The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

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DateAuthorTitleSourceQuotation by Merton
1939/05/11Giambattista VicoScienza Nuova Jnl 1 ('39-'41) p. 4 I suppose I am not reading Croce on Vico very carefully [Note 4: Vico's La Scienza Nuovo (1725) is a philosophy of history on which James Joyce based his Finnigans Wake (along with Giordano Buno of Nola and Nichlas of Cusa... Merton was reading Croce's La Filosofia di G.B. Vico at this time, also]. I am not getting the steps in the law of the reflux so well down. Yet as to Finnigan's Work [Note 5: A wordplay on Joyce's Finnigans Wake (Merton refers to it in one place as Finnigan's Work and another place as Vinnigan's Walk]: The very first sentence says it's Vico. So Finnigan is the history of the world, seen Vician
1939/09/13Jean Jacques RousseauConfessions Jnl 1 ('39-'41) p. 21 Because ambitious men are absurd, the same suspiciousness towards ambition literature has fallen upon confession literature. (By ambition literature - not Horatio Alger: Stendal.) That is upon all confession literature indiscriminately. Rousseau as well as Saint Augustine. The Confessions of Rousseau belong with ambition literature: these of Saint Augustine do not. The difference is that Saint Augustine confesses God. Rousseau proclaims himself.
1940/11/03Robert HerrickHesperides: or the Works both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick, Esq. / British Poets, edited by F.J. Child Jnl 1 ('39-'41) p. 250-51 Another thing: I am no longer sore at Herrick, or not as sore as I was. I think he is a Highschool boy, yes. But he has some fine lines and slick ideas... "The Argument of His Book" (Hesperides) is good. Some lines from a long epigram "Upon M. Ben Jonson" are very good. Some lines from the "Farewell to Sack" are fine. I take back what I have said about Herrick, except I am tired of poems about how drunk we all love to get.
1941/03/04Daniel DefoeRobinson Crusoe Jnl 1 ('39-'41) p. 317 Then tonight I read Robinson Crusoe and when he comes on the island I was knocked flat at the wonder of what a marvelous book this is, maybe one of the best books ever written, and not a freak at all. No wonder kids like it! Like religion, it is perfect play.
1941/09/30Francis Aidan GasquetHenri VIII and the English Monasteries Jnl 1 ('39-'41) p. 417 And yet I have done altogether too much sleeping with my face in a book-today I went to sleep in Chapter I of Gasquet's Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.
1942/11/21Teresa of AvilaAutobiography Ltrs: RtoJ p. 166 All these things I read in St. Augustine: the Commentary on the Psalms, the Book on the Sermons on the Mount, etc. Also another wonderful writer is St. John Chrysostom, whom I read not in Greek however. All the Greek Fathers are translated into Latin. So I also read Dionysius the Areopagete, who is very like St. John of the Cross. Then I read St. Teresa of Avila's Autobiography. O boy! This you should read as fast as you can get it! O what a book! Or maybe you already read it?
1947/01/12Edmond MartèneVoyage Litteraire de Deux Benedictins de la Congragation de Saint Maure / co-author Ursin Durand Jnl 2 ('41-'52) p. 36 I am fascinated by [Edmond] Martène and [Ursin] Durand's Voyage Litteraire de Deux Benedictins [Paris, 1717]. It is the record of their journey around France in the early eighteenth century, collecting material for the Gallia Christiana, in the archives of the old monasteries. And there were hundreds of them.
1952/02/25Ronald KnoxEnthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion with Special Reference to the XVII and XVIII Centuries Ltrs: CforT p. 18-19 Many thanks for your very kind letter and for [Ronald Knox's] Enthusiasm . I entirely agree with your comment on the patchy character of the Ascent [to Truth]... Enthusiasm is fine. I value it highly above all as a reference book, but it is also very good reading. I promise myself to make it an arsenal if I return to writing about quietists. The Procurator General of the Carthusians [Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion] says I am too sharp on quietists and that there really are no quietists anyway. But it is to me a guarantee that the Jesuits will not be too angry with anything I say about contemplation if I drub the quietists for a few pages in every book. Besides, I have the same baleful interest in quietism that a doctor might have in chiropractors or an MFH in people who shoot foxes.
1958/04/25John CollierIndians of the Americas Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 197-98 I am deeply moved by John Collier's book on The Indians of the Americas.... Until the beginning of the century it was assumed that the Indian problem and the harm done to the Indians arose from corrupt individuals in the government. But after 1900 the individuals concerned were honest and upright-and things went on as before for the policy, the system, the philosophy and the laws were themselves corrupt. Collier says "It was not individual corruption but collective corruption; corruption which did not know it was corrupt and which reached deep into the intelligence of the nation"¦collective corruption is more effectively carried into deed through agents not personally corrupt."
1959/08/24Herbert ButterfieldChristianity and History Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 321 Having been giving deep attention (as deep as possible when one is half awake before Sext) to Butterfield's book on Christianity and History. Especially the business about the men like Napoleon, Bismarck, and Hitler who wanted to get ahead of history and manage Providence for their own interests. Providence will not be managed.
1959/08/24Herbert ButterfieldChristianity and History Ltrs: WtoF p. 263 P. Danielou's book on History, which I have been reading, steered me toward an interesting Englishman called [Herbert] Butterfield. I strongly recommend his Christianity and History [1950], which P. Danielou alludes to in his own book. Perhaps you already know of Butterfield.
1960/01/14Hugh Trevor RoperMen and Events Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 369 Trevor Roper's book, which solicits my agreement, and makes one wonder if I am being tempted to treachery. Too much of the instinct to be unfaithful to those whom, after all, my lot has been cast. One has to remain identified tothem in and with their faults. This running everywhere in search of rightness and purity ends nowhere. Still, his evaluation of Erasmus, More, the Recusants, and incredibly Newman is moving and right. I wish not to be a propagandist - or is that a decision I have made too late? Silly question. I will try no longer to be one.
1960/02/19Johan HuizingaErasmus and the Age of Reformation Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 376 More snow and now, after so many very gloomy days, brilliant winter weather-all the snow freezing and bright sun with a cold wind. Too cold to read outside (Huizinga's Erasmus) - hands froze while holding the book.
1960/04/16Thomas TrahernCenturies, Poems and Thanksgivings Jnl 3 ('52-'60) p. 384 Excellent book by Scholem Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and Traherne's Centuries, sent by Natasha Spender. Finished Fromm on love. And a little thing by Jungmann, The Sacrifice of the Church.
1961/03/03Benet of CanfieldRule of Perfection Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 97 I started the mystical theology class Wednesday (Mar. 1). [Note 5: Merton's lecture notes for this series of classes on ascetical and mystical theology remain unpublished See my article "Patterns in Thomas Merton's ‘Introduction to Ascetical and Mystical Theology,'" Cistercian Studies, Vol 24 (1989), pp 338-54] I continued today A.M. reading the ms. of Benet of Canfield sent by Mrs. [Etta] Gullick, from Oxford, and it has come from God. Essential will.
1961/03/07Benet of CanfieldRule of Perfection Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 98 Finished reading the MS of Pt. III of Canfield's Rule of Perfection. It is really very fine.
1962/02/10Erich FrommMarx's concept of man / Erich Fromm ; with a transl. from Marx's economic and philosophical manuscripts by T.B. Bottomore Ltrs: HGL p. 544-45 At one point I would amplify and clarify what Fr. Tavard has said: where he discussed Marx. He does not make clear the inner spiritual potentialities hidden under the surface of the Marxian dialectic and the genuine pretensions of humanism that Marx himself expressed. The subordination of man to the technological process is not something that Marx accepts with unqualified satisfaction. On the contrary, it is, for him, the danger and the challenge of a technology based on profit. He thought that the ultimate challenge was for man to free himself of his machines and gain control over them, thus breaking the bonds of alienation and making himself the master of his history. The early essays of Marx recently published by Erich Fromm (Praeger) have some interesting possibilities in the way of the kind of dialogue Fr. Tavard suggests. For in these early essays, in which he concentrates on the problem of alienation, there is a very clear demand for the kind of dimension that can only be supplied by wisdom. Marx himself was uncertain and ambiguous in his treatment of this, but in any case he finds himself compelled to toy with the idea of a human nature on which to base his humanism.
1962/03/06Jean Paul SartreAnti-Semite and Jew Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 207 There is unquestionably a great nobility in Sartre's morality of "authenticity," at least as he expresses it in his book on anti-semitism. And this too throws a different light on the "situation ethic" which is so spat upon-when it is represented as a form of opportunism and an evasion of responsibility. Here on the contrary it is an acceptation of responsibility-in the fullest and most direct way. "[If] it is agreed that man may be defined as a being having freedom within the limits of a situation, then it is easy to see that the exercise of this freedom may be considered as ‘authentic' or ‘inauthentic' according to the choices made in the situation. Authenticity, it is almost needless to say, consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of a situation, in answering the responsibilities and risks that it involves, in assuming it in pride and humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate." Anti-Semitism [New York, 1948], 90
1962/05/10Mircea EliadeForge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 218 Fascinating books by Mircea Eliade. Finished (two days ago) Image and Symbol and began today the new one, Forge and Crucible, about alchemists. Opening up the meaning of myth in primitive technology which is always mystical. Why engineers are happy without religion?
1963/07/14Desiderius ErasmusRatio Verae Theologiae Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 337 We have now the new photocopied edition of Erasmus, and I am reading the Ratio Verae Theologiae. I admit I am charmed by him. He reads so well, speaks with such clarity and sense, and is so full of the light of the Gospel. I am also reading K. Rahner's new little book on Mary [Mary, Mother of the Lord (New York, 1963)] and I am struck by the similarity-the same kind of clarity, simplicity and breadth of view. It is the same mutual climate without the subdued passion and the humor of Erasmus.
1963/07/19David Knowles o.s.b.Historian and Character and other Essays Ltrs: WtoF p. 166 The following are the questions, with Merton's answers: 1. Name the last three books you have read. The Platform Scripture of Hui Neng, translated by Wing Tsit Chen The Proslogion by St. Anselm of Canterbury A Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley 2. Name the books you are reading now. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture by John Huizinga Ratio Verae Theologiae (The Real Meaning of Theology) by Erasmus The Historian and Character by David Knowles 4. Books that have influenced you. Poetic Works of William Blake Plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas Sermons of Meister Eckhart De Doctrina Christiana, Confessions, and Sermons on Psalms of St. Augustine Rule of St. Benedict The Bhagavad-Gita The Imitation of Christ, etc. 5. Why have these books been an influence on you? These books and others like them have helped me to discover the real meaning of my life, and have made it possible for me to get out of the confusion and meaninglessness of an existence completely immersed in the needs and passivities fostered by a culture in which sales are everything. 6. Name a book everyone should read. Besides the Bible (taken for granted and not included above) and such classics as The Imitation of Christ, I would select a contemporary book which I consider to be of vital importance and which I think everyone should read at this time: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. 7. Why this book? This is the most forceful statement about a crisis that is of immediate importance to every American, and indirectly affects the whole world today. It is something that people have to know about. The Negro has been trying to make himself heard: in this book he succeeds.
1963/07/19Desiderius ErasmusRatio Verae Theologiae Jnl 4 ('60-'63) p. 340 I am halfway through the Ratio Verae Theologiae of Erasmus, loving the clarity of his style, his taste, his good sense, his faith, his Evangelical teaching. If there had been no Luther, Erasmus would be one of the greatest doctors of the Church-officially I mean. He is perhaps anyway, though he is very simple. I like his directness and his courage. These qualities were all canonized in [Thomas] More. Humble Erasmus is content to be sainted in his friend. But that's it: how can one be anything but a friend to such men?
1963/07/28A.M. AllchinSilent Rebellion: Anglican Religious Communities 1845-1900 Ltrs: HGL p. 362 Talking about Cowley, Fr. A. M. Allchin, of Pusey House (I suppose you must know him), is coming here next week. He has sent his book about the Anglican religious communities [The Silent Rebellion: Anglican Religious Communities 1845-1900] and I find it quite interesting. I am so happy that your friend [Brother Raymond] was ordained: yes, you did tell me that, I think. I shall remember him occasionally in my Mass, and may he rest in peace.
1963/08/20Owen ChadwickFrom Bossuet to Newman: the Idea of Doctrinal Development Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 11 Reading William Owen Chadwick's excellent essay From Bossuet to Newman - idea of doctrinal development. Disturbed by the realization that since the late Middle Ages the Church has apparently lost her power of really creative assimilation (of non-Christian cultural values) and has on the contrary tended to let heresy be assimilated by secular forces. Reasons for this? And what does it mean?
1963/08/21David Knowles o.s.b.Historian and Character and other Essays Ltrs: SofC p. 181 Years ago you recommended that I get to know Newman, and I did not see your point. I certainly do now, not that I can compare my griefs with his in this matter of censorship. Have you read a very interesting book, From Bossuet to Newman by Owen Chadwick? It is excellent and you would like it. (Cambridge Press"”you ought to review it for Monastic Studies, Berryville, and thus save the trouble and expense of buying a copy.) Another thing you would immensely enjoy is David Knowles' biographical memoir of Dom Cuthbert Butler. It is in Knowles' new book, The Historian and Character (again Cambridge Press). This book by the way gives a curriculum vitae of Knowles and helps to clear away some of the misgivings people have. It also has some good essays on Cistercian topics.
1963/08/21Owen ChadwickFrom Bossuet to Newman: the Idea of Doctrinal Development Ltrs: SofC p. 181 Years ago you recommended that I get to know Newman, and I did not see your point. I certainly do now, not that I can compare my griefs with his in this matter of censorship. Have you read a very interesting book, From Bossuet to Newman by Owen Chadwick? It is excellent and you would like it. (Cambridge Press"”you ought to review it for Monastic Studies, Berryville, and thus save the trouble and expense of buying a copy.) Another thing you would immensely enjoy is David Knowles' biographical memoir of Dom Cuthbert Butler. It is in Knowles' new book, The Historian and Character (again Cambridge Press). This book by the way gives a curriculum vitae of Knowles and helps to clear away some of the misgivings people have. It also has some good essays on Cistercian topics.
1963/08/28Edmund WilsonApologies to the Iroquois with a Study of the Mohawks in High Steel Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 14 Edmund Wilson's book Apology to the Iroquois is the kind of thing that moves me very deeply, more deeply than anything perhaps except the Old Testament Prophets. And in the same kind of way: sense of an inscrutable and very important mystery, the judgment of the white race and of "Christendom" by its acts and insensitivities. The centuries of blind willful cruelty and greed. The Iroquois have despaired of the whites almost as the Black Muslims have!!
1964/12/19Mark Van DorenNarrative Poems: Jonathan Gentry Ltrs: RtoJ p. 49 Which reminds me that the Narrative Poems came, and I like best The Mayfield Deer always. Your two books together with the bright covers are very comforting, a presence and a reassurance. Someone at least has done something worth while: you. Thanks for this one too, and for the other. I am sending you my new one [Seeds of Destruction], it has peace talk in it and anger about race. The peace talk was nearly not published but eventually got done up better and was allowed. So there it is. And to plague you more in a season when you are deluged, here is an article ["Rain and the Rhinoceros"] I was asked for, and wrote in the hermitage. As one can easily tell.
1965/10/18John Joseph StoudtSunrise to Eternity: A Study in Jacob Boehme's Life and Thought Jnl 5 ('63-'65) p. 305 [Jakob] Boehme-[Rainer Maria] Rilke. A new climate. Two people I have met in passing for years and never really talked with. Now I begin first Boehme because I have a book [J. J. Stoudt, Sunrise to Eternity: A Study in J. Boehme's Life and Thought, 1957] that treats of his life and work and gives all the most relevant passages of his work in clear English, so that I finally have some inkling of what he is really saying-and respond to it. How much I respond to it. At the same time I begin also to respond to a quite different quality in
1967/05/06Michel FoucaultMadness and Civilization Jnl 6 ('66-'67) p. 229 "Did not Diemerbroek know of people stricken with the plague who had been cured by music?" [Michel] Foucault. Madness and Civilization [New York, 1965]. p. 179.
1967/05/22Michel FoucaultMadness and Civilization Jnl 6 ('66-'67) p. 238 Finished Foucault Madness and Civilization - a really remarkable book. Not sure that I have got more than a tenth of it. The material itself very rich, and his own handling of it subtle and masterly. One thing: the nineteenth-century asylum and its positivistic assumptions has very exact analogies to Trappist monasteries as organized by nineteenthcentury French abbots. I'd like to do a paper on it. But for whom? No one would publish it and Superiors would fall off their chairs - which would be a good thing no doubt. If I could think of something to do with it. Meanwhile, just sitting down and getting it on paper is out of the question until I have done other more urgent things.
1968/11/24Bhakta TukaramPoems of Tukaram Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 295 Outside of the window of a Jesuit scripture scholar's cell, which has been loaned to me for the night, there is a brilliant and somber fiery sunset amid low blue clouds. The scholasticate here at Kurseong is high up on the mountain and looks far out over the Ganges plain. The school has an excellent library. I wanted to dip into Fr. De Smet's thesis on the theological ideas in Sankaracharya, but did not get a chance. I read a few songs of Tukaram, the greatest Marathi poet, and some Sufis; there was no time for more. Tukaram lived in Maharashtra (the region around Bombay) from 1598 to 1650"” within two years of being an exact contemporary of Descartes. He was ordained by Chaitanya in a dream and began teaching. He was ordered by some brahmins to throw his books in the river. He did so and went into a seventeen-day fast and meditation, after which the river returned his books to him.
1968/11/29Elias CanettiAuto-da-Fe Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 309 Then I went into the Taprobane Hotel and got a bottle of Ceylonese beer which turned out to be fairly good, better than Indian. I bought Elias Canetti's Auto-da-Fe at the Taprobane bookstand, anticipating future hours in airports.
1968/11/29Robert KnoxHistorical Relation of Zeilon Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 307 "On the West the City of Columbo, so-called from a Tree the natives call Amba (which bears the mango fruit) growing in that place; but this never bare fruit but only leaves, which in their Language is Cola, and thence they call the Tree Colambo, which the Christians in honor of Columbus turned to Columbo." [Note 79: From Robert Knox's Historical Relation of Zeilon (London, 1681; reissued, Colombo, 1958).]
1968/11/30Robert KnoxHistorical Relation of Zeilon Jnl 7 ('67-'68) p. 311 Anything going to or coming from the King of Kandy is held sacred, says Knox, and the people move aside out of the way not only of the white flowers that he likes, when they are being brought to him, but also his dirty linens when they are taken to the lake to be laundered. "And when they are carried to washing, which is daily, all, even the greatest, rise up, as they come by, which is known by being carried on a hand heaved upwards, covered with a painted cloth." [Knox, op. cit.)