In the Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander Merton wrote “If I can unite in myself the thought and devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish Mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians….If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing on e division upon another or absorbing one division into another. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ.”
This is precisely what Merton has done, containing the divisions within himself and transcending them in the unity which is in Christ. This is unity that is cosmo-theatric. I dislike technical terms but this one has its uses. It brings together God, humankind and the world into a single focus. It speaks of the worship of the whole creation, the huge chorus of living beings.
Merton’s whole effort of mastering the tradition of Christian East and West, or rather of letting himself be mastered by it, was anything but antiquarian.
It was motivated by an urgent desire to enter more deeply into the life and death and rising of Christ for the sake of the world today. In the introduction to the Lectures on Ascetical and Mystical Theology he writes, “the mystical tradition of the Church-a collective memory and experience of Christ living and present within her.
This tradiditon forms and affects the whole person: intellect, memory, will, emotion, body, skills (arts), all must be under the sway of the Holy Spirit.
-A. M Allchin
“The Worship of the Whole of Creation: Merton & The Eastern Fathers.”
The Merton Annual, Volume 5, 1992, p. 191
Thomas Merton was Roman Catholic and a member of one of Catholicism’s strictest monastic orders. Nonetheless, throughout his religious life he was influenced by Christian traditions best preserved within the Eastern Orthodox Church: iconography, the Jesus Prayer, and the apophatic spiritual path linked with Mt. Athos and Sinai. He treasured the sayings and stories of the Desert Fathers and was familiar with the Philokalia.
Merton studied and wrote extensively on Greek and Russian Orthodox traditions. His writing on Hesychasm, the practices surrounding the Prayer of Jesus (that have as their aim preparing the spiritual seeker for union with the Godhead) are of particular contemporary importance.
Many western seekers have looked to Buddhism and the East for a thoroughly psychological and spiritual method of meditation, when in fact, a Christian tradition, just as analytic and developed and more carefully palatable to the West, exists and is readily available in the Hesychast tradition.
Merton’s commentary is accompanied by major new essays by scholars in the fields of Eastern Christianity and Merton studies such as Bishop Kallistos Ware, Father Donald Allchin of England and James Forest of the U.S. and Holland, among others. Both Allchin and Forest, who knew Merton personally, brings us salient details of his interest in the Christian East together with a view of the monk and his writing.
This is the second in a multi-volume series of that presents Thomas Merton’s dialogues with traditions other than his own. The first Merton and Sufism: The Untold Story has met with critical success and found a wide audience among those interested in Merton. Merton and Judaism will appear in the summer of 2003 followed by Merton & Zen and other volumes in this series for which Jonathon Montaldo, president of The International Merton Society, is the editor.