Thomas Merton, My Brother

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by M. Basil Pennington

This unique volume contains not only a wealth of information about Thomas Merton, but also many insights that come from one who lived the life Merton lived. "One rarely writes a formal biography of one's brother," says Pennington (1931 – 2005). "Rather, memories are shared, vignettes are drawn." Paperback, 207 pgs.

"A fine source for the analysis of Merton's writing and thought in the context of monasticism."
---Professor Bonnie Thurston (past President of the International Thomas Merton Society)
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Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

Merton was born in Prades, France to a New Zealand-born father and an American-born mother, who were both artists. After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism and on December 10th, 1941 he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists).

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became a prominent voice in the peace movement of the 1960s. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of 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." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. It was during a trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution.