to communicate anything, anywhere, instantly, man finds himself with nothing to say. Not that there are not many things he could communicate, or should attempt to communicate. He should, for instance, be able to meet with his fellow man and discuss ways of building a peaceful world. He is incapable of this kind of confrontation. Instead of this, he has intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can deliver nuclear death to tens of millions of people in a few moments. This is the most sophisticated message modern man has, apparently, to convey to his fellow man. It is, of course, a message about himself, his alienation from himself, and his inability to come to terms with life.